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Twelve bold predictions for 2012 in golf

Alex Dimond January 18, 2012
What is in store for Tiger Woods in 2012? © Getty Images
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Let's be brutally honest - the 2012 golf season has started with much more of a whimper than a bang.

Quite spectacularly underwhelming winners (Johnson Wagner and his moustache were vaguely entertaining last week, but Matt Every and his drug past would have been much better) and boring events in incongruously scenic surroundings have combined to do nothing to raise the anticipation ahead of the rest of the year, with no prospect of that actually happening until Tiger Woods tees it off at Pebble Beach (possibly with NFL quarterback Tony Romo?) next month.

What we are basically trying to say, not to put too fine a point on it, is that there is nothing particularly interesting to write about at the moment. So instead of rambling on for 800 words about the greatness of Johnson Wagner's name (put it this way - golfer isn't the job we'd guess he'd be doing), we thought we'd make a few predictions for the 2012 season (you, know when it actually sparks into life).

Twelve of them, to be exact - just so we can cover as much ground as possible.

And, in case you need extra reason to trust our predictions, then know this: If we had done this column before the season started, we would almost certainly have predicted domestic players would dominate the South Africa swing at the start of the European Tour campaign (cheers, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace), and that Steve Stricker would win at least one underwhelming PGA Tour event that no-one would quite be able to remember a few months later (The Tournament of Champions, yay!)

So, if you think about it, we're basically two for two already. So here are the other 12 dead certs:

1. Tiger Woods won't win The Masters
It's hard to assess whether this is a bold prediction or not - Woods hasn't contended in a tournament worth its salt since … well, the 2011 Masters, where he willed himself into contention early in the final round, before falling away as the heat turned on.

Woods should be pretty prepared for Augusta by the time it rolls around in April, but not that much more than he was for the same event last year. He'll almost certainly be in contention - but we reckon he won't finish the job. If he manages to stay healthy, however, he should be able to make that final step later in the season.

2. A new name will claim the Green Jacket
This really isn't a bold call, at all - which is probably an alarming sign for the other 10 still to come. Charl Schwartzel was a first-time winner at the Masters in 2011, and we can see a similar figure coming through this time around.

Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, or even an emerging name like Gary Woodland - all could end up adding a key ensemble piece to their wardrobe by the end of the first week in April.

3. Americans will win more majors than Europeans
Touch and go, this one - in 2011 Europeans won two of the four majors, with Keegan Bradley and Charl Schwartzel winning one each for the United States and the suitably vague 'Rest of the World' respectively.

In 2012, that should change. It really comes down to a matter of probabilities. With three of the four majors on American soil, American players always have an advantage. This year, they should make the most of it.

Luke Donald will have to watch out for Rory McIlroy © PA Photos
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4. Luke Donald will remain No. 1 - but a major title will elude him
Donald is the very model of a modern world-class golfer, consistently good wherever he plays on the planet. That quality will ensure he remains world No. 1 throughout 2012 (unless Rory McIlroy goes on a run of major wins) but that won't help him when it comes to the major championships.

Donald's major difficulty, when it comes to the big events, is that courses are set up longer and tighter than almost anywhere else - two differences that accentuate and nullify his biggest weakness (lack of length) and strength (reasonable accuracy) respectively. He may get into contention at one or two (look out for Royal Lytham if the weather stays calm) but it will be very difficult for him to get over the hump.

5. The BMW PGA Championship will become a true flagship event
The BMW PGA Championship has always been the de-facto equivalent of the Players Championship - the biggest non-major, non-WGC event on its tour.

Except, unlike the Players, the PGA Championship never really carried the same buzz. That is all slowly changing, however, and in 2012 the tournament could really make a big step forward. With the European Tour increasingly becoming more influential than its cross-Atlantic rival, now it hopes to have a headline event to match it.

Wentworth is a prestigious course and, with the changes it is making to perfect the 18th as a dramatic finishing hole, is ready to host a tip-top event in the modern era.

With real financial backing behind the event once again, if we can get a repeat of last year's finish - with Lee Westwood and Luke Donald duking it out in a playoff - then it really could become another viable contender to be 'the fifth major'.

6. A new collection of Asian players will make their name known
KJ Choi and YE Yang move over … or at least make some room - a new generation of young Asian players are going to start making real waves in professional golf.

Seung-yul Noh (a rookie on the PGA Tour), Kyung-tae Kim and even Bang Sae-moon could all make an impression on the wider golfing conscious this year. They're coming, and they're good.

7. We will hear a lot less about the ruddy 'Chubby Slam'
Because, God willing, none of his clients will win The Masters - allowing us almost a full year without ridiculous columns about whether or not an agent's clients will win the grand slam. Who exactly cares?

8. Slow play will get worse - but will become a debate
Luke Donald kicked off 2012 by moaning about slow play, a reasonable complaint that probably won't make too much impact in the short-term. Players will still continue to waste time lining up putts for the eighth time, reading the greens on 80-yard pitch shots and - in the case of Kevin Na - even just swinging over the ball if they don't feel quite right.

But the debate is out there now, and it threatens to be an undercurrent at events for the next 12 months.

Every time tournament rounds take over five hours, discussion will be raised. With TV negotiations ever more important, a solution that enables the tours to guarantee shorter coverage windows to the networks is going to become increasingly attractive. 2012 will see the discussion; hopefully 2013 will see the action.

9. Jose Maria Olazabal is going to have a Ryder Cup wildcard dilemma
With Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood among a group of European players expected to spend more of their time on the PGA Tour in 2012, it seems probable that one or more will not qualify for the Ryder Cup team either by the European Ryder Cup points list or the world points list.

That will put Olazabal in a quandary, forced to expend a wildcard pick on a big-name player who is not in great form (as exemplified by his inability to quality outright), rather than an in-form addition (as is the idea of the system). Graeme McDowell is an early candidate for this position.

Europe will chase another big Ryder Cup success © Getty Images
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10. Europe will win one of the best Ryder Cups ever
Because, quite frankly, it would be unpatriotic of us to predict any other outcome.

The American team should be the strongest it has been for about a decade, with the likes of Woodland, Webb Simpson and Rickie Fowler offering a great complement to the more experienced names under Davis Love III's command.

Europe's team, however, could well prove to be one of the best the competition has ever seen - with potentially the world's top four golfers all in its midst. Playing on American soil has not always helped the European cause - but on this occasion they should have just enough to sneak a dramatic, exciting victory.

11. Rory McIlroy will ditch Caroline Wozniacki
Or vice-versa, of course - or maybe it will be a mutual thing. Once upon a time we thought Katy Perry and Russell Brand's love would last forever, but with that disappointment still colouring our opinion of celebrity relationships, we can only predict disaster ahead for 'Wozilroy'.

With the travel, the differing schedules and the fact McIlroy seems to be desperately waiting for official clearance to become an international playboy … we reckon this is one sporting power couple that won't last the distance.

12. Tom Lewis will not win on the European Tour
We're not prepared to give up on this 'beef' just yet. Lewis got lucky last year … it will not happen again.

Probably.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk