As another calendar year starts and golf returns to balmy Hawaii, it’s time for some prognostications. If last year is any indication, these aren’t going to be pretty, but I’m going to stand by them either way. I believe I only hit on three of, although I probably deserve partial credit for saying Sergio Garcia was going to win one of the Opens.
With Tiger Woods back in the mix (hopefully), Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas entering their primes, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day looking to rebound and the No. 1 player in the world often an afterthought in conversations, there’s plenty to choose from this time around.
1. Jordan Spieth wins major No. 4: I don’t know which one it’s going to be, but last year convinced me that Spieth is an all-time great. For him to become the No. 1 ball-striker on the PGA Tour when he’s already the most feared putter at big events should frighten everyone else on the PGA Tour. He’s going to win a lot of big events for a very long time.
2. Rickie Fowler wins the Masters: Fowler figured out how to contend last year when he wasn’t hitting it well. That’s a big deal, and it will serve him well this year when he is hitting it well. I would like to see him pick up one more win following his Hero World Challenge rout before Augusta National, but either way, I think golf’s most popular bridesmaid finally gets the big one.
3. PGA Tour axes or moves two events: This one is sort of obvious, but PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will likely move the year-end Tour Championship to the beginning of September. You can get there by taking out the week off after the BMW Championship and moving two events (say, Colonial and The National) to the fall or getting rid of them altogether. Because there is so much money to be had, I don’t think the PGA Tour will get completely eject from these events, but the progressive push to shortening the season (even by three weeks) is real, and everyone (like, maybe literally everyone associated with golf) is in favor of it.
4. Tiger Woods wins: You didn’t expect that one, did you? I’m pushing all my chips to the middle of the table with end-of-career Tiger. He finished T9 (T9!) at a loaded event (albeit with an 18-man field) at the beginning of December. Woods won five times the last time he played a full season in good health. Why couldn’t he win once this year if he’s feeling fit?
Other non-top-10 players who will win in 2018: Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar, Tyrrell Hatton, Kevin Kisner, Francesco Molinari and Louis Oosthuizen.
5. Patrick Cantlay moves into the top 10: Last year, I said Justin Thomas would move into the top 10 from the mid-20s and he did so before the summer hit. This year, Cantlay ranks No. 38 so it’s a bigger leap. I’m all about pedigrees and trajectories, though, and this has been Cantlay’s (when healthy) for a long time.
6. McIlroy recovers, Koepka slides: These two move in opposite directions in the Official World Golf Rankings. McIlroy’s 2018 is going to be fascinating. He’s going to play a ton. He’s vying for the career slam at Augusta. He’s going to be the guy again on a Ryder Cup team that’s a little wobbly at the moment. And he’s going to have to figure out his wedge game along the way. Pedigrees and trajectories.
On the other hand, I’m a little worried that Koepka’s 2017 was some fool’s gold. He’s a really good player, but he finished No. 58 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green. That’s in the range of Kevin Streelman and Russell Henley and it’s a little concerning for a player who hits it like he does. I don’t think he has a terrible year, but I don’t think he wins another major in 2018.
7. Augusta National announce plans to lengthen No. 13: The par 5 has become a bit of a joke in recent years with players hitting wedges on their second shots and turning the hole into a par 4 (or in some cases 3.75). The obvious solution, although not necessarily one Augusta can affect, is rolling the ball back. While there is momentum for that, it doesn’t look imminent, and new ANGC chairman Fred Ridley needs a more immediate solution. This is the most obvious one.
8. Golf media experiments with second screen as first screen: Did you watch the College Football Playoff on ESPN or the six-coach party on ESPNNews? I found myself gravitating toward the latter. I don’t know how this would look in golf, and I might be projecting something I want to happen, but I think there’s a real market for it in this sport.
9. Tony Finau wins and makes the Ryder Cup: We are underrating his 2017. Finau had eight top 10s and finished No. 11 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained. He somehow didn’t qualify for the Masters or U.S. Open but made the cut at the other two majors and played respectably. He closed the year with three top 10s in his final six events and opened the 2017-18 season with a near win at the Safeway Open. He’s going to be a problem in 2018. For good measure, my U.S. Ryder Cup team: Spieth, Thomas, Johnson, Fowler, Koepka, Kuchar, Reed, Kisner, Mickelson, Finau, Tiger, Cantlay.
10. Europe narrowly wins the Ryder Cup : We get a European resurgence this year and an all-time event in Paris. It’s difficult to see now because of how well guys like Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler are playing, but I’m going to fade everybody riding the Stars and Stripes to an auto-W for the first time in a quarter century on European soil.
(Bonus) Your world top 10 on Dec. 31, 2018
- Jordan Spieth
- Jon Rahm
- Dustin Johnson
- Rickie Fowler
- Justin Thomas
- Rory McIlroy
- Justin Rose
- Hideki Matsuyama
- Patrick Cantlay
- Tony Finau