2006: A dozen storylines to ponder in 2006

A year ago, who knew Jason Gore – outside of his family, his peers on the Nationwide Tour and the Pepperdine University Alumni Association?

Or how about Birdie Kim? What planet did she fly in from?

Every golf season delivers its share of surprises, and 2006 figures to be no different. The domination of Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam in their respective arenas is likely to continue, but who knows what challengers might come out of the woodwork? Great things are expected from Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel, but are those expectations realistic? And it’s a Ryder Cup year, with an accompanying array of compelling storylines.

On the following pages, Golfweek answers a dozen pressing questions about the 2006 season. Yes, Europe will keep the Ryder Cup. No way Wie wins on the LPGA, nor is it likely that Sorenstam will notch a Grand Slam.

As for Tiger, read on . . . then check back with us in December!

Will Tiger Woods win more in his 30s than he did in his 20s?

Normally birthdays in professional golf don’t much matter. But one in late December did. It was significant because Tiger Woods turned 30 after winning 46 PGA Tour tournaments, including 10 major championships, in his 20s.

Surpassing those achievements in his 30s, of course, won’t be easy. Will he win more than that in his new decade? There are easier questions, such as: Will Paris Hilton party till dawn, pose for paparazzi, wear $1,000 heels or walk around carrying a Chihuahua?

Though besting 46 and 10 over the next decade would appear to be highly difficult, Woods has an excellent chance. It should surprise no one if he does, especially the 10 majors part.

First, smart money has learned not to doubt him. Second, he’ll have a full extra season of majors as a pro in his 30s. Third, he’s highly motivated. Fourth, he works hard on his game and body and never gives up.

Fifth, and perhaps most important, professional golfers tend to peak in their 30s. Mind, body and spirit seem to merge nicely then. Until Woods came along in 1997 and skewed the math, the average age of a Masters champion was 32.

Woods has golf’s best mental and short games and, at times, its best long game. That’s why he has won 24.9 percent of his Tour starts as a professional. That’s why he’s even better in the high-stakes, difficult majors, having won 27.8 percent of his Grand Slam events as a pro, one in every 3.6.

Scary as it sounds, precedent says Woods will only get better in all aspects of his game in his 30s.

History says that’s when legends peak. Jack Nicklaus won 38 of his 73 Tour titles and eight of his 18 professional majors as a thirtysomething. Nicklaus won more than five times in a season twice, at 32 and 33, when he bagged seven titles each year.

Arnold Palmer twice won eight times in a season in his 30s. That was his decade. Of his 62 victories, a Tour-record 44 came in his 30s. So did six of his seven major victories.

Ben Hogan won 43 of his 64 tournaments in his 30s. Byron Nelson collected 35 of his 52 then, Billy Casper 34 of his 51, Sam Snead 37 of his 82. Tom Watson won 20 of his 39 Tour titles and five of his eight majors in his 30s – and he flamed out at 35.

Woods needs 37 victories to surpass Snead’s record. At his current rate, he’ll break that shortly before his 38th birthday in 2013. Same goes for Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. At this pace, he’d pass Nicklaus at age 37 in the summer of ’13.

So stay tuned. Intriguing golf history should be served over the next decade. And it stands to be less predictable than, say, Paris Hilton.

– Jeff Rude

Will Annika Sorenstam nail the Grand Slam?

She can win three majors, but four is a long shot, even for the Great One. History suggests there is no reason to bet against Sorenstam for the first two legs of the Grand Slam – the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the McDonald’s LPGA Championship. Round 3 at the U.S. Women’s Open, however, often presents its difficulties for the Swede.

Sorenstam won the 2005 Nabisco by eight shots and has won the championship three of the last five years. The McDonald’s had a new venue in 2005 – Bulle Rock Golf Course – but Sorenstam dissected it with ease. It was Sorenstam’s third consecutive McDonald’s victory.

The Open again will give Sorenstam fits as it has the past nine years. After near misses in 2002, ’03 and ’04, Sorenstam tied for 23rd last year at Cherry Hills, her worst finish of the season. It almost seems that Sorenstam, one of the most mentally tough players in women’s golf, loses her edge when the Open comes around.

