Very true predictions for the 2008 PGA Tour season
The 2008 PGA Tour season will kick off at Kapalua on Thursday. It will end on Nov. 9 in Disney World. In between, there will be 48 winners crowned and some 1.5 million strokes taken.If you're like me, you can't wait. And that's not an anxious, excited cry of, "I can't wait!" in anticipation of the season. It's a pathetic plea in today's gotta-have-it-now Information Age, when, "I can't wait!" often quite literally means that patience is no longer such a virtue. Don't worry, folks. Wait no longer, as I unveil some things which absolutely, unequivocally will happen on the PGA Tour this season. Oh, and just in case you'd rather wait and watch the events unfold in real-time? Just heed the following two words: ***SPOILER ALERT!!!***
• Tiger Woods will win the Masters ... and the very first question he'll answer afterward will be about the potential of a Grand Slam this season. Woods won't win the Grand Slam -- even for a player of his caliber, playing at the top of his game, on courses that suit his eye, it is a mammoth proposition -- but he will have the inkslingers debating his chances after a torrid start to the season.
• The news conferences of Ryder Cup captains Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo will be more entertaining than the golf itself. Former partners in ABC's TV booth, they will trade barbs before, during and after the competition. Ultimately, Faldo's sardonic wit will triumph Azinger's blunt cynicism, 1-up.
• Though it will ultimately be another season of near-misses for Sergio Garcia, he will own a 3-0-2 record at the Ryder Cup, earning four points overall. That number will raise his all-time total to 19 in just five career appearances, well within striking distance of 11-time Ryder Cup member Nick Faldo's record of 25.
• Despite the fact that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem implemented a one-week hiatus during the FedEx Cup, Tiger Woods still won't play in the first-round playoff event, The Barclays, for one reason and one reason only: He doesn't want to. Woods hasn't competed in Westchester since 2003 and in three trips as a pro has never fared better than T-13. As he's shown in the past, if Woods doesn't like a certain course, he's not playing -- playoffs or not.
• No players -- male or female -- will test positive during this year's new drug testing initiative, which is to be expected. If anyone does, they should be suspended for two years. That's one year for trying to gain a competitive edge and another for being stupid enough not to recognize such a program was in place, despite the fact that there's been more than two years of forewarning.
• Talk of the USGA's devilish attitude toward course setups will be put on hold; the winning score at this year's U.S. Open will be closer to par than previous editions. However, golf insiders will see right through this; Torrey Pines' South Course will play to a par-71, rather than the par-70 tracks that have held the event for the last seven years. Technology:
• Jack Nicklaus will continue calling for a uniform golf ball that is scaled back to allow for world-class, old-style courses to remain serviceable for the game's top players. And someone will start listening, likely the greencoats at Augusta National. Such a rule won't be implemented this year, but it will continue to be discussed as a very real possibility down the road.
• Another seemingly silly trend will make waves on the PGA Tour. Last year, K.J. Choi thrived on the greens while employing an extra-large putting grip ... and the copycats turned out in droves. Players will continue keeping a close eye on what's in the bag of their most successful peers, and they'll "borrow" anything to gain an advantage.
• Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will pick up where they left off on Labor Day weekend. At last year's Deutsche Bank Championship, Mickelson got the best of Woods for the first time ever when they were paired together in a final round. Each will make their 2008 season debut at the Buick Invitational, again squaring off in the final pairing at Torrey Pines, but this time it's Woods who walks away as a 2-stroke winner.
• The PGA Tour's young guns will finally stop being referred to as young guns. Do you realize Luke Donald turned 30 years old last month? Trevor Immelman is 28 and Garcia will be in a few days. Justin Rose is 27. Adam Scott is 26. They each have two more decades, at the very least, of winning tourneys and contending for majors. But when discussing the future of the game on the highest professional level, the focus will turn to players who really are still young guns, such as Anthony Kim (22), Jason Day (20) and Rory McIlroy (18).
• The Golf gods weren't finished with Sergio Garcia after he lost the British Open in a playoff last year. At the time, Garcia suggested a higher power was at work, saying, "I'm playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field." He will find himself in contention at another big one this year, only to feel the sting of "bad breaks" once again. Karma stinks.
• Tiger Woods and Rory Sabbatini will compete in the same event 14 times, with Sabbo besting the player he called "beatable" only once. Off the course, they will never talk. Ever.
• Proving they weren't fluky major champions, 2007 first-timers Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington will each win at least one PGA Tour event this season and will seriously contend in at least one major.
• Though players and fans alike contend they love the format of match play, once again the Accenture Match Play Championship will hardly make a blip on the sports radar screen; all four No. 1 seeds will fail to reach the weekend. The ratings bust will once again force the PGA Tour to examine a format similar to that of the U.S. Amateur, with all 64 players competing in medal play for two rounds and the top 16 advancing to the match play portion of the event.
• The Par-3 Tournament during Masters week will become one of the most-watched golf events of the year, behind only the four majors and a select handful of others. The combination of a fun, informal event (most players employ a family member as their caddie and have a perpetual smile on their face) that has never before been witnessed by 99 percent of golf fans will result in a lack of production from the world's collective workforce on Wednesday afternoon, April 9.
• Realizing they'd rather rest for 2009 than compete in Fall Finish events, second-tier stars like Chad Campbell, Justin Leonard, Stephen Ames and Mike Weir -- each of whom won post-Tour Championship tournaments last season -- will play less frequently once the calendar hits October, resulting in fields that generate even less interest in professional golf during football season.
• Not a single player will refer to the PGA Tour event at famed Riviera Country Club by its new title, the Northern Trust Open. Hell, it changed from L.A. Open (the tournament's original name, dating back to its inception in 1926) to the Nissan in 1989, and guys were just starting to come around in recent years. Might take another two decades before "Northern Trust" kicks in. Stats:
• After dropping from 289.3 yards per drive in 2006 to 289.1 last season, the average driving distance on tour will rise to over 290 yards for the first time ever, thanks to the arrival of rookie big bangers Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Matt Jones, among others.
• For the first time ever, the number of players earning seven figures will reach triple-digits. Last year, 99 PGA Tour members made at least $1 million, up from 93 the year before.
• By earning close to $300,000 in the first half of the season, Cameron Beckman will surpass Jack Nicklaus on the PGA Tour's all-time money list. Nicklaus finished his career with 18 major victories, 73 total wins, 286 top-10s ... and $5,734,031. In nine seasons on tour, Beckman has never finished better than T-53 at a major, owns one career victory (2001 Southern Farm Bureau Classic), 15 top-10s ... and $5,475,780. You can still watch the PGA Tour season, but really there's no need. Just remember, you read it here first. Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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