16. Does 52-year-old Fred Couples have a legit shot at winning the Masters? Magic 8-ball says: "Without a doubt." The Presidents Cup captain playing well at Augusta may be another Masters "traditional like no other." After the positive response Boom Boom's back has had to treatments received from German celebrity doc, Peter Wehling (testimonial clients have included Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, Pope John Paul II), and given that his game's tailor-made for Augusta, AND his recent success on the Champions Tour, Freddy's got a more than just a remote shot at becoming the oldest Green Jacket winner. If he goes off at higher than 25-1, run to the window for the chance of big money.
15. Will the Ryder Cup at Medinah be the most watched golf event of 2012? Magic 8-ball says: "Outlook not so good." Everything about The Ryder Cup is perfect. It's coming off a very exciting Cup in 2010; there will be a lot of interest in seeing if the U.S. can win back the Cup; it's being played at a beautiful course especially in autumn; and it can be shown live in the States. The only problem...the NFL won't be on strike. And when the NFL's on TV, ain't nothing else on TV.
14. Will 2011's 2nd leading money winner become more than just the answer to a trivia question? Do you remember that Webb Simpson finished #2 in the money last year only behind Luke Donald? If not, you're among the 99%. Simpson almost invisibly exploded (if that's even possible) on the scene in setting the all-time record with the largest one-season earnings jump in Tour history when he went from $972,962 in 2010 to $6,683,214, an increase of $5,374,391. Despite not having a media-catchy name like Jhonnie Vegas (and frankly who does?) the 25-year-old native of North Carolina and Wake Forest alum has leaped into a position where he can start cashing some large endorsements to go with the large checks. Can he be more than a trivia answer? Magic 8-ball says: "Signs point to yes." If his game continues to sparkle, he'll get more than a fair share of facetime on TV, and everybody will know "Webb...rhymes with celeb."
13. Will the streak of 13 different winners in the last 13 Majors end this year? You read it right...13 straight Major winners without a repeat. (The reported record is 17 back in the mid-80's when Seve Ballesteros broke the streak at the 1988 U.S. Open). This streak's roster going back in time includes: Keegan Bradley, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Phil Mickelson, Y.E. Yang, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Angel Cabrera, Padraig Harrington. Will one of these 13 win a 2012 Major to stop the streak? Magic 8-ball says: "As I see it, yes." The streak gets ended this year by McIlroy.
12. Will the PGA change the format of the dreadfully dull and overly complicated FedEx Cup playoff format? Unfortunately, the Magic 8-ball says "My sources say no." The FedEx Cup is the bad joke of sports playoffs yet PGA commish Tim Fincham and the Tour's power-that-be are stubbornly committed to making it work. But it's fundamentally flawed -- nothing more than a messy, confusing, non-climax for the sport and its fans. The FedEx Cup was started in 2007 because the PGA Tour was missing out on the money from the sport's biggest events and cash cows - the four majors and the Ryder Cup - because it doesn't run any of them. The Masters is owned by Augusta National. The U.S. Open is run by the USGA. The British Open is put on by R&A (Royal and Ancient golf club of St. Andrews). The PGA Championship is operated by PGA of America (a different organization from the PGA Tour) which also runs the Ryder Cup along with the PGA European Tour. So, the PGA Tour saw a huge opportunity to rev-up the revenue by creating the game's season-ending grand finale. Unfortunately and unnecessarily, they chose a format that's as appealing as a story problem in a calculus final. By using the format from hell and putting it up against the start of the NFL season, the Tour finds itself leaving a ton of money and fan interest on the table.
11. Has the Graeme McDowell rocket ride flamed out for good? Magic 8-ball says: "Reply hazy, try again." Graeme was the fun-filled, feel-good fun story in 2010 when he won the U.S. Open and was the clincher in Europe's Ryder Cup victory... and then the G-Mac Attack started fizzling. What the heck happened? Maybe it was just that nobody that has as Graeme's zest for having fun can ride that ride without eventually burning out a bit. We'll all have to wait and see if G-Mac's caught his breath and is ready to reignite in 2012.
10. Can Anthony Kim, Camilio Villegas, Ian Poulter get back in the conversation? Magic 8-ball says: "Better not tell you now" (Don't want to jinx them.) All three were in the team photo of Players to Watch in 2011. Anthony Kim had thumb surgery in 2010 and has never regained the mojo needed to be a consistent contender as AK posted only 2 top ten finishes last season. Still, he's only 26 and did flash an improving game during overseas tourneys at the end of 2011. Camilio's star flickered so much in 2011 that he barely made the 125 man field for the FedEx Cup. But he hung in there and battled mightly until the disadvantage of his point total knocked him out. The 29-year-old Columbian is entering his prime pro years so the needle is still pointing up but he can't afford another slow start. Ian Poulter's earning last year were his lowest since his 2005 rookie season and he's won only once on Tour. Yikes. But the Tweeting maniac snagged a come-from-behind win at the Australian Masters in December and he's insanely focused on making the 2012 European Ryder Cup team which would be his 4th time on the roster.
