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As 2018 charges toward us, we’ve been looking ahead plenty to the upcoming year in golf. That continues here.
The PGA Tour season resumes next week at Kapalua, and we head into a 2018 full of promise in the world of golf as the young guns continue to thrive (and multiply) and Tiger Woods could be in the midst of a huge comeback.
There’s plenty the big names in golf will be looking to achieve or change this coming year, so it is the perfect time for some New Year’s resolutions.
Here’s our top 10 for some of golf’s biggest names in 2018:
10. Jon Rahm: Make some noise in the majors
What a 2017 it was for the Spaniard. He earned his first PGA Tour title in dramatic fashion and then won two European Tour events, including the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. In the process, he has jumped to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
He’s 23 years old.
The only place Rahm didn’t seem to perform in 2017 was the majors. He played in all four and made the cut in three, but he failed to post a top-25 finish in any.
For a player with his otherworldly talent, Rahm can certainly do better. With a year of experience under his belt there, 2018 is the time for him to start contending in the Big Four. He definitely has the ability to win one as soon as this year. But we’ll keep this resolution at simply contending in them first. If he happens to win one quickly in that process, then that works, too. Regardless, 2018 should be the year Rahm starts his run toward major titles.
9. Phil Mickelson: Break that victory drought
There will be a similar resolution for Rory McIlroy, and Mickelson’s quest for the career grand slam (he needs the U.S. Open to do it) is viable. But what’s been looming most has been his inability to win. Lefty still hasn’t captured a victory anywhere since his 2013 Open Championship triumph, and this startling fact remains … Woods has won more recently than Mickelson.
So yeah, it’s time for Mickelson, 47, to get back in that winner’s circle. It doesn’t matter where (although he would prefer a major or another high-profile event), Mickelson just needs to look to get this done to get that winning feeling again. He’s been so close so many times since Muirfield, but it’s time for him to close things out again.
8. Hideki Matsuyama: Tone down the internal pressure
Let’s be clear: Matsuyama knows what he’s doing. And there’s no reason he should shrink his work ethic, as his hustle has taken him far in golf. But it seems like he puts a lot of pressure on himself.
That tends to come out in his odd, disgusted reactions to good shots. But it was really most startling when Matsuyama was distraught after finishing solo fifth, 10 shots behind winner Brooks Koepka, last month at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament. He was quoted lamenting the “many issues to address” in his game and that there’s a “huge gap” between he and Koepka.
Matsuyama gets plenty of attention from his home country of Japan, especially with him being in line to become the country’s first male major champion. But the 25-year-old is a superstar in the making who will accomplish plenty if he keeps working hard. He should also enjoy his success, too.
So in 2018 we’re hopeful not that Matsuyama lays off the gas pedal but that he manages to not pressure himself too much and enjoy his golf successes more.
7. Jason Day: Take back control
Yes, kind of a vague resolution. But it’ll make sense. Day had a difficult 2017 that saw him drop from World No. 1 to No. 13. Like McIlroy, he failed to win. But so many distractions ate at Day in 2017. Some were out of his control, like dealing with his mother’s cancer fight and his wife’s heartbreaking miscarriage. But others were, like his splitting with Col Swatton as a caddie (Swatton remains his coach) and his self-admitted failure to adjust to dealing with a World No. 1 ranking.
With caddie drama, that top world ranking and hopefully personal issues out of the way, it’s time for the Aussie to get things back under control in his game and rise back up toward or to that No. 1 ranking. What does that mean in terms of wins and majors? Not totally clear, but if Day takes back control and starts moving up the world rankings, the successes he’s looking for will come.
6. Justin Thomas: Be more consistent
We definitely have to nitpick a bit after a 2016-17 PGA Tour Player of the Year campaign that included five wins and his first major title.
The main thing for Thomas is to not get complacent. He’s a competitor and doesn’t want to rest on his award-winning campaign – he’s eyeing another one. Well he already has a win in the 2017-18 season, so that should help.
But if Thomas wants to replicate or surpass last season, his biggest key is to be more consistent. As strong as his 2016-17 season was, it was mostly a campaign about taking advantage of extremely strong spurts. Thomas won three times in five starts early in the wraparound and then won two of three starts (and posted a late runner-up and T-6) near season’s end. In between, he had his moments, but Thomas was also a non-factor far too often for a player of his caliber between February and July.
