With a full offseason to put his off-course woes even further in the rear-view mirror, the golf world is bracing for Tiger Woods, the golfer. Not Tiger the partier, the cheat, or the punchline. Wood finished 2010 winless, and each time he tees it up in 2011, the question will surface: when will the losing streak end? If you believe The Sand Trap staff consensus, Tiger's slump is all but over. But will he return to dominate, or just look like an ordinary Top Ten player?
As for sleepers, there's more than a little love for Sergio to surge. As for players of the year, will the Europeans build on their gains of 2010? Or can the Americans find the magic atop to rankings again?
Tiger's Win Total: Over or Under 4.5?
Ron Varrial: For most of his career, five wins or more was the norm for Tiger Woods. Since 1999, he's won at least five on nine different occasions. But I'm going to stick with the premise that he's lost enough of his swagger that he won't bulldoze fields like in the past. He'll win this year, but I'd say he won't reach five victories.
Jamieson Weiss: Over. Tiger showed during the end of the year that his ballstriking is starting to turn around, and I think he will putt well enough to pull out some wins. Let's not forget that he won six times and was a top-ten machine on the PGA Tour in 2009, and that was playing a scaled back schedule and coming off of knee surgery.
Alan Olson: Removed from his off-the-course distractions, Tiger can concentrate on golf. The biggest difference compared to a couple of years ago, is the lack of fear he instills on the course. Most of the competition would fade against him down the stretch and I don't see that taking place anymore. Having said that, he's due for a big year to prove he's back so he walk off with six trophies.
Justin Pucheu: I'm going to be optimistic about it. Over. He's got something to prove. The scandal is behind him, for the most part. A lot of the swing changes he's making/has made already are very technically sound and will only lead to more consistent results. Ok, so he blew the lead at Chevron, but there's a big positive to take from it - if you watched him over the second half of the year, once he started working with Sean Foley - his consistency off the tee improved. And there were a number of rounds, particularly in the last couple of months where, when everything else was sharp, the putter fell in line. He might not win tournaments based on opponents choking any time soon, but he will win, and win at least five times.
Danny Ottmann: Tiger will have a good year and rebound from his rather disastrous 2010, but I cannot see him winning more than three times. Not because his game won't rebound, but because the competition has just gotten so good. A three-win season on the PGA Tour is a phenomenal year and if one of those wins is a major (which I think it will be) Tiger will call 2011 a success.
George Promenschenkel: If he drives the ball the way he did for much of the year, he won't sniff a trophy. But if he hits the ball as well as he did at his tournament (aside from a short stint Sunday afternoon) and gets the short game back up to Tiger standards, he will win six or seven and at least one major. I'm betting on the latter.
Erik J. Barzeski: I think you picked a good number. Tiger doesn't exactly play a lot of tournaments, so even barely getting the win here he'll have to nab five Ws in roughly 18 tournaments (maybe 22 if we count some of the stuff in Australia, China, his own tournament, etc.). I'm squarely on the fence. I will say this: I don't think the intimidation is gone forever. If anything, I think the Haney swing held Tiger back a bit. He was more consistent, yes, but I chalk that up to knowing how to play in tournaments and majors, and not a more well rounded swing. When your ball striking is off, you put a lot of pressure on your putting.
So it's time to get off the fence. If forced to pick (and we are), I'm going on the over here if you count all the "tournaments" he'll play in this year and taking the "under" if it's just PGA Tour events. I think one of the wins will include a major. I believe the changes he's making will help him a ton and we've seen flashes of it already. The more comfortable he gets with his swing changes on the course, the better and better that will get.
Who Has the Best Year: Woods, Mickelson, Westwood?
Ron Varrial: I'm going with Tiger, but it's more of an anti-Phil, anti-Lee pick. Aside from Masters week, there was little reason to think Mickelson has a dominant year coming, especially when you add in the health problems he's developing. As for Westwood, he's golf's version of a "compiler," the term they use for baseball players who never dominate, but build up stats over their career that look like Hall of Fame numbers at the end. Westwood might win a couple times in Europe but I like Woods' chances of leading the way among these three.