9. Does Lee Westwood have it in him to finally seal the deal at a Major? Magic 8-ball says:" Cannot predict now."The world's #2 ranked player, Westwood has been a scoring machine. The Englishman's decision to rejoin the PGA Tour here in the States should help him feel a bit more comfortable on a circuit where he only played in 10 events last year. People tend to forget that Lee's only 28-years-old so he's got plenty of trend left on the tires. But there's that Majors bugaboo that's tough to ignore. Yeah, the seven top 10s in his last 15 Majors is nice but...
8. Is there any way possible the 2012 Masters can top last year's epic finish? Magic 8-ball says: "My reply is no." Tiger coming from 7 shots back into a tie for first. McIlroy's heart-wrenching meltdown. Nine players in the hunt on the final nine. Six guys from every continent except Antartica with the lead or sharing it at some time. And finally, a 26-year-old son of a chicken farmer from South Africa won with an unprecedented four consecutive birdies on the closing holes. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime calvary charges to the finish line that will live on in Masters lore forever. One day, someone will make a movie out of it.
7. Are the enormous expectations for Rickie Fowler realistic or unrealistic? Magic 8-ball says: "Ask again later." Rickie's right on track going into 2012 but he's been given a lot of hype and there's the growing pressure that goes along with it. All indications so far are he's fine in the bright lights and he's OK with the sky being the limit, but this year the sky includes a Tour win or two -- not necessarily in a Major but maybe in The Players Championship or WGC event.
6. Has Golf's Sexiest Man Adam Scott developed serious game on the course as well? Magic 8-ball says: "Yes." 2011 was Adam's breakout year on the leaderboards despite the distraction of picking up Tiger's ex, Stevie Williams, as his caddy. The XL putter has moved him up out of the second tier onto the first page where he should be frequently found again this year. Which should continue to help TV ratings among the women demographics.
5. After his spectacular 2011 rookie season, is Keegan Bradley now an A-list guy? Magic 8-ball says: "Concentrate (and think rationally) and ask again." Some may indignantly ask, "Why is this even a question?! Haven't you seen his swing and mental focus? Don't you know that the red belt he wore in the final round of his PGA Championship victory has been honorarily retired and gloriously hangs in the studio of the The Dan Patrick Show? Isn't that alone worthy of making the A-list?" Ouch. While the most-likable Bradley is ranked in most pre-season top 10 lists, the 25-year-old has only one season under his new belt and missed the cut in 10 of 28 events last year. Hey, major props for the Major victory but let's see more before crowning him one of the elite -- retired red belt notwithstanding.
4. Will Rory McIlroy take the next step this season and become golf's "The Man?" Magic 8-ball says: "Yes -- definitely." Here's the thing with McIlroy -- if he and any other player currently on Tour are both playing their best, Rory will win because his skills are simply higher than anyone else right now. To be "The Man" a player must have the extraordinary skills that strike fear into opponents. If Rory's Masters collapse caused doubt about him, his complete dominance later on at the U.S. Open erased all that.
3. Can Luke Donald hold on to his #1 ranking for the entire year? Magic 8-ball says: "Cannot predict now." Luke's ascent to the top is no fluke. The 34-year-old Englishman and Northwestern Wildcat 2011 exceptional achievements put him in the record books as Luke became the first ever to top both the PGA Tour and European Tour money lists. And while doing so, he has led the Official World Golf Ranking longer any other golfer since Tiger Woods tenure at the top. It will be extremely difficult to maintain the #1 ranking for all of 2012 given the rolling 2-year formula of OWGR. So much depends on how well Luke plays in the early events that carry the most weight. Westwood and McIlroy are lurking right behind.
2. Is Phil Mickelson still a major player? Magic 8-ball says: "Most likely." Everytime people are ready to write him off, Phil does something like winning the Houston Open last year and finishing 2nd at the British Open. OK, he's on the north side of 40 but he still finished 6th in FedEx points and 12th on the money list. Mickelson is a ways away from losing "serious contender" status on Tour.
1. Is Tiger Woods really, truly back in winning shape? Magic 8-ball says: "Don't count on it." But that's a long story that will come next week.
Tags: Anthony Kim, augusta national, British Open, Camilo Villegas, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, masters, Nick Watney, Padraig Harrington, PGA, PGA Championship, PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson, Players Championship, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Ryder Cup, sports, the Open, Tiger Woods, U.S. Open