I love year round golf, but still cannot embrace the wrap around fall/winter season. Your current leaders in FedEx points are Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Pat Perez, Mackenzie Hughes (who?) and Brendan Steele. Not to take anything away from these guys, but only Matsuyama is top 20 in the World Rankings. If you are looking for Tiger, you will have to jump down to 652; right between Jeev Milkah Singh and Kristian Krogh Johannessen.
I suspect many of you missed the Safeway Open, CIMB Classic, Sanderson Farms Championship, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, OHL Classic and RSM Classic. In the absence of compelling football games, these were worth watching, but the fields were somewhat diluted. Rod Pampling even won a tournament. I thought he was plying his trade on the Senior’s tour.
This week begins the real season with the SBS Tournament of Champions from Hawaii. This is a great event, with a strong field worthy of your attention if for no other reason than to watch the tee shots on Number 17. It is almost impossible to hit less than 350 yards down the hill. This tournament was noteworthy last year, as it was Jordan Spieth cruising to a victory which, unfortunately, ended his great 2015 run. Subsequently, his mediocre (by his standards) play, led to a slide to Number 5 in the world rankings.
Predicting the results of the Tournament of Champions is always challenging since we have seen little of these players over the last several months. Who knows if they are practicing? Matsuyama has been tearing it up around the globe, so, if he can putt, must be considered a favorite. Spieth likes the course and has probably worked very hard on his game, after a disappointing 2016. Patrick Reed finished second last year and definitely has the game. The big unknowns are Jason Day and Dustin Johnson. Based upon very little information my top five predictions, in order, are 1) Jordan Spieth; 2) Daniel Berger; 3) Patrick Reed; 4) Hideki Matsuyama and 5) Dustin Johnson. Justin Thomas and Jason Day would be the two outliers that would scare me.
On a more global level, here is how I see the top 10 world rankings at the end of the year: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Jason Day; 3) Dustin Johnson; 4) Hideki Matsuyama; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Brooks Koepka; 7) Justin Thomas; 8) Paul Casey; 9) Henrik Stenson and 10) Jordan Spieth. The four major winners will be Masters: Jason Day; U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy; British Open: Henrik Stenson (again) and PGA: Brooks Koepka. Of course, this is all subject to revision by the time these events arise.
The biggest positives in 2017 will be Daniel Berger, Tony Finau, Ryan Moore, Paul Casey and Justin Thomas
Biggest disappointments will be Tiger Woods (who will probably not finish the season), Danny Willett, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley.
I have no idea what to expect from Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Ricky Fowler. Any of these could have fantastic years, or disappear.
The five things I would like to see. 1) Jordan Spieth return to form; 2) Ricky Fowler go to the next level; 3) Tiger Woods make the cut at Augusta; 4) Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia or Paul Casey win a major; 5) Phil Mickelson win an event. Regardless, 2017 figures to another great golf season, with an unprecedented number of capable players.
Weekly Observation: Look out for the Nike players in 2017. Who knows what Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Charl Schwartzel and Tony Finau might do with better equipment? Maybe Tiger will even threaten a few leaderboards.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.