Alan Shipnuck's 10 Predictions for 2014: U.S. wins Ryder Cup, Tiger wins major and 8 more visions of golf future
1. The U.S. will win the Ryder Cup.
It’s easy to forget that in 2012 the Americans dominated the first two days of partner play, thanks to a roster with more depth and more firepower. Nothing has changed -- of the top 22 players in the World Ranking, 12 are Yanks and only seven are Euros. Team Europe showed heart with its Sunday comeback at Medinah but won’t be able to summon a similar miracle this time around.
2. Tiger will win a major…but if not, he’ll never win another one.
It’s mind-boggling to think that Woods will arrive in Augusta nearly six years removed from his last major victory, in what is supposed to be the prime of his career. It’s equally hard to believe that the little dude who charmed Mike Douglas just turned 38. Time is no longer on his side. This year’s venues once again offer the chance to measure Tiger against his old self: Augusta, where he won four of his first nine majors but is now oh-fer his last eight; Pinehurst, where he easily could have won in 1999 and 2005; Hoylake, which from a pure golf standpoint might be his greatest performance -- a monument to course management and supreme long-iron play; and Valhalla, the scene of his most thrilling victory. Woods feels comfortable at each course, obviously, but there is also pressure to live up to an impossible standard.
How to explain the drought? Each season has its narrative.
2009: Putting problems, and Y.E. Yang exploded his aura of invincibility.
2011: Swing changes.
2012: Learning to win again.
2013: Learning to dominate again.
Woods has so much talent and drive and institutional knowledge it’s hard to believe he won’t somehow snag a major this year, what with the built-in home field advantage. But given how well he has played week-to-week over the last two years, his struggles at the tourneys he covets the most have now entered the realm of the metaphysical. If he can’t get out of his own way this year at the majors, I seriously doubt he’ll ever figure it out.
3. Phil Mickelson will not win the U.S. Open.
There’s never been a more perfect Open venue for Phil; Pinehurst has no rough and the turtleback greens basically turn the tournament into a chipping contest. Mickelson will be the sentimental and betting favorite, but that’s not a role he’s comfortable in. He roared into the 2006 U.S. Open halfway to the Tiger Slam and then was one hole away from establishing himself as the dominant force in the game. Instead, his 72nd-hole crackup at Winged Foot remains a signature failure. The 2008 Open was played in his backyard at a course -- Torrey Pines -- where he’d been winning since he was a kid, but a 9 on the 13th hole Saturday ended his bid. At the 2012 Masters, a Saturday 66 put Mickelson in control, but he made a right-handed triple bogey on the fourth hole. Last summer’s U.S. Open at Merion was his to lose from the moment he signed for an opening 67, but Mickelson ultimately cracked under the pressure. He is much more comfortable coming from behind, whether it’s on the back nine at Augusta in 2004 or at Muifield in 2013. Six months out, the 2014 U.S. Open is already the defining tournament of his season, to say nothing of his career. Expect Mickelson to put up a good fight, but he’s more likely to win at a place like Chambers Bay in 2015, when the burden of expectations and history will be much, much lower.
4. Rory McIlroy will once again be a force.
His strong play at the end of 2013 was no accident. McIlroy took a lot of hard knocks last year but emerged a tougher person and competitor. He has too much talent and too much desire not to roar back with a big year in ’14.
5. Sergio Garcia will change caddies.
But despite all his upheaval -- in loopers, girlfriends, and management companies -- Garcia has quietly crept back into the top 10 in the World Ranking. He’s still only 33 -- the age Mickelson was when he won his first major -- so it’s not too late for this awesome talent to reinvent himself.
6. Jordan Spieth will continue his ascent.
The sky’s the limit for the reigning Rookie of the Year. This old soul is deeply dedicated to maximizing his considerable potential, and this year he’ll know the courses and have a set schedule, a stark contrast to the uncertainty of early 2013. Spieth’s goal for his sophomore year is simple: to contend at every major championship. With his all-around game, that’s not a stretch.
7. Lydia Ko will become the youngest winner of a major.
Even David Leadbetter can’t screw this up.
8. Hideki Matsuyama will become a household name.
Well, households that watch a lot of Golf Channel. The sweet-swinging, 21-year-old Matsuyama finished 10th at Merion and 6th at Muirfield and put in a strong showing at the Presidents Cup. He also won four times in Japan and took the money title in his home country. How do you say baller in Japanese?
9. Michelle Wie will win again.
She shook off a horrible start to the year to battle her way to four top-10s over the second half of the season. Wie, whose desire has been repeatedly questioned, grinded through 26 tournaments, fourth-most on tour, and she showed a lot of fight at the Solheim Cup. (Maybe a little too much, but we forgive her.) Most importantly, at 24 Wiesy has never seemed more comfortable in her own skin. A victory will be huge for the LPGA but also a personal triumph for a young woman who has experienced extreme highs and lows.
10. Vijay Singh will continue to be golf’s answer to A-Roid.
In the opening salvo of his delicious lawsuit with the Tour, he threw five colleagues under the bus, and this is the just the juicy beginning. Seemingly oblivious to the damage he is inflicting to himself, Veej will continue to careen through the legal system, destroying reputations and goodwill in equal measure. And we will all have the pleasure of watching it unfold.