#AskLav: Predicting awards for the 2013-14 season

By Ryan LavnerOctober 10, 2013, 12:25 pm

Opening Day is here!  …

… Just 18 days after Henrik Stenson pocketed $11.44 million, and three days after the Americans waltzed to another Presidents Cup victory, and, oh, about five months before the casual fan once again pays attention to our sport.

Alas, the PGA Tour rolls out its opening act this week with a few too many C-list actors, a Cottonelle-soft field with three top-50 players in what seems like an extension of the Web.com Tour Finals. Oh, yes, this week we’re about 2,500 miles from the winners-only lineup in Hawaii, both literally and figuratively.

No matter. The start of a new season means season previews, prognostications and predictions.

Here, then, is the #AskLav Watch List for the 2013-14 campaign, which begins in, like, five minutes:

Player of the Year: Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar

No surprise that Woods and Scott are on this list, for they’re both good bets for multiple-win seasons and possibly a major. McIlroy is poised for a bounce-back season, if only because 2013 couldn’t get much worse, and Kuchar is too steady not to pick up a major title, and perhaps even a POY, at some point.

Breakout Star: Jason Day, Keegan Bradley

We’re all-in on these guys this season. It is mind-boggling that Day, still just 25, has only one PGA Tour title to his credit, and that was back in 2010. Last year we predicted that Bradley would win Player of the Year, and that clearly didn’t pan out. (No victories. Sigh.) So now we’re doubling down with the 27-year-old Bradley, who possesses the kind of power game that, when he’s on, can blow away a field.

Most Improved: Luke Donald, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen

Donald needed to scramble just to make it to East Lake for the Tour Championship, but the former world No. 1 should return to his winning ways after spending more time with his new long-game coach, Chuck Cook. Barring any healthy setbacks, King Louie will once again be a week-in, week-out force, and maybe this will be the year that Johnson finally puts all of that awe-inspiring talent to good use.

Biggest Letdown: Henrik Stenson, Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner, Jordan Spieth

Great stories, all of them, but they almost have nowhere to go but down this season. Hennie Stennie ascended all the way to No. 4 in the world after a late-season surge with five top 3s in his last seven worldwide starts, but how long can that red-hot form continue? Stricker had the best winless season in golf last year, maybe the best ever, but he’ll be 47 in February. Dufner had a largely forgettable 2013 before Akron (and then the PGA), and Spieth, 20 years old and arguably the hottest commodity in golf, will be adjusting to life as a superstar.   

Rookie of the Year: Hideki Matsuyama

At 21, Matsuyama has an incredibly high ceiling and will look to build on what was already a strong start on the 2013 PGA Tour, when he had six top 25s in seven starts, including a pair of top 10s at the majors. Kid will be a star.

Best Web.com Tour Graduate: Michael Putnam, Ben Martin, Jamie Lovemark

Putnam, 30, was the leading money winner on the Web.com Tour, but that kind of success has yet to translate to the big circuit, where he has only one top 10 in 62 career starts. Martin, 26, was a two-time winner on last year’s Web.com Tour, while the 25-year-old Lovemark will look to avenge an injury-plagued rookie season in 2011.

Best “Next Step” Candidates: Graham DeLaet, Jimmy Walker, Morgan Hoffmann

DeLaet is thisclose to breaking through and winning on the PGA Tour, and after a 2013 campaign that saw him record seven top 10s, he seems a good bet to close the deal this season. The same goes for Walker, who gets better each year and would surprise little if he picked off an early victory during the fall or the West Coast swing. As a rookie in 2013, Hoffmann had seven top 25s and displayed the kind of talent that made him a can’t-miss prospect out of Oklahoma State.

Now, your mailbag questions for this week:

Already mentioned Keegan Bradley and Jason Day, who are poised to break into the worlds elite this season, but all signs point to Brandt Snedeker capturing his first major title in 2014, perhaps as soon as Augusta. Already one of the worlds best putters, his ball-striking stats are markedly improved from a year ago. Further down the world rankings, this could be a breakout year for Peter Uihlein, who should play more in the U.S. once he moves into the top 50 in the world rankings. That could come as soon as this month, depending on how he plays in the European Tours Final Series. And, going deeper, keep an eye on Matt Jones, who was ranked 303rd in the world after Bay Hill in March but is all the way up to 97th. The Aussie reached the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs and has four top 10s in his last seven starts.

Absolutely. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson would be foolish to overlook how they performed together at Muirfield Village, where they went 3-1 in team play. Think back to the 2009 Presidents Cup. Woods and Steve Stricker teamed for the first time and went 4-0. A year later, they posted a 2-1 record at the Ryder Cup in Wales. Barring some drastic downturn in form, expect Tiger to resume the role of Carlton at Gleneagles OK, maybe not.

Feel your pain. Growing up in western New York, I had to get creative with my practice. My first thought was to work on my putting, but for some reason my parents wouldnt let me get the carpets down to 12 on the Stimpmeter. So I focused largely on my long game. I hung a net in the garage, bought a cheap mat with pseudo-grass and swung away. With a space heater nearby, of course.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.