First the COULD:
We could start off the year at the Mercedes Championships with a Tiger Woods vs. Vijay Singh battle royale, a la Tiger and Ernie Els a few years back. Wouldnt that be special and wouldnt that get our minds racing towards Augusta in a hurry.
We could just as likely see Stuart Appleby win at Kapalua for the third straight year and kick-start another season where all the 'name players' are ready to win and win early.
Could we see Phil Mickelson get off to a similar start as he produced in 2005? Remember the quick victories and the buzz about a Big 4, which led to the showdown at Doral and the Ford Championship?
We could see Ernie Els return to health and form in short order, which would be great for the PGA Tour and fans of dominance by the superstars. Many seem to think that time off has not only healed Ernies knee but also his mind and the motivation could be stronger than ever. Well see.
It seems to be popular thinking that we could see the very best of Jim Furyk in 2006, which might just lead to a major or two and a handful of victories. The Nedbank Challenge was a mighty victory. On the range here at Sherwood Country Club, Furyk (who flew straight from South Africa) is as happy as can be about things and echoed the thoughts about a big 2006.
We could very well see Colin Montgomerie get that first victory in the States. His game is in fine form and suddely he's gone from the man fans love to jeer to the man fans love to cheer. Imagine that first victory coming at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Monty's major in New York?? C'mon, tell me I'm dreaming.
We could see Chris DiMarco land the big victory in 2006, though he admitted on the 'Sprint Pre-Game' on Wednesday that winning a major wasnt at the top of his goal list for the coming year. 'Ive got 12 tournaments before the first major and thats where my focus is,' DiMarco said. Interesting thought, but you can understand that at this point hed take any victory to get the ball rolling.
On the ladies' side, we could very well see Ai Miyazato walk away with more majors in 2006 than Annika Sorenstam. Shes that good. And to hear it from TGCs Japanese reporters and commentators ' shes a bigger star than Ichiro (Seattle Mariners) or Hideki (New York Yankees) in her country. Six wins on the Japan LPGA means she arrives with a winning background. Look out Annika -- and Paula, you, too.
Now the SHOULD:
We should see a better putting performance by Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia in 2006. These two guys are among the best sharpshooters the game has seen from the fairways. But putting the ball close to the hole in 2006 wont be good enough and it sure wasnt the case in 2005. If they can improve the putting numbers, you should see each man win a major in 2006.
We should see Tiger take it to an even greater level, which is scary. On the range this week he admitted to being tired from 'hitting a lot of golf balls in 2005.' I responded with, 'a lot of good ones.' He followed that quickly with, 'not enough.' And that tells me all I need to know. Woods has been grinding on a new swing that produced six wins and two majors in 2005. Eclipsing the six victories is certainly possible, the two majors will be tougher. But we should see improvement ' and we should see him make every cut.
We should see a better season from the Nationwide Tour graduates than we saw in 2005. The number of Nationwide Tour stars to keep their cards was down, but this years class of 21 has some star potential in the form of Troy Matteson, Camilo Villegas, Steven Bowditch and Jon Mills. Add Q-school grad Bill Haas, who played the 2005 season on the Nationwide Tour, to the mix and you have a chance to have some players not only keep their cards, but also collect some wins.
We should see even more progress from John Daly, whose career seems to be back on level footing. Daly has come a long way in the last few years. No longer just the crowd pleaser, hes once again a contender every time he tees it up. And wouldnt it be great if he was among the top 12 on the Ryder Cup points list come August?
We should see a tighter money list and a tighter race for Player of the Year on the LPGA. Creamer and Kerr and Gulbis and Kim and Miyazato will make it interesting. Annika won the money title this year by about a million dollars over Creamer. But keep in mind that instead of SHOULD we also COULD see Annika runaway again. She loves competition.
And finally the BETTER:
For this I have just one and Im hoping you can help me with the rest. Wed BETTER see a more competitive Ryder Cup than we saw in 2004. The United States won the Presidents Cup with the great putt by DiMarco and some interesting pairings. Woods found company in the form of Furyk and DiMarco found a friend in Mickelson. Whether we see that again is up to captain Tom Lehman. Be assured that Ian Woosnams team will be stacked, loaded and ready to successfully defend.
Happy Holidays and thanks for allowing me a few words each week during the year. As always, your thoughts are welcome.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann