One man’s bold predictions for the new year
January 04, 2021
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
Best shots of the 2020-21 season… so far
Happy New Year!
For most of us, the turn of the calendar was a welcome one. It gives a chance to start fresh and hold renewed hope for greater things ahead.
A year ago, it would have been a very bold prediction indeed to say the PGA TOUR season – and the world – would be knocked on its head and sent into a tailspin by a pandemic. It would have been bolder still to suggest the TOUR would return and complete an impressive season.
But yet – improbable things happen.
So, as we like to do at this time of year, we are throwing up 10 bold predictions, arguably each one bolder than the last, for the new year.
10. Tiger Woods will own the all-time PGA TOUR win record by himself.
Having just turned 45, Woods still sits in a tie with Sam Snead at 82 PGA TOUR wins. But we believe Woods can find his vintage stuff for at least one week. It all depends on his health. He’ll likely play around 14 tournaments -- and that is assuming a deep run in the FedExCup Playoffs – but he has places like Augusta National, Torrey Pines (which is also hosting this year’s U.S. Open), Bay Hill and Muirfield Village where he always has to be considered a favorite.
Woods can win an Open Championship on any venue and with Liberty National and East Lake part of the FedExCup Playoffs predicting just one win might be undervaluing a legend.
9. A player who begins the TOUR Championship 10 shots behind will win at East Lake.
We are only two iterations into the new TOUR Championship format that sees season-long effort rewarded with starting strokes at East Lake. In 2019, Rory McIlroy came from five shots back to win his second FedExCup title. In 2020, it was Dustin Johnson winning from the top spot, using his regular season buffer to stay out front.
But in 2021, it will be someone from all the way back at even par – 10 shots behind whomever arrives at East Lake ranked No. 1 – that will surge through the pack and win it all. Crazy you say? Maybe. Especially since a T12 from Bryson DeChambeau in 2019 is the best finish so far from the 10 players who occupied slots 26-30 over the two seasons.
But the expanded Super Season could see a few big names just sneak into the TOUR Championship. The above mentioned Tiger Woods could be a contender from this far back. Or what about Brooks Koepka? With a few injury concerns over the last couple seasons, and no wins since the 2019 World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational, Koepka could drop in at the back and make a run. He hasn’t got form at East Lake but he does have form as an underdog.
8. Patrick Rodgers will win for the first time.Patrick Rodgers has three runner-up finishes and is looking for his first TOUR win. (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
It’s been 10 years since the Class of 2011 graduated high school. Led by Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, and with the likes of Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele and Emiliano Grillo among them, it has been an incredible ride for a ton of guys from that year.
But while PGA TOUR titles and major championship wins and FedExCups have come to some, Rodgers, a highly-touted player from the same group, is still without a win on the TOUR. That’s about to change.
While he hasn’t won, Rodgers has managed to keep his PGA TOUR card without issue since coming onboard in 2015. He has three runner-up finishes. It is a resume many would take in a heartbeat if offered.
This year, he will win and make it to East Lake, a big improvement on his career-best FedExCup finish (74th, 2015-16).
7. We will have 10 first-time TOUR winners.
It is time for some new blood in the winner’s circle once more and with so much talent and depth on TOUR we are expecting plenty to breakthrough like the aforementioned Rodgers. While Carlos Ortiz and Jason Kokrak were the only first-timers to win this fall, top candidates to join him include Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick. The latter just claimed the European Tour’s season finale. Other players to watch from offshore include Australian Cameron Davis, Austrian Sepp Straka and Kristoffer Ventura.
And what of the Americans like Rodgers? Well Scottie Scheffler, Harry Higgs, Doc Redman, Maverick McNealy, Will Zalatoris and Matthew NeSmith are just some to watch.
The record for the most first-time winners in a season is 18 in 2002, followed by 16 just five years ago. We already have two in this Super Season (Jason Kokrak, Carlos Ortiz).
6. Tony Finau will finally win again.Tony Finau is inching closer to another PGA TOUR victory as 2021 begins. (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
It’s time. Actually it is well past time. He’s been a colossus in terms of consistency. And one can argue that is more impressive than just picking up a random win with little else to show for it.
