Bold predictions for 2022
Ten things that are sure (?) to happen in the year ahead
January 11, 2022
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
- Will Tiger Woods return for the Open Championship at St. Andrews? (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
The ball is round, weather is variable, equipment occasionally breaks.
And then there’s COVID.
Still, it’s time to predict what’s in store for the year ahead. So, let’s get right to it. Here are 10 things that absolutely, positively will go down in 2022, because they simply must, or we want them to, or something like that.
Full disclosure: If even nine of these come to pass it would be amazing, eight would be impressive, seven pretty darn good, six not bad at all, five a very solid effort, four …
1. Rickie and Xander win again
A victory for Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele would break a three-year drought for each. Fowler’s last win came at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, while Schauffele’s last win on TOUR – which doesn’t include his Olympic gold -- came at the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions.
That Schauffele didn’t win last season owed to lousy timing, with poor final rounds at the Waste Management Phoenix Open (71, T2) and the Masters (72, T3). You know it’s in him: He got up and down on the last hole to win the Olympic gold medal. His final-round scoring average was 69.22, 15th on TOUR, but his Round 3 average was 70.28, 85th. He’ll fix it.
As for Fowler, whose 11-year streak of making the FedExCup Playoffs ended with a thud, the tee-to-green game is solid, but not so his work on the greens. No. 1 in Strokes Gained: Putting as recently as 2017, he was 126th last season as he wound up 134th in the FedExCup.
Now that his tee-to-green swing changes have solidified, Fowler must find a way to make the putts fall again. When he does, he’ll turn the close calls – T3 at THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT in October (third-round 63) – into wins again. He’s still only 33.
2. Tiger returns at St. Andrews
The Old Course at St. Andrews, where the Royal & Ancient folks and everyone else will toast the 150th playing of The Open in July, is flat as a pancake and thus relatively easy to walk.
The tournament is not for another seven months, giving Woods plenty of time to get stronger.
Oh, and he’s won two of his three claret jugs at St. Andrews.
There’s always a chance Woods could surprise us and pop into Augusta for the Masters, but the guess here is the course is too hilly, and treacherous, for him to make that his first week back.
Also, although it’s barely any sort of prediction, Woods and his son, Charlie, will tee it up again at the PNC Championship in December, only this time they’ll turn that runner-up into a W.
3. Scheffler and McNealy get first wins
Look for the teammates from the United States’ historic 2017 Walker Cup team – the roster also included Collin Morikawa, Cameron Champ, Will Zalatoris, Doug Ghim and Doc Redman – to enter the winner’s circle in the same season.
Stanford alum McNealy did a lot right at the Fortinet Championship at Silverado last fall, other than a stretch of four bogeys in seven holes in the third round. His 70-68 weekend just wasn’t enough as he got pipped by fellow Bay Area product Max Homa of Cal (65-65) by a shot.
McNealy is only 26, he’s getting better every season, and he knows how to win. It’s coming. Don’t be surprised if that win comes in his native Northern California, as he’s also played well at Pebble Beach the past two years.
Meanwhile, it hasn’t been that long since Scheffler beat Jon Rahm in singles at the Ryder Cup. If he can do that, he can win on TOUR; all it’s going to take is a hot putting week. He already has two top-5s this season, including a runner-up at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Open, and is on the precipice of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking despite his lack of a TOUR victory. That’s testament to how steady he is. He closed 2021 by finishing second in the unofficial Hero World Challenge.
4. Homa will win a major or THE PLAYERSMax Homa during Round 1 of THE PLAYERS in 2020. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
True, Homa can sometimes be the last guy to believe in his own greatness, but of his three wins, two have come on major-quality venues (2021 Genesis Invitational at Riviera, 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow). What’s more, there was something bloodless and clinical about his 65-65 weekend for his third and most recent victory, at the Fortinet Championship last fall.
Of course, a win in one of these big events would help him return to the site of his maiden win for the 2022 Presidents Cup.
Keep an eye on him this year.
5. Ancer and Smith lead Presidents Cup upset
The International Team banked invaluable self-belief in its narrow loss in 2019.
