One Question Each of Golf's Top Stars Must Answer in 2013
Ah, the one big thing, the very question that must be answered for a singular goal to be accomplished. Every golfer has it, and the truly special ones are completely focused on answering it.
For the game's elite, that challenge can be as significant as winning a first major or finding their way back to repeating previous glory. For others, its the quest to fix something gone wrong or to right mistakes made.
Whatever the challenge that faces golf's top stars, solving the riddle is the key to realizing potential, returning to form or maximizing success. It can happen in an instant. It might take the entirety of a season. Either way, it's worthy of the journey.
Here are some of golf's greatest stars who are searching for that one solution to the key question keeping them from being who everyone expects they can be.
Bubba Watson: Can He Regain That Winning Feeling?
It’s been 14 months since Bubba Watson’s career victory at the 2012 Masters. It’s also been that same amount of time since the popular golfer has won a PGA Tour event.
In the victory dry spell since claiming his career-first major championship at Augusta National, Watson has had moments where his dynamic skill, creativity and talent have come to the forefront, but by and large they've been fleeting and inconsistent at best.
To end the hangover and win again, Watson has to clean up his poor driving accuracy that currently has him ranked 167th on tour and a scoring average of 71.045 that ranks just 67th.
The question in front of Bubba, however, is whether his desire to win after such a huge victory is where it needs to be to succeed on the PGA Tour moving forward.
Luke Donald: Can He Rediscover That Upward Path?
It wasn't all that long ago that Luke Donald was enjoying the finest form of his career as the world's top-ranked golfer and was the odds-on favorite to win his first major.
The current version of Donald, however, is seeking his first PGA Tour win since March 2012 at the Transitions Championship in Tampa Bay and has slipped to sixth in the most current world rankings. During this winless stretch, Donald has managed to post seven top-10 finishes, a strong 14-month stretch that most golfers would take.
That said, the 35-year-old Donald isn't just expected to contend in golf tournaments, he's supposed to win them, especially considering how often he has been in contention.
Perhaps Donald is increasingly challenged by the length of the courses on the PGA Tour and major championship venues. Currently, the Englishman ranks 149th in driving distance and 179th in greens in regulation, which suggests he's not hitting it far enough off the tee to give himself reasonable chances to challenge pins on a regular basis.
Ultimately, Donald will be judged by majors, but right now his inability to even win a regular PGA Tour event is causing great pause about his future.
Phil Mickelson: Can Lefty Still Win a Big Tournament Against a Strong Field?
Phil Mickelson has won in 2013, but it’s been a significant amount of time since Lefty has managed to win a golf tournament of any significance, and that’s a problem for one of the sport’s most successful stars.
In fact, not since the 2010 Masters has Mickelson won a tournament of wide acclaim against a significant field that would suggest he is still among the top four or five golfers in the world. To be fair, since that victory Mickelson has won three times, but only his 2012 victory at Pebble Beach comes close to anything meaningful.
Instead, Mickelson has largely been a non-factor in the eight majors since his third Masters win, hasn't captured a World Golf Championship event and has often lagged behind other top players in the upper-tier PGA Tour events such as Bay Hill, Memorial and the FedEx Cup playoff events.
In 2013, Mickelson won the typically low-scoring Waste Management Phoenix Open but skipped the World Match Play Championship, struggled to a poor finish at The Masters and missed the cut at The Players Championship just a few weeks ago.
Bottom line, for a great like Mickelson, there’s winning and then there’s winning meaningful events. Phil has done the former once during each of the past three years but now has to prove he can still do the latter.
Adam Scott: Are There More Majors in the Aussie's Future?
Still basking in the glow of his thrilling Masters victory, Adam Scott isn't exactly hung up by many pressing questions at the moment. Yet his victory almost two months ago at Augusta National has many wondering if it was the peak moment of his career or just the first of more major triumphs to come.
Scott has always been a significant talent, but his struggles with the short game have held him back from realizing his full potential until the past couple years.
