As Easter approaches, it means one thing in professional golf. The start of the Grand Slam tournaments which kicks off with The Masters from Augusta National, follwed by the U.S. Open in June, The British Open two weeks later and culminates with the PGA Championship. 2012 brought us a left handed Bubba swinging a pink driver and conquering the jewel of the south enroute to his first green jacket. Webb Simpson overcame a brutal Olympic Club course, the Sunday fog and Jim Furyk imploding on the final four holes to capture the U.S. Open. Adam Scott seemed well on his way to his first major at Royal Lytham and St. Annes before faltering down the stretch opening the door for future hall of famer Ernie Els to win his fourth major championship and second British Open. The final major of the season was played at Kiawah Island in South Carolina and was won in grand fashion by world #1 Rory McIlroy. Just as he did at Congressional at the 2011 U.S. Open, the young Irishman lapped the field on his way to a second major championship at the ripe young age of 23. That dominating victory have many now saying somebody not named Tiger is the best player on the planet. Not to be ignored, was the bi-annual Ryder Cup. After three days of American dominance, the European team did just as their American counterparts did at the famous “Battle at Brookline” in 1999. They came back from four points down entering singles play and retained the cup in front of a stunned pro American crowd at Medinah Country Club. With the Masters coming next month, I’ll take a stab at handicapping the four majors for 2013. So here is my fearless forecast….FORE!!
The Masters is always a tough tournament to pick a winner. Being that it’s the only tournament played at the same venue every year, you would think familiarity would be an advantage. That isn’t always the case. Fuzzy Zoeller proved that in 1979 winning in his first attempt. Tiger Woods is always in the conversation being that he has four green jackets. Even at 43 you have to like San Diego’s own Phil Mickelson who owns three greaan jackets. With the slight changes made to Bobby Jones’ masterpiece, length has been the one that is most obvious. With that in mind you have to always talk about the games biggest hitters. Dustin Johnson, Woods and Bubba Watson are consistently in the top tier in driving distance, so you have to like their chances. However, the undulating greens at Augusta also bring in the strong putters on the tour. Steve Stricker and Luke Donald come to mind. Rory McIlroy dominated the course for three rounds and then self destructed, so you know he can play there as well. I’m going to go with a local boy who burst on the scene as an amateur in 1998, and his name is Matt Kuchar. Not only is his game one of the best all around games right now, but I think he is mentally ready to take that step to immortality. Matt Kuchar, your 2013 Masters champion.
The 2013 U.S. Open will be played at Merion Golf Club in eastern Pennsylvania. There has not been a major played there since 1981, so it is not a course where players know all the intracacies of the course which adds to the beauty of the grueling tournament. The U.S. Open may be the most physically demanding of all tournaments being that it is played in the dead of summer (see Ken Venturi 1964). The heat and usually an unforgiving course on wayward tee shots favors the straight hitters in top physical condition. As with every tournament, Tiger Woods is in the conversation, but his inconsistency off the tee will be his downfall at Merion as he has to wait on another tournament in his chase at Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. Patience and putting is also a virtue at the U.S. Open and that is why I’m going with England’s Luke Donald to finally breakthrough and get his name on a major trophy.
The Open Championship is at Muirfield this year. Muirfield along with the iother eight courses in the Open rotation is a links course. Handicapping an Open Championship is as easy as catching a fly with chop sticks. I’m not the Karate Kid, but I’ll do my best. European players seem to have an advantage being that they play the courses and in the conditions more than any other players, so I’ll focus on them. The “best player to not win a major” Lee Westwood is my favorite to win the Claret Jug. However, as a 59 year old Tom Watson showed in 2011, anything is possible. Were it not for a missed putt on the 72nd hole, geriatrics across the globe would have puffed their chests out. A dark horse is Louis Oostheuzein, as is Sergio Garcia who always seems to play well across the pond. But like I said before, if I’m a betting man, I’m going with the Brit Lee Westwood to shakje that awful title.
Finally it’s the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. Oak Hill is a Don Ross design so you know it’s a challenge. It has hosted Ryder Cup’s and majors in the past. It is a true test and it will be no different in the upstate New York August heat. It’s not uncommon for all four majors to be won by first time winners, and I believe 2013 will be no different. There are some young players knocking on the door (Ricky Fowler comes to mind) and I think it will be one of those youngsters that will walk away with the Wannamaker Trophy. I do like the way Keegan Bradley’s game fits Oak Hill, as well as tiger Woods. I will go back to Tiger’s inconsistency’s off the tee that i feel will be his bane once again in his pursuit of the Golden Bear. As I normally cheer for the elder statesman of the sport to keep it going, I feel it’s becoming a younger, longer game. That is why I feel this tournament is Dustin Johnson’s to win. After the unfortunate penalty he took at Whistling Straits to lose the 2011 PGA I believe he is due. I think his consistent putting and distance will prevail as he will be the fourth first time winner in 2013.
Predicting major winners is not a science, so don’t cast stones if I happen to be off like a sliced drive. Tiger will have to wait for #15 and Rory will have to wait to continuously be called the next big thing. A bad day of golf is better than a good day of anything, and 2013 will not disappoint. Enjoy the tournaments, like the commercials say: These guys are good!