Tour Confidential: Who will be the dominant player of 2019?

December 30, 2018

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they discuss the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss which player will occupy the top spot in the world ranking in 2019, Tiger’s major prospects, bold predictions for the Tour season, and much more. 
Four players — Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas — held the title of World No. 1 in 2018. Which player, among these four or others, will occupy the top spot for the most weeks in 2019?
Sean Zak, associate editor (@Sean_Zak): Koepka and Rose will have a nice head start, but I’m expecting another big year from Dustin Johnson. No shocker in that, but he’ll carve out another 3-4 wins by default. He’s that good.
Alan Shipnuck, Senior Writer (@AlanShipnuck): The problem with this analysis is that Dustin wins regular Tour events but not major championships, where so many more points are available. Rose is way overdue to win another major — hard to believe he’ll be 39 this season and has snagged only one. I think this is his year to cash in another and spend more time at No. 1.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Koepka. I don’t know much, but I know to listen to Tom Watson, and he says the man is the real deal.
Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@Jess_Marksbury): Totally agree, Michael. The man has three major wins in the span of a single year, and the chip on his shoulder shows no signs of shrinking. I’m expecting some serious fire from him throughout 2019.
Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): I’m with Alan on this. Rose is Rose is Rose — so consistently great, and showing no signs of slowing.
Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): I’m in on team Rosie. But more than anything I’m excited for this palace intrigue to continue. Throw Bryson in the mix plus someone else who gets hot (Rory? Rahm? Tiger?!) and we’ll have plenty of “who’s the best player in the world” conversations to toss around.

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka involved in fight at Ryder Cup.
Brooks Koepka (left) and Dustin Johnson (right) are good friends with a budding rivalry on the PGA Tour.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Who’s most likely to win a major in ‘19: Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy?
Zak: McIlroy. He’s inching closer to that green jacket. Bethpage should play to his strengths. Spieth (perpetually) is a very close second here.
Bamberger: Rory. Open in the old country.
Shipnuck: Oof, this is tough. Each faces big question: Tiger’s driver, Jordan’s putter, Rory’s head. Of the three, Tiger is the most ascendant, so I’ll go with him.
Sens: Given that he was fresh off back surgery and in the midst of yet another swing change and he still contended seriously in two majors, it’s gotta be Tiger.
Marksbury: I’ll cast a third vote for the Big Cat. The 2018 Comeback Tour was too much fun. And look at the Tiger-friendly venues we have to look forward to! No. 15 has got to happen this year.
Dethier: This feels weird because I’m usually higher on Rory and Tiger’s chances than my colleagues, but I think it may be Spieth — he feels like a guaranteed contender at Augusta and Portrush.
Okay, enough softballs. Now give us a *truly* bold golf prediction for the coming year.
Marksbury: The idea that Tiger will win a major after an 11-year drought isn’t bold enough?! Okay, how about another Tiger prediction: He’ll win both a major and a regular Tour event in 2019.
Bamberger: Rory wins twice: Masters and British Open.
Sens: The Internationals romp to victory in the Presidents Cup.
Shipnuck: Sens, this isn’t supposed to be science fiction! I predict that none of our predictions will come true. Wait, that isn’t very bold…
Zak: Phil Mickelson resigns himself (happily) to an assistant captain role at the Presidents Cup.
Dethier: I’ll stick to the madness I proposed on our upcoming bold predictions podcast: Captain Tiger Woods will have two intriguing picks: Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed! Chew on that one for a little bit…

Our Dylan Dethier went deep on Tiger Woods’s design venture at Jackson Park, a municipal course on Chicago’s South Side. It will be $50 for locals, kids 17 and under will play free and those behind it are one day hoping to host a BMW Championship and President’s Cup. This project represents Woods’s first foray into affordable public-access golf. Was it overdue? And what kind of impact could Tiger have on the game if he attached his name (and influence) to more of these types of courses?
Bamberger: Overdue or not, I’m glad it’s here. It sounds really good. It sounds like a step into the direction I had always hoped Woods would go, bringing golf to the masses, as Arnold did before him.
Zak: Of course it’s overdue, but I don’t want to put that on Tiger. I’d rather put that on other stewards in the game north of 43 years old. Clearly, he’s got as much juice as he’s ever had since the scandal. It’s also clear he plans to use it. I played the Jackson Park portion of Tiger’s course in August. It’s ready … and waiting … to be taken over. Sooner the better.
Sens: I don’t know that “overdue” is fair. Tiger was raised to be a dominant golfer. All of those other expectations — that he would do so much to change the game and even the course of human history, etc. — were assigned to him from the outside. Not sure how realistic it was to expect a guy who was groomed to be so inward-focused to look beyond himself. All the more so since he never even seemed to know himself too well.
Shipnuck: It’s totally fair — he found time for ridiculous cash grab projects in the desert of Dubai, a gated-community in Mexico, etc. The so-called Tiger Effect — bringing more people of color to the game and the Tour — hasn’t exactly panned out. Just being Tiger on TV isn’t enough to change things; he needs to be at the grassroots level, affecting change. This Chicago project is a fantastic first step and hopefully a template for Tiger’s future in growing the game.
Sens: Okay. Well maybe unfair is the wrong term. Unrealistic is more like it. Anyone looking hard at Tiger in recent decades could not have reasonably expected him to be intent on being an agent of change. If ever there were anyone bent on not rocking the status quo …
Marksbury: This seems like the right time for a move like this from Tiger. He’s embracing the elder-statesman role, and it suits him. How cool would it be if a dozen or so major-city projects like this could come to fruition in the next 20 years? Accessible, affordable golf is exactly what kids — and adults! — need to keep the game alive and well for generations to come. And Tiger’s involvement adds much-needed starpower and influence.
Dethier: This was a super fun story to write and report and it’s so ambitious that frankly it was difficult to keep track of the stakeholders and of everything it hopes to accomplish. From transforming the community around it to building up a massive caddie program to hosting a Presidents Cup — those are some lofty goals. But I think it comes from the same sensibility as many beloved munis: it should be a special place for the locals that enriches the community through the game of golf. Other projects won’t have the driving forces of Mark Rolfing, Mike Keiser, Tiger Woods and Barack Obama (!) but they will have a desire for fun, affordable public golf. I hope this A. Comes to fruition and B. Inspires creativity elsewhere.
Tiger Woods Designer
Tiger Woods is the lead designer on the Jackson Park project.


Thomas Bjorn didn’t back down from a promise: the European Ryder Cup captain commemorated his squad’s victory in Paris with a tattoo on his rear end. Speaking of regrettable decisions — and there were plenty of them in 2018 — which member of the golf world will most be wishing for a do-over as he/she reflects on the past year?
Bamberger: Phil. Phil on 13 at Shinnecock Hills. Phil in the lead-up to “The Match.” Phil during “The Match.” But his win in Mexico was cool, and he’s done a lot for the game.
Zak: Phil is a great answer. I imagine Sung Kang would like a do-over on the drop he took that set Joel Dahmen off and eventually had him accused of cheating. I wasn’t there (seemingly no one was), so I can’t say he did something wrong, but if he did everything right, I don’t think Dahmen would have lost his mind. It’s better for both of them if they’re known for their play, not their on-course disagreements.
Shipnuck: I’m gonna say me — Bjorn’s tattoo is a reminder of what a pain in the ass I was leading up to the Ryder Cup.
Sens: Phil at Shinnecock for sure. I’d also toss out Doris Chen’s decision to play on in qualifiers after that bizarre incident involving her mom.
Marksbury: Despite all the post-Ryder Cup criticism that came Patrick Reed’s way, I still think the most regrettable public comment he made was the whiny Twitter and Instagram post about the quality of his “upgraded” Fenway Park tickets. Not a good look.
Dethier: Reed has blocked me on Twitter, so I’m unable to comment on that particular piece of content. But I’d say Brooks Koepka would like a do-over on his PGA Championship celebration. Taking down the greatest player of the generation and staking himself as golf’s alpha should elicit more than a super-awkward tap-in. I wanted more for Brooks.
Happy Birthday, Tiger! The 14-time major champ turned 43 on Sunday. Have a gift in mind for Mr. Woods?
Bamberger: As 41 liked to say, Stay the course.
Zak: I would like to gift Tiger a drive into the fairway on the first hole of the 2019 Masters. He’ll take it from there.
Shipnuck: Or a scrambling par from the 9th fairway? I’d say another driving week like he had at East Lake, but at Augusta or Bethpage. Or both.
Marksbury: A teary-eyed embrace with Sam and Charlie as they sprint onto the green to congratulate their dad on his 15th major victory.
Sens: Same gift as I’d wish anyone: good health.
Dethier: A win. Fair or not, that’s the baseline for a successful season ahead. Plus, ‘twould be a gift to his fans, and they say that giving is the best gift of all.