All your questions ... answered? 14 in 2014

By Jason SobelJanuary 1, 2014, 1:00 pm

Ever see those old Radio Shack ads on TV? Of course you did. The ones with the tagline, “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.”

Well, I’m not gonna rip 'em off. Partly because they’re probably trademarked, partly because I don’t have answers, even though you’ve got questions about what 2014 will bring in golf. Nope, I’ve got predictions. I’ve got educated guesses. I’ve even got a bunch of hunches. But answers? Nah, that’s a little too brash for such fickle thoughts.

But fire away anyway. Let’s call 'em 14 for '14. Just don’t call 'em answers.

1. What’s the bigger story: Tiger Woods going for major No. 15 or Phil Mickelson going for the career grand slam?

Let me break it down for you like this: In the history of the game, five players have previously won all four majors; only one has gotten to 15 major wins. When the U.S. Open rolls around in June and Phil tries to avenge those six runner-up finishes, we’ll turn the Hype Machine up to 11 and break off the knob. But there’s no bigger long-range story in golf – no, in sports – than Tiger’s continued pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record. Sure, after five years of failed attempts this one’s got a “been there, done that” feel to it, but that doesn’t make it any less important or intriguing.

2. Will this be the year that Tiger finally gets another one?

He’s competed in 18 majors since his last win – and on 18 separate occasions, these disappointments have been followed by observers wailing, “The next one is his!” Keep saying it and you’re bound to be right at some point. Maybe even this year. I think it’ll happen. The world’s No. 1-ranked player is simply too good to go much longer without one. Of course, I’ve probably been writing that same line since the Curse of Y.E. Yang was inflicted upon him back in '09.

3. So … when and where is it most likely to happen?

Woods has won at Augusta National, Hoylake and Valhalla, sites of three of the four majors this year. But ask him and he’s got the other one on his mind. “I've won at every one except for Pinehurst, and I'm trending in the right way,” he said last month. “I've finished third, second. You get the picture, right?” Loud and clear. In keeping with that trend, Tiger could be hoisting the U.S. Open trophy come June - the sixth anniversary of his last major title.

4. Does that mean Lefty won’t get the only one left?

If we learned anything from Mickelson in 2013, it’s that we should heed that old axiom: Never say never. The man who spent two decades being flustered and frustrated by links courses won the Scottish Open and followed it up with his first Open Championship title. Can he get that metaphorical monkey off his back? Yes. Will he? Well … that’s a different story. If he doesn’t, it won’t be for a lack of prep, as he’s already conceded he’ll probably make two or three recon trips to Pinehurst beforehand. Hey, never say never.

5. Speaking of majors, who gets a first one this year?

First things first: Somebody will get a first one. Maybe a few somebodies. That’s what recent history has told us. Since 2009, the last 20 majors have been won by 15 first-timers. It’s like a deli line. Every elite player take a number; when it’s called, come pick up your major trophy at the counter. Despite only one career PGA Tour win, Jason Day has been knocking on the door for a few years now. He could be primed and ready to follow friend and countryman Adam Scott into Butler Cabin. And everyone’s favorite tweeter Ian Poulter could pick up a paycheck equal to his follower count at Hoylake, despite missing the cut there eight years ago.

6. How will Scott follow last year’s historic campaign?

The man with the world’s prettiest swing isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time – anchored putting banishment be damned. The truth is, he’s good enough with the other 13 clubs in the bag that if his putting is only average, he can still win tournaments. I’ve got the Aussie winning three or four by the time his career is up. Another could happen at Valhalla for the PGA Championship, since despite last year’s Masters win, he tends to play his best golf during the second half of the season.

7. Is Rory McIlroy “back”?

People are still – somehow – asking this question of Woods, so why not tweak it toward the former No. 1, too? It took McIlroy two dozen starts before his lone victory of 2013 at the Australian Open. Now we’re left to debate and analyze whether that success will serve as a predictor of bigger and better things this season. Read this one in your best little-girl-from-Poltergeist-voice: He’s baaaack! Expect McIlroy to triple that win total of last year. OK, maybe quadruple it.

8. Will the Henrik Stenson story keep on keeping on?

There’s no question as to the hottest golfer on the planet over last year’s second half. Stenson became the first player to claim both the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai in the same season. He should be very pleased by that – because it’s not going to happen again. At least, not for Stenson and not this year. Nothing against this ball-striker supreme, just call it the ebbs and flows of a game with natural peaks and valleys.

9. Does the U.S. Ryder Cup team finally stand a chance of winning?

No offense to Brett Wetterich and Vaughn Taylor, but just eight years ago they were part of a U.S. team that got shellacked in Ireland. At the time, it was tough to find a dozen players worthy of roster spots. And now? Consult your handy OWGR, because there are way more than a dozen who might deserve to make it. Some big names – recent major champions, even – will be left on the wrong side of the pond come autumn. What that means is that on paper, at least, this should be a squad with no weak links and talent from top to bottom.

10. So, who makes the team?

I’m going to royally screw this up, but let me give it a try anyway. The locks are Woods, Mickelson and Matt Kuchar. Near-locks include Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth. That leaves four spots. I’ll go with Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan and Gary Woodland.

11. Then who gets left at home?

A bunch of big-timers. Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel among them. I can also see any of those guys making the team. Sorry, not being indecisive; I just wish the roster could go 18 deep.

12. Wait a minute … Gary Woodland?

Yup, he’s my pick to be one of the game’s breakout stars in 2014. Much like Bradley and Dufner in recent years, Woodland is ready to jump into the next echelon of elite players. It’s not like he’s an unknown – far from it – but after returning from injury to win the Reno-Tahoe Open and nearly win The Barclays, one of Butch Harmon’s pet projects is ready to be a top-flight player.

13. Anyone else going to make that kind of leap?

I’ll give you two more names: Graham DeLaet and Nicolas Colsaerts. Again, they weren’t no-names before, but each is going to make a leap in popularity. Already world-class ball-strikers, these guys just need some solid putting performances at opportune times to really grab our attention.

14. Who are some other players on the verge of a first career title?

I’ll give you a six-pack that should have at least a 50 percent success rate: Kevin Stadler, Brendon de Jonge, Roberto Castro, Matt Every, Daniel Summerhays and Matt Jones. Sorry, I left off Kevin Chappell. And Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. And Josh Teater. Hey, the more names I list, the better chance I’ve got at getting a few right.

Getty Images

Snedeker starts slow in effort to snag Masters invite

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.

Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia

By Associated PressDecember 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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LaCava: Woods wouldn't talk after H.O.R.S.E. match

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 2:27 pm

The competitive streak within Tiger Woods knows no bounds - even on the basketball court, according to caddie Joe LaCava.

LaCava has been on Woods' bag since 2011, and he recently shared a story on "Inside the Ropes" on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio about a clash between the two men over a seemingly friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Actually, it turned into nine straight games (and nine straight wins) for LaCava, who exploited a weakness in Woods' on-court strategy while leaning on a mid-length jumper of his own:

"The thing with him was if I missed a shot, which I missed plenty of shots, but if I missed the shot he'd go back down to the 3 (point line) because he liked to make the 3," LaCava said. "But it's harder obviously to make a 3, and I'd go right back to the baseline 12-footer, and he couldn't make it."

It's a short list of people who have beaten Woods nine times in any athletic pursuit, let alone in a row. But for LaCava, the fallout from his afternoon of on-court dominance was less than subtle.

"He did not talk to me the rest of the day," LaCava explained. "I didn't even get the old text, 'Dinner is ready,' because I stay across at the beach house. I didn't even get that text that night. I had to get take-out. He didn't announce he wasn't (talking), he just did it. I'm telling you, nine games in a row. Like I said, he's so competitive, even at something like that."