The rise of a young, talented group of players and the signing of long-term and even more profitable PGA Tour television contracts have shown that the PGA Tour, and professional golf in general, will not fall into the same depression that the NBA did after Jordan left.
With 2011 coming to a close, it’s a good time to look at the players to watch in 2012. So from 12 to one, here are the top golfers to watch for in 2012.
This young phenom has an abundance of talent, maybe the most of any young player not named Rory, and finally captured his first professional victory in Korea this past October, a victory long overdue.
But, despite all of his talent, Fowler still has yet to win a PGA Tour event, a sign that the killer instinct so important to winning in golf may not yet be there for this young man.
Fowler has time on his side though, and it’s only a matter of time before he wins and wins a bunch.
If he can break his drought on the PGA Tour in 2012, he will be one giant step closer to fulfilling his enormous potential.
What a rookie year this guy had! Not only did he win his first PGA Tour event, but three months later he added a major to his record.
Bradley displayed a great deal of toughness in his PGA Championship win. After his demoralizing triple bogey on 15, he birdied 16 and then canned a long putt on 17 for another miraculous birdie to come back and force a playoff which he eventually won.
The 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year clearly has a bright future in the game, but he still needs to develop some consistency to have continued success.
While he won two times in 2011, he finished the season with 10 missed cuts and just four top 10s in 28 starts.
If Bradley can’t develop this consistency in 2012, he’ll struggle in his sophomore season, but he will still be a player to watch for quite a while.
The young Aussie didn’t register a win in 2011, but he still made a great impression.
Day does have a PGA Tour win on his profile, but his showing in the Masters this past spring was even more impressive. Day showed great nerve at Augusta, draining two clutch birdie putts on 17 and 18 to propel him into a tie for the lead and a potential playoff before Charl Schwartzel’s four straight birdies to close relegated him to runner-up.
Day is a fighter; he can turn any day around with his touch on and around the greens. If he can develop into a better ball-striker, he will be tough to beat.
Day is a talented player who already has two runner-ups in majors, and if he can improve his ball striking, he might win one in 2012.
At age 38, Lee Westwood is here to spoil the youth party.
Westwood deserves this honor especially after a season that brought him three victories and saw him finish at No. 2 in the world golf rankings.
Still, Westwood is on the back nine of his career and still has yet to secure a victory in the most important tournaments of them all, the major championships.
Westwood will be a player to watch this year, but if he ever wants to get off the “best player to not win a major” list, he needs to do it soon, because after 2012, the clock will really be ticking.
Mr. Simpson had a breakout 2011; out of nowhere he won two PGA Tour events and finished second in three others.
Simpson had two tough runner-ups early in the year, including one where an archaic rule cost him a one-stroke penalty that ultimately lost him the tournament.
But this young man is resilient, as he won late in the season at the Wyndham Championship and displayed some insanely-clutch putting in his second win at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Watch out for Webb Simpson in 2012; he is one of the most complete players on tour, and after a fantastic 2011 he is ready to take the next step.
Don’t be surprised to see him lurking near the top of major championship leaderboards.
In 2009, Adam Scott missed more cuts than he made. Just two years later, he is one of the best players in the game.
Scott has always had great potential, his swing has always been the envy of the game and he was the youngest Players Champion ever at the age of 23. But Scott has underachieved throughout his career, until recently.
The combination of hitting rock bottom in ’09 and the switch to a long putter have transformed Scott into a serious contender. In 2011, Scott finished second at the Masters and won the Bridgestone Invitational in large part due to his long putter.
Scott has always been a great ball-striker whose putting held him back. The long putter hasn’t suddenly turned him into Ben Crenshaw on the greens, but there has been a vast improvement in his putting.
Bottom line, the putter is the key for Scott; if he continues to improve there, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Mickelson’s promising start to the 2011 season, which included a runner-up and a win at the Shell Houston Open, fizzled out as he was plagued by inconsistent play, especially with his putter.
Mickelson’s putter was his bugaboo, as a startling number of short misses cost him the British Open, and he even resorted to a long putter out of desperation.
