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Pro Golf: PGA Tour Preview

What a year it was in 2015. Golf went through a transitioning period from old stars of the tour, to new bloods that are not afraid to come out and win at the highest level. No star, however, was brighter than Jordan Spieth. It was just flat out a season for the ages that included two majors and the FedEx Cup.

It wasn’t just Spieth that was getting things done in 2015. Jason Day had the hottest streak of tournaments of any player on tour this past year. He took home the PGA Championship in record fashion, as he finished with the lowest 72 hole total in relation to par in major championship history.

Big 3 of golf

Rory McIlory (left), Jordan Spieth (middle), and Jason Day (right), the three biggest stars in the game in 2016

Rory McIlroy dealt with an ankle injury for the last half of the season, but after winning two majors in 2014, he will be a popular pick to click off his 5th major this season. Then you also have to look at Rickie Fowler. He was always known for his lack of consistency. This season, however, he always seemed to be around on Sunday. His Sunday performance in the Players Championship had to be the most impressive final round performance of the year. He went 5 under-par the last four holes to make it into a playoff. He finally broke through in the playoff, when he stuffed his approach on the notorious island green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

The quality of players has never been better than it is right now. Guys like Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, and Henrik Stenson just to name a few of the top dogs in the game. Best believe if 2016 is anything close to 2015, it’s going to be pretty damn entertaining to watch.

The best players in the game all say their performance in major championships is at the forefront of how they judge their year. So why not start off with previewing the four major venues for the upcoming season.

Masters Tournament-Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, GA (April 7-10):

Augusta-National-HD-Wallpaper

Perhaps the most famous hole in all of golf, the par-3 12th hole at Augusta National.

The Masters is the one major venue that will always take place at the same course. Many say it is the greatest venue for golf, others say it’s the most beautiful place on earth. Whatever you want to call it, it is the most well known golf course by golf fans. Whether you’re casual or hardcore, like me, everybody has a pretty good idea of some of the holes. Especially the one’s on the back nine, where we have seen so much drama ensue over the years. The two par-fives, the 13th hole and the 15th hole will typically always be the most critical, because they allow for you to make up multiple shots on a single hole.

Last year we saw a dominant, wire-to-wire win by Jordan Spieth. He finished tied for the low 72 hole score in Master’s history with a total of 18-under-par. It was truly a win for the ages. There is no reason to think Spieth won’t be in contention again. The golf course obviously fits his eye, which is very important for these Tour Pros. It’s easy to forget he was in the final group on Sunday in the 2014 Masters, before coming up short to eventual champion Bubba Watson.

Green jacket

A Master’s tradition, 2014 Champion Bubba Watson slips the green jacket on the 2015 Champ Jordan Spieth

Speaking of Bubba, he is definitely on the list of favorites for the Masters. He is a two-time Masters Champion, as he took home the 2012 Masters before his Masters win in 2014. Left handers have always had a lot of success at Augusta National as of late. Phil Mickelson has won the Masters three times, and fellow left hander Mike Weir took home a green jacket back in 2003. One of the reasons for all this success is many of the holes at Augusta National dog-leg right to left. This allows left hander’s to cut the ball, instead of draw it, which is typically easier.

Augusta National is a very fair golf course. It is what many like to call a second shot course. This means the tee shots are fairly forgiving, but you need to be aware of where to miss the ball. You have to always pay attention to the slopes on the greens, as you can get the ball close without going straight at the flag. The score will depend mostly on the type of weather we get. If it’s windy and dry then it’s going to play tougher than if it was calm and soft.

Prediction: Bubba Watson (-16)

Bubba Watson will make it three straight even years that he takes home the Green Jacket. His game sets up absolutely perfectly for Augusta National. He is arguably the longest player in the game and that will allow him to comfortably get to all four par-5’s in two shots. His putting also doesn’t get enough credit, and he has the best set of hands in the game that will help him get the ball up-and-down from some tricky lies.

U.S. Open– Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, PA (June 16-19):

US Open spieth win

Jordan Spieth wins the 2015 U.S. Open at Chamber’s Bay

The U.S. Open year in and year out, is the toughest test of golf we see all year. We typically see thick rough, firm and bumpy greens, and very long holes. The guys are suppose to be out there struggling for pars. It’s quite a change up from the regular Tour events. The guys that are able to drive the ball and scramble the best, are typically the one’s up front contending. Scores are typically somewhere close to level par.

