One Christmas Wish of Each Top 10 Player in World Rankings
The holiday season is upon us, and even though it's the middle of golf's offseason, we're still finding reasons to talk about the game.
In the spirit of Ol' Saint Nick, let's take a look at what the world's top 10 PGA pros are likely asking for this Christmas.
From Tiger Woods to Justin Rose, there's something on this list for everyone in golf's elite crowd.
Heck, we even found something Rory McIlroy might be wishing for from Santy.
1) Rory McIlroy: Smooth Nike Transition
A smooth transition to Nike equipment.
As this picture clearly shows, Rory McIlroy is a beast.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland began 2012 ranked third in the world, and four wins, $8 million and one PGA Championship later, he's the unequivocal "numero uno" of his sport.
As one can probably expect, Rory got all the hardware this year: PGA and European Tour Player of the Year, the No. 1 spot on both Tours' money lists, the Race to Dubai title and various media-related awards.
In fact, all Rory didn't win was the FedEx Cup, but that's not what he should want for Christmas this year.
See, McIlroy is also in the process of an endorsement deal with Nike, rumored to be worth upwards of $200 million over the next decade.
Assuming that he does indeed make the switch to the previously Tiger-dominated brand, McIlroy will be making quite a few changes on the equipment side of things.
We've already covered this deal in detail here, but the most important change he'll probably make will be with the putter. Rory has shown an affinity for his Titleist Scotty Cameron model, and Nike's closest match is the Nike Method 002.
McIlroy, who has traditionally made the Pro V1X his ball of choice, will also probably have to switch to a Nike ball. It's possible that he'll elect to use Nike's new 20XI model, which has a resin core, compared to the Pro V1X's rubber core.
Anytime a professional switches the tools of his trade, he's hoping for a smooth transition, and Rory's likely thinking the same thing.
2) Luke Donald: First Major Victory
His first career major championship victory.
In case you were unaware, Luke Donald is currently the world's No. 2 golfer and has held the No. 1 spot for 56 weeks over the past two years.
Despite not turning in an otherworldly 2012 campaign like he did in 2011, where he basically won every award McIlroy did this year, Donald still posted respectable totals.
The Englishman finished '12 with a solid $3.5 million in PGA earnings and three worldwide wins.
Unfortunately, another year passed without a major championship win; Donald probably does not want to be remembered as "the best 2000s-era golfer to never win a major."
With a short game that rivals none when he's in the zone, Donald has the chops to notch a major victory, but time is running out. He turned 35 earlier this month, and it's not as if the game is becoming any less competitive.
Heading into 2013, it's likely that Donald is looking forward to the Masters the most, as he's had more top 10s at Augusta (3) than the U.S. Open (0), British Open (2) or PGA Championship (2) in his career.
In fact, since 2005, there have only been two years (2008, 2010) where Donald has failed to finish in at least one top 10 in a major championship.
We can expect him to be in contention next year as well.
3) Tiger Woods: Improved Short Game
An improved short game.
Most would assume that Tiger's Christmas wish would be one of the following: (1) a 15th major title, (2) a return to world No. 1, (3) an injury-free season or even (4) no more off-course distractions.
In this author's opinion though, all of these wishes could come true if Tiger could get his short game back on par with his career norms.
In 2012, Tiger made 15-20 foot putts at a 40 percent worse clip than one year earlier, and his ability to save par from greenside bunkers was also diminished.
The most telling stat of Tiger's short game lapses relates to shots between 125-150 yards, i.e. situations where he almost always uses a wedge.
As mentioned in our extensive breakdown of these issues:
After finishing first amongst his PGA peers in terms of approaches from 125-150 yards in both 2010 and 2011, Tiger's rank in this category slipped to 67th place [...] In 2011, in fact, his average distance to the pin from 125-150 yards out was an astonishing 16' 2".
This year, this average distance fell to nearly 23 feet.
Thankfully for Tiger, this is a Christmas wish that he can control. We expect him to spend extra time around the greens this winter.
4) Justin Rose: Use Ryder Cup Success
A continuation of his momentous Ryder Cup success.
Justin Rose has been a PGA Tour pro since 2003, and he has won a baker's dozen worth of tournaments around the world. But there's one flaw on his resume: no truly signature individual victories.
In fact, Rose is still looking for that "can't-miss" year that many of his peers have had, like fellow Englishman Luke Donald's 2011 campaign or Graeme McDowell's 2010 season.
Now, the reason we have to include the word "individual" in our previous statement is because Rose is coming off a superb year in his biggest team event.
In late September, Rose was an integral part of the European squad's win over the Americans in arguably the best Ryder Cup finish of all time. He sank three consecutive Earth-shattering putts in his final three holes against Phil Mickelson, preventing the U.S. from obtaining a half point that proved to be the contest's deciding factor.
Heading into 2013, Rose could be on the doorstep of his first major championship win, or at least a win over a top field like The Players, Memorial or the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
5) Louis Oosthuizen: Consistency in Majors
A consistent showing in major championships.
Louis Oosthuizen is best known for his win at the 2010 Open Championship, where a dominant seven-shot victory at St. Andrews gave him his only major title.
Since the start of that year, Oosthuizen has missed the cut in six of 12 major tournaments, which is remarkably poor for a player currently ranked fifth in the world.
Interestingly, the South African did record a second place finish at this year's Masters, while notching four other top five finishes on the PGA Tour.
