SI convened a panel of experts — senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle and special contributor John Garrity as well as a PGA Tour player (who participated on the condition of anonymity) — to take up these and other questions.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are the easy answers, but give me another good reason to be excited about 2013.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The majors. We're going back to Merion and Muirfield for the first time in a while, and they're such gems — gentle and fierce at the same time. They're everything that's great about course architecture.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It's funny, the U.S. Open course is usually straightforward golf and the British Open site is often quirky. Players love Muirfield for its classic shotmaking and Merion is uniquely funky. It's like the Opens have been transposed.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I want to put in a good word for Oak Hill, site of next year's PGA Championship and my favorite classic Open course. Oak Hill is a big tree-lined track that has been around forever and has all the prestige. Some courses become stereotypical and dull, like Baltusrol. Oak Hill doesn't have back-and-forth fairways like a bowling alley. There are elevation changes. It's tough, it's terrific.
(Related Photos: SI's Best Photos from 2012)
Anonymous Pro: Sorry, I don't share your enthusiasm. Oak Hill's rough was stupid long when we played the 2003 PGA. They couldn't even cut it. The grass was so long it just bent over. Playing from that rough was like trying to hit a shot out of a waste basket. I hated it.
Van Sickle: I played Oak Hill a few months ago in the Williams, a prestigious amateur event. Oak Hill isn't just good, it's great. They've made some good changes. The 18th, an uphill par-4, is longer and nastier than ever. The redesigned par-3 16th is scary. It has a narrow hourglass green surrounded by water, deep bunkers and gnarly rough. The course is a man-eater, every bit as demanding as Oakmont.
Garrity: I loved the way Oakmont played after they radically cut down all of the trees.
Van Sickle: They cut down a bunch of trees at Oak Hill too, but you won't even notice. They still have a few thousand to spare.
Anonymous Pro: I'm intrigued by the new Fall Series. You know the 2014 season is going to start in the fall of 2013, right?
Shipnuck: It's brilliant. You already can't understand the FedEx Cup points system. Now you can't understand the calendar or the Tour schedule.
Van Sickle: The part that never made sense was that fall events didn't earn players any FedEx Cup points. Now they will.
Anonymous Pro: I know it's not much, but it's progress.
Shipnuck: After the PGA and the FedEx Cup, it's hard to keep golf fans interested as football starts. This is an attempt to do that, but I don't think it will work.
Van Sickle: Football starts in August and spills into February. If you're going to cede the calendar to football, you don't have much of a golf season left.
Bamberger: Even though this schedule makes no sense, it'll probably work. The fans are your customers, why do you want to confuse them? The fans are totally confused by FedEx Cup points, which is a disaster, but that's working in spite of itself for the simplest of reasons — there's so much money in it, players can't afford not to play. You're a fool if you bet against Tim Finchem.
Anonymous Pro: A lot of players aren't thrilled with the FedEx Cup scheduling or the fall start but you won't hear any grumbling. Trust me, $35 million in the FedEx Cup bonus pool every year smooths over any complaints.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you think starting the season in the Fall will be a success?
Van Sickle: What's the first event of 2013 that you'll pay attention to?
Garrity: Kapalua. It has palm trees and surfers and trade winds and whales and Molokai. And what else would I be doing on a January evening in Kansas City?
Van Sickle: Nothing beats golf in prime time. I love those first two weeks in Hawaii when I can do something else all day and then watch golf all evening. The scenery doesn't hurt, either.
Shipnuck: Kapalua is a great show, but it's such a weak field. I'm a big fan of Hawaii, like you guys are, but Torrey Pines is a U.S. Open course with stunning visuals and you'll have Tiger and Phil teeing it up. Realistically, Torrey Pines kicks off the season.
(Related Photos: Tiger's Season in Review)
Anonymous Pro: I don't normally watch a lot of TV golf, but I'll check out Kapalua. The alternative is watching some meaningless regular-season NBA game. If I have to watch a sport where they don't play defense, I'll go with golf.
Bamberger: After Hawaii, the Tour goes to Palm Springs for the Hope, now called the Humana. Bill Clinton and his people have gotten way into it, and I was very impressed last year. For all of his accomplishments, Clinton may view his resuscitation of this tournament as very, very significant.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What are you most excited for in the upcoming season?
THE PHIL FACTOR
Van Sickle: Next year figures to be all about Rory and Tiger. Is Phil Mickelson still relevant?
Shipnuck: Absolutely. Don't forget, the best round of golf all year may have been Phil's 64 at Pebble Beach that bounced Tiger.
Bamberger: I would not write off Phil. He turned it around when it briefly appeared he might miss the Ryder Cup, and then he had a pretty good week at Medinah. He's strong and he's still limber, despite his arthritis.
Shipnuck: Phil played beautifully at Augusta and lost the tournament in the bamboo on the 4th hole on Sunday. If he wins that Masters maybe he has a monster year. Instead, he was totally deflated.
Van Sickle: He outclassed the Masters field for 70 of the 72 holes. If he makes two bogeys instead of two triples he wins going away.
Anonymous Pro: You writers tend to remember Phil's screw-ups and sometimes forget how good he really is. Yes, he's going to out-think himself at every third major and throw away shots when he overrules [his caddie] Bones, but he has a game and a mentality built for majors. He can still win at Augusta, no doubt about it, and he can win on any big, sprawling course. Like Oak Hill, for example.
Garrity: Plus, Phil is the most resilient player in the game. More than anybody we've seen, he's shown the ability to come back from setbacks and disappointments.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Phil Mickelson still relevant in golf?
THE MAJOR WINNERS ARE …
Bamberger: Rory at the Masters, Luke at the U.S. Open, Ernie repeating in the Open at Muirfield and whoever is the Shaun Micheel of 2013 at the PGA. Maybe Jason Dufner. No, make it Tiger over Dufner in a playoff.
Van Sickle: Picking Tiger to win a major, that's interesting.
Shipnuck: It's not that interesting. Tiger hasn't won one since 2008. I'll take Rory at the Masters and Phil at Merion, where he won't have to hit driver much.
(Related Photos: McIlroy's Season in Review)
Van Sickle: Remember the last time Phil didn't use driver at the Open? That didn't turn out so well.
Shipnuck: Yeah, but Torrey Pines was 800 yards longer. You had to hit driver. The British, I'll take Luke Donald. The PGA, I'll go with Keegan Bradley. That's a tough, smash-mouth kind of course. For long and straight, Keegan is right up there. He's a fighter. The harder the setup, the better for him.
Van Sickle: Tiger isn't done tormenting us yet. I'll take him at Augusta. Then Donald at Merion, Rory at Muirfield as he gets to three fourths of the Grand Slam in only three years, and finally, a great iron player that Oak Hill demands — Hunter Mahan.
Anonymous Pro: Louis Oosthuizen, the guy they call Shrek, has a sweet swing and looked as if he was going to win the Masters until Bubba Watson pulled it off with that stupid-good playoff shot. I like Louis for Augusta. It's Rory at Merion and a fairways-and-greens guy at Muirfield — maybe Justin Rose. Oak Hill is such a brute, it'll take somebody with a big game — Phil.
Garrity: I'll go with Bubba, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Rory in that order. I realize repeat champions are rare in majors, but I haven't had much luck here picking Robert Karlsson. So now I'm going with proven winners.
Van Sickle: So you just put down last year's champions instead of spending any time thinking it over?
Garrity: It sounds awfully crass when you put it that way, Gary. But, yes.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who do you think will win the majors in 2013?
This article originally appeared in the December 10, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newstands now.