January 15, 1996

When Dr. Johnson said, "Tomorrow is an old deceiver," he could
have added that anyone who thinks he can make prognostications
about golf is dumber than a box of rocks.

Of course, that's about the same degree of dumb that would have
been ascribed at this time last year to any person predicting
that John Daly would win the British Open at St. Andrews, that
Annika Sorenstam would lead the money list on both the American
and European women's tours or that Tiger Woods would be declared
ineligible for letting Arnold Palmer pick up his dinner check.

The point is, you really, really never know in this game because
just about any forecast is a long shot. Grizzled observers of
the sport don't get embarrassed when their most careful
reasoning turns out to be utterly wrong. Nevertheless, we have
given our magic rock box a few shakes and divined five things
that will happen in 1996.

1. American-born golfers, their status eroded by the loss of the
Ryder Cup, will take on a new sheen. U.S. Open champion and Oak
Hill hero Corey Pavin will continue to do his part, as will two
young lions coming off stellar rookie years--David Duval and
Justin Leonard. But it says here that the biggest move will be
made by Fred Couples.

Since 1992, when he was running the table with some of the best
golf of the decade, Couples has been frustratingly in and out,
due mostly to injury and a disturbingly yippy putting stroke.
But at the end of 1995 Couples stopped his spasms, in his back
and on the greens, and started making some timely putts. The one
that will live longest in his memory bank was the slick
six-footer--probably the biggest pressure putt of his life and
just the kind Couples has been prone to gas--that he stroked home
on the 18th green at Oak Hill to salvage a halve with Ian
Woosnam and apparently save the Ryder Cup. While the putt
didn't, of course, it was a stroke that may have unleashed

2. The Presidents Cup will emerge as a premier competition. The
Ryder Cup clone that was thrown together quickly in 1994 has
suddenly become an event in which the U.S. might not only be
beaten but trounced. The International team (made up of players
from Australia, Africa and Asia) is, on paper, better by far
than any squad America or Europe can currently field. If Greg
Norman, Nick Price, Ernie Els, Steve Elkington and Jumbo Ozaki
all show up in September near Washington, D.C., as advertised,
the International 12 will include half of the Sony Ranking's
current top 10 as well as blue-chippers like Vijay Singh,
Michael Campbell and David Frost. Given that the U.S. will be
playing for the last vestiges of its reputation as the world's
No. 1 golfing nation, the Presidents Cup instantly graduates
from copycat contrivance to a biennial back-alley brawl.

3. In addition to his attempt to become the first player to win
the U.S. Amateur three consecutive times, Tiger Woods will
produce some scary-good golf in his second freewheeling run at
the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. No longer a
teenager and thrilled to finally weigh 160 pounds, Woods, a
proven quick study, will come to the majors more focused and
physically capable than he was during his wide-eyed maiden
voyage into the big time last year. Woods's best chance to
succeed will come at Augusta, where in his first visit he put on
a pyrotechnical display of driving that has already become part
of the tournament's lore. He has enough game and enough grit not
only to get on the leader board at Augusta but also to climb it.

4. The influence of the swing guru in professional golf will
wane. With players like Hal Sutton and Bob Tway emerging last
year from long nightmares of technical confusion brought on by
instructors, and with Seve Ballesteros and Ian Baker-Finch
classic cases of paralysis by analysis, more players are giving
serious consideration to Ben Hogan's old admonition to "dig it
out of the ground.'' Suddenly, there is a growing consensus on
the practice range that gurus have screwed up as many players as
they have helped, either by making their charges too conscious
of technique or by robbing them of the vital quality of
self-reliance. At year's end Greg Norman was breaking off his
close association with Butch Harmon to coach himself, and even
Nick Faldo, whose overhaul by David Leadbetter brought the idea
of the omnipresent guru into vogue, is said to be seeking a less
technical approach.

5. Someone in professional golf will shoot a 59 ... (rattle,
rattle, rattle) ... what the heck, make that 58.

COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Tiger will tame Augusta the second time around. [Tiger Woods]

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