The 2012 PGA Tour officially kicked off in Maui last week with Steve Stricker winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The 44-year old Wisconsin native shot 23-under on The Plantation Course at Kapalua , three shots clear of runner-up Martin Laird. But even with the first win of the early season going to a seasoned vet, all eyes in 2012 will be on the tour's new breed of young guns and a Tiger with something to prove.
- KEEGAN BRADLEY: Bradley played his college golf at St. John's in New York City. His second win in 2011 came in the form of a PGA Championship (was also his first appearance in a major, not bad!). Bradley is quite simply a very steady and consistent player without much flash in his game. He ranks 12th in total driving (combo of distance and accuracy), which means he keeps it in play and doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes.
- JASON DAY: The young Aussie is fearless and appears to be built for majors. In 2010 he finished tenth in the PGA Championship, his first career major. In 2011, he tied for second in his first Masters and also finished second in his first attempt at the U.S. Open. And while he is known for his length off tee (averaged 302.6 yards), Day also led the tour in making birdie or better on par 3's.
- WEBB SIMPSON: Although Simpson flew under a lot of radar's most of last season, he emerged on everyone's screen after winning the Deutsche Bank during the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and finished second in the FedEx standings. He also won the Wyndham Championship last season and may have won the Zurich Classic had he not had to penalize himself with three holes to play (ball at rest moved). The former Wake Forest star also finished second on tour in scoring average (69.25) and official earnings ($6.35 million).
- BILLY HAAS: Haas' father, Jay, was a standout on tour; his brother, Jay, Jr., spent some time on tour; his uncle Bob (Goalby) won a green jacket at the 1968 Masters; and his uncle Jerry is the golf coach at Wake Forest. And Billy, a star at Wake Forest himself, did not win in 2011 until the Tour Championship (which won him the FedEx Cup). But most tend to forget that Haas lost twice in playoffs earlier in the year and won two tour titles in 2010. Here's an interesting stat: Haas ranked third in 2011 in holing putts 5 feet or shorter. And as many of us know, making those knee knockers can keep you in contention.
- DUSTIN JOHNSON: DJ may just be the most intriguing and fun to watch player on tour. Never mind that he ranked third in driving distance (314.2 yards) and fourth in birdie average (4.2 per round) -- has anyone on tour collapsed so much? The Coastal Carolina grad was leading the 2010 U.S. Open by three shots with 18 holes to play, then shot 82. He would have been in a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson in the 2010 PGA Championship but was penalized for grounding his club in a bunker on the final hole. He was in the hunt in the final round at last year's British Open before shanking a routine fairway shot OB. But DJ does already have five PGA tour wins on his resume. So while many fans may shake their heads at his catastrophes, he's only a stroke away from domination.
- Rookie of the Year - BUD CAULEY: Although he may not exactly fly under the radar, Cauley, 21, turned pro after his junior year at Alabama and became one of only six players in Tour history to earn enough money through sponsor's exemptions and guaranteed starts to bypass Q-School. He made the cut in eight out of nice starts, had two Top-4 finishes in the fall season and earned a smooth $735,000. Watch out for young Mr. Cauley!
And The Winner Is....
And now for this blogger's 2012 Major Championship predictions:
The Masters: Adam Scott
The U.S. Open: Lee Westwood
The British Open: Tiger Woods
The PGA Championship: Steve Stricker
Agree? Disagree? Got something to say? Leave a comment below.