Last year’s U.S. Open featured great drama down the stretch. Jordan Spieth drained a long putt at the 16th hole for birdie, but preceded to give it right back with a double bogey at the 17th hole. He was able to come back and birdie the par-5 finishing hole, which put him one shot up on Dustin Johnson who was on the 18th tee. DJ used his length to reach the green in two, and left himself a 15 footer for eagle and the win. He ran his first attempt by the hole, setting up a tricky four footer. Johnson’s nerves got the best of him again in a major, and he couldn’t convert the short one to force an 18 hole playoff with Spieth. Spieth would be handed his second consecutive major championship in 2015.

oakmont-church-pews

One of Oakmont’s famous bunkers called “Church Pews” that lines the left side of the fairway on the 3rd hole.

This year we head to Oakmont. It’s regarded as one of the toughest courses in the U.S. Open rotation. The last U.S. Open held at Oakmont was back in 2007 in which Angel Cabrera from Argentina took home the hardware. To show just how tough it played, Cabrera won with shooting 5-over-par for the week. There was also only eight under-par rounds that entire week.

The biggest thing the golfers will have to deal with at this U.S. Open is the extremely undulating greens. The U.S. Open is usually the only tournament where the word unfair might be used by some of the golfers. If the course get’s baked out, it’s almost impossible to get the ball close to the hole. I’m fairly confident in saying that the guy that putts the best is going to be the one that wins.

Prediction: Jordan Spieth (+1)

Spieth plays difficult courses really well, and not many places get tougher than Oakmont. He is just an average driver as far as distance goes, but his accuracy improved greatly the last half of 2015. The biggest reason Spieth is going to win is because he is a terrific scrambler, and has the ability to make a lot of difficult putts. His mental toughness is going to play big for him too.

The Open Championship– Royal Troon GC, Ayrshire, Scotland (July 14-17)

zach johnson with fans

Zach Johnson celebrates with the fans after his Open Championship victory at St. Andrews.

The only major played overseas. The Open Championship is the most weather affected tournament in the PGA Tour season. There is usually at least one day that has extreme conditions in which we see standing water on greens and 40 miles per hour gusts of wind. The courses on the Open Championship rotation are all “links” courses. This means the front nine goes away from the clubhouse and the back nine come back to the clubhouse. Because of this you will typically see one nine play significantly easier than the other depending on the wind direction for that day.

Last years Open Championship was at the home of golf, St.Andrews. The overwhelming storyline coming in was to see if Jordan Spieth could continue his quest to the grand slam after taking home the first two majors of the year. He would fight valiantly, but his final putt on the 72nd hole came up just short. If he made it he would have earned a spot in the four hole playoff. Instead the playoff consisted of former Masters champion Zach Johnson, Australian Marc Leisman, and the 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen. Zach Johnson would ride his hot putter for the win, and pick up his second major championship.

Royal Troon

The beautiful, short par-3 8th hole at Royal Troon called “Postage Stamp”

This year we head to Royal Troon. The last time Royal Troon hosted the Open was in 2004 where it was Todd Hamilton who defeated Ernie Els in a playoff. Royal Troon is actually home to both the shortest and longest holes in Open Championship golf. The shortest being the 8th hole and is called “Postage Stamp”. Staying out of the bunkers will be key, because most of the time going in one is a shot penalty. Driving and wedge game will be the biggest key to taken home the Claret Jug.

 

Prediction: Dustin Johnson (-11)

The 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon is where Dustin Johnson finally breaks through for his first major championship. He has played well enough to win several majors in his career, but just hasn’t been able to close any out. DJ dominated the first two rounds last year, but fell apart on the weekend. He has played very well on links style golf courses in his career. He will be able to use his distance to give himself plenty of wedge opportunities.

PGA Championship– Baltusrol GC, Springfield, NJ (July 28-31):

2015 pga championship

Jordan Spieth watches Jason Day celebrate after knocking in the final putt to win the 2015 PGA Championship.

The PGA Championship has been given the nickname “Glory’s Last Shot” because it is the fourth and final major championship of the year. This is the last chance for the best in the world to try to start or add on to their major championship tally. The set up for the PGA Championship is the closest to a regular tour event you will see in the majors. Good scores can typically be had if the weather is ideal.

The best way to describe last years PGA Championship was a duel. It was a duel between Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, the men currently ranked 1st and 2nd in the Official World Golf Rankings respectively. Day went into the final round holding a two shot lead over Spieth. Day would shoot a 67 to win by three shots over Spieth. Day’s 20-under-par finishing total was the lowest 72 hole total in relation to par in major championship history. It kicked off a hot streak that saw Day win two of his next three tournaments, and allowed him to climb to #1 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

baltusrol golf club

In 2016 the PGA Championship heads to Baltusrol for “Glory’s Last Shot”.