This year’s Open will be held at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, a links-style course where the ground game and unfamiliar shots will come into play under conditions that are often windy and firm, similar to those of the British Open. The setup favors no one, which could lend itself to another long-shot champion, a la Hilary Lunke and Birdie Kim.

If Sorenstam does not win the Women’s Open, it’s difficult to know what her mindset will be a month later. This year’s Weetabix Women’s British Open is at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where Sorenstam clipped Se Ri Pak by a shot to win in 2003.

“What comes to my mind is the majors,” Sorenstam said at the ADT Championship in November. “I want to win more majors. I want to win 10, that’s a number that’s in my head. But I want to try to win them, all four. That’s really what pushes me today, to do something that nobody else has done.”

– Jay A. Coffin

Will Michelle Wie find the winner’s circle in 2006?

Wie will win once she becomes an LPGA member and is able to play a full tour schedule, but she won’t win this year.

The numbers simply are against her.

Wie will play in only eight LPGA events, and it’s a stretch to believe she can win anything against the men when she hasn’t won against women. Her only victory of significance is the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, an event that has lost its luster over the past five years. And making a cut in a men’s professional tournament would not be a victory.

In the eight LPGA events that Wie will play this year, Annika Sorenstam will be in the field probably seven times, considerably decreasing Wie’s chances of victory. The event Sorenstam may not play – the season-opening SBS Open in Hawaii, where Sorenstam didn’t play last year – will feature almost every other top player, all looking to get off to a strong start or shake off rust a month before the season’s first major championship. For Wie to win the SBS Open, where she tied for second in 2005, she’ll have to topple Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Lorena Ochoa, Morgan Pressel and Ai Miyazato, among others.

There were other highs and lows for the 16-year-old Wie in 2005, all well-documented. The highs: three second-place LPGA finishes, winning three matches at the men’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, and turning pro and signing with Nike and Sony for an estimated $10 million in endorsements. Among the lows: her disqualification at the Samsung World Championship, a final-round 82 at the U.S. Women’s Open and poor finishes at the John Deere Classic and Casio World Open, where she had chances to make the cut.

When Wie does find herself in contention this year, she’ll have to perform better down the stretch. The teenager has not yet shown that she can perform under extreme pressure. Even her three second-place finishes in 2005 are a bit misleading because she was never close to winning. Jennifer Rosales had a comfortable lead heading into the back nine at the SBS Open and came back to the field to win by two; Sorenstam let a few shots slip over the final holes at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and won by three; and Creamer won the Evian Masters by eight shots over Wie and Lorena Ochoa.

There is no doubting Wie’s talent, and she will win before too long. Just not this year.

– Jay A. Coffin

In the spirit of Jason Gore, who will emerge as golf’s Cinderella story in 2006?

Cin·der·el·la sin-da-’re-la n. One who unexpectedly achieves recognition

or success after a period of obscurity and neglect.

Of course, there is no picture of Jason Gore next to the listing for Cinderella in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, but there should be.

The smiling Prince of Pinehurst went from career chaos to crowd favorite in 2005 with his improbable run at the U.S. Open, followed by an even more unlikely tear that included three Nationwide Tour victories and a triumph at the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic in September.

However, picking who will follow in Gore’s Cinderella slippers is akin to hitting a quinella at Churchill Downs. At this time last year, Gore was closer to retirement than he was to recovery. And chances are this year’s bush-league-to-big-time special is beginning 2006 mulling what possible career options he may have outside the gallery ropes.

Considering that two of 2005’s most inspiring stories (Gore and Sean O’Hair) actually jumpstarted their years at the PGA Tour’s 2004 Q-School, the fall classic seems the appropriate place to start looking for this season’s Cinderella story.

There are no shortage of young guns who could become household names in 2006. Peter Tomasulo, Johnson Wagner and Brandt Snedeker all have the swings, and the swagger, to follow O’Hair into the top 30 on the Tour money list. Tomasulo and Wagner fell victim to Q-School’s capricious nature, and Snedeker – who struggled with a rib injury in 2005 – is considered by many to be the most talented player without a Tour card.

But the foundation of a true Cinderella story is pinned to how much a player must overcome, not how much potential they have.