The U.S. stars routed Europe in the Ryder Cup and almost NEVER lose the Presidents Cup.
Yep, conditions are ripe for an upset.
Ancer was the surprise of the 2019 Presidents Cup, going 3-1-1 to tie Sungjae Im as the top point-earner for the Internationals. Smith, who just edged Jon Rahm to capture the Sentry Tournament of Champions, beat Justin Thomas in Singles to go 1-1-1 last time around in Oz.
Those two rising stars give Trevor Immelman’s International Team a toughness they’ve rarely if ever had, and when you add veterans Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen; ultra-steady Im; resurgent Branden Grace; plus Joaquin Niemann, Mito Pereira, and perhaps Garrick Higgo, this team looks poised to shock the world at Quail Hollow.
6. Spieth wins the Masters – or The OpenJordan Spieth during the final round of the Masters in April of 2021. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Spieth and the Masters are the perfect marriage of man and major.
The good times, of course, included his maiden green jacket in 2015, when he basically won everything that wasn’t nailed down. He was cruising for a successful title defense in ’16 until a water ball on 12 sunk his chances (T2). He was T11 in ’17 (final-round 75), solo third in ’18, and T3 last season, after breaking his win drought a week earlier at the Valero Texas Open.
With his game back in full force, Spieth is primed to collect his second green jacket. And don’t forget about The Open at St. Andrews, where he finished a shot out of a playoff in 2015 while pursuing the Grand Slam.
7. Mickelson wins the Schwab Cup
In November, Lefty joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win four of their first six starts on PGA TOUR Champions at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. But Mickelson didn’t play in enough tournaments amongst the 50-and-over set to win the season-long Schwab Cup points race, which was won once again by Bernhard Langer.
This time, Mickelson will win the marathon and the sprint.
Of course, predicting anything Mickelson-related is risky, and after his moonshot victory at the PGA Championship last year he’s at liberty to keep teeing it up with the big boys at big events like the U.S. Open (his white whale). And he will. But now he also has a taste for Champions competition, too; he’s realized he enjoys playing with (and beating) guys his own age.
The guess here is Mickelson will find time to hang with the young guys and beat the old guys, too, at least enough times to take home the trophy for the season-long competition.
8. Two others besides Rahm will touch No. 1
It’s tempting to say Rahm can’t be caught at world No. 1, what with his birdie-filled performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, where he finished a shot behind winner Cameron Smith. And given what we’ve seen since Rahm regained the top spot with a T3 at The Open last summer, he deserves to be there. He’s the best player.
And yet …
Rahm is human, he can’t play every week, and the level of talent at the top in 2022 is staggering. Given the neck-snapping trajectories of Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay and Viktor Hovland, surely one or two will reach the top spot at least briefly. Morikawa already would have done so absent his freakish bad final round at the Hero World Challenge.
And what about a comeback for former No. 1s Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, and/or Justin Thomas? Yes, Rahm is the best player, but it’s just too crowded at the top.
9. Burns and Mitchell make the U.S. Presidents Cup Team
Sam Burns is a no-brainer, what with his recent exploits. The only surprise, perhaps, is he wasn’t on the super-stacked U.S. Team that dusted Europe at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
Keith Mitchell has fought inconsistency but is trending in the right direction with a T3 (THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT) and T12 (The RSM Classic) last fall. Also encouraging: his three straight birdies to top-10 at THE NORTHERN TRUST and play his way into the BMW Championship.
Oh, and Rory McIlroy praised his game last year after they duked it out at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, which as fate would have it hosts the Presidents Cup this year.
10. DeChambeau will get even longer
With moonshots that topped out at around 400 yards, Bryson DeChambeau, the two-time reigning PGA TOUR driving distance champion, finished in the elite eight in his first crack at the Professional Long Drivers World Championship in Mesquite, Nevada, last fall. He loved the event’s smash-and-flex vibe and promised to return. He’ll do even better this time, his commitment to speed and innovation wowing fans as he powers his way to a final-four finish on the grid.