Showing Luke Donald a little love in '12
Time for some preseason prognostication
Each Monday during the 2012 PGA Tour season, ESPN's golf experts will weigh in on the pressing issues in the game.
So as the season gets started this week -- yup, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions begins Friday and ends next Monday in Hawaii -- we've got all your coverage here on ESPN.com.
1. Which major-less top-10 player is most likely to have a major breakthrough in 2012?
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: That's an easy one following last year's final PGA Tour performance by Luke Donald. And there are three courses he'll have legitimate shots at winning: if he does the "Zach Johnson" at the Masters, if he gets the right side of the tee times at Royal Lytham for the British Open, and if Kiawah plays firm at the PGA Championship.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: But for a double-bogey on Sunday at Amen Corner at the par-3 12th hole, Luke Donald might have finally gotten his first major championship at the 2011 Masters. Instead he finished four shots back of Charl Schwartzel in a tie for fourth with Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy. Since then he's been the best player in the world, amassing 15 top-10s, including three wins. A major in 2012 will fully legitimize the 34-year-old Englishman's place as the top-ranked player in the world.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Luke Donald. It is the next step for the reigning player of the year and money title holder on two tours. Donald heads into 2012 as the solid No. 1 player in the world. His consistency in 2011 was remarkable, with four worldwide victories and top-10 finishes nearly every week. The trick now is for him to funnel his energies toward the four biggest tournaments and peak at the correct times.
Andy North, two-time U.S. Open champion and ESPN golf analyst: Luke Donald. He's taken his game to such a different level over the last 18 months. He's given himself a lot of opportunities and he'll eventually figure out a way to win one.
2. Give us a player who is poised for a rebound in 2012.
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Sergio Garcia. He's put life and golf in perspective now. After a self-imposed exile from the game, Garcia made 15 of 16 cuts last year with three top-10s. Expect big things from the Spaniard this year as he takes Seve's memory and runs with it!
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: In 2010, Jim Furyk won three times and took the FedEx Cup playoffs title. But after changing his golf ball and driver before the start of the 2011 season, he had his worst year on tour since '04, when a wrist injury limited him to 14 events. Last season, the 41-year-old, 16-time PGA Tour winner had only four top-10s and he didn't even make the Tour Championship.
This offseason he is sure to make more tweaks to his equipment and game. I would be surprised if he didn't win early in 2012 and find his consistently superior form. It's a Ryder Cup year and he hasn't missed a U.S. team since 1995.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Jim Furyk. From winning the FedEx Cup to nearly dropping out of the top 50 in the world, it was quite a fall in 2011 for Furyk. But he showed signs later in the year of getting his game back together. He finally found a putting stroke at the Presidents Cup and you can believe he'll be motivated to get back to his winning ways after many frustrations.
Andy North, two-time U.S. Open champion and ESPN golf analyst: Tiger Woods. If you look at what he did at the end of the year, it's very similar to 2004 when he was changing his swing. He finished strong, then won six times in 2005. I'm not saying he's going to do that, but he's got his head back where he needs it and his talent level hasn't gone away, so I think he's going to have a good year.
3. How soon will Tiger Woods get his first win, if at all, in 2012?
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger gets his first win at the Masters. Funny to say it this way, but he can do the same thing Phil Mickelson did. For those two guys, no matter how bad they're hittin' it, when they get to Augusta it's different. Tiger knows it like Jack Nicklaus and that's where the win comes.
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Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Judging by his past performances in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship -- three wins in 11 appearances -- the Feb. 22-26 event should give Tiger Woods a good opportunity to gain some early confidence against a limited field. But if rumors are true that he might play earlier that month at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which he hasn't teed it up at since 2002, we might see him win sooner than in Arizona.
After his victory in December at the Chevron, he's full of confidence and ready to test his game in a full-field event in the U.S. He'll contend in January at the Dubai Desert Classic in Abu Dhabi to start his year, but I don't expect him to win. He'll get his first official title in more than two years in front of a home crowd.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Doral. The WGC-Cadillac Invitational will either be Woods' fourth or fifth tournament of 2012, depending on scheduling projections. After another layoff due to the holidays, he is going to need some time to find his way again. But Woods was showing signs at the end of 2011 of putting it together. And he's won three times at Doral.
Andy North, two-time U.S. Open champion and ESPN golf analyst: I think there's a good chance he'll win before Augusta. I think he'll have a win before the Masters.
4. What tournament are you most looking forward to -- and you can't pick the Masters.
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: This year it's a no brainer -- The Ryder Cup. How can an event with no money cause the hair on everyone's necks to stand? What makes a pro golfer's hands shake? If there is only one tournament you go to ...
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the true start on the road to the Masters. Most of the top players in the world are generally in the field at Bay Hill. With a golf course that can be set up to be brutally hard, Arnie tries to create the buzz that will come a few weeks later in Augusta. And though it's just a preamble to more important matters, it's always fun to witness players at Palmer's tournament gearing up for what they hope will be their year in the majors.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: The WGC-Cadillac Invitational. For the reasons stated above. That is where I believe Woods will win for the first time on the PGA Tour since the 2009 BMW Championship. Even if he doesn't, it's the first stroke-play event of 2012 where all of the top names will be together, and just a month before the Masters. It should be a good indication of where things are headed this year for Woods.
Andy North, two-time U.S. Open champion and ESPN golf analyst: Probably the U.S. Open at Olympic. It's a wonderful golf course with a lot of history. We've seen some interesting things happen there in the past. The British is at Royal Lytham and the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island will be interesting depending on how the wind blows, but I think the U.S. Open at Olympic will be the most interesting.
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2012 SEASON PREVIEW
Masters: Augusta National Golf Club; April 5-8; Augusta, Ga.
U.S. Open: The Olympic Club; June 14-17; San Francisco, Calif.
Open Championship: Royal Lytham and St Annes; July 19-22; Lancashire, England
PGA Championship: Kiawah Island Ocean Course; Aug. 9-12; Kiawah Island, S.C.
Ryder Cup: Medinah, No. 3 Course; Sept. 28-30; Medinah, Ill.