It’s that time again when people are prone to reflecting on the year that just wrapped up while looking ahead at what’s in store. You can do the reflecting on your own, but I’ll offer up a few predictions and people / things I”ll be watching closely in 2014.
It’s a Ryder Cup year and Tom Watson was boldly selected by Ted Bishop and his cronies at the PGA of America to lead Team USA to Scotland where they will attempt to wrestle back the cup they thought they had won at Medinah CC. It just so happens Watson was Captain the last time Team USA won on European soil, way back in 1993 at The Belfry. Key for Watson will be making the correct Captains Selections, of which he gave back one of the four choices he had when he announced nine players will qualify for the team via the points system instead of eight as was the case the past several Cup Matches. Does Watson go for veteran leadership or youthful fearlessness? If he does lean towards the younger generation, it will be interesting to see how he treats Peter Uihlein who emerged last year on the European Tour. Uihlein will have a hard time qualifying via points as he plans to maintain his status on the European Tour and has no status on the PGA Tour. His World Golf Ranking will likely qualify him for several PGA Tour events where U.S. Points can be earned, but his prospects of playing on the Ryder Cup Team are most likely relying on Captain Watson. Having Uihlein on the team may turn the table a bit on the European’s who have several players who play the PGA Tour. It would be nice to have them feel what it’s like to have a familiar face wearing different colors come Ryder Cup week.
Jordan Spieth enjoyed a breakout year in 2013, going from no status on the PGA Tour at all to playing on the United States Presidents Cup Team. He didn’t get a sophomore season at the University of Texas as he opted to turn professional, so I’m interested to see how Spieth handles his fast success during his sophomore year on the PGA Tour. Does he get complacent knowing he can play whenever and wherever he wants to or does the comfort of knowing he’s secure propel him to success in a major championship in 2014? We’ve seen some can’t miss kids come along the past four or five years, even after participating in International competition, such as Anthony Kim, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler to name a few. For the sake of American golf, please let Jordan follow a different path.
Over the past several years we’ve seen many of the games younger stars break through to win their first major championship. We’ve had Keegan, Webb, Bubba and Dufner to go with players like Adam Scott and Justin Rose. So who could it be in 2014? Believe it or not, I actually think Sergio Garcia has an exceptional chance to be that guy in 2014. The statistics support Garcia breaking through when you consider he’s turned his weakness, putting, into a solid strength. Garcia’s improvement in putting over the years has been astounding. That trend continued in 2013 when he finished eighth in strokes gained-putting at .611. He was 121st (-.081) in 2008, 119th (-.074) in ’09, 159th (-.359) in ’10, 144th (-.192) in ’11 and 26th (.400) in ’12.
Sergio Garcia had as many top 10s in 2013 as he had in the previous two years combined. In other words, dramatically improved putting has led to a lot more consistency from Garcia, already one of the best ball-strikers and drivers of the ball on TOUR. And to top it all off, he’s got himself a girlfriend again. Of the major venues in 2014, I like the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool or the PGA Championship at Valhalla to provide Sergio his best opportunities.
So how does Adam Scott answer his major championship winning 2013? He definitely responded well during his trip back home this winter, winning twice individually and partnering with Jason Day to capture the World Cup. But Scott recently announced he will take a 6 week break after playing twice in Hawaii to start 2014, skipping the entire West Coast Swing including the World Match Play Championship. Scott admittedly spent years trying to figure out a formula for success preparing him to peak at the right time during the season, eventually leading to a new found consistency in major championships and ultimately his breakthrough victory last year at Augusta National. I’m not expecting a repeat performance at Augusta National, but don’t be surprised to see Scott in contention at Royal Liverpool, in a position to break Sergio’s heart once again.
Who wins their next major championship first, Rory or Tiger? I think both players will get themselves in position to win another major championship in 2014. Tiger has a favorable lineup of venues for capturing his 15th major title when you consider the four include Augusta National, Pinehurst, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla. He’s already won on 3 of these and finished 3rd and 2nd place at Pinehurst in the past two U.S. Opens played there. I like Rory’s chances best at Royal Liverpool and Valhalla with Tiger winning at either Augusta or Pinehurst.
So if Tiger wins at Pinehurst, that means Phil Mickelson will close out 2014 still needing a U.S. Open to complete the career grand slam. 2014 could prove to be a pivotal year for Lefty as he will clearly be gearing up for another Ryder Cup in September but after not getting it done at Pinehurst, how dedicated will Lefty be to the rest of the season? He’s already hinted he’s planning on scaling back a bit, in the same vain as Steve Stricker to spend more time with family.
It’s set up to be an exciting 2014 on the PGA Tour so check back for more people to watch for in a follow up post on The Back Nine Radio Show.