The Christmas tree is down, the holiday lights have been taken off the front of the house and the candles have all been extinguished from the menorah. That means that it’s finally time for the 2017 PGA Tour season to get going, as it will this Thursday in Kapalua. The field is pretty salty (Spieth, Day, Dustin and many more), and as players prepare to pound tee shots in Hawaii, we roll out our yearly predictions for the '17 PGA (and LPGA) season.
I said it last year and I’m saying it again! Forget that Phil is actually on a longer winless streak on the PGA Tour than Tiger Woods. Forget that Phil shot his worst score ever at the Masters last year with that second-round 79. Forget that he’s 46 and the PGA Tour continues to get younger and younger. Forget that there is a 23-year-old that has finished second, first and second in his three starts at the Masters. Forget all of that and simply know that Phil finished in the top-25 in 59 percent of his starts in 2016 and has as many wins at the Masters as he does missed cuts over his lengthy career.
I believe in Phil’s ability to win another major before his career is over, and I don’t see a golf course that sets up better for his game than Augusta National. I think Phil will be in contention come Sunday with a chance to win, and frankly, that is all golf fans can hope.
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Tiger won’t win this year
On the flip side, I’m not sure a solid Friday round of golf in an 18-person event without a playing partner has convinced me that Tiger Woods has the appropriate game to compete with the insane talent level that is this current PGA Tour.
I would love to see Tiger win again. I would love to see Tiger make a run at the Masters or the British Open or even the Puerto Rico Open, but it is going to take a monumental effort just to get into contention for the 41-year-old. It’ll be nice to see where his game is in May if he stays healthy, but I still felt like there was a ton of rust down in the Bahamas.
My heart hopes Tiger wins this season, but my brain says otherwise.
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Matsuyama and Koepka have the best shot at joining the major club
This newfound love for putting has Matsuyama in the top-tier of professional players, up there with Rory and Jason and Jordan and Dustin. Now that he seems to be as comfortable on the greens as he has ever been, big wins will continue to pile up.
As for Koepka, it just seems that he’s the next version of Dustin Johnson, a guy that has superhero-like power and actually knows how to embrace it and use it to his full advantage. Koepka was third on the PGA Tour a year ago in strokes gained, and if he can tighten up his approaches into greens (110th on Tour a year ago in greens hit in regulation) he will be a multiple winner in 2017 and will make a run at one of the four majors.
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Majors will be full of repeat champions this season
Last year we got all new major winners, with Danny Willett, Dustin, Henrik Stenson and Jimmy Walker joining the ranks of champions in the big four. That won’t be the case in 2017, mostly because two of those four players that snagged majors are in the top four in the world currently and are easily two of the top six best players alive right now.
If it isn’t Dustin or Henrik that adds another one, it’ll be Phil, Rory, Jason or even the likes of a Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen or Adam Scott. I left out one name because ...
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Jordan Spieth won’t win a major this year
I have defended Spieth’s 2016 season for most of this fall and winter, reminding people that he was a bad swing at Augusta away from winning three times including a second straight green jacket. But golf just seemed a lot tougher for Spieth in ’16, both mentally and emotionally. He talked extensively about that when he visited the No Laying Up podcast, hoping to speed up and play more committed in ’17, but I’m more interested in the amount of times Spieth gives himself to win come Sunday.
You can’t rule Spieth out at the Masters, and I really like how Royal Birkdale sets up for his game at the Open, but I suspect when September rolls around we will be reminded once again just how tough it is to win major championships.
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Wesley Bryan will win on the PGA Tour
He won three times on the Web.com Tour last year, and is arguably the best putter in the world, even better than the man I just talked about above.
Harold Varner III was on the Clubhouse podcast last month and mentioned Wesley was the best player some people have never heard of, and after chatting with Wesley a few times, it’s clear that he believes he has the ability to win at any venue on any Tour in the world.
Now he gets to spend the entire year doing to the PGA Tour what he just did on the Web. Wouldn’t a tartan jacket look great on Bryan after four days of amazing golf (and putting) at Harbour Town?
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Rickie Fowler will bounce back in '17
It was a real strange season for Fowler. And while Matsuyama has been the talk of this offseason with his incredible play and four wins in five starts, Fowler has quietly put together a great little run to get back in form and prepared for this new year.
A T-6 at the HSBC Champions back in late October was followed up by some solid play alongside Jimmy Walker at the Handa World Cup of Golf (they finished T-2) and a solid T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge wrapped up his ’16.
Fowler has got to hit more fairways this season to give himself better looks at birdie, and if he can tighten up that part of his game he will be back to normal form and more of the Fowler we saw in ’15 and less of what we saw for most of ’16.
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Michelle Wie will bounce back in '17
I see a big year for Michelle Wie, who hasn’t won on the LPGA Tour since snagging her lone major win at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open.
It was interesting chatting with her coach, David Leadbetter, about the 27-year-old, who has constantly been battling injuries the last few years, never being healthy enough to give this game 100 percent of her focus, but I think this is the year that we see Wie out there without any major injuries and back using her unique set of skills to her advantage.
If the body doesn’t let her down, I think we could see a motivated Michelle snag another win and compete a bit more in the big events.
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Rory McIlroy will take this year by storm
Honestly, who is going to argue this one? A strange start to the year for Rory was capped off by a ridiculous run late in the playoffs that can only be done by a handful of men in the world. Comparing Rory to Tiger is silly because comparing anyone to Tiger is silly, but I do get this feeling that a golf event is magnified when Rory is in contention.
Rory possesses the unique ability to rise to the moment, like all the game's greats. When you get to the practice tee on Tuesday and you’re the guy with the target on your back, it can be intimidating, but Rory loves it, embraces it and seems to get excited to prove to everyone why exactly that target is there.
Early last season it was simply a trashy wedge game that kept Rory out of the winner’s circle. He got all of that figured out as the season went along, and he’s heading into the ’17 season with as much hype as he did coming off back-to-back major wins in 2014.
We’ve been waiting for the Rory year to finally happen. I think 2017 will be it.
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The U.S. will lose the Presidents Cup
I’m with CBS' Kyle Porter on this one. I think it is finally the week that the International team steals victory from Team USA, and honestly, it needs to happen to keep this event interesting for years to come.