Overall, Mickelson had a tough season and his increased weakness in short putting (never a strength of his) is alarming, but he isn’t going anywhere.
Despite his 2011 struggles, Mickelson will find a way to rebound in 2012 because he still has too much talent not to, and if he can fix his putting woes (a big, but doable task), he will return to form.
Two wins in 2011 proved that Nick Watney has some serious game.
This past year, Watney showed that he has the ability to hunker down and finish his opponents off, something he hadn’t shown before (see 2010 PGA Championship).
The key to Watney’s newfound ability to finish is his putting. Watney has always been a very good ball-striker, but before this year he was an average putter at best.
In 2011, his putting went from average to extraordinary. The flat stick performed even better under pressure, as terrific final-round putting was the key in Watney’s two victories.
If Watney can continue to putt this well (especially under pressure), he’s got a killer combo; it’s tough to beat a guy who’s not only a strong ball-striker but a strong putter as well.
With this combo, Watney will continue to be a force in golf in 2012.
DJ had a great season in 2011 with one win and two runner-ups, including one at the British Open, but Johnson is expected to do great things, and great things does not mean topping the “best player to not win a major” list.
Johnson is tough and can finish, but he’s developing some scar tissue in the majors. His final round 82 at the U.S. Open, his “bunker” gaffe at the PGA and his out-of-bounds shot at the British Open have moved him from three-time major champion to a man still looking for his first.
Johnson is a power hitter and a good ball-striker…except in the clutch. Johnson’s major championship failures stem from the disintegration of his ball-striking under pressure.
Once Johnson fixes this problem, and he will soon, not only will he win, but he will win a lot, including many major championships. He could have a killer 2012 and beyond.
Luke Donald had many accomplishments in 2011: four worldwide wins, PGA Tour and European Tour Player of the Year, winner of both the PGA and European Tour money lists and the ascension to No. 1 in the world golf rankings.
Donald, the career underachiever, is suddenly fulfilling his potential. So, how exactly did he change his path?
Well, Donald has always had an incredible short game, but his driving and ball-striking had always been mediocre. Donald was a short-hitter who couldn’t keep it in the fairway and consequently couldn’t hit greens.
In 2011, Donald turned a corner as he became an accurate driver and an excellent ball-striker, both nice complements to a terrific short game.
Donald isn’t a fluke No. 1; he earned his way up there and, with how much he works on his game, he is not coming down anytime soon.
Look for Donald to excel in 2012 and take his next step to greatness by taking home a major championship.
If Mickelson’s 2011 was a struggle, Woods’ was a disaster. Woods battled injuries and his game and finished the year with just four top 10s in 12 starts.
Tiger started the year well, gaining his sea legs with a top 10 at Doral and then mounting a serious charge at the Masters before settling for a t-4.
But injuries to his left leg and Achilles derailed his momentum as he lost precious practice and playing time. Ultimately, 2011 was a lost cause for Woods.
Still, Woods has come on strong at the end of 2011. Finally healthy and in control of his new Sean Foley golf swing, Woods finished third at the Australian Open, played fantastically in the Presidents Cup (despite his 2-3 record) and won the Chevron World Challenge with a clutch birdie-birdie finish.
Woods is still not in perfect form and he, like Mickelson, has had trouble with short putts, but if he can sink the clutch putts like he did at Chevron and can stay healthy (two big ifs), Tiger will become one of the main figures in the game again in 2012.
The young Holywood star is on a fast track to greatness.
McIlroy is the most talented young golfer to come into the game, well, since Tiger. But before 2011, he had shown only flashes of greatness, not his true potential.
However, at the U.S. Open in June, a star was born. McIlroy not only won his first major championship, but he lapped the field by eight shots.
McIlroy combined perhaps one of the greatest ball-striking weeks in the history of golf (hitting 86 percent of his greens in a U.S. Open) with a putter that seemingly didn’t miss inside 10 feet to produce a performance that proved that, at his best, McIlroy plays at a level only Tiger can match.
Although McIlroy only won once more in 2011, he showed that the young kid at Carnoustie four years ago is all grown up and ready to become golf’s best.
With his talent now producing, McIlroy may become the dominant force in the game in 2012.