This year the PGA Championship heads back to Baltusrol where Phil Mickelson has fond memories from winning the last one hosted in Springfield back in 2005. A lot of the greens here are completely surrounded by bunkers. That means you should look for guys that are excellent out of the sand to contend. This is also fairly lengthy course, so distance off the tee will be a big advantage as always. Another thing to keep in mind is due to the 2016 Olympic Games, the schedule had to be adjusted, thus their is just one week in between the Open and PGA. Momentum and fatigue will play a bigger factor than usual.

Prediction: Jason Day (-8)

Jason Day finally broke through last year at the PGA Championship. Just like Dustin Johnson, Day had played well enough to win multiple majors, but couldn’t quite finish the deal. Now that he has done so, some people believe the flood gates might open for the talented Day. Baltusrol reminds me of some of the courses he has had success on in the past. Like always, length is a big advantage, and Jason Day certainly has that. I believe Day will find the ability to get hot with putter, which was the only thing missing before he took off on that incredible run late in 2015. Day also features a superb short game, that will help him get up-and-down from all of the bunkers around these greens.

Well, there you go. Your four major champions will be Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day. While the four majors are the most prestigious tournaments of the year, that isn’t the entire season. It’s time to hand out predictions for some of the other awards for the upcoming season.

The Players Championship: Sergio Garcia

Sergio wins players

Sergio Garcia celebrates with the Player’s trophy after winning a sudden death playoff back in 2008.

Often called the 5th major, the Players Championship is one of the most exciting tournaments year in and year out. It has quite possibly the most well known hole in all of golf in the infamous island green 17th hole. I decided to go with Sergio here because he seems to be in the mix every time the Tour stops in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. He has one victory here back in 2008 and was in a three man playoff last year.

FedEx Cup Champion: Jordan Spieth

Spieth will become the second player to win the FedEx Cup twice in 2016, as he will join Tiger Woods. With the current rules package, if you win the Tour Championship at East Lake, you will almost certainly take home the FedEx Cup. East Lake just fits Jordan Spieth’s game so well. It isn’t overly long and a sharp short game is critical.

Breakout Player of the Year: Tony Finau

Tony Finau

The 26 year-old from Salt Lake City after hitting a bombing drive.

The long hitter out of Salt Lake City flashed promise in 2015. Most notably in the PGA Championship where he was in contention on the weekend, before settling for a top 10. He leads the tour in club head speed, so distance is no issue. Finau just needs to improve his driving accuracy as well as his short game. He has showed the ability to make a ton of birdies. If he can get off to a hot start in 2016 and build some confidence, I could see him winning two or three times. I think he has that type of potential.

Biggest Disappointment: Rory McIlroy

Many people believe Rory is in for a huge year in 2016. Similar to the one in 2014 in which he took home two major championships. I’m not one of those people. Yes Rory did close out 2015 win a victory in Dubai, but I didn’t see what I wanted to out of Rory this year. Granted he did injure his ankle, which set him back. He had an opportunity to show the world he is without question the player of the this generation, instead Jordan Spieth and Jason Day showed they have the ability to be the #1 ranked player in the world. For me, Rory needs to make a big improvement with the putter this year if he wants to make any positive noise. I’d say Rory grabs maybe two or three wins this year. That doesn’t sound horrible, but when the man comes out himself and says if he doesn’t win a major then the year was a failure, that’s what I have to judge him on. There are too many other great players right now for me to pick him to win one. At least until I see him clean up a few things in his game.

Player of The Year: Jordan Spieth

2016 is going to be another great year for Spieth. Why wouldn’t it be? The guy has almost no weaknesses. Beyond that, there is nobody scrappier than Spieth. He is just such a fantastic competitor. The best the game has seen since Tiger, no doubt. It’s going to be hard to repeat what he did in 2015. He won two majors, and could have easily won three or even all four. He ended up with five total wins and added a FedEx Cup as well. I already predicted he would add a second U.S. Open and a second FedEx Cup this year. I think at the end of the year he ends up with six total wins on the PGA Tour. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he took home the gold for the U.S.A. in golf’s debut in the Olympic Games as well. He’s only going to get better folks. You’re not going to want to miss what the young Texan is going to dazzle the world with next.