His rise began two years ago with a victory in the 2011 Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, continued through painful defeat at the 2012 British Open and then was completed with his donning of the green jacket in April.
Since that Masters triumph, Scott has largely been MIA, playing only in The Players Championship, so evidence on whether his game remains at a winning level is nonexistent. Yet with the U.S. Open a mere three weeks away, Scott will begin providing short-term answers to his long-term potential to add more majors to his Masters victory.
To be sure, the game is there. The question is whether his form, focus and fortune will carry over from Augusta to the three remaining majors of 2013.
Lee Westwood: Is There a Major Coming in 2013?
Lee Westwood owns or at least has a share of the one title no elite golfer wants any part of. He is the best player never to have won a major currently still chasing one.
So the question, then, facing Westwood is two-fold: Why hasn't the world's 12th-ranked player won a major championship and does he have what it takes to do it in 2013?
Westwood has had his chances to claim one of golf's four top prizes but has fallen short in those instances. In the epic 2008 U.S. Open, won by Tiger Woods, Westwood failed to make the Monday playoff by just a missed birdie putt on the 72nd hole. In 2011, Westwood finished second at both The Masters and the British Open.
Last year, the Englishman posted top-10 finishes at both the Masters (tied third) and the U.S. Open (tie 10th). Two months ago, Westwood added a second straight top 10 at Augusta National with his tie for eighth, signaling a strong possibility for a trio of major challenges to come.
That's exactly what the former world No. 1 needs if he's to legitimize his solid career with a major championship breakthrough.
Rory McIlroy: Can He Learn to "Just Do It"?
There really are two things Rory McIlroy has to prove that are absolutely interconnected. The former top-ranked player in the world has to find comfort with his new set of golf clubs and then trust that his skill is superior to whatever weapons he is wielding.
Since making the $200 million move to Nike equipment back in January, McIlroy hasn't won a golf tournament, hasn't challenged in the majority of those he’s played in and has battled confidence issues (and apparently a bad tooth) that caused him to walk off the golf course at the Honda Championship back in March.
More to the point of McIlroy’s woes is his inability to back up one solid round with another during the same tournament.
In his past two events, the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players Championship, McIlroy launched with strong opening rounds only to slip down the leaderboard as others outplayed him throughout the weekend.
The end result of both of those events were top 10s, but Rory is well beyond measuring success in anything but victories, and so far this year he hasn't managed to make that happen with his new set of Nike sticks.
Tiger Woods: Can Golf's No. 1 Win a Major Championship Again?
For Tiger Woods, the primary question is really the only one that matters to his career at the moment. Can the world No. 1 golfer win his 15th major championship in 2013?
By the very standards he has set for himself, Woods is judged by his performance in the major championships, and while he has been an early factor in the three of the past four, he has not been able to close the deal come Sunday.
The “drop flap” at The Masters nearly two months ago cost Tiger a chance to win a fifth green jacket, but his game is sharp enough and his confidence certainly high enough to end his major drought this year.
His next shot comes a few weeks from now in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, and two more will remain following that. There's no doubt that in each of those three events all eyes will be on the world's best golfer.
Sergio Garcia: Can He Put His Talent Where His Mouth Is?
Sergio Garcia sure has proven he can talk the talk during the past several weeks. Problem is the highly talented Spaniard has never shown he can walk the walk.
Although Garcia has won only twice on the PGA Tour since 2008, he’s spent the past several weeks calling out Tiger Woods, first suggesting he lacks sportsmanship then flat-out calling him unlikeable and a phony. On Tuesday, he further escalated the matter by making a much-reported racially insensitive remark in relation to Woods.
At the end of the day, the feud with Tiger is a waste of the energy Garcia should be putting on improving his golf game and finally realizing the potential he has had for so long. It won’t be easy, but it’s time to put the war of words behind him and go about winning golf tournaments at a more regular clip.
Until then, he’ll continue to be the guy who just talks smack but can’t back it up.