Jamieson Weiss: I'm going to have to take Tiger on this one. While I think Westwood will have a pretty good season, I still have doubts as to whether or not he can win a bunch of times in a season. The last time Lee won more than twice in a season was 2003, and since I already have Tiger racking up at least five wins, I can't give this one to Lee. I have a bad feeling about Phil, that this year could be a boom or bust type of year and really set the tone for the rest of his career. While it's obvious the arthritis hurt his game in 2010, he looked totally flat the entire second half of the season.
Alan Olson: Tiger Woods. Phil shows up for a couple of weeks a year and I'm not totally sold on Lee Westwood maintaining his lead over Tiger and the rest of the field. Although given my prediction percentage, what do I know?
Justin Pucheu: I'll go at it by process of elimination here. Mickelson… I don't see it happening. I don't know that he has the consistency to have a better year than the other two. When he doesn't have it, he's going home on Friday, as opposed to the other two, who, when they don't have it, they're still at least top 15-20. I do think we'll see the normal flashes of brilliance at times though. Phil is getting older and I think after the past 1+ years, he's much more concentrated on his family than golf (which he rightfully should be). TW… See first question. He'll return to his winning ways. Westwood… He's really shown no signs of letting up. Barring any medical setbacks/nagging ankle problems, there's no reason why he won't continue to consistently finish at least in the top five in tournaments he plays in. So, the answer is… Tiger Westwood! I don't know, I kinda see these guys having some historic showdowns throughout the year, trading blows like Ali and Frazier. Westwood's place becomes universally solidified among the greats of this era, BUT I gotta stick with the home team and say that Tiger has the better year and silences all the doubters.
Danny Ottmann: Unless Callaway builds Lefty a driver he can keep in play (or he learns to hit the one he has) then he won't do any more than he did in 2010. Westwood will stay primarily on the other side of the pond so he won't do anything spectacular or win a major. Tiger will have the best year winning a major and two other events.
George Promenschenkel: Woods can't wait to put 2010 behind him. If Westwood stays healthy, he'll have another good year, but not as good as Tiger's. I hope Phil plays well, but he's dealing with a lot right now.
Erik J. Barzeski: I've got to eliminate Phil right away. His 2010 performance showed us nothing except in Augusta. Let's not forget that Tiger's 35, and in golf terms (and by that I mean the new golf terms, where players are more fit than in years gone by), he's an old 35 with the surgeries and injuries. But on the other hand, Lee never really closes things out very well, does he? I'm going with Tiger, if only because Tiger has proven to be a much better closer than Lee. Basically, consider the 72nd hole at the 2008 U.S. Open. People forget that Lee had a chance to make a putt to join the playoff before Tiger, and he left it short. I just can't pick a guy who leaves short a putt that will get him into a playoff at a major!
Who will be Named PGA Tour Player of the Year? Global Player of the Year?
Ron Varrial: I've got a good feeling about Hunter Mahan as PGA Tour Player of the Year. We've been waiting for years for him to emerge as a superstar and I think he will grow from the Ryder Cup experience. Globally, my money is on Martin Kaymer. The guy is a absolute golfing machine. He's got his major ticket stamped and he's going to have another year under his belt on the European Tour, so I expect he'll be more dangerous than ever.
Jamieson Weiss: I'm going to have to give both of these to Tiger as well, but he won't run away with it. Westwood will have a good year, but another two-win season won't quite give him the award. Mickelson of course has the ability to rack up wins, but after 2010 I don't think he will. Stricker had two wins in 2010, but he won't win the player of the year award without a major. Jim Furyk is in the same boat. To me, if anyone is going to beat Tiger for global player of the year it's Martin Kaymer. His PGA Championship showed that he can win on the big stage, and every year he seems to quietly win a couple European Tour events.
Alan Olson: Since I think Tiger is going to win six times, he's my pick also for Player of the Year. My pick for Global Player of the Year is Martin Kaymer, who edges out Rory McIlroy by a whisker. It will be fun to watch those two battle it out.
Justin Pucheu: I'll take Tiger Westwood again for both?? I just think both guys are poised for great years and will shine above everyone else. If I had to throw other names in the running, they'd be Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney, and Marin Kaymer.