After six semi-successful seasons on the PGA Tour and a momentum-sapping elbow injury, Franklin Langham was looking forward to a breakout year in ’05. Thirty-one events, 17 missed cuts and another trip to Q-School followed. Yet his combination of experience, talent and necessity make Langham – who will begin this season on the Nationwide Tour – one of the most likely candidates to follow Gore’s unlikely path.

A comeback by Todd Barranger would be even more inspiring. Barranger – who missed most of the 1995 and ’96 seasons after being diagnosed with testicular cancer – had a dismal 2005 that saw him miss the cut in all 16 events he played.

But a rejuvenated Barranger surfaced during the offseason with a retooled swing and newfound focus. He begins ’06 with limited Nationwide Tour status and few reasons, other than a clear mind, to think his fortunes are changing.

Just the way a true Cinderella story likes it. Just ask Jason Gore.

– Rex Hoggard

How will Oklahoma State perform in the post-Mike Holder era?

Don’t expect Oklahoma State to miss a beat, certainly not in the current season. This team is well established and has plenty of talent.

All the players know and respect new coach Mike McGraw, who has been at OSU for eight years. McGraw’s true test will come in future seasons, depending upon his ability to recruit the nation’s top junior players.

But his first challenge will be keeping college golf’s top player, Pablo Martin, around for his final two years of eligibility. Recent history, however, is not on Oklahoma State’s side. Charles Howell III left the Cowboy program following the 1999-2000 season after three years; Hunter Mahan took to the pros in 2003 after one season at Southern Cal and two at Oklahoma State; and Casey Wittenberg went pro after his freshman year in 2003-04.

Look for Martin to follow this path.

He is a truly gifted talent and has a bright future in professional golf, which he is definitely eager to pursue. He already has proven himself at the amateur and college levels.

In three semesters at OSU, Martin has placed first in four tournaments, including both his starts this fall. Martin, who finished the fall season No. 1 in the Golfweek/

Sagarin College Rankings, was a first-team

All-American and NCAA Division I Freshman of the Year last season. He also won the prestigious Porter

Cup Amateur last summer.

While his parents are strong supporters of him completing four years of college, the Spaniard appears ready for the next level.

Sports agents are following Martin around like puppy dogs and club manufacturers are licking their chops to get a piece of him when he does turn pro. Martin won’t get Tiger-like money from the start, but there should be plenty of endorsement cash on the table come June.

– Ron Balicki

Will America’s momentum continue at the Curtis Cup?

It’s tough to think Curtis Cup without wondering what might have been. Michelle, Paula and Morgan – three blossoming youths with a stronghold on the women’s game – outgrew the amateur scene months ago. Instead of a Cup overflowing with hype and hoopla at breathtaking Bandon Dunes, a more subdued transatlantic shootout will transpire, one with plenty of new faces.

Any lack of experience on the American side will be offset by first-time captain and 12-time participant Carol Semple Thompson. No one would dare disappoint the grand dame of women’s amateur golf.

Look for Washington’s Paige Mackenzie to close her amateur career by spearheading the efforts of the red, white and blue.

The personable twentysomething is the ideal candidate to lead an eight-woman team of teenagers and college standouts. Mackenzie tops Golfweek’s college and amateur rankings and carries the confidence of a top-20 performance at last summer’s U.S. Women’s Open along with a 9-and-8 thrashing over former Curtis Cup player Liz Janangelo at the ’05 Trans National.

Janangelo will have to crank it up a notch this spring to earn a Curtis Cup return ticket. The Duke senior has two teammates already ahead of her in line – Anna Grzebien and Amanda Blumenherst.

Grzebien’s 2005 season included a victory at the NCAA East Regional and NCAA Championship. Wrist surgery sidelined her for the summer but she bounced back nicely in the fall with three top-5 finishes. Meanwhile, Blumenherst certainly hasn’t played like a freshman, sitting at No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

Angela Park, the hottest player this winter, will be one-and-done in Bandon. The 17-year-old Californian has no intentions of playing college golf and is making the most of her remaining amateur career with recent victories at the Polo Golf Junior Classic, Dixie Amateur and Junior Orange Bowl. She’s a no-brainer pick for the American side.

Jane Park may be the only returning member of 2004’s victorious U.S. squad as six players have since turned professional. Expect youth to again dominate as Virginia Derby Grimes seems the only

mid-am with a chance to join the team. She’ll have to beat out the likes of Amanda McCurdy, Taylor Leon, Jane Rah, Ashley Knoll and Jenny Suh to make her third appearance.

Great Britain and Ireland most likely will get return appearances from Emma Duggleby, Claire Coughlan and Anne Laing. They’ll need all the experience they can muster to stand a chance on American soil.

Expect the steely nerves of youth – along with Captain Thompson’s soft-spoken, inspiring words – to carry the Americans to their fifth consecutive victory.

– Beth Ann Baldry

Will Irish eyes smile on Europe or USA?

Mark it down. A European player will win a major this year, ending six years of frustration since Paul Lawrie won the British Open at Carnoustie. And Europe will capitalize on that success by winning the Ryder Cup for the third year running, and the fifth time in six contests.

European golfers came too close last year for one not to win a major this season. Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and Thomas Bjorn all knocked on the door, each with a top-3 finish in one of the four majors.

A European – with Donald, Garcia and Bjorn the best bets – will step through that door this season.

Also watch for David Howell to challenge for major honors. With his victory at the HSBC Champions Tournament in a head-to-head duel with Tiger Woods in China at the end of last season, Howell proved he has the right stuff to capture one of the four big championships. Throw Paul McGinley into that mix, too. McGinley’s Volvo Masters triumph has given arguably the hardest worker on the PGA European Tour added confidence.

Padraig Harrington is another candidate. Harrington’s ’05 campaign was badly affected by his father’s death, so look for him to challenge for major honors in ’06.

Even better news for European golf is that all of the above will line up in the Ryder Cup at The K Club.

The European Tour may have sold out by allowing Michael Smurfit to buy the match and stage it on the least typical Irish course on the Emerald Isle, but Europe still will prevail. (The match should have gone to a traditional links course like Portmarnock, not an Arnold Palmer design that wouldn’t look out of place in, say, Ohio.)

Once again the team will produce an unlikely hero. Relative unknowns Kenneth Ferrie, Nick Dougherty and Henrik Stenson all have an excellent chance of making the team.

Look for Stenson to emerge from the shadows and become a Euro Ryder Cup hero, following in the footsteps of Phillip Price, Philip Walton, Eamonn Darcy and Christy O’Connor Jr. It has taken a while for this long-hitting Swede to live up to expectations raised with his 2001 victory at the Benson & Hedges International Open. However,

nine top-10 finishes last year, including a T-3 at the WGC-American Express Championship, proves

Stenson has matured nicely.

– Alistair Tait

Which major venue is likely to deliver the most compelling golf?

The last time the U.S. Golf Association held a major at Newport (R.I.) Country Club, it was the 1995 U.S. Amateur, and look how much interest that drew. Of course it helped having Tiger Woods eke out a come-from-behind victory in match play over Buddy Marucci Jr. But the attention also was because of how different the playing surface was and how Tiger adapted his game, for the first time, to pure links golf.

A major needs a good field as well as a great golf course. That’s most likely to arise this year when Newport plays host to the U.S. Women’s Open. Professional women’s golf has never seen a deeper and more diverse talent pool, with teenagers such as Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel and others challenging recent national champions more than twice their age – Meg Mallon and Juli Inkster among them. It will be fascinating to see if the youngsters can harness the restraint and course management needed for successful ­links golf.

The real beauty of a seaside layout like Newport is that anything can happen. Wind will be a major factor, the bounces are sure to be wild and the unwatered, firm and fast fairways are likely to cause havoc with younger players groomed with repetitive, practice range-honed swing routines. Put Formula One racers on a short-track oval and they’ll end up driving like crash test dummies.

The run-up to this year’s Masters promises more talk about the continued lengthening of Augusta National. Afterward, however, the results probably will show that the added yardage was of little consequence. The U.S. Open at Winged Foot’s West Course, by contrast, likely will be be a grim survival test, thanks to an extra 200 yards added since the 1997 PGA Championship, but also – predominantly – because of heavily sloped greens with more speed than anything A.W. Tillinghast could have imagined when he designed the place in 1923.

When the British Open returns to Royal Liverpool for the first time since Roberto de Vicenzo won there in 1967, viewers will get a long overdue look at one of Britain’s toughest – and least photogenic – links courses.

