1. Tiger’s first official PGA Tour victory in more than two years will come at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, where he won in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and always looks comfortable. I might have predicted he’d win the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, but that’ll be tough for him as he’s not playing the tournament. He’ll tee it up in Abu Dhabi, instead.
2. Jim Furyk, who dropped from fifth to 50th in the World Ranking in 2011, will go the other direction in 2012. Putting was the 41-year-old’s bugaboo in ’11, but he found something toward the end of the season and went 5-0-0 at the Presidents Cup, including a 4 & 3 pasting of Ernie Els in singles. The gritty and relentless Furyk stamps his ticket into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
3. Rickie Fowler will win on the PGA Tour. We all made this prediction prior to the 2011 season after Fowler’s stellar finish to earn a half-point in his Ryder Cup singles match, but this is different. Fowler, 23, won for the first time as a pro at the Korea Open in October, by six strokes over Rory McIlroy. The Fowler-McIlroy race tightens considerably in ’12, and with much fanfare.
4. We will all slap our foreheads and lament having overlooked 2011 super-rookie Brendan Steele. He won the Valero Texas Open and seized the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship. (He fell back with a final-round 77.) He won the Franklin Templeton (Shark) Shootout with partner Keegan Bradley in December, racked up eight top-25 finishes and earned $2 million. In most any other year, Steele would have been a strong ROY candidate.
5. Hunter Mahan will win again. He was blanked in 2011, including a playoff loss to Bill Haas at the Tour Championship, but his fourth victory feels close at hand. Mahan made 22 of 25 cuts and accrued nine top-10 finishes, earning $3.5 million, in 2011. He also went 4-1-0 at the Presidents Cup.
6. Yani Tseng will finally pop up on the radar of the American sports fan, with either a revealing interview, a memorable commercial, world domination, or some combination of the three. Meanwhile, Lexi Thompson, 16 and coming off her second pro victory at the Ladies European Tour’s Dubai Ladies Masters in December, will be romantically linked with Justin Bieber—not because it’s true but because some tabloid editor thinks it’s a cool idea, and if Tim Tebow can be linked with Lindsay Vonn, well then, anything goes.
7. John Daly’s sponsor exemptions will dry up as “Daly fatigue” outweighs “Daly curiosity.” When big John filled a water hazard with golf balls and then walked off the course at the Australian Open in November, explaining later that he’d simply run out of ammo, it felt like a tipping point.
8. Martin Kaymer will miss the cut, again, at the Masters. After skipping it in 2011, Rory McIlroy will miss the cut, again, at the Players Championship. Kaymer will vow to redouble his efforts, but McIlroy will leave doubt as to whether he’ll bother with the 2013 Players.
9. Leading the Par-3 Contest the day before the start of the Masters, McIlroy will have his caddie, girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, hit his tee shot on nine. She will overshoot the green by approximately 100 yards, and their happy high-five will be the front-page photo of the next day’s Augusta Chronicle.
10. Ernie Els will play his way back to Augusta despite finishing 2011 outside the top 50, which jeopardized his streak of Masters starts that dates to 1994. He will finally crack the top 50 again after a top-three finish at Doral in March. Phil Mickelson will win the Masters for the fourth time, since he only wins in the even years (2004, 2006, 2010).
11. Ian Poulter, coming off a victory at the Australian Masters in December, will bounce back after a poor 2011, during which he finished building a deluxe new abode at Lake Nona. He will win at least once on Tour, lead Europe to victory at the Ryder Cup, and dominate the Twitter-verse.
12. Caddie Joe LaCava will look like the second biggest genius in golf after having left reliable money-maker Dustin Johnson to work for the retooling and fragile-looking Tiger Woods last fall. LaCava’s friend and ex-boss, U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples, whose Tiger pick could easily have backfired, will remain in pole position in the genius department.