Danny Ottmann: I am not just a huge Tiger fan, I neither like him nor really dislike him, but I do believe he will have a good 2011 and return as the premier player in golf. He will be the 2011 PGA Tour player of the year and since he does play so much outside the United States, that means he will be the global player of the year as well.
George Promenschenkel: Tiger and Tiger.
Erik J. Barzeski: I'm going to specifically not pick Tiger, though since I said he'll win four times and nab at least one major, you know that's my actual pick because few would be able to top that. On the PGA Tour I'm taking Dustin Johnson. The guy needs his caddie to be his brains for him but if he can keep the minimal thoughts he has out of his head, he'll do well to finish second. Globally, I want to lean towards Rory McIlroy but the guy already seems content. Who says things like "I might not play in the Players Championship because I don't like the course?" It's not a major, granted, but it's a big event, Rory. C'mon now. Everyone will be big on Kaymer but I think he falls off this year. Ditto for Graeme McDowell, who's switched equipment companies already. So my international pick in my made-up version of this question? Lee Westwood! Just kidding.
Name One Player Outside the Top 50 to Make Headlines in 2011.
Ron Varrial: How many guys born in 1993 are even ranked in the Official Golf Rankings, let alone holding the number 62 spot? There's been so much written about the Molinari brothers of Italy, but it's another Italian I expect a lot from, and it's Matteo Manassero. The dude is 17, already has a win on the European Tour, finished T36 at the Masters and T13 at the British Open. Stunning talent.
Jamieson Weiss: Michael Sim. He may not be a household name, but he had two T3s and a T2 on the PGA Tour in 2010 and he owns one of the sweetest swings in golf. If he develops some consistency, look out for Sim to have a sneaky-good year.
Alan Olson: Sergio Garcia wins a major (and no, I wasn't typing this on New Year's Eve). He's been mostly irrelevant in the golfing world the past few years and hasn't won since 2008 which sets him to come in under the radar and finally win his first major.
Justin Pucheu: Arjun Atwal. His win at the Wyndham Championship qualifies him for The Masters and the PGA Championship. He'll win again this year. Though the glaring answer to this question would be Sergio Garcia. He'll probably pee in a cup this time or something.
Danny Ottmann: How about Scott Verplank? I have always liked Verplank and he has the tendency to be a streaky player. Maybe he will get on a streak in 2011.
George Promenschenkel: Hmm, should we take "make headlines" to mean the way Tiger did most of his career or the way he did last year? Because you know John Daly will do something somewhere that will get him noticed. But on the golf course, there's no way Henrik Stenson should be just .04 points ahead of Heath Slocum. No offense to Slocum, but Stenson has too much talent. Fanny needs to kick him in the tuckus. I also think there will be a Sergio sighting this year. Just maybe.
Erik J. Barzeski: Jeff Overton. Guy had a great year and would have netted his first win were it not for Appleby's final-round 59. The Ryder Cup pumped him up and I think he has the desire, so long as he can stay just a teeny bit calmer when things don't go his way in the early or middle parts of the round.
Who Finishes 2011 atop the World Golf Rankings?
Ron Varrial: Kaymer is sitting pretty, currently third in the world. He's laid the foundation with his PGA Championship title and strong showings in some big-time events. Since I don't see Westwood building on his lead at the top, unless Tiger returns to his dominant form, Kaymer is poised to take over.
Jamieson Weiss: As exhibited by my picks above, I'm taking Tiger. If Lee has a chance, it's because he gets a couple wins and racks up top 10 finishes.
Alan Olson: Tiger Woods with Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy in hot pursuit.
Justin Pucheu: Again, gotta be optimistic for the home team here and say Tiger takes it back over, though it won't be easy. Kaymer might win once or twice but I just can't see him moving past Tiger or Westwood this year.
Danny Ottmann: Tiger will return to his post, he will hit his prime and no one will touch him for the next five years.
George Promenschenkel: The theme continues… Tiger. Westwood second.
Erik J. Barzeski: Clearly, Steve Marino. C'mon now…