The 2016 golf season finished in a flurry with Rory McIlroy winning The FedEx Cup, Dustin Johnson winning Player of The Year, and The United States taking back The Ryder Cup for the first time in eight years. Buckle up, 2017 sets up to be even more exciting as Tiger Woods tries to get himself back to the top.
At the end of the 2016 regular season on The PGA Tour, we saw Rory McIlroy catch fire, winning The Deutsche Bank Championship and season-finale Tour Championship, vaulting him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings and winning the 10-million dollar first prize. A week later, Davis Love III captained his Ryder Cup squad to victory at Hazeltine in Minnesota, beating the European side for the first time in eight years. It was here that Rory remained hot as he and Patrick Reed of The U.S. thrilled the crowd with fist pumps and clutch golf shots.
The International flavor continued in Rio for The Olympic Games with Matt Kuchar of The U.S. taking home the bronze medal, Henrik Stenson of Sweden getting the silver, and England's Justin Rose capturing top honors and Olympic gold.
The wrap around season ensued with some new faces making their way into the winner's circle. One player, many have figured for a Major Championship someday soon, Hideki Matsuyama, won twice between Halloween and December. Another red-hot youngster with possibly a Major Championship pedigree, Justin Thomas, also secured two wins and nearly 2.5 million dollars. The second of his victories coming at The Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Maui in early January to kick off the beginning of the traditional golf season, one that could be historic.
So the stage has been set for what looks to be another electric season of golf on The PGA Tour and the worldwide. I cannot remember a time in the sport when so many players were so good and have the makings of just seemingly taking turns at the winner's podium each week, rather than just a handful of players dominating. I imagine this somewhat represents "The Tiger Generation." Players that were just being born and introduced to the game of golf when Tiger was imperious, with very few players that could even challenge him, inspiring these neophytes to take up the game. They are all coming of age now - and in what is a funny twist, as Tiger now tries to come back to a competitive level in the sport, it is these once "apostles" who are making this door extremely difficult for Tiger to kick in. And not only does Tiger have to compete with this younger generation of already world class players, but his old buddies, Mickelson, Sergio, Stenson, Kuchar, Furyk, Westwood, Stricker.. are still winning and contending in Majors - and shooting 58's!
With the younger generation making up the majority of the top 100-ranked players in the world, and the old guard still well within the mix, does not look like Tiger Woods could have picked a more difficult time to crack back into golf stardom. We'll be rooting for a healthy and successful return however because it is tremendous for the game. The young guns, the veterans, and Tiger all at the forefront of golf at the same time Let's hope so.
A Few Things to Expect This Season
1. By season's end, Rory McIlroy will be the number one player in the world. He fought injury a bit down the stretch in 2015 and did not win until late in 2016 but this gives The FedEx Champ a head of steam coming into the new season. His equipment change may make for a slower start and he has never had tremendous success at The Masters but he has dominated over the years at Quail Hollow, the site of this year's PGA Championship. This could be the Summer of Rory.
2. Did you see Thomas Pieters at The Ryder Cup last September? I picked him in last year's season preview to be rookie of the year but he did not play much stateside. You'll see him more this year though as he has moved to 48th in the world rankings. He's listed at 66-1 (at 5Dimes) to win The Masters this April. The University of Illinois alum will crack the top-20 in the world rankings this year.
3. Jordan Spieth will not win a Major this year. The Masters would be his obvious best chance with two second-place finishes and a win in the last three years but he still has to overcome some very tough memories from last year's unfortunate ending. I expect he'll contend with his short game being what it is but I don't expect another green jacket - yet. He has not yet become a terrific links golf player with no finish at The British higher than 30th, other than a 4th at St. Andrew's in 2015, which is not your typical links-style design. This year's host course, Royal Birkdale, is. The U.S. Open is an unknown this year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin and The PGA is at Quail Hollow, a course he has not played since 2013 when he finished 32nd at The Wells Fargo.
4. Sergio Garcia will win The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Yes, I know, I have picked Sergio to win The Open many times but it is by far his best Major and let's not forget, this 37-year old is still the 14th best player in the world. It was just after the first of the year that Garcia announced on Twitter that he was going to get married this year to college golfer and former Golf Channel reporter, Angela Akins. Sergio has been much more comfortable on and off the course in recent years and I feel this will help his piece of mind as well. El Nino is your Champion Golfer of The Year for 2017.
Tiger Woods will not win a tournament this year - but he will in 2018! I feel that Tiger will play in roughly a dozen events this season and ease himself back into the grind of a Tour schedule, be getting himself in "game shape" this year and convert that into a win or maybe two, next season. He will likely contend and have a top-10 finish or two this year but I feel it is next year when the W comes for Tiger. We'll expand upon that next year at this time!