What to expect from the 2011 golf season

If you've ever played golf, you know it is one unpredictable — and sometimes maddening — sport. Some days it's fairways and greens, others it's rough and bunkers. So trying to figure out what is going to happen in the golf world in 2011 is kind of like making a 50-foot putt. But here are some topics and players likely to be talked about in the upcoming year:

Top five national stories to watch

1. Will Tiger rebound?

Tiger Woods is always the story, but especially in 2011. He failed to win a tournament this year for the first time in his career. He turns 35 today, which is not old for a golfer, but many wonder if his best years are behind him. Don't count on it. "As a golfer I learned so much more this year than any other year, and as a person, infinitely more," Woods said. "So it's been a very successful year, even though it was a very painful year as well."

2. Who will be the next Annika or Lorena on the LPGA Tour? Those players have retired, and the LPGA needs a breakout player in 2011 to create some interest. Michelle Wie could be that player. She's concentrating full time on her pro career, and at 21 years old she's not near her prime. But if not Wie, somebody has to break out of the pack.

3. Will Lee Westwood remain the world's top golfer? The 37-year-old Brit rose to the top of the class despite not having a major championship on his resume. But he has been one of the most consistent players the past two years. He'll start 2011 as the world's No. 1-ranked player. It will be interesting to see how he handles that pressure.

4. Will sponsors stay on board? Purses for 2011 PGA events remain the same as 2010. That's good news for the players. But the tour must negotiate new TV deals this year, and FedEx's contract is up for renewal as title sponsor of the FedEx Cup. The PGA is nothing without sponsors, so keeping them on board is crucial.

5. Who will come out of nowhere? It happens every year. Some rookie hotshot, or aging veteran, or European unknown (Louis Oosthuizen) makes a name for himself. The upcoming year will be no different.

Top five players to watch

Lee Westwood: Now he's on the radar, but can he handle the tag of being the best golfer not to win a major?

Jim Furyk: Can he repeat his 2010 season, when he won three times, including the Transitions Championship?

Rickie Fowler: The reigning rookie of the year did not win this past season. Expect that to change in 2011.

Bo Van Pelt: Going out on a limb, but he had eight top 10s in 28 starts and won more than $3 million in 2010.

Dustin Johnson: He won twice this past season and was in the hunt at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Top five local stories to watch

1. How will golf courses survive? The economy has not done the local golf industry any favors. Crescent Oaks Golf Club in Tarpon Springs has shut down. Wentworth Golf Club in Tarpon Springs is on the verge of being sold and turned into a semiprivate course. Hernando Oaks Golf Club has changed ownership. And still others are struggling to find golfers. Only the strong survive, and golfers will determine who is strongest.

2. Will a local player break through? It was a lean year in the wins category for our local pros on tour. Dunedin's Bob Heintz had a second-place finish in a PGA event, and Brittany Lincicome did the same on the LPGA side (she finished 15th on the tour's money list with $663,807). But Tampa Bay golfers were shut out on the major tours in 2010, though Tampa's Cindy LaCrosse won three times on the Futures Tour — the second-tier tour for women — and captured its money title to qualify for next season's LPGA Tour. Here's hoping 2011 will be better.

3. Will Tiger come to town? It's an annual question, and the answer has always been no. The 2011 schedule doesn't set up well for a Woods visit to the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook. The tournament is the week after a World Golf Challenge event in Miami and a week before the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. The likelihood of Woods playing three straight weeks with just one week off before the Masters seems remote. But maybe Innisbrook owner Sheila Johnson can talk him into it.

4. Will the weather cooperate? Last winter wreaked havoc on courses. It turned them brown and killed some greens. Not only that, it kept golfers off the course. Golf courses expect some bad weather days, but there were way too many last year. Fingers are crossed this year.

5. Who will make an amazing hole-in-one? There seems to be a call or two every year about an unusual hole-in-one, and they're great stories. Locally in the past few years, there was a blind person with an ace, an 8-year-old with an ace, a woman who got an ace on her first shot ever and a woman with two aces in one round. Next year, who knows? Maybe an ace on a par-5?

PGA Tour rookies in 2011

Five newcomers who could have an impact in their first season:

Ben Martin: Played for Clemson University in 2010 and earned his third All-ACC honor. He was third at qualifying school and played in three PGA events, none as a professional.

Zack Miller: Captain of Stanford's 2007 national title team, he was on the Nationwide Tour this past season. Finished tied for sixth at Q-school.

Kyle Stanley: A teammate of Martin's at Clemson, Stanley was a two-time NCAA runner­up. Like Martin, Stanley cruised through Q-school.

Brendan Steele: Won the Nationwide Tour Championship and vaulted to sixth on the money list to secure his PGA Tour card.

Bobby Gates: He won his first start on the Nationwide Tour this past season and finished 16th on the money list. Born in Gainesville, he attended Texas A&M.

Champions Tour rookies in 2011

To be a "rookie" on the Champions Tour you must be at least 50 years old. Here are some notable players who will join the senior circuit in the upcoming year:

John Huston: The Dunedin native turns 50 on June 1. He has been playing PGA events the past couple of years to stay sharp for his Champions debut.

Brad Faxon: He will have to wait until Aug. 1 before he turns 50. He still has enough game to play on the PGA Tour.

Mark Brooks: He turns 50 in March, which means he could make an appearance at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in Lutz in April.

PGA majors

Masters: April 7-10, Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club

U.S. Open: June 16-19, Congressional CC, Bethesda, Md.

British Open: July 14-17, Royal St. George's Golf Club, Sandwich, Kent, England

PGA Championship: Aug. 11-14, Atlanta Athletic Club

LPGA majors

Kraft Nabisco Championship: March 31-April 3, Mission Hills CC, Rancho Mirage, Calif.

LPGA Championship: June 23-26, Locust Hill CC, Rochester, N.Y.

U.S. Women's Open: July 7-10, The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Col.

Women's British Open: July 28-31, Carnoustie Golf Links, Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland

Local tournaments

Transitions Championship: March 17-20, Innisbrook Golf Resort, Palm Harbor Defending champ: Jim Furyk

Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am: April 15-17, TPC Tampa Bay, Lutz Defending champ: Bernhard Langer

What to expect from the 2011 golf season 12/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 10:09pm]

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