This year at The Sand Trap, we’ve run five prediction columns. Back in January we made some general pre-season predictions, then we picked each of the four majors. Despite the fact that no one picked a single majors champion (I blame Tiger’s demise for this, five years ago these would have been no-brainers), we had a few near-misses and plenty of nuggets of insight. And if there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s that I am not a psychic, and that I suck big time at predicting the future.
Number Five: Pre-Season
The first question before the year started got right to what was on everyone’s mind: how would Tiger do? The question was specifically about his win total, and whether or not he’d finish with more or less than 4.5 wins. I took the over, citing his strong play during last year’s Ryder Cup as well as his near-win at his own tournament in December. As we all know, amid injuries and ineffectiveness Tiger went winless for the second year in a row (barring a surprising win in Australia), and though he had a few moments of greatness (specifically at the Masters), his 2011 was wholly disappointing.
The next question asked who would have a better season among Tiger, Phil, and Lee Westwood. I again put my faith in Tiger. None of them played all that well, but the best season has to go to Lee Westwood who, amazingly, was in the top 11 at three of the year’s majors yet never made me think a single time that he could actually win. Lee also picked up a win at the European Tour’s Ballantine’s Championship, though he actually pulled in a larger check for his runner-up finish in the BMW PGA Championship. Phil had a solid major finish at the British, but despite finishing 15th in FedExCup points and winning the Shell Houston Open, he was a letdown. The next question asked us to pick our PGA Tour and global player of the year, and again I went with Tiger, hedging my bet slightly with Martin Kaymer. Kaymer spent some time at number one in the world early on, but Luke Donald has ended up walking away with this award, despite the fact that none of us mentioned him.
The last two questions asked us to predict one player outside the top 50 to make headlines, and the player to finish the year atop the world rankings. I took Michael Sim in the former, and Tiger Woods for the latter. Sim finished the year outside the top 200 on the money list and Tiger didn’t do all that much better.
Number Four: The Masters
With Tiger Woods a bit hit-or-miss going into the Masters, I relented and went with a slightly safer pick of Matt Kuchar to win Bobby Jones’ tournament at -11. Kuchar was quietly the 2010 money leader on the PGA Tour, and I thought 2011 would be the brief pinnacle of his career. Kuchar teased me a little with a first-round 68 and a third-round 69, but once you added in his two 75s he was never seriously in contention. The Kuch finished T27. I also picked the Americans to outnumber the Europeans in the top 10, which turned out to be my first correct prediction of the year as Tiger, Bo Van Pelt, and Ryan Palmer outnumbered Luke Donald.
I was reasonably close on a few other picks. I had Tiger and Lee Westwood making the top 10 (check for Tiger, Lee wound up T11, though I was right about the back-door nature of his finish), Phil playing well (I was way off), and Kaymer barely making the cut (he missed it completely). When pressed, I picked Kaymer as one top 10 player to miss the cut, though I was wasn’t even in the ballpark on my pick of Vijay Singh to contend.
Number Three: The U.S. Open
As the season drew on, my predictions only got worse. I again stuck with Matt Kuchar to win at the U.S. Open, this time at -4. Though he finished a respectable T14, he was 14 strokes off the pace set by Rory McIlroy, and never really threatened to even contend for second place. My winning score guess was also blown out of the water. The next prediction was about how Tiger’s absence would affect the tournament. Though I didn’t say it in as many words, I thought the U.S. Open would be a snoozer, following in the footsteps of the insomnia-curing Players Championship that was only mildly interesting after the 16th hole. I was right to some extent, as Rory McIlroy simply had to avoid an aneurism on Sunday to secure his win. Watching him torch the field was exciting to a degree, but at some point (for me it was hearing Chris Berman “Back, Back, Back”ing McIlroy’s hole out from the fairway) it just got boring. My answer to the next question, about whether or not we were looking forward to a Tiger-free U.S. Open, was similar to the second. As we saw at the Masters, no one brings a crowd to their feet like Tiger Woods.
I then picked Ricky Barnes as my player outside the top 50 to make some noise (which was monumentally stupid, as Barnes was not actually in the field despite a second-place finish two years prior), and Graeme McDowell as a player inside the top 10 to miss the cut. McDowell ended up joining Kuchar, among others, at T14, but in my defense he was only there because of two strong rounds over the weekend, when everyone knew they had to go low to even be in the conversation. In a game of matchups, I took Phil over Stricker (wrong), Westwood over McIlroy (dead wrong), and Kuchar over Bubba Watson (hooray!).
Number Two: The Open Championship
I deviated from my previous selections of taking Kuhcar to win the British, instead picking Adam Scott to go home with the Claret Jug at -5. Though I was right on with the final score, Scott was 12 strokes off the lead of Darren Clarke, and even at T25, he never threatened. The next question asked us which continent would place more players in the top 10, and I deviated a bit and took the internationals. I was, of course, way off, and not even a single international player placed in the top 10. The Europeans (Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, Raphael Jacquelin, Simon Dyson, and Sergio Garcia) placed five players in the top 10, while the Americans (Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Chad Campbell, Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, and David Love III) had six.
I then took Phil Mickelson as my one top 10 player to miss the cut (not even close), and Sergio Garcia as my underdog (woot!). Playing the matchups, I took McIlroy over Westwood (correct), Donald over McDowell (nope), and Dustin Johnson over Quiros (right again). Clinging to hope, I took Matt Kuchar as my top American (way wrong), and McIlroy as my top European (not even close, but at least I got the country right).
Number One: The PGA Championship
Because of Adam Scott’s win the previous week at the Bridgestone, I was sure he had no chance to win the PGA. The Golf Gods just wouldn’t have allowed it. And because Matt Kuchar’s only win all year was at the CVS Caremark Charity Classic (an event in Rhode Island that the New England sports stations don’t even pay attention to), I was positive he wasn’t going to win. My logic led me to Rickie Fowler at -9. Fowler was playing well after solid finishes at the British and the Bridgestone, but he ended up tying for 51st. If this pick had a silver lining, it was that I was only one stroke off on the score. In the next question I stuck with Fowler to have the best chance to win his first major (I was actually considering Keegan Bradley after his solid finish at the Bridgestone, I swear), and Rory McIlroy as having the best chance to score his second major.
The third question asked us who inside the top 10 was most likely to miss the cut, and who outside the top 50 could finish high. I took Phil Mickelson to miss the cut (he never contended but did finish T19), and Keegan Bradley to make the top 10 (disregard the fact that I said he probably wouldn’t win). I answered the next question by saying I thought Steve Williams would cash a smaller check than Adam Scott and Tiger Woods, which was way off since Tiger missed the cut.
Closing and Your Thoughts?
2011 was an odd one in the golf world. After 2010, the year of the European Invasion, 2011 was marked by the spread-out victories of has-beens, never-weres, and up-and-comers. It was the first PGA Tour season without a three-time winner since 1991, and as the Tour’s elite fall off, the young guys have proven that either they still need time to mature, or we’re going to go a long time without the once-or-twice-in-a-generation player that has always defined golf. Despite the fact that many of my favorite players didn’t do so well (I’m looking at you Furyk, Tiger, Sergio, Vijay, and Kuchar), it was fun and eventful seeing the young players sink or swim. Where in most sports you can spend years in the minor leagues or as a backup, in golf you’re thrown directly into the fire, and if you want to be the best (and make money like the best) you’ve got to beat the best. That’s just what we’re beginning to see.