Major Predictions for 2017
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
A new year begins with one question on the lips of everybody with any interest in golf (or any other sport, for that matter): will Tiger Woods make a successful return to the PGA Tour?
His performance at the Hero World Challenge proved, beyond doubt, that he still has the game to win. Yes, he finished well down the field but he made more birdies than any other player in the field. There were mistakes, but that should have come as a surprise to nobody because it was 18 months since he last played competitively.
There are some who wonder why we are all still so obsessed with Woods but anybody who asks such a question knows nothing about golf - or, indeed, about sport. Yes, he is 41 years old now and more than eight years have passed since he won the last of his 14 majors. But Woods transcends golf, and the game has missed him.
He has already announced his early schedule for 2017, and there has been huge interest among American golf fans, with ticket sales going through the roof. What we don't yet know is whether his battered body will stand up to consistent and long-term tournament golf. At least he had the sense this time around to wait until he was 100% fit before returning to action, refusing to rush back after two serious back operations.
Having watched him closely during the Hero World Challenge, the thing that was most striking was that his wayward drives all came when he tried to hit the ball too hard. Tiger Woods is not a stupid man -he and his advisers will have analysed his performance and he will know that he must resist the temptation to smash the ball out of sight. He still hits the ball plenty far enough to keep up with the young guns and if he can rediscover that amazing ability to will the ball into the hole then, on his day, he remains good enough to beat anybody.
If Woods remains fit, he will win again in 2017. In my mind, there is no doubt about it. Winning majors is a different kettle of fish, but it would be a huge surprise if he doesn't contend at Augusta in April.
So if Tiger isn't going to win any of the season's majors, who will do so?
Jordan Spieth. The American has played at Augusta three times - he was runner-up in 2014, he won in 2015 and he finished second in 2016 despite a horrific seven at the par-three 12th in the final round. Despite that quadruple-bogey, Spieth still came close to making a successful defence. It affected him deeply for the rest of the season but he has got it out of his system now. It would be a foolish person who bets against him winning The Masters in 2017. Don't be surprised to see Tiger Woods there or thereabouts. Sorry, but Rory McIlroy is going to have to wait for at least another year before completing the career Grand Slam.
Hideki Matsuyama. The young Japanese golfer will win a major in 2017 and this one should be made for him. It is being held at Erin Hills, a public course in Wisconsin which is staging its first major championship. It is not your typical public course - it costs $280 to play 18 holes and buggies and trolleys are not allowed. Turn up here for a round of golf and you either have to carry your own clubs or hire a caddy at $65. It is a tough, tough course with narrow fairways, large, undulating greens and measures 7,800 yards. The winner will need to hit the ball straight, will need to have a fantastic short game and a huge amount of patience. Matsuyama fits the bill
Patrick Reed. The Open returns to Royal Birkdale, where Justin Rose nearly won as a 17-year-old amateur. The Englishman returns to the northwest coast convinced that he has the game to add to his US Open title and it is difficult to argue against him, but the biggest title in golf is going across the Atlantic again and the man who will be taking the Claret Jug home with him is Patrick Reed. He is a golfer you either love or hate, but is impossible to ignore. He is loud, he is brash, he speaks his mind and yes, he is also a little arrogant. But here's the thing - he has the game to back it up. Reed can hit every shot in the book and will not be concerned if the wind blows and the rain falls
US PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy. The season's final major is being played at Quail Hollow, which is McIlroy's favourite US course. It was where he won his first PGA Tour title in 2010 and he won again there in 2015. It won't be quite the same course because the rough will be thicker and the fairways will be narrower. But none of that will bother McIlroy, who will start as a hot favourite and will surely justify that billing. And look out for him doing so with a winning total less than 270
I expect Dustin Johnson to win two or three PGA Tour events in 2017 and finish the year as the leading money-winner, but get your money on McIlroy to once again win the FedEx Cup and end the year on top of the pile in the Race to Dubai as well. Oh yes, and to take back his world No1 ranking from Jason Day.
Expect the world rankings at the end of 2017 to look something like this:
1. Rory McIlory, 2. Hideki Matsuyama. 3. Jordan Spieth. 4. Patrick Reed. 5. Jason Day. 6. Dustin Johnson. 7. Henrik Stenson. 8. Adam Scott. 9. Justin Thomas. 10. Thomas Pieters.
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