In that stretch, Thomas played 14 PGA Tour events. His numbers: four top 10s but six missed cuts and three other finishes of T-39 or worse.
It’s not too likely that Thomas can win as much this season if he has another prolonged stretch like that – as good as he is, Thomas taking such advantage of small spurts like he did last season is probably not replicable. By being more consistent and avoiding those lulls, Thomas gives himself more opportunities over a season to win and thus could have a potent follow-up campaign. And hey, if it turns out he can win much of the time he’s in contention (as was the case in 2016-17), then we may be looking toward an astronomical number of victories this season.
5. Dustin Johnson: Grab that second major title
DJ has a major and is currently sitting at World No. 1. He wins PGA Tour events on a yearly basis, captured four in 2017 and tends to find himself in contention very often.
So there really isn’t much that sticks out for a resolution. Really the main thing with Johnson now is to enhance his legacy in golf. He’s a supreme talent and the 33-year-old likely has several good years left in the game. As cathartic as the maiden major victory was in 2016, a guy of Johnson’s talent should strive beyond living off that one major title. If he wants to set his sights on becoming one of the greats, he needs to pile on those major titles – grabbing a few more before his career is over.
In order to do that, he needs to start with No. 2. He doesn’t necessarily need it immediately, but there is no reason to wait. Johnson is World No. 1 and has seven victories in his last two seasons. The time is now to start building his major capital.
4. Jordan Spieth: Finish off the career grand slam
The idea of conquering Augusta National again has to be in Spieth’s mind as he looks to avenge what happened there in 2016. But finishing off the career grand slam comes first, especially in the history books.
Spieth will have to wait to act on this resolution, as he needs the PGA Championship to cap the career grand slam. He got his first attempt last year but could only muster a tie for 28th. The 24-year-old probably has decades to finish this off, but he might as well get it done as soon as possible. He’d be the sixth to do it on the men’s side, and if he finishes it off in 2018, only Tiger Woods will have accomplished it at a younger age.
At this point, Spieth’s resolutions should look toward history, and finishing off the career grand slam now would be another huge notch for him in the record books.
3. Rory McIlroy: Get back in the winner’s circle
Yes, getting that fifth major title looms large as McIlroy has not won one of the Big Four since 2014. And like Spieth, McIlroy could also use finishing off the career grand slam (via a Masters win) as a resolution. But before he focuses on either of those, he just needs to get another win first. In 2017, the Northern Irishman had his first winless season since 2008. And yes, health played a role as a rib injury kept him out for stretches and hampered him during play at times. He’s already committed to beefing up his schedule in 2018 with his health intact.
That’s good news: More events means more chances to win. McIlroy currently has eight starts on the docket prior to the Masters. If he can get a win in that stretch, it may go a long way to giving McIlroy a resurgent 2018. (And maybe the majors and the career grand slam come, too.)
2. Rickie Fowler: Win a major
This is a resolution we could’ve recycled for Fowler the last couple of years, as the lack of a major victory is the one glaring hole in his otherwise bonafide resume.
But it’s especially pertinent heading into 2018 as Fowler comes off a year in which he was stellar week-to-week and was No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. It’s certainly not now or never – he’s still just 29 years old – but with the way he’s playing, Fowler should want to take care of this now. (And we expect him to.)
With his talent and seven career top 5s in majors, it should be only a matter of time. But Fowler may be at or near his peak right now, so if he can’t take care of this soon, you never know when he might.
1. Tiger Woods: Pace yourself and stay healthy
Listen, many golf fans want to see Tiger Woods back in the mix, contending and possibly winning. But that can’t happen if he goes too intense and puts his body back in harm’s way.
The 42-year-old has been known to rush back too quickly from injury as well putting too much on his plate in a return. Just recall last year when he put together an ambitious schedule that included back-to-back weeks at Torrey Pines and in Dubai … and then he hurt his back and didn’t play again for 10 months.
So yes, the key is to slow down. At least in rhetoric, Woods appears to be heeding such a resolution. In a recent post he said he hoped to play a full schedule, but Woods remained cautious about that possibility.
He was also swinging fast at the Hero World Challenge, but didn’t seem to be obsessed with distance – another sign that he’s more devoted to his health.
We’ll see, Woods seemed to say a lot of the right things in his last comeback and then things devolved quick. But if he does resolve to be more patient and can stay healthy in 2018, Woods can go from there as he clearly has plenty left in the tank to possibly do some damage in tournament play.