KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) ― Predictions are a dangerous business, especially in golf.
How many could have guessed that Tiger Woods, No. 1 in the world and coming off a five-win season, would play in only nine tournaments, finish only four of them and plunge to No. 32 in the world because of injuries?
Or that Bubba Watson, who had gone 38 events without winning, would finish 2014 as highest-ranked American?
Instead, the start of a new year at Kapalua allows a look into the future ― not what will happen, but the events that hold the most anticipation.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. ( AP-Yonhap)
Already the highlight of any year, this will be the first time since 1991 that a player showed up at Augusta National with a chance to complete the career Grand Slam. That was Lee Trevino. And it wasn’t much of a chance. Trevino was 51, and he never seriously contended at Masters.
Rory McIlroy is 25.
Not only has Boy Wonder captured the last two majors, he probably should have had a green jacket by now. He had a four-shot lead going into the final round in 2011 before he imploded into a series of blunders on his way to an 80.
The only potential distraction is his day in court over a lawsuit involving his former management company. The trial is scheduled for February.
If history is any indication, don’t read too much into his form during the road to the Masters. The last time one player faced so much scrutiny at the Masters was Woods in 2001 when he was going for an unprecedented sweep. Woods heard whispers that he was in a slump because he went six straight tournaments without winning at the start of the year. Woods then ran off three straight victories, culminating with another green jacket and his place in history.
There are more compelling elements at the U.S. Open than the Masters. But the U.S. Open doesn’t whet the public’s appetite in the cold of winter with the Masters commercial that made you wish April could get here tomorrow.
This year delivers back-to-back majors where someone can join the most elite group in golf with a career Grand Slam ― McIlroy at the Masters, Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open. Mickelson already had one crack at it last year at Pinehurst No. 2 and he never broke par. Lefty is in great shape physically ― the public will get its first look at him in two weeks ― and even at 44, he believes he will have multiple chances.
His next one will be a course no one knows. The U.S. Open goes to Chambers Bay outside Seattle, an expansive, links-looking course that hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur but nothing of significance at the professional level.