OKAY, IT'S time to hand out our 2009 player awards. What's that, you say—'09 has just begun, and there's no way to tell who will be the player of the year, comeback player of the year or rookie of the year? That may often be the case, but this year the winners are more certain than Kenny Perry's skipping the British Open.
Everyone's talking about the young guns. Sergio García, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas have all racked up wins and World Ranking points in Tiger Woods's absence. And Padraig Harrington has generated some buzz with his two straight major victories. Still, you don't get the sense that it's the kind of talk that anyone really believes, even as they're saying it. The truth is, you can't make a living betting against Woods, especially since he has a history of going on a tear after long layoffs. This time he's as motivated as ever, and for the first time in years he'll be playing on two healthy legs. That's scary. I still like Harrington in the Masters (he's on a roll, having figured out the recipe for winning the big ones, and he tied for seventh, then fifth the last two years at Augusta), but that's it. Woods will win multiple times this season and add to his career total of 14 majors. And what of García, Kim and Villegas? Well, they still have their youth.
• COMEBACK POY
It could easily be Woods, but that would be boring. I'd like to give it to Phil Mickelson, but he wasn't actually hurt or missing, he simply disappeared from leader boards (other than Bridgestone and the Tour Championship) in the second half of 2008. Ditto Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Aaron Baddeley, Australia's Bermuda Triangle of high expectations. Luke Donald returns after wrist surgery, but it's tough to predict great things from a 5'9" grinder who's happy to reach a long par-4 in two. That leaves us with one choice: Greg Norman. Rejuvenated by true love and his latest near miss, at the '08 British Open, golf's Benjamin Button will make a solid showing at the Masters and then win three of the 16 or 17 senior majors. (O.K., there are only five, but you get the point.) He'll flirt with a return to the regular Tour but retire for good when Anthony Kim asks him if he ever won the FedEx Cup.
There are two ways to look at last year's LPGA qualifying tournament. One is that Michelle Wie entered the final round one shot off the lead, and the woman who's won only one title of significance—the 2003 Women's Amateur Public Links when she was 13—showed once again that she doesn't know how to close, shooting a 74 and tying for seventh. The other point of view is that Wie was in position to get her card easily and that she played a smart, conservative final round, showing a new maturity that will serve her well.
January 19, 2009
Either way there seems little doubt that Wie will have a bigger impact than any other rookie on any tour. Win or lose, every score she turns in will be mentioned on the nightly sportscasts and likely prompt a few seconds of screen time on SportsCenter, giving the LPGA a shove into the public consciousness it literally couldn't buy. In the end Wie will win. At some point her prodigious talent will push her far enough ahead of the field that she'll hold on. Other rookies may win more, but none will matter as much.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Feb. 9 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
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