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#AskLav: Looking back at 2013, ahead to 2014

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Here’s a depressing fact: The 2013-14 PGA Tour season will resume in 22 days, barring, of course, another onslaught of hellacious winds, freak snowstorms, derechos and seemingly everything but locust attacks. 

Seriously – 22 days. That’s barely enough time to roll out all of this end-of-the-year content, crank out season-preview stories, buy and return gifts, and then board a flight bound for Kapalua.

So it follows that this will be the final #AskLav mailbag of the year, because, really, we’re left with little choice. There aren’t many Thursdays remaining in 2013. But before diving into your mailbag questions, here are one scribe’s reflections on the year that was: 

• That Tiger Woods won five times and still wasn’t the clear-cut choice for Player of the Year choice tells me two things: 1.) He continues to be judged by the absurdly high standards that he set; and 2.) The quality of golf this year, worldwide, was incredible.

• Never covered a tournament quite like the WGC-Match Play. That week I had the early shift, meaning I covered the tournament Tuesday-Friday while another writer (in this case, the inimitable Rex Hoggard) stayed for the weekend when the field was cut to eight players. That was the plan, anyway. Mother Nature clearly had other ideas, and soon about four inches fell on the otherwise forgettable Dove Mountain course. There were snowball fights, dudes sledding on pizza boxes and long lines for hot chocolate. The warmest jackets we packed were fleece pullovers, and I ended up covering only a round and a half before heading to the airport. Needless to say, the Match Play is not on my 2014 tournament wish list. 

• The course I most wanted to play this year: National Golf Links of America. The host site for the Walker Cup matches is truly spectacular, and an ideal course for a match-play event. Let’s hope it’s not another 91 years before NGLA stages another high-profile tournament.

• Best Tour stop if you like food (which I do): Zurich Classic. Gained nine pounds this April after eating fried seafood platters, barbecued shrimp and succulent chargrilled oysters. And, yes, I’m drooling as I type this.  

• What did we learn from the Tiger-Sergio spat this year at the Players? When provoked, TW always seeks and destroys.

• The top 5 in the world ranking as of this writing is Tiger, Scott, Big Stense, Rosey and Phil. At this time next year, I think it will look like this: Tiger, Scott, Rory, Big Stense, Jason Day.

• One of the great thrills of the year was catching up with Jim Furyk’s group to follow his bid for 59 in Chicago. For all of his meltdowns in the past few years, he showed a lot of stones by stuffing that gap-wedge shot to kick-in range.

• Yes, Merion was tricked out for this year’s U.S. Open. It was possible, maybe even likely, to snap a wrist while hitting out of that rough. The average player couldn’t get home with driver-driver on 18. But man, what an awesome collection of holes. 

• Watching Rory McIlroy in San Antonio, I was convinced that he’d turn it around and win soon thereafter. His strut was back, but so, too, were the titanium-denting drives and rock-solid stroke. Yeah, that didn’t quite pan out – he didn’t win for another 34 weeks. 

• For what it’s worth, I was behind the first green at Conway Farms, staring right at Tiger, when his ball apparently moved in the pine needles. This new video rule is a good one – there was no way that movement was discernible to the naked eye.

• Precisely half of my rounds played this year were during GolfChannel.com’s 11-day adventure in Scotland – 126 holes in five days. My best round of the year (73) was in a tournament the day before my wedding. My worst (85) was the first round after my nuptials. Coincidence?

 

 

Is a heavier driver shaft the missing link in Tiger’s major game? Probably not. In his last 23 weekend rounds at a major, Woods has shot in the 60s just three times. Over that same span he has 12 sub-par rounds on Thursday-Friday. That tells me that there’s a mental hurdle, that he’s pressing, that he’s trying too hard for major No. 15. This a make-or-break year for Tiger when it comes to chasing Jack. If the world No. 1 doesn’t win one this year – with his game in order, with this favorable foursome of venues – then there’ll be serious doubt whether he can get to 15 majors, let alone 18.   


 

 

Well, if Watson had to make that decision today, the U.S. team would be in grave condition, unless, of course, you welcome the thought of an American side with Ryan Moore and Chris Kirk among the automatic qualifiers, with Jason Bohn, who has exactly two wins in 247 career starts, sitting next on the list at No. 10. Tiger (15), Kooch (16), Zach (17) and Sneds (18) would all be relying on picks. So would Billy Ho (21), Keegan (22), Stricker (26) and Spieth (71). Here’s guessing this list will look a little different in nine months.


 

 

Hey, at least Tiger is built to win in 2014! The same can’t be said for the lovable losers, who are stocked with young talent but at least a few years away from being a serious playoff contender. Tiger is more likely to break his curse first, since he’s as healthy as he’s been in years, he’s no longer bogged down with swing thoughts, and he’s approaching 2014 major venues at which he has had success. The Cubs, meanwhile, will be lucky to win 75 games. That drought lives on.


 

 

The single-most important hire will be the lead analyst. Love him or loathe him, Johnny Miller is must-watch TV at the Open. He LOVES that tournament. He’s been in that cauldron (as you might have been told a time or two), and he’s not afraid to opine, no matter how ridiculous. It was reported in August that Fox has approached Greg Norman about the gig, and that would be a curious choice, given his uneven record in the year’s second major (no wins, just five top 10s in 19 starts) and penchant for head-scratching comments (like this, for instance). Though he doesn’t have the same pedigree as Johnny or the Shark, I’d love to see Paul Azinger in that role. Smart, thoughtful, opinionated, well-researched. 


 

 

Good question. For all we know, the 28-year-old is either working hard on his game in Dallas, squandering all of his money ($12M in career earnings) in Vegas or getting ready to start filming the “Entourage” movie with Vincent Chase. He hasn’t played a full schedule since 2011 or been heard from, really, since undergoing surgery on his Achilles’ tendon in summer 2012. At this point, he remains more cautionary tale than comeback candidate. 


 

 

Indeed, this #AskLav mailbag – in which I formed an NFL team with only golfers – was my favorite of 2013. That group couldn’t be any more dysfunctional than the Redskins, right?