TOUR Insider: Predictions, expectations as 2014 gets under way in Hawaii

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If Rory McIlroy can manage to not get too down on himself after bad rounds, he could have a big season.
January 01, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

Welcome back.

After a six-week break the PGA TOUR resumes its 2013-14 season with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which used to be the season-opener but is now the seventh event in the new wrap-around schedule.

But hey, Syracuse used to play basketball in the Big East, too (and I yearn for those days, by the way). The point is, times change.

Not everything will, though. The Hyundai TOC still, however, carries its winners-only status and will have most of America swooning with scenic shots of Maui as the rest of the country snuggles up under a snow blanket. And some small part of me will always view it as the beginning -- in some ways it is since it’s still the first event of 2014.

So what can we expect in the year of the horse?

I expect … that if Tiger Woods doesn’t win a major in 2014, he’s going to have an awfully hard time surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ career record of 18. Woods finished second at Pinehurst in 2005, annihilated Hoylake in 2006 and went wire-to-wire at Valhalla in 2000. This year’s major venues arguably set up better for him than any others have the last five years.

I expect … Rory McIlroy to be just fine. The most important thing he told me last year was that his emotions are tied to how he plays golf and vice versa. Good mood equals good golf, bad mood equals bad golf. He’s trying to figure out how to better manage that.

I expect … that if Woods is going to win a major in 2014, he’ll have to play a lot better on the weekend. Last year, his scoring average in the first two rounds of majors was 70.875. On the weekend, it jumped to 72.375. Some of that can be attributed to putting.

I expect … we won’t see Brandt Snedeker on any surf or paddle boards this week (see Ogilvy, Geoff and Glover, Lucas). Snedeker’s knee, ribs and pretty much his entire anatomy should be fine after giving his brittle body some much-needed rest in December when he skipped events in L.A. and Naples because of an injury sustained from a Segway incident.

I expect … that Tiger will win a major this year, and the pursuit will again be on. His old swing coach Hank Haney told me Tiger loves nothing more than to prove people wrong. Haney also said he’s starting to look “more familiar.” If Woods’ approach to the 15th hole in the second round of the Masters doesn’t hit the flagstick, the conversation and perception about his year might’ve been a lot different.

I expect … there to be a lot of storylines in 2014. This isn’t the Tiger era anymore, not like it used to be. The game has more parity and depth than it ever has, something that even Tiger has acknowledged. The game’s young talent -- Jordan Spieth, for example -- doesn’t have the scar tissues that some of Woods’ contemporaries do.

I expect … Spieth to win again this year. Not exactly going out on a limb there.

I expect … Rickie Fowler to, too. His back affected him a lot in 2013, and at times it showed. For example, Fowler fell off 7 yards in driving distance. But one area he was improved in was putting, climbing to 24th in strokes gained after ranking 139th the year before.

I expect … to see Anthony Kim playing again, possibly early in the year. What kind of shape his game will be in, I have no idea.

I expect … someone other than Phil Mickelson to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. It’s impeccably rare in sports that stories like this one actually come to fruition.

I expect … not to see Steve Stricker until the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in late February -- unless I decide to go deer hunting in Wisconsin sometime between now and then. When you finish in the top 10 eight times in 13 starts, you can afford 10-week breaks.

I expect … Dustin Johnson to be in the (very early) lead in the FedExCup standings very soon. He arrives at Kapalua just 134 points out of the top spot and has a history of playing well in Hawaii.

I expect … even though Steve Williams says this is his last year full-time on Adam Scott’s bag, he’ll be around longer than that. What else is he going to do? Fish? Watch rugby? That might be enough but I’d be surprised if it was. I could see him working from March through the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola for the foreseeable future, and Scott might be fine with that.

I expect … FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson to play well, but to match the year he just had? Lång ordning (or, tall order).

I expect … there to be a first-time major winner this year. The last time we had a year when there wasn’t was 2000 when Vijay Singh won the Masters and Tiger won the year’s three remaining majors.

I expect … Mother Nature to be a considerable factor once again (but hopefully not like this). Last season, 22 events were suspended for various reasons and play was halted over 50 times for everything from lightning, to hail, to high wind. Global warming isn’t going backwards.

I expect … that you’ll see some changes on PGATOUR.COM this season, all with the idea of bringing you closer to the game and its players.

Welcome back to you, too.