Hot Topics for 2009

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Members of the GolfChannel.com team answer five hot topic questions entering the 2009 golf season:
 
Hot Topic
Who will be Player of the Year on the PGA Tour?
 
Rex Hoggard Rex Hoggard - Senior Writer, GolfChannel.com:
Going to go out on a limb and ship the Player of the Year hardware to Isleworth Country Club, c/o Tiger Woods; along with the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Best guess is Woods will play between 13 and 15 events in 2009 depending on when he returns. Thats more than enough time to shake off the rust and shake down the rest of the Tour.
 
Brian Hewitt Brian Hewitt - GolfChannel.com Insider:
The Player of the Year on the PGA Tour will be Tiger Woods. If it isnt, it only means that Woods knee didnt heal as well as expected.
 

 
Jay Coffin Jay Coffin - Editorial Director, Golf Channel.com:
Sergio Garcia. Tiger Woods is the easy pick but if ever there was a year to bet against Woods, this would be it. Garcia will collect a victory before Woods returns then hell finally win a coveted major championship. Hell pick up at least one more prominent win along the way which will give Player of the Year to a Euro player for the second straight year.
 
Mercer Baggs Mercer Baggs - Editorial Manager, GolfChannel.com:
Considering Tiger Woods has won this award nine of the last 12 years its difficult to pick against him. But just to make it fun Ill go with Phil Mickelson. I thought about taking Sergio Garcia (seriously), but you have to win a major to be Player of the Year. Mickelson is due ' for a major and for a P.O.Y. trophy.
 
Hot Topic
Will Tiger come back better, worse or the same as before the surgery?
 
Hoggard: Expect Woods to be better than hes ever been. The legs are stronger and the rebuilt ACL will allow him to swing without pain. The only lingering question will be how his injury-imposed exile impacts him mentally. For the first time he had to come to grips with his professional immortality and the prospect of life after golf. For world class athletes, it is a difficult reality to stomach.
 
Hewitt: The big question will be whether the surgically-repaired knee can handle Tigers practice and workout regimen. Ligaments are less predictable than muscles. Tiger is going to have to use all his estimable smarts to know when to push and when to ease off.
 
Coffin: At first, worse. Eventually, way better. No one would be surprised if Woods returns to win the Masters. Afterall, its what he does. But odds are that itll take him several months to get into competitive shape. When that happens ' mid to late summer ' hell be better than ever. That could be a scary proposition for rest of the Tour.
 
Baggs: Every time Tiger has a surgery or overhauls his swing he always seems to return better than ever. This, however, is the most serious obstacle he has ever faced in his professional career. I dont see him being better than before ' not sure how thats possible ' but Im not betting against him being as good as he was before.
 
Hot Topic
Will Michelle Wie win on the LPGA?
 
Hoggard: No. Having a tour card will make life easier for her, but Team Wies plan to stay the course at Stanford may limit her starts in 2009 which would make her breakthrough that much more difficult on what promises to be a hyper-competitive tour.
 
Hewitt: She will. And the dream scenario for the LPGA will be a Wie victory in the seasons very first event, the SBS Open at Turtle Bay (Feb. 12-14). The resultant buzz would be just what the LPGA needs right now.
 
Coffin: Yes. A steady Q-School performance proves that the Big Wiesy is finally ready to break through and win as a professional. It wont be at a major championship, but it will come at an event where there arent many top players. If she were playing more than 12-14 events, Id say she could potentially win twice.
 
Baggs: Yes. Shes just too talented to not win multiple tournaments on the LPGA. If shes focused and plays at least a semi-regular schedule shell win on more than one occasion.
 
Hot Topic
Which will be more compelling: the FedEx Cup playoffs or the Race to Dubai?
 
Hoggard: The Race will likely draw more attention early because its in its first year, but the tweaks to the FedEx Cup will assure the big finish that has been missing from Atlanta. With a little luck, the Tour could finally end up with a suspenseful Sunday in September.
 
Hewitt: The Race to Dubai is a novelty that will draw curiosity seekers. But the FedEx Cup will have Tiger Woods (assuming the knee holds up). And Woods trumps all in professional golf.
 
Coffin: Neither. Both have a chance to be good, but I dont know if either could be great. The Race to Dubai seems to have momentum and will raise the excitement of the European Tour. But its a first-year deal and there is no way to know what to expect. The FedEx Cup tweaks will make it more compelling than the previous two years.
 
Baggs: Admittedly, despite the changes announced at the end of 2008, Im not enthralled with the PGA Tour Playoffs. After a pair of duds it has to prove its entertainment value. On the other hand, the Race to Dubai does pique my interest, if only because its new and has attracted some popular names from across the globe.
 
Hot Topic
Who finishes the year No. 1 in the world?
 
Hoggard: Tiger Woods. The more compelling question is who will be No. 2. The gap between first and second, although it has narrowed, is still substantial. What is interesting is the crowd that has gathered behind Woods. Sergio Garcia recently slipped into second place, followed closely by Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and young guns Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim are closing.
 
Hewitt: Tiger Woods will finish No. 1 in the world ' again, only if the knee holds up. If it doesnt, my moneys on Anthony Kim. And, yes, I know thats a bit of a longshot.
 
Coffin: Sergio Garcia. If Garcia is Player of the Year then he likely will be No. 1 in the world rankings. Woods lead in the rankings is diminishing because hes not playing. If Garcia can knock off a couple of victories in the first half of the year, he can end the year as the best player in the world.
 
Baggs: Tiger Woods. Im sure its mathematically possible for Tiger to lose his top spot, but unless he re-injures himself or the current injury severely limits his ability to swing a golf club I have to figure hell do enough to retain the top spot.