2012 in preview: Staff predictions

Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the fifth green during the third round of the Chevron World Challenge.

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As the new year begins, we stop reflecting on the year that was and take a look forward to the year that will be. Our experts predict who will win more in the Tiger vs. Rory battle, how many times Lexi will win and who will be victorious at the Ryder Cup at Medinah in September.

Click on anyone's name to experience more of our exclusive staff blogs, features and much more!

• • •

JEFF BABINEAU, editor

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

Luke Donald will win a major. It’s amazing how this guy continues to fly under the radar, even after his incredible accomplishments of 2011, when he won money titles on both sides of the pond. He needs to be a little more consistent with the driver, but Donald's consistency is unmatched and his short game simply is too world-class to let him exit 2012 without his first major trophy.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Tiger. Rory knocked on a lot of doors in 2011 but won only twice. Getting the job done on Sunday is still something the uber-talented 22-year-old is trying to sort out. He probably needs to do a little less globetrotting, too, in order to be at his best more often. The "other" guy in this equation knows how to win. He just needs to play a little more and get more comfortable with the new swing. But in the heat of Sunday, Woods still is more comfortable in the setting than anyone else, and that makes a big difference.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Three. Say hello to the LPGA’s new locomotive. With a full-time playing assignment, she’s going to quickly jump into the LPGA’s upper echelon, and that’s a good thing. Somebody out there needs to emerge to challenge Yani Tseng’s dominance.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

Europe. Never before has a European team had so many high-caliber talents vying just to get onto the 12-man squad, so depth will be a huge plus. Just making the team will mean a huge shot of confidence. And with Westwood and Donald leading the way, and Jose Maria Olazabal at the helm, Europe has the experience and leadership needed to keep its grip on the trophy at Medinah.

• • •

JEFF RUDE, senior writer

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

Tiger Woods hoisting two or three trophies and contending at the Masters.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Rory. Until further notice, he's the better player at the moment, although Woods' head is getting clearer by the week.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Three. Should make Yani Tseng sweat now and then, at the least.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

United States. Home soil. Woods looks good. Yanks do win this thing now and then.

• • •

JIM McCABE, senior writer

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect or like to see.

Playoffs in the Masters (Phil Mickelson vs. Tiger Woods) and Open Championship (Lee Westwood vs Rory McIlroy).

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

If you’re counting PGA Tour events, Woods will hold a 2-1 lead. But worldwide wins? The edge goes to McIlroy, 3-2, who will also out-major Woods, 1-0.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

One. And while that may sound like a small number, it will improve her total to three as a professional – and she’ll only be 17.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

Walter Hagen will roll over in his grave to think a Chicago kid via England, Luke Donald, will lead the European conquest at Medinah.

• • •

JULIE WILLIAMS, assistant editor, Golfweek.com

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect or like to see.

I spend a lot of time writing (and talking) about Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, but believe me when I say these players are the real deal. Ariya (16) won the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2011 and Moriya (17) was runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. This summer, I predict one of the girls will win the Women’s Am. I won’t go so far as to say it will be an all-Jutanugarn final, but wouldn’t that be something?

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Rory. Tiger isn’t getting any younger.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Two, but neither will be a major.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

The U.S. Hard to overlook the home-course advantage.

• • •

JAMES ACHENBACH, senior writer

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

The Masters, having been stretched to maximum length without actually redesigning the golf course, announces its endorsement of a shorter golf ball.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Golf is now a world stage. Lee Westwood outpaces everybody else in 2012, winning on both sides of the Atlantic. Tiger and Rory go winless in the United States, although both triumph in Europe. Tiger, reacting to overwhelming fan acceptance, announces his intention to play a world schedule in future years.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Michelle Wie graduates from Stanford, has a breakout year (as in breaking out of college), dominates the LPGA Tour. Lexi Thompson runs into the teenage jinx, fails to win.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

The deeper, more talented, more resilient team wins. That would be Europe. Bring back Paul Azinger!

• • •

RYAN LAVNER, assistant editor, Golfweek.com

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see:

An absolutely epic NCAA Championship. The venue is spectacular (Riviera CC, in Pacific Palisades, Calif.). The list of contenders is long (starting with No. 1 Texas). And UCLA (with No. 1-ranked amateur Patrick Cantlay) is playing six miles from campus. Should be great theater.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Tiger and Rory will each win three times worldwide. We’re left to debate whether that’s disappointing.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Two victories for the uber-talented 16-year-old. Having Yani Tseng in many of the same fields reduces Lexi’s chances of truly breaking out in 2012. Really hope I’m wrong, though.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

It’ll be close at Medinah, but the European team is way too deep.

• • •

CRAIG HORAN, managing editor

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see:

Here's hoping 2012 brings less course closings and more rounds played – everywhere. Let's get the green-fee rates in line so we can see players lined up on the first tee.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Tiger will win three times (one major), while Rory will have two wins (one major).

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Two.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

U.S. captures the Ryder Cup on home soil.

• • •

ALEX MICELI, senior writer

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see:

Woods will win. It seems improbable that he won't win in 2012, but not a buyer on one of them being a major.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

McIlroy, just by sheer appearances. He has a better chance to win and win multiple titles, but I think he is playing better than Woods.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Four. She could win more, and to me that would not be a surprise. She still has a bit of a learning curve on the LPGA tour, but she seems like a fast learner.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

U.S. Playing in the U.S. at Medinah is clearly an advantage. The team will look a lot younger, and the experience that the U.S players have had both in the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales and last year's Presidents Cup in Australia will make a difference.

• • •

ASHER WILDMAN, video personality

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see:

Texas to dominate men's college golf. The Longhorns were impressive all fall, and the big question in the spring will be how many more times can they win? I'll say at least three.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Woods. If he can start to get his confidence back, that could be a scary thing for everyone else.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Two. She knows how to win, and the really intimidating thing about her is that she'll only get better over the next few years.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

Europe. They just always seem to want it more than the U.S.

• • •

NICK MASUDA, director, Golfweek.com

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see:

Tiger, Rory, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald will all win in the first three months of the season, creating a buzz around the game of golf that will help TV ratings, website traffic and golf stores alike.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Tiger, but it'll be a slugfest. With Rory committing to playing more in the States and Tiger likely to play 15 to 18 events, we may see each contend for 6-8 titles, but I think Tiger is finding his groove. Look for at least one major win for Woods, likely at Augusta.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Four. She looks legit, has a fantastic attitude and might be the shot in the arm that the LPGA really needs. A rivalry between her and Yani Tseng would be fun to watch.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

U.S. First, it is home-course advantage. Second, I think Woods' resurgence and players such as Gary Woodland and Keegan Bradley will provide a spark in September.

• • •

RON BALICKI, senior writer

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

UCLA's Patrick Cantlay will win either the NCAA or the U.S. Amateur Championship – heck, maybe even both.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Woods has put the bulk of his problems behind him and is ready to play some serious golf. No, he won't be as dominant as he once was, but he will win more than McIlroy this season.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

While very talented, she is still young and learning. However, she has proved that she can win against the best, and I think she will get at least three victories and a good chance at one of those being a major.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

Hey, I'm a Red, White and Blue guy, so I'm going with an American victory in the next Ryder Cup.

• • •

LANCE RINGLER, assistant editor, Golfweek.com

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

I expect to see the trend continue with a non-favorite winning the men's NCAA Championship.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Tiger Woods. He closed the year with a glimpse of the past. If Woods is just half the player he used to be, he will produce more wins than McIlroy.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Two. The youngster is too talented not to find at least a couple of victories, and she will be in the hunt for several others.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

U.S. The young American stars will continue to shine.

• • •

MARTIN KAUFMANN, managing editor, The Golf Life

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

Some cash-strapped local governments, prodded by large budget deficits and pressure from fiscal conservatives, will do what was once unthinkable: sell their municipal courses to private operators. These companies will, in turn, agree to set affordable green fees, which they can do because of their lower cost structures.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger or Rory?

Woods. As much as I dread the return of a Tiger-centric PGA Tour, he appears to have regained his form, and he still has more horsepower and moxie than any of his contemporaries.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Two. I always say: When in doubt, choose talent over experience. At 16, she easily ranks among the five most-talented LPGA players.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

The Euros will have a difficult time coping with a talent infusion of top young Americans and a hostile crowd that will make even Northwestern grad Luke Donald want to flee the Windy City.

• • •

GENE YASUDA, deputy editor/business and multimedia

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

An image makeover for golf. What we all know can be a maddeningly difficult game will increasingly be promoted as a FUN and friendly game for all ages. Industry leaders desperate to halt slumping participation will encourage everyone to play more sensibly by following efforts such as Tee It Forward, which urges golfers to move up and play tees best suited for their abilities. A chance to play faster and increase enjoyment. It's a win-win.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy?

After two years of self-inflicted misery on and off the course, Woods wants – correction – needs redemption. Woods' resolve to win remains unmatched; he'll top McIlroy.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Having earned the youngest-winner-on-tour title on two continents, Thompson already has proved that she's a professional closer. More confidence + loads of talent + youthful ambition = 2 LPGA victories.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

After hearing how Euro players are ruling the world, Americans should have plenty to prove. Throw in the fact that it's a home game at Medinah ... U.S. wins.

• • •

BETH ANN BALDRY, senior writer

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

Look for Yani Tseng to continue where she left off … winning. Lexi Thompson might get more attention when the LPGA comes back to the U.S. next spring, but Tseng will remain the hottest player in golf.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy?

Tiger. Did you see that look on Sunday at Chevron? He's back. A win at Augusta would really get the golf world in a tizzy.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Two. Don't expect the 2012 LPGA schedule to be much heavier, so two victories would be huge. (Plus, Tseng will win more than her fair share.)

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

U.S. It's a long time til late September, but the storyline many would like to see is America's youth prevailing in the singles session. Led by Keegan Bradley, of course.

• • •

ALISTAIR TAIT, senior writer (Europe)

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

I expect European Tour members to fall off the major pace in 2012. Europeans have won six of the past eight majors. It's going to be hard to maintain that pace in 2012.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy?

Tiger and Rory will win exactly the same number of tournaments in 2012: two each.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

Three.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

Europe wins Ryder Cup, 15-13.

• • •

D.J. PIEHOWSKI, social media coordinator, Golfweek.com

1. From your beat (or interest), give us one thing you expect to see.

From my junior golf beat, I predict that a fully-healthy Gavin Hall will rise to the top of the Golfweek Junior Rankings for the first time. The lefty from New York was hampered by injuries last year, but he broke through at the Junior Players at TPC Sawgrass for his first big victory. From the professional beat, I'll make the same prediction I made last year: that Phil Mickelson will not win. I would have been correct last year had it not been for a nice weekend in Houston.

2. Who will win more in 2012: Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy?

Whenever Rory McIlroy hones his killer instinct, he will be a force on Sundays, but I'm not sure 2012 will be the year that happens. Maybe it's the Chevron hangover, but it seems like 2012 is the Year of the Tiger.

3. How many wins will Lexi Thompson have on the LPGA tour?

I'd like to say Lexi Thompson will start running away with tournaments and save the LPGA, but she still has to contend with Yani Tseng, who won - what? - 35 times last year? I say Lexi wins once in 2012, still a hefty accomplishment for someone who still can't vote.

4. Who will win the Ryder Cup?

Despite adopted Chicagoan Luke Donald playing in the Windy City, the Americans will get their revenge on the Euros at Medinah, winning the Ryder Cup.

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