PGA Tour 2012: 12 Bold Predictions for the Coming Golf Season

David Kindervater@TheDGKCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2012

PGA Tour 2012: 12 Bold Predictions for the Coming Golf Season

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    The 2012 PGA Tour season crowned its first winner at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this past week in Hawaii.

    Steve Stricker picked up where he left off last season—minus the problems with a neck injury late in the year—and outlasted the field with a remarkable 23-under-par 269 total.

    The win catapulted him to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Here's my first bold prediction: Stricker will win three or more golf tournaments in 2012.

    Stricker's neck is fine and his performance at Kapalua will be a sign of things to come for the "old guys" on the PGA Tour this year.

    The young talent will certainly continue their ascent. I don't expect that Rory McIlroy, Keenan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Nick Watney, Jason Day and the like are going away. But look for elder statesmen like Stricker, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, and Phil Mickelson to make their mark in 2012.

    One tournament is in the books, one is in progress. There is plenty of golf to play.

    Here are 11 more bold predictions for the rest of the 2012 season.

Tiger Woods Will Win a Major Championship

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    If you've read any of my other articles here at B/R recently, this won't come as much of a surprise.

    Nevertheless, it's a bold prediction to say that Tiger Woods will return from a nearly four-year hiatus in the major championship spotlight to win either the Masters Tournament, the US Open, the British Open or the PGA Championship this year.

    But that's exactly what I expect from Tiger in 2012.

    As I look at the terrain—Augusta National, The Olympic Club, Royal Lytham and St Annes and The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island—my money's on The Masters in April. But I believe Tiger's game will be ready to compete—and I mean at a high level on the leader boards—in all four majors in 2012.

Tiger Woods Will Return to the Official World Golf Ranking Top 10

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    Having said that Tiger Woods will win a major championship in 2012, it goes without saying that he'll also make a meteoric rise in the Official World Golf Ranking.

    You know the story. Prior to his recent descent to No. 58 in the world, Tiger owned the OWGR from 1997 to 2010. In fact, he spent a record 623 weeks at the No. 1 position during that time.

    Let me emphasize his accomplishment.

    Greg Norman held the No. 1 position for 331 weeks. He's in second place all-time. No one else is even close. So you see the distance Tiger created between himself and the rest of the professional golfing community over his career.

    I won't go so far as to say Tiger will get back to No. 1 in 2012. But he'll crack the top 10 again.

Sergio Garcia Will Win a Major Championship

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    Remember that Tiger Woods-Sergio Garcia rivalry we were hoping for since the two fought it out at the 1999 PGA Championship?

    Sergio had just turned pro following his low amateur finish at the Masters Tournament that same year. Tiger—well, Tiger had just won his second major championship in beating Sergio by one shot.

    The rivalry never really developed as so many had anticipated.

    Fast forward to 2012 and golf fans seem to be hoping for a Rory McIlroy-Tiger Woods rivalry to heat up—because golf needs a couple big names to go at it the way Jack and Arnie used to.

    But what about Sergio and Tiger? Is it too late for these 30-somethings to duel atop PGA Tour leader boards on a regular basis?

    I don't think so. Both Tiger and Sergio have resurrected their careers and are playing some of their best golf in years right now.

    Tiger ended a two-year title drought by winning the Chevron World Challenge to close his 2011 season. Sergio ended a three-year dry spell from the winner's circle with back-to-back wins at the Castelló Masters and the Andalucía Masters.

    I already said that Tiger will win a major in 2012. Sergio will as well.

Phil Mickelson Will Win a Major Championship

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    I already predicted that Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia will win major championships in 2012. Now, Phil Mickelson?

    I'll answer my question with another question. Why not?

    Aside from being a fan favorite at every tournament he plays in, Mickelson is a streaky player that will oftentimes either contend or fall off the leader board altogether. But his aggressive play is part of the reason he's so popular.

