Watch out for Sergio in '05
The one thing that has been lacking during the Tiger Woods Era has been the best players in the world playing their best golf all at the same time.
When Tiger was in full Tiger mode from 1999 though 2002 he was so far in the heads of the other big names in the game that all he had to do was show up and they would head south. Remember the 2002 Masters when Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia all had a chance to catch Woods in the final round and none were able to shoot better than 71?
I'm thinking that if the stage gets set this year for another shootout like that, we will see much different results. While I'm betting that the real Tiger will return in 2005, I'm thinking that his intimidation factor will be greatly reduced. That should make for some compelling fireworks in the season ahead.
The new year in professional golf gets underway this week at the Mercedes Championships on the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii, with eight of the top 10 from last year's PGA Tour money list on hand. Of those eligible for the winners-only event, only Masters champion Phil Mickelson chose to extend his vacation. The other missing top-10 money guy -- Davis Love III -- didn't win an event in 2004. But with a field that includes Singh, Els, Woods, Goosen and Garcia this should be the perfect preview of the kind of competition we will see this season. I'll tell you who's going to win the Mercedes a little bit later, but first let's take a look at some other predictions for the new season.
BIGGEST MOVE: Justin Rose, the 24-year-old Englishman who comes into the season at No. 67 in the Official World Ranking, will emerge as a household name to American fans. In his first full season on the PGA Tour last year, Rose made 18 of 22 cuts, had four top-10 finishes and won $1.2 million for 62nd on the money list. Look for Rose to finish in the top 30 on the money list to qualify for the Tour Championship and to climb into the top 50 in the World Ranking. Rose is one of 78 international players on tour this year. Australia leads the way with 22 followed by South Africa, Sweden and England with eight each and Canada with five.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jim Furyk was No. 116 on the money list in 2004 because he was limited to only 14 events by wrist surgery. He'll be back healthy and hungry and will notch a couple of top-10 finishes in the major championships.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: James Driscoll, the 27-year-old out of Massachusetts, was seventh on the Nationwide Tour in 2004, including one victory. He showed some game with a 68 in his first round at the Masters before missing the cut with a 78 the next day. There are 24 rookies in 2005, 14 who earned their way in through Q School and 10 off the Nationwide Tour money list. The oldest rookie is Phillip Price of Wales (38) and the youngest is Sean O'Hair (22).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard turns 24 on Jan. 9 and he showed every indication in 2004 that the swing changes he has been working on were starting to kick in. He was sixth in scoring average in 2004 (69.80) despite the fact that he was 129th in putting average (1.790 putts per green in regulation). If he gets on a roll with the putter early in the season, it could be a monster year for him.
WHAT WON'T HAPPEN: Tiger Woods' record streak of 133 consecutive tournaments without missing a cut coming into the season won't end this year.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN: Woods will top the $50-million mark in career earnings in 2005. He comes into the year with $45.1 million. And Singh will move into the top 20 in career victories. He has 24 and trails No. 20 Henry Picard by two.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN, PART 2: Singh (12) will break Sam Snead's record (17) for most victories by a player after his 40th birthday -- but not this year.
RECORDS THAT WILL NOT BE BROKEN THIS YEAR -- OR ANY YEAR:
Most top-10 finishes in a season: Jug McSpaden (31) in 1945.
Most consecutive top-10 finishes: Byron Nelson (65) 1942-46.
Most consecutive victories: Byron Nelson (11) 1945.
Youngest player to shoot his age in a PGA Tour event: Sam Snead shot a 67 in the third round of the 1979 Quad Cities Open at the age of 67, then shot a 66 the next day.
BET YOU DIDN'T NOW: There were seven tournaments in 2004 in which the average score was 73 or higher: U.S. Open (74.068); Masters (73.974); British Open (73.212); PGA Championship (73.163); BellSouth Classic (73.143); Shell Houston Open (73.056) and the Players Championship (73.004).
There were six tournaments in 2004 in which the average score was below 70: Valero Texas Open (69.068); Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (69.107); Michelin Championship at Las Vegas (69.390); Sony Open in Hawaii (69.508); Southern Farm Bureau Classic (69.915) and the Funai Classic at the Walt Disney World Resort.
The total PGA Tour purse for 2005 ($252,350,400) is ten times the total purse in 1986.
ON BEING AVERAGE: Here are some averages in key stats on the PGA Tour in 2004 and the players who came closest to them:
Driving distance: 287.3 yards. (Greg Chalmers, Matt Kuchar and Frank
Lickliter -- 287.3).
Driving accuracy: 64.2 percent. (Alex Cejka -- 64.2).
Green in Regulation: 65.1 percent. (Stuart Appleby, Tommy Armour, Tim Herron, Steve Pate and Mike Weir -- 65.1 percent).
Putting: 1.777 putts per green in regulation. (Bart Bryant, Bernhard Langer and Jeff Sluman -- 1.777).
Scoring: 71.13. (Mark Calcavecchia -- 71.12 -- and Patrick Sheehan -- 71.14).
PREDICTED MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS IN 2005:
Masters (Augusta National): Adam Scott.
U.S. Open (Pinehurst No. 2): Sergio Garcia.
British Open (St. Andrews Old Course): Tiger Woods.
PGA Championship (Baltusrol GC): Darren Clarke
THIS WEEK'S TOURNAMENT PREDICTION: I'll make a prediction on the PGA Tour each week this year and keep track of how my selections fare. This week I look for Sergio Garcia to get his Player-of-the-Year season underway with a victory at the Mercedes Championships.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine