ANOTHER intriguing year for golf is promised in 2022, a year expected to mark another comeback from Tiger Woods, a landmark Open Championship and the appointment of two new Ryder Cup captains.

There is much to anticipate, including the emergence of potential new superstars, the women’s game breaking new ground and political power