Much of the reason for Oosthuizen's high world ranking, though, is because of his strong European Tour performance. He won twice on this circuit in 2012, finishing with top 10s three other times.
It's worth mentioning that the golfer did perform better in 2012's majors than he has in the past, but it will be important for Oosthuizen to make every cut on next year's major schedule—something he's never done before.
6) Lee Westwood: More U.S. Victories
A few more wins on American soil.
Lee Westwood was a world No. 1 in 2010 and has won a total of 22 times on the European Tour, but the Englishman has only two PGA Tour wins in his 19-year career.
It's this differential that's keeping "Westy" from being perceived as one of the game's true greats of the modern age, a consideration that his skills suggest he deserves.
In 15 PGA events in 2012, Westwood contended in nearly half of them, finishing with seven top 10 finishes.
On the major circuit, he's been even more impressive, notching top 10s in exactly 50 percent of the majors he's played since 2009. That's on the level of Tiger Woods' average since this same year.
Now, Westwood has so far been unable to win any of these close calls, but it's worth noting that his best chance for a major victory in 2013 may come at Augusta National.
Here's his last three finishes at the Masters: 2, T11, T3.
Westwood is approaching the dreaded age of 40, but his game has seen a noticeable uptick since his 35th birthday, so it appears he still has a few more years left to grab some wins in the U.S.
7) Adam Scott: No Ban on Belly Putters
A reversal of the proposed ban on belly putters.
When most golf enthusiasts think of belly putters, they think of one man: Adam Scott.
Scott's name has become synonymous with the battle cry for the long stick, as it has given the Australian quite the career resurgence since he turned to the technique at the 2011 Masters.
That year, at Augusta, Scott finished in second place in his first tournament using the club, after falling off a proverbial cliff between 2008 and 2010.
Since making the switch, Scott has notched three more major championship top 10s, including a T8 finish at this year's Masters and a runner-up finish at the 2012 Open Championship.
As mentioned by the AP, the USGA and R&A's ban on anchored putters "has go to through a 90-day comment period," and if officially passed, it won't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2016.
At 32 years of age, Adam Scott still has at least a decade left in his PGA Tour career, so it's clear that a ban on belly putters wouldn't completely derail his ability to compete with the game's elite.
If he can't get this particular Christmas wish, maybe Scott should consider moving to a short putter sooner rather than later to prepare for the switchover.
8) Bubba Watson: Family Health
A healthy baby boy.
Though he's been known for his tape-measure drives for quite some time now, Bubba Watson took the golfing world by storm in 2012 due to a remarkable come-from-behind victory at the Masters, his first major win.
Over the next four months, Watson could only compete in 20 rounds of Tour golf while finishing a longer-than-expected adoption process.
As reported by Yahoo! Sports, Watson and his wife, Angie, were tragically unable to adopt an infant girl "at the last minute" in March, but were finally able to find a healthy, one-month baby boy named Caleb a few weeks later.
It's refreshing to see a professional athlete take time off of his sport to strengthen his family's ties, and it is a lesson that many of Bubba's peers should take to heart.
Going into 2013, there's no doubt that Watson's No. 1 Christmas wish is for the continued good health of his new baby boy, which is something every father can truly understand.
9) Jason Dufner: Staying Power
Staying power in golf's upper echelon.
Though he doesn't have the name, Jason Dufner truly is one of golf's rising stars. Dufner was in contention for the FedEx Cup title throughout most of 2012, finishing with over $4.8 million in winnings on the PGA Tour.
Dufner's positioning on the year-end money list was ahead of such stalwarts like Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Zach Johnson.
Even more impressive, Dufner was able to capture his first two PGA Tour victories this year over a three-week span in May and finished tied for fourth at the U.S. Open in June.
In 2013, we're already hearing talk that Dufner will be paired with Tiger at the Presidents Cup. On the subject, Fred Couples, the coach of the U.S. squad had this to say: (h/t Cleveland.com)
I like Jason a lot [...] He is a lot of fun to be around. He likes to give the needle a little bit and he played phenomenal golf in the Ryder Cup. I'd like to see him paired with Tiger. I mentioned it to him and his eyes got real big.
For a 12-year veteran who had struggled to maintain a Tour exemption in much of his early career, Dufner's advancement has likely come as quite a surprise to most pundits, but it's been hard to miss lately.
To Dufner himself, it's likely that he's hoping that his game can give him staying power, especially in his newly-found place in the world's top 10 rankings.
10) Brandt Snedeker: Continued Momentum
Continued momentum after FedEx Cup title.
Since turning pro in 2004, Brandt Snedeker has put together a solid PGA career, winning The Heritage in 2011 in a playoff over Luke Donald, in addition to notching a top 10 finish in every major except the PGA Championship.
Still, what Snedeker did at this year's season-ending Tour Championship was outside of what most expected.
With a three-shot victory over Justin Rose, Snedeker captured the 2012 FedEx Cup, giving him an extra $10 million in prize money to go along with his solid $4.9 million in PGA earnings for the year.
Currently sitting at No. 10 in the world, Snedeker is in golf's upper crust for the first time in his career, and the timing of his ascension allows him to build off of this success over the offseason.
Looking ahead toward 2013, the majors will be an important area for Snedeker to test his mettle. His best major showing in 2012 was at the Open Championship, where he finished tied for third.
Augusta National has also been a good course for Snedeker in the past, as he's carded two top-20 finishes in the last two years.
These tournaments will determine if Snedeker can truly continue his upward rise in the world rankings.
It should be exciting to watch.