    Mickelson's quest for a fifth major at the British Open last year fell just three shots short of eventual winner Darren Clarke. But he did manage a T2 finish and if he doesn't win at Augusta—where I'm predicting Tiger will win—it could very well be at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in 2012.

    Mickelson is 41 years old now. He's past his prime. He's still dealing with psoriatic arthritis, but he's coming off some outstanding play with Jim Furyk at the President's Cup.

    If he can carry over the momentum, there's no telling how good 2012 can be for "Lefty."

Youngsters Will Continue Succeeding

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    OK, with all this talk of the older guys on the PGA Tour, I haven't forgotten those players who are the future of the game.

    Some of the young guys that lit it up in 2011 will continue to do so in 2012.

    Webb Simpson won twice on the PGA Tour in 2011—at the Wyndham and Deutsche Bank Championships. He also had two playoff losses. So, Simpson was a leader board regular and after a T3 finish to start 2012, it looks like he's picking up where he left off.

    Like Webb Simpson, reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Keegan Bradley won twice in 2011. One of those wins was at the PGA Championship and both of his wins were playoff victories.

    I began seeing his name on leader boards on a regular basis and wondered, "Who is this Keegan Bradley?" Now I know. Now everyone knows.

    Rickie Fowler, the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, is better known for his colorful attire and swashbuckling style than his time spent on top of PGA Tour leader boards, but that's about to change.

    His OneAsia Tour win at the Korea Open last year got that monkey off his back. Now he needs to make it happen in the US.

    Rory McIlroy probably gets more hype than any of the other young players. But with good reason—he's also the most talented. His runaway victory at the US Open last year got people thinking he might be the next Tiger Woods, but he has only won once—the Hong Kong Open—since.

    It's obvious he's enjoying the limelight that a US Open victory produces, but he needs to realize his full potential.

    I haven't even mentioned players like Jason Day, Adam Scott, Nick Watney and Brendan Steele. I could go on. There's a lot of young talent on the PGA Tour.

    Also, look for PGA Tour rookies like Bud Cauley, Seung-Yul Noh, Jonas Blixt, and J.J. Killeen to make some noise in 2012.

Rickie Fowler Will Win His First US Tournament

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    This has been one word often used to describe Rickie Fowler during his two years as a professional golfer.

    To that I say: 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.

    What more do you want?

    OK, I get it. To whom much is given much is expected.

    Fowler hasn't won on the PGA Tour yet, but his recent OneAsia Tour win last year counts for something. So does his incredible play at the 2010 Ryder Cup. And his T5 finish in brutal conditions at last year's British Open.

    Fowler is one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour these days. His fans even dress like him on a weekly basis at tournaments all over the world. And he's on the cover of the new Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 video game.

    The leader board results will begin to match the expectations in 2012 as Fowler will win his first PGA Tour event. But be forewarned—it could open the flood gates of success for this outstanding talent.

Rory McIlroy Won't Win a Major

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    After crashing and burning in front of the whole world at the 2011 Masters Tournament, Rory McIlroy rebounded in a huge way with an easy—and I do mean easy—victory at the US Open at Congressional.

    Nothing about it was "normal." McIlroy is talented beyond comparison.

    In fact, some consider him the most talented golfer in the game today. But he has only won once since—a two-shot victory at the Hong Kong Open in December—as he continues to enjoy the benefits from his US Open victory.

    Does this mean he's resting on his laurels? I didn't say that. But he hasn't "arrived"—yet.

    Rory fans jumped all over me for saying his comments after the British Open were more whiny than honest. I think he still has some maturing to do.

    McIlroy is going to do one of two things in 2012. He's either going to enter this year with more focus and determination than ever and rewrite history. Or he's going to simply underachieve.

    I'm guessing it will be the latter.

    In a season when he will be among the favorites to win every major championship, I don't expect McIlroy to win any one of them this year. Sure, he'll contend. But the bar has already been set so high, he couldn't possibly—well, he could possibly.

    I'm talking about the Grand Slam, of course.

    It could happen. It just won't happen in 2012. Far from it, in fact. I don't see McIlroy winning at The Masters, the US Open, the British Open or the PGA Championship.

    Maybe next year.

Luke Donald Will Win the FedExCup

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    Who is playing better golf than Luke Donald these days?

    Donald, the current No. 1 player in the world according to the Official World Golf Ranking, finished as the leading money winner on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour in 2011.

    Who does that?

    In a word—nobody. Donald was the first golfer to accomplish the feat.

    He was also the 2011 PGA Player of the Year and the PGA Tour Player of the Year—the first Englishman to win either award—and the European Tour Golfer of the Year.

    One thing Donald hasn't won is the FedExCup.

    Ahh, the game within a game. The mysterious FedExCup standings.

    Donald finished in the top three in the FedExCup standings the past three years. I'd say he's due.

    Luke Donald will win his first FedExCup in 2012.

The US Will Win the Ryder Cup

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    The United States' narrow defeat in the 2010 Ryder Cup still sticks in my craw.

    I can't imagine what it has felt like for US team member Hunter Mahan.

    Mahan was in the final pairing against Graeme McDowell with the match on the line during the Sunday singles matches when he sort of—OK, I'll just say it—he flubbed a chip shot that pretty much decided the match for McDowell and Team Europe, who won 14.5 to 13.5.

    It was a miraculous comeback for Team USA—they won six matches and halved two on that final day—but it was a one-point loss nonetheless.

    The 39th Ryder Cup returns to US soil this year at Medinah and it's time for payback.

    Look for the US squad, which will hopefully contain Hunter Mahan, to exact revenge.

The Belly Putter: A Trend That's Here to Stay

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    The "belly putter" became a popular new trend in golf in 2011.

    It's not like it's a brand new idea, though. Paul Azinger used one 11 years ago. So have many other professional golfers over the years.

    Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major championship with one in 2011. PGA Tour players like Adam Scott and Webb Simpson are not only using it, they are winning with it—although some might argue Scott is using a "throat putter."

    Even a traditionalist like Phil Mickelson gave the belly putter a whirl last year.

    Michelle Wie is wielding one (Nike Method) on the LPGA Tour and she told me she will continue to use it in 2012.

    There were rumors that the USGA would rule against belly putters at some point, but if they haven't done so by now, I don't see them suddenly banning the club that has become so popular.

    Manufacturers have jumped at the opportunity, meeting the demand with the supply by providing the long shaft option on their new gear.

    So now what?

    Look for the belly putter to increase its popularity in 2012.

Lexi Thompson Will Challenge Yani Tseng on the LPGA Tour

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    OK, I'm jumping off the board here to mention the LPGA Tour, but Yani Tseng, the No. 1 female golfer in the world, is good enough to take on the guys, so...

    Yani's success is difficult to ignore. It's discounted because she's accomplishing this on the LPGA Tour, which hasn't exactly broken through as one of the most popular spectator sports in the world. But hers are incredible accomplishments nonetheless.

    Yani is only 22 years old. She turned pro five years ago. During that time, she has collected an impressive 22 wins. Even more shocking is that she has five major championships to her credit. No one else in the history of professional golf has done that.

    Not Tiger Woods. Not Jack Nicklaus. No one.

    She has won the LPGA Player of the Year the past two years in a row.

    And get this: she already has 18 of the 27 points necessary for induction into the LPGA Hall of Fame. At 22 years old.

    With all this being said, it would seem Yani has no competition in women's professional golf. But she's going to find a challenger in young Lexi Thompson.

    There is no limit to how good Thompson can be. At a mere 16 years old, she became the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA tournament. She followed that by becoming the second youngest winner ever at a Ladies European Tour event.

    Now a full-time member of the LPGA Tour, Thompson has enough experience playing in big-time events that this full time thing shouldn't be much of a transition for her.

    Look out, Yani Tseng—here comes Lexi Thompson.


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