Every publication ' and that includes this one ' has to get through the two weeks preceding the new year with something thats topical, something that will attract eyeballs. Golf tournaments have been over for a couple of weeks, even those that are made for TV. And golf writers need a holiday, too. Theres only a short period of time between the Target World Challenge (did I get that one right?) and the Mercedes Championships. That isnt much time to relax.
The crystal ball gazing this time of year, though, has always baffled me. No one ever comes close to getting this stuff right in golf. You can predict until you sound like so many Nostradamuses, but you never going to get it correctly. Each year is a year unto itself, and this year doesnt bear much relation to the next.
Proof? Well, take last year, for example.
Last year, not one breathing person could have predicted that Tiger Woods wouldnt win a medal-play tournament. And not one could have predicted nine wins in one year for Vijay Singh. And that just barely scratches the surface.
Look at the World Rankings at this time last year. Woods was No. 1, and though he has shown signs of returning to that position, 2004 was a disastrous year for him. Numbers 4 through 6 were occupied by Davis Love, Jim Furyk and Mike Weir. All had subpar years, as did No. 8, Kenny Perry, and No, 9, David Toms.
Ricky Barnes? Wrong ' he just wasnt ready. Neither was Hilary Lunke, the Womens U.S. Open champion of 2003, Shaun Micheel, the PGA champ, nor Ben Curtis, the American who won the British Open in 2003.
What happened to Matt Kuchar, the former U.S. Amateur champ who won a PGA Tour event and then faded away? How about every U.S. Amateur champ since Tiger Woods - Hank Kuehne, David Gossett, Jeff Quinney, Bubba Dickerson, Barnes and Nick Flanagan?
On the other hand, Phil Mickelson pulled a Lazarus on us and regained his old moxie, even if he did flame out at years end. And John Daly? At the age of 38, he won a golf tournament in the U.S. for the first time in nine years ' did you predict that at this time last year? You didnt? Neither did John.
Could anyone have predicted the baffling disappearance of Se Ri Pak? Is it her driver? Her fawning countrymen? Or her head? But ' maybe she will be the LPGAs Phil Mickelson in 2005.
The Korean women as a group didnt have quite the success in 2004 as they did in 2003. But its safe to say that they will win a number of events in 2005. Their numbers are too overwhelming for it to be anything but.
On the other hand, an American, Cristi Kerr, won three times, as did Meg Mallon, another American. This despite the fact that Americans were supposedly on the decline going into the year ' Juli Inkster was the lone Yank with more than one win in 2003, and she had just two.
And what happened to Aaron Baddeley?
On the other hand, how could we have predicted the excellence of British Open winner Todd Hamilton? Or Adam Scott? Stephen Ames? Who would ever have guessed that the Europeans would win the Ryder Cup in such convincing fashion ' on U.S. soil, no less? Did you predict that Andre Stolz would win a tour title? Or that Mark OMeara would actually win on the European Tour at Dubai, yet finish 135th in the U.S.?
Through it all, though, there was one shining light that was still burning brightly at years end. Annika Sorenstam won eight more times in 2004 (10 around the world.) That gives her 56 LPGA wins alone, and though she has said for two or three years that she may soon quit being a fulltime player, she hasnt yet made that final commitment.
Shes 34 now, and when she is 35 ' or 36 or 37 ' heres my prediction: she will win twice as much as the No. 2 player. Excellence, it seems, is a no-brainer to call when its Annika.
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