Woods, McIlroy headline '13 season
Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger.
When you hear those words from a passerby on the street, you know he or she is probably talking about the golfer, not the large animal. Like Bear Bryant, Tiger Woods took an animal's name and turned it into a symbol of athletic greatness.
We've had a catfish, a meadowlark, a goose and just a plain bird, but none of these wonderful nicknames of sports stars have become ubiquitous as Tiger.
In 2013, we're likely to hear this 14-time major champion's name buzzing in the streets as he tries to wrestle the throne of No.1 player in the world away from Rory McIlroy. There will be some intriguing subplots, but the emerging rivalry between Tiger and McIlroy could form one of the most exciting storylines in the game in many years.
But what about everybody else?
Surely, Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Bo Van Pelt, Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia, Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson, among others, want to mess up this perfect narrative of Tiger and McIlroy meeting head-to-head in the final round of the last group at all four majors.
In 2012, Simpson and Ernie Els beat Tiger and Rory at majors with belly putters. Will they do it again in 2013 with their bellies or will they turn to conventional putters?
At 42, does Mickelson have another great year left in his Hall of Fame career?
These are just a couple of the many questions to be answered in the upcoming PGA Tour season. Here are 10 questions that I hope to have answers for by next September:
1. Forget for a moment Tiger winning a major in 2013. Can he put together four good rounds at any major to give himself a chance to win? In July at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Woods came the closest to fulfilling that task, but he unraveled with a triple-bogey at the 6th hole on Sunday.
2. Tiger hasn't won a major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open. Since that week at Torrey Pines, the 74-time PGA Tour winner has played in 14 majors and notched seven top-10s, including five top-fives. But Tiger isn't in the top-10-collection business. So in 2013, will a very hungry Tiger recharge his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors with one of his own?
3. Will McIlroy win a major for the third year in a row? With a win at the Honda Classic, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman got to No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career, and he added an eight-shot win at the PGA Championship in August among other victories on the year. He's about as big as you can be in the game and not be named Tiger Woods.
4. Will Bo Van Pelt break through and win some tournaments on the PGA Tour? Over the past two years, the 37-year-old Indiana native has had two wins around the world, but in the States over that period all he's done is compile 15 top-10s. Most players on tour would probably agree that he is a top-10-caliber player, yet Van Pelt's lone tour victory came at the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. The former Oklahoma State star was in the running for one of Davis Love III's U.S. Ryder Cup captain's picks last summer. With another good year and a win, maybe he can make the Presidents Cup team.
5. Who will shine at the Presidents Cup in October at Muirfield Village? This biennial match-play event is probably best known for not being the Ryder Cup, but it's nonetheless an important gathering that allows the best non-European players a chance to compete in a team competition against the U.S. The best thing that could happen at Muirfield is for the International team to win. The U.S. holds a 7-1-1 record in the matches. The Presidents Cup could use a boost like the one the Ryder Cup got when the Europeans beat the Americans at the 1985 matches at the Belfry.
6. Merion's East Course is host to the U.S. Open in June. At 6,846 yards, it's almost 800 yards shorter than Torrey Pines (South), which at 7,643 yards in 2008 was the longest U.S. Open course in history. Whom will the course favor? Some believe it will equal the playing field for shorter hitters, who have felt in recent years that they didn't have a chance on some overly long golf courses. Still, a razor accurate long hitter might overpower the historic suburban Philadelphia venue.
7. How will players respond in 2013 to the January 2016 ban on anchored putting? Players using the method might opt to stick with it until the deadline. Or they could get readjusted to a conventional putter in the upcoming season or go to another lawful technique that has some of the benefits of anchoring. A user of a belly putter has won three of the past five major championships.
8. Keegan Bradley was the first to win a major with a belly putter when he took the 2011 PGA Championship. Before that, he was a mostly unsung rookie with one win. In 2012, he continued his rise to prominence with a win at the WGC-Bridgestone and four other top-10s to finish 10th on the PGA Tour money list with almost $4 million in earnings. As the most visible belly user in the game, could the light on Bradley's future grow dim if he has a difficult adjustment to a new putter? The former St. John's star might not be hurt by the anchoring ban, but a promising player such as him might have a tough 2013 trying to get a jump start on the new rule.
9. Adam Scott hand-wrapped the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes for Ernie Els. After that bitter defeat, Scott played well for the remainder of the year, winning the Australian Masters in November. But a major title still eludes him. Donald, Garcia and Lee Westwood are in the same boat. Time could be running out on all of them to get that career-defining win in one of the four majors. Which great player will complete his résumé with a major championship?
10. We're always in search of the next big thing -- a player who will emerge out of obscurity next year to be an instant star on tour. Who will it be? Patrick Reed and Luke Guthrie are my early picks to quickly make a name for themselves on the big tour. They are two 20-something Americans with the gumption to think they can win as rookies.