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2011 PGA Tour: A Year of Change?

by Jeff Skinner

The 2011 golf season is barely underway and we already have a bit of controversy.  Viewers of the Golf Channel ratted out Camillo Villegas for a rules infraction and the tour has their own version of Brangelina now that Dustin Johnson and Natalie Gulbis are dating.  Last year the PGA Tour had enough drama to last a few hundred seasons so let’s hope that this season will be remembered for the golf on the course and not all the tabloid news that surrounds it.

This is an important year for the tour in many ways.  The current television contract ends in 2012 and the negotiations will begin this year.  If this season mimics last year there won’t be much television money flowing into PGA Tour headquarters and we could be watching the tour on Versus.  Change can be a good thing and there may be some major changes on tour this year.

We all know that Tiger Woods is the biggest draw in golf, not just in the US but throughout the world.  Tiger will be trying to win his first PGA Tour event since the 2009 BMW.  His last major was the 2008 US Open and if Woods is to regain his World Number One Ranking, he’ll have to beat fields full of tour hardened veterans, top Europeans and a group of twentysomethings that are looking to make the tour their tour.  With Tiger’s cloak of invincibility tattered, he’ll need to steady his game and his life if he to win again.

Phil Mickelson will most definitely be looking to improve on his 2010.  It is difficult to call any season with a major win disappointing but Phil had to feel that way after such a great win at The Masters.  Phil has been living a different life this past year.  With his wife and mother both dealing with breast cancer and Phil now living with psoriatic arthritis his life has changed drastically.  Phil is indeed a competitive player but he also walks to the beat of his own drummer.  He has more irons in the fire than most professional athletes and I would not be shocked if Phil surprises us this season with something off the wall.  Like, maybe taking an extended period off for personal matters or just putting the clubs away for awhile to enjoy his life.  Phil needs the tour less than most superstars out there and calling a “time-out” on golf isn’t so unbelievable.

If Tiger and Phil aren’t there to defend their records there will be plenty of “young guns” to try and make the tour their own.  Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Camillo Villegas, Bill Haas and Anthony Kim are all young winners from 2010 that are looking to repeat their successes.  Rickie Fowler is as popular a young golfer as there is and he still hasn’t won yet.  He’ll be trying to rectify that very quickly this season and he is capable of getting eyes, very young eyes, watching the tour.

The strength of golfers calling the European Tour home is as strong as ever.  Number one, Lee Westwood and number three, Martin Kaymer won’t be PGA Tour members this year and they are joined in Europe by the very popular Rory McIlroy.  While they will play some golf in the US they will not play a full tour schedule and the tour will suffer for it.  Fortunately, US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, fifth in the world will be playing a full season on the PGA Tour.  There is no hotter golfer in the world and probably no golfer that is enjoying himself as much.

Nothing gives the season a boost like the Ryder Cup but this is a Presidents Cup year, an Australian Presidents Cup year.  With the cup being played in Melbourne in the middle of November I can’t help but think that there will be some pro’s that won’t mind missing the team this year.  We might even see a player that makes the team respectfully decline the invite down under and opt to stay stateside.

So let the games begin and we’ll see what kind of season the PGA Tour brings us.  At least we get to start with another week of prime time golf and views of Hawaii.  It’s off to a great start already.

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