Finau has 34 top-10 finishes since the 2017 season. But none of them are wins. There are six runners-up and three third-place finishes amongst them. While some suggest he’s getting further from a win with each failure, the reality is he’s getting closer with each chance he gives himself. And besides – the so-called Puerto Rico Open curse was just lifted by Viktor Hovland.
5. Someone will win in back-to-back weeks.
Can you remember the last person to win in back-to-back weeks on TOUR? Not back-to-back starts. Or even back-to-back tournaments. Back-to-back weeks.
It wasn’t Brendon Todd last season. There was a week between his wins in the Bermuda Championship and Mayakoba Golf Classic.
The last time someone actually won back-to-back without any break was Bryson DeChambeau in the 2018 FedExCup Playoffs. He claimed THE NORTHERN TRUST before winning again at the Dell Technologies Championship.
It will happen again. Perhaps as early as the opening two weeks. Before DeChambeau’s effort, it was Justin Thomas who showed he could roll one week into another by taking out the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Sony Open of Hawaii. Ernie Els also accomplished that feat in 2003. Perhaps someone will do so again.
4. We will get at least one more blast-from-the-past winners.
After years of putting a huge focus on the youth brigade, it was interesting to note this season opened with veteran Stewart Cink breaking a lengthy win drought at the Safeway Open. And he wasn’t alone in terms of blasts from the past.
Sergio Garcia won the Sanderson Farms Championship, Martin Laird saluted at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and Brian Gay was too good for the competition at the Bermuda Championship.
Now we are eyeballing the likes of Hunter Mahan, Luke Donald, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas, Lucas Glover and Zach Johnson among others who could find their way back to the winner’s circle after a lengthy absence.
3. Jordan Spieth will make it back to East Lake.Jordan Spieth is looking to turn things around in 2021. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Spieth’s struggles have been one of the great mysteries of the last few seasons. All great players have dips from time to time but it’s hard to believe the 2017 Open Championship is his most recent win.
Last season yielded just three top-10s and perhaps more questions than answers and his beginning to this season saw three missed cuts and no better than a T38 in six starts. The time has come for not only a resurrection, but an almighty one. Spieth may not win this season, but he will find a way to climb from his current 166th position in the FedExCup all the way to East Lake where he’s won it all before. We believe.
2. We will see just the second ever hole-in-one on a par-4 on the PGA TOUR 20 years on from the first.
If we make it to the Waste Management Phoenix Open without this happening it will be two decades since Andrew Magee produced an incredible – but also lucky – ace on a par-4. Magee somewhat impatiently teed off on the par-4 17th at TPC Scottsdale thinking he couldn’t reach the putting surface that was still occupied by the group in front.
Turns out he could, and his ball rolled up and narrowly missed Steve Pate before bouncing off Tom Byrum’s putter as he lined up an 8-footer. The rebound sent the ball directly into the hole for an unlikely 1. We still haven’t seen another ace on a par-4 never seen another.
That will change this season. Perhaps FedExCup champion Dustin Johnson can recreate his brilliant shot from the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2018 where he went within a few rolls of holing out from the tee on the 433-yard par-4 12th. He just needs to hit it a touch harder.
But with Johnson and other bombers like Bryson DeChambeau, Matthew Wolff and Cameron Champ launching missiles all year and the celebration of an anniversary – it will happen.
1. The winner of THE PLAYERS Championship will also win either a major, an Olympic Medal, or the FedExCup.
It seems like a lifetime ago but it was after the first round of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass that the TOUR took its COVID-19 sabbatical, breaking from play as the pandemic took hold. It was just the first of many cancellations and postponements.
There are countless contenders to fill this slot. Rory McIlroy is due a resurgence after settling into parenthood. Dustin Johnson, now the current FedExCup and Masters champion could easily put up a mega season again. He finished first or second in six of his last seven starts of 2020. What about Jon Rahm? The U.S. Open at Torrey Pines is calling his name. Collin Morikawa could take his impressive early career to new heights.
And don’t sleep on Hideki Matsuyama. The Japanese star led the cancelled PLAYERS after a blistering course-record equaling 9-under 63 and you can be sure, if the stars align and the Olympics go ahead in his home country, he will be heavily favored to medal. He was runner-up in the lone PGA TOUR event played in Japan, the 2019 ZOZO Championship.