By WIL BARNES
In 2012 on the PGA Tour we were introduced to some new faces and saw a resurgence of some old ones, most notably that of Tiger Woods who won three times and finished second on the Money List to the new star in golf Rory McIlroy. It would appear that they will battle for the crown again this year but the money is McIlroy will again wear the belt. As usual, there will be a throng of other contenders and rookie hot shots who hit the ball a mile and don’t possess the fear when Tiger simply struck fear in all of them.
After a slew of research and meetings with fantasy golf geeks, I was surprised by some of the names that weren’t bandied about like Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk, all of whom enjoyed pretty decent success in 2012, albeit Furyk was winless. Instead there was talk of John Huh, PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year, Charlie Beljan who closed out the year victorious and Web.com grads Casey WIttenburg, Luke List, Russell Henley as well as second year studs like Chris Kirk, Jason Kokrak and JJ Kileen. All of these players should be factors in 2013. Here are some thoughts on what we might witness.
If you speak to any fantasy team owner they are salivating over Euro stars Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Nicolas Colsearts, both of whom shined at last year’s Ryder Cup. Europe has definitely invaded the PGA Tour, almost Beatles-like. Just two years ago Kaymer won the PGA at Whistling Straits and receded down the World Rankings list. He won late on the European Tour in 2012 and his winning putt at Medinah has his name with a bullet next to it. Colsearts is a long hitter who has enjoyed terrific success in Europe and now brings those skills to the PGA tour for the first time. Joining them is veteran Lee Westwood who has committed to play in the U.S., buying an Orlando home so beware of the Englishman. Will Luke Donald rebound to claim his spot of best in the world? Not as long as Rory is playing he won’t but he should return to form. Two other foreigners to watch are 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and 2010 Open Championship victor Louis Oostheizen. Neither one of these chaps has the flash of Rory or even Poulter, but their swings are near flawless. Both possess a steely composure and love the heat of competition. Remember. Louis lost to Bubba in a playoff last year at Augusta and Charl missed part of the year with injury but has returned to form winning last month at the South African Masters. Beware of the South Africans!
Will Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker earn over $5 million like last year? Sneds has a good shot to challenge for the Tour’s top spot again and he’ll pocket a lot of cash. What could be scary is he said in a conference call, “I really love the West Coast,” is after winning the Fedex Cup his confidence is soaring. Brandt also says he has no intention to play overseas devoting his time in country. A hot start on the West Coast where he won at Torrey Pines last year and the field may be looking up at him for a while. The casual and laid back Dufner might have had his career year. I doubt that comment will even affect him.
I know I have yet to mention Masters Champ Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson but I think we are pretty confident that they will be a factor every time they tee it up. Watson has no worries but Simpson and Bradley must be thinking about having to play with anchored putters and if they will hear chants of “Cheater” from galleries. There are two players that have to be considered as serious challengers to Rory & Tiger, Englishmen Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. These are two studs who were super heroes at the Ryder Cup and both in their prime. Both should challenge and very possibly capture a couple of majors, Poulter in particular who closed out 2012 with an impressive WGC victory in China and an unbelievable performance in the Ryder Cup. Perhaps the most intriguing scenario that could play out in 2013 that has many golf fans and even many media hounds excited is the possibility of a Rory vs. Tiger rivalry finally emerging. It could happen and it would be the BIG story, a huge boost to golf that would get people talking about golf again at the local sports bar.
As for Southern California’s hopes, young gun Rickie Fowler snatched his first PGA Tour win in Charlotte winning in extra time. Do you remember who he beat? Rory McIlroy, that’s right. Fowler didn’t really do much after that, still he won over $3 million but wasn’t selected to the Ryder Cup team. That should be a huge motivator for the Puma star. Other Californians that should shine are of course Woods and Mickelson, future and current Hall of Famers who still have plenty of game. Another under the radar stud is Nick Watney who won over $5 million 2011 but slipped slightly in 2012, yet he managed to win again and pocket just over $3 million. Watney recently switched from Titlesist to sign with Nike so he’ll be playing new equipment, which doesn’t always translate into success, but the Hip Hop lover may be unpredictable, but he sure knows how to get it done. California born Hunter Mahan won twice, earned over $4 million but was left off the Ryder Cup team, which like Fowler will be a motivator.
There a few other Californians to monitor like Kevin Chappell, Charley Hoffman Spencer Levin and the Quiet Man Brendan Steele. Winner of the 2011 Valero Texas Open, Steele a UC Riverside graduate is a solid pro with tremendous untapped potential. He shares the sane agent as Phil so he’s in good hands. Hoffman, who has the game, maybe lacks a little desire to be dominant. Charlie likes to play a lot early so maybe a hot start will change a little of that. Sacramento’s Spencer Levin shows up once and while, where his lean stature is complimented by a tight short game that keeps him in the hunt on various occasions. What happened to Jamie Lovemark? What appeared to be a sure “can’t miss” kid, the 23 year old USC star encountered a rough start and then injury derailed him the rest of the way. The 6’ 4” Lovemark has to find his game at some point for there is just too much talent in that body. Could James Hahn the Alameda resident and Cal Berkley grad by way of South Korea comes of a victory at the Rex Hospital Open, who finished 5th on the Web.com Tour be this year’s John Huh? Keep an eye on him. And one more intriguing story is UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay, a riding star who shot 60 in the 2nd round at Hartford last year as an amateur. He ahs a great shot at winning the Money List on the Web.com Tour where he will start his year after failing to get through Q-School. Cantlay is also capable of earning a battleship grant, which is awarded to any player who captures three victories, earning an automatic graduation to the Big Show.
How much of a motivation is being a member of the 2012 President’s Cup, the Tour’s team event that plays in the shadow of the Ryder Cup? Coming on the heels of the drama of 2012’s U.S. collapse and Europe’s miracle comeback at Medinah CC in Chicago, Commissioner FInchem’s little puppy will be held a Jack’s place, the venerable Muirfield Village. Not sure if that is enough to motivate some of the U.S. guys but a good year will enhance a players chances of making the 2014 Ryder Cup team that every American wants to be a part of. It will be held n Scotland and captained by Hall of Famer Tom Watson. Is that too far out to think about in 2013? I don’t think its right behind the forehead, but it will be logged in their heads somewhere.
Much like every player, its all about the Majors and the 2013 Schedule is fantastic. After annual rite of Spring in Georgia at Augusta National, this year’s U.S. Open makes its return to storied after 30 years to Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA., which may be the best in a while as many golf fans will be shocked when they’ll think their eyes are deceiving them looking at flags without pins, instead topped by their famous whicker baskets. Ernie Els will defend his Open championship at Muirfield GC where much history has played out. The year’s final major visits Rochester NY and venerable Oak Hill CC. This historic course is a true test that has hosted previous U.S. Opens and Ryder Cups. And think we can be assured it won’t have the traffic nightmares of last year’s PGA at Kiawah Island. Rory McIlroy will defend and by that time he might be going for his third or fourth major or even, if you dare think about it, golf’s Holy Grail, the Grand Slam.
So the 2013 Tour season commences in Maui with the victors from last year. After that it’s off to Oahu before beginning the always entertaining West Coast Swing in La Quinta and the game is on. I for one think that this year will be a Lucky 13, especially for golf fans. Like all of you, I too would love to see Rory vs. Tiger a few times this year. Don’t force it, just let it happen.