Good luck getting a story line on Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 Course for the PGA Championship. Other than endless replays of Sergio Garcia’s miracle shot from off a tree root at the 1999 PGA Championship, this tree-lined layout offers little to wake one from a nap.

It’s also too bad that when the Ryder Cup visits Ireland for the first time, the venue will be the inland K Club rather than a course amid wild seaside dunes.

– Bradley S. Klein

Will Hale Irwin win more in his 60s than he did in his 50s?

You have to tip your hat to Irwin. He turned 60 last year and never blinked, leading the Champions Tour once again in victories (4) while amassing nearly $2 million in earnings for the eighth time in nine seasons.

Irwin relishes a stern challenge – he got all he could handle from ironman Dana Quigley in 2005 – and this season he’ll receive a doozy, as the Champions Tour continues to bolster its lineup with players geared to make a strong run at him.

Loren Roberts and Jay Haas, if they choose to dedicate their efforts to the Champions Tour, have what it takes to supplant Irwin on top of the mountain. Roberts turned 50 in late June, won one major (the Jeld-Wen Tradition), and probably should have won a second, but he watched the U.S. Senior Open slip away as he struggled to a final-round 73. With distance not the issue it is on the flat-belly circuit, the Boss of the Moss becomes a real force among the 50-and-older set.

As for Haas, he seemed like a man who didn’t quite know where he wanted to be through much

of 2005, torn between two tours. But everything clicked for him on the Champions Tour in autumn, and in his last four starts he won twice (Greater Hickory Classic, SBC Championship) and would have won again had Tom Watson not clipped him with a handsome 10-birdie 64 in the final round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Haas won almost $1 million in 10 starts.

“It took him a while,” said Fred Funk of Haas.

“I think the way he finished, he’s off and running.”

Speaking of Funk, he turns 50 in June, and if he can get his putter going just a little bit, the Champions Tour will lead him to a veritable pot of gold. But right now Funk’s biggest goal is making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which means only one Champions Tour date – the U.S. Senior Open at Prairie Dunes – is circled on his calendar.

Funk realizes that if he goes out and plays his usual game on the Champions Tour, there’s a good chance he’ll be in contention every time he tees it up.

“That would be fun, to be in the hunt every week,” Funk said. “I mean, I can’t imagine.”

Actually, he can. Maybe that’s why he’s smiling so much these days.

– Jeff Babineau

Will the Nicklaus-Doak collaboration match the hype – and the price tag?

For all the recent golf course development throughout the American West, 2006 brings a renewed focus to the classic East Coast. The three most intriguing and anticipated projects of the new season are in the immediate New York area – on opposite ends of Long Island.

The most closely watched is Sebonack Golf Club, on the island’s far eastern shore. To start with, the location is unparalleled – in the storied town of Southampton, N.Y., right next door to National Golf Links of America and Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. It helps having waterfront holes along Great Peconic Bay, but it helps even more having the combined design talents of two rather different architects, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak. Owner/developer Michael Pascucci somehow convinced the two to join forces, then committed approximately $120 million toward the site, design and permitting, course construction, clubhouse and guest cottages. How does Pascucci plan to make it work? He shows an empty wallet and says, “That’s how.”

As a condition of getting municipal approvals, Sebonack will be maintained on ecologically sensitive principles, with extremely low rates of fertilization as well as near total recapture of surface runoff. Even the greens have subsurface diapers to prevent seepage. As for the golf course, it actually looks like a collaboration, with the bunkers scruffier and more links-like than anything Nicklaus has done, and the greens tamer and smaller than anything Doak has done. Lines of play are well-defined, with options abounding, yet the course is firm and fast enough that it will accommodate thoughtful ground-game shotmaking. The official opening won’t be until June, but that hasn’t stopped membership inquiries, nor has a joining fee that starts at $500,000 and founding memberships that exceed $1 million.

The two other Met-area projects that will debut in 2006 are on the other end of Long Island. Liberty National Golf Club and Bayonne Golf Club actually sit on the New Jersey shore along New York Bay and afford intimate views of lower Manhattan and the harbor front. Both occupy reclaimed waterfront industrial sites.

Liberty National, designed by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite, is visually dramatic, thanks to a routing that makes good use of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Bayonne, designed and built by Eric Bergstol, looks more like a manufactured Irish dunescape. Both will rely heavily upon corporate memberships.

– Bradley S. Klein

Is this the year the USGA decides to roll back the golf ball?

Happy New Year, short hitter. Yes, you.

This is the year the U.S. Golf Association will let the air out of the golf ball.

A shorter ball will mean shorter hitters – from Tiger Woods to you.

The decision will be hugely controversial. Battle lines will be drawn. You’ve heard of the Gulf War; this will be the Golf War.

In the end, the USGA will prevail in a protracted battle with golf ball manufacturers. Forget about a legal drama, because this tug-of-war will never make it to court. Faced with overwhelming evidence that driving distance is out of control at the professional level, ballmakers will back down.

What evidence?

Manufacturers are fully aware of the magnitude of 2002 in the rulesmaking process. Four years ago, the USGA and the R&A released their Joint Statement of Principles. Among its declarations was this one: “The R&A and the USGA believe that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.”

USGA executive director David Fay labeled 2002 as a “benchmark” year, and close observers of the game have been plugged into PGA Tour driving distances.

Average driving distance on the PGA Tour increased from 279.2 yards in 2002 to 288.9 in 2005. In the same time span, the driving average of the top 50 players jumped from 289.3 yards to 300.6.

Even more alarming to traditionalists was the number of stratospheric drives on the PGA Tour. A total of 18 drives in 2005 went more than 400 yards (three were hit by Stuart Appleby, one by Woods, and none by John Daly). According to the Tour, 1,695 drives exceeded 350 yards.

Is it fair to base an evaluation of the game on the performance of a handful of golfers? Maybe not, but golf has operated this way for a long time. Most of the major rules changes in golf have occurred in reaction to competitive circumstances.

Of course, the combination of titanium drivers and aerodynamic golf balls has helped many golfers achieve more distance and accuracy.

But don’t look for any new distance regulations on drivers. The golf ball is the target now, and it will be throttled back – perhaps as early as Jan. 1, 2008.

– James Achenbach

Wilson wilts? A Callaway comeback? What will be the business story of ‘06?

In the world of golf business, the gap between the haves and have-nots continues its ceaseless expansion. That means the coming year should spell challenges for nearly all except the game’s mightiest brands. Take Wilson, for example, which once stood on golf’s top pedestal. Financially neglected by Finnish parent Amer, Wilson is a shell of its former self, and in another step backward, recently slashed its sales force. Wilson executives insist they’re retrenching with their best accounts, but industry insiders say such efforts won’t be enough to withstand the relentless assault of competitors.

Other companies, while still facing a tough road, are more likely to bridge the divide. Under the leadership of chief executive Chip Brewer, Adams Golf has made the jump from one-hit wonder (Tight Lies fairway wood) to solid niche brand. But being a seniors-oriented, game-improvement company provides little room for growth. Don’t be surprised if Brewer makes a complementary acquisition – either a premium brand targeted for better players or one suited for mass-market channels – to raise Adams’ low ceiling.

When the megabrands started to break away from the pack a few years ago, Greg Hopkins, president of Cleveland Golf, swore he wouldn’t be left in their dust. True to his word, Hopkins has helped Cleveland do more than keep pace, growing the once-unprofitable wedge company into a full-fledged equipment brand. With a Tour staff that arguably gets the most bang for its bucks (unheralded winners such as Shaun Micheel and Bart Bryant), expect Cleveland to seriously boost its putter business this year with a revival of sister brand Never Compromise. Likewise, Ping and Cobra have staged impressive comebacks.

Acushnet (Titleist balls, FootJoy shoes) and TaylorMade (metalwoods) continue to dominate their respective categories, while Nike flexes more muscle every year. But for one of the game’s perennial giants, 2006 will be a year of reckoning. Indeed, all eyes will be on Callaway and its new chief George Fellows.

Since the death of its inimitable founder Ely Callaway, the company has stumbled with some product releases, lost its metalwoods leadership to archrival TaylorMade and endured rumors of a sale. But the brand still resonates with golfers and if Fellows can right the ship, Callaway could again claim to stand first among equals.

– Gene Yasuda

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