2013 preview: 10 PGA Tour players to watch
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Editor's note: For Jim McCabe's preview of the 2013 PGA Tour season, including his opinion on the McIlroy-Woods "rivalry" and the courses for both Opens, click here.
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There are a couple of hundred faces who will cross the PGA Tour stage in 2013, dozens will win or threaten to do so, plenty will earn at least a million dollars, and there will be no shortage of those providing highlights.
But from one man’s perspective, here are the 10 names that intrigue me the most:
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Good gracious, you’d think he was a Kardashian for all the drama and soap opera-like storylines that have swirled around him. A bona fide star in 2008 when he won twice and earned $4.6 million, Kim since having thumb surgery in mid-2010 has played in just 44 tournaments and earned $1.4 million. Reportedly, it’s a ruptured Achilles’ that has him yet again sidelined, his return date penciled in for sometime this spring or early summer. He should be in the news for his top-20 talent; instead, it’s a stretch of lackluster play that has ignited rumors of a questionable lifestyle and lack of dedication. At 27, there’s plenty of time for the precocious Kim, but he’ll need to get not only healthy but mature as a person.
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In many cases, cutting back on a competitive schedule at the age of 46 (as of Feb. 23) would not seem to be a blueprint for success, but here’s a guess that it will work in this case. Stricker arguably has been the most consistent week-in, week-out player on Tour since 2007, with nine wins and just 14 missed cuts in 124 starts. You want quality? How about top-10 finishes in 38 percent of his starts (47) in that stretch? But he’s one guy who truly puts family first and who clearly loses steam when he stretches his schedule. Having been top 20 in seven of the last nine majors, the hope is to be fresher and sharper for the big events with a schedule that will consist of about a dozen starts.
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While most of us in the U.S. were transitioning out of golf mode in October and November, the 30-year-old South African was churning out solid finishes – T-6, T-6, second, fifth – in four tournaments to close out 2012. It took a miraculous shot to keep him out of the green jacket, and in addition to two European Tour wins, he pushed Rory McIlroy in a memorable Deutsche Bank Championship before settling for second. He looked considerably more comfortable in his second PGA Tour campaign, and the suspicion is that Oosthuizen will be even more so in 2013. There isn’t a better swinger of the golf club in the golf galaxy, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a nicer guy. That’s a combination worth watching – and rooting for. Presently ranked sixth, he has what it takes to hang in that neighborhood all year.
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Though he’s clearly the best player in the world, it’s more fascinating to watch people react to the 23-year-old than to be concerned with how he’ll handle the top spot. As for the latter, McIlroy can handle the pressure fine, thank you very much. As for the former, maybe people have poor memories, because it’s not like the Northern Irishman is establishing a new landscape. His lead over No. 2 Luke Donald is 4.6 points, and while that’s relatively comfortable, a guy named Tiger Woods in 2007 and 2008 had leads of 11.17 and 10.67, respectively, to start a season. To build on his 2012 success, it behooves McIlroy not to repeat the sort of skid he had in mid-2012 (he missed the cut in four of five starts) and which Woods always avoided. If he were to stumble, McIlroy surely will get questions about his equipment change. But if there were one wish for him in 2013, it would be this: Come on, Rory; you can’t be a great champion until you embrace the Open Championship.
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He’s the best player the game has ever seen, so as long as he’s involved, it’s impossible not to focus on him. But here’s the sort of ridiculous standard he has set for himself, however: He’s the only one who can win three times in a season and be considered a failure. Maybe that’s a stretch, but not by much, because what is most remembered about Woods’ 2012 season is not the wins at Bay Hill, the Memorial, or the AT&T National, but the miserable Masters and the squandered chances at the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship. We know and he confirms that he’s all about the majors, remember? And while Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill offer curious challenges, the major parade begins at Augusta National, and therein sits a massive mystery: Woods is winless there in his last seven visits. In another time, that was unthinkable.
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Our last infatuation with a long-hitting European didn’t pan out, because Alvaro Quiros stumbled badly in the majors. Is Colsaerts capable of better things? At first glance, the Belgian appears to be a better putter than Quiros (what was it, eight birdies and an eagle in that Ryder Cup debut match?) and finishing first and third, respectively, in the past two Volvo World Match Play Championships shows he’s got a fair dose of competitive fire. Still, more polished European Tour veterans such as Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, and Louis Oosthuizen have had a hard time settling onto the American stage, so watching Colsaerts take on the challenge will be interesting.
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Speaking of Euros settling into the U.S., here’s a warm welcome back to the stoic German. Dynamic at the 2010 PGA and nearly victorious at the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Kaymer didn’t adjust well to being No. 1 in the world and despite living in Scottsdale, Ariz., he never seemed to want to factor into the American PGA Tour. As he slid from view in the world rankings, no one appeared to miss him, but give him credit: Kaymer rebounded in a big way and on the biggest stage of all. His putt for par on the 18th hole of his singles match against Steve Stricker gave Europe a stunning Ryder Cup victory, and Kaymer followed up with three solid tournaments in China and South Africa to close out 2012. Seemingly rejuvenated, Kaymer finally has taken on his membership to the American circuit, so count me interested.
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There figures to be intense scrutiny, at least early on, with the gang directly affected by the USGA and R&A decision to ban anchoring. Others will feel the crowds’ interest – Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Carl Pettersson, for instance – but Bradley seems to be the one who really has the bull’s-eye on him. And you know what? It says here that he’ll use it to his advantage, because few players seem to thrive in the face of rejection quite like Bradley. Top colleges didn’t want him out of the junior ranks. Equipment deals never went his way after turning pro. No one mentioned him as a rookie to watch in 2011. Yet here he is, 13th in the world, already a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, and Phil Mickelson’s hand-picked Ryder Cup partner. He’ll adjust to a conventional putter and do quite well, thank you very much.
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Though there have been glimmers of stardom – second in Puerto Rico last year; fourth at Bridgestone in 2011; T-9 in the 2010 Accenture – always the sentiment with the “Bashful Prince” was how difficult it would be for him to perform well without a solid stretch of play to prove himself. It’s just too much of a challenge to fly in from Japan, play a tournament, then head back home until next month. Well, consider that discussion to be by the boards because Ishikawa in 2013 will take on a membership on the American PGA Tour, and the opportunity will be there to show off what has hopefully become a well-rounded game. He has displayed a willingness to work and, goodness knows, nobody – not even Tiger Woods – handles suffocating media attention like Ishikawa does, but does he drive it straight enough? Or does he have a good-enough short game? Can he compete week in and week out with the best in the world? At the tender age of 21, Ishikawa will get a chance to answer some, if not all, of those questions.
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We often point to the glory of golf being its ability not to discriminate against players devoid of massive size. Unless football or basketball – and, frankly, baseball and hockey are getting that way, too – you don’t have to be the size of a small mountain to play golf at the highest level. For proof, meet the 5-foot-7-inch, 150-pound lefty whose infectious personality can win you over in the time it takes him to smile – which is quickly. Having worked his way up through the system, the former University of Georgia standout used a T-5 at The Barclays to finish with $1.13 million in his PGA Tour rookie campaign. What attracts you to Harman on further study, however, is his ability “to score.” A 61 at the Honda, 64s at Pebble and in Canada, a trio of 65s . . . they indicate a fearlessness that bodes well for Harman’s competitive chances. He finished 85th on the money list and 97th in FedEx Cup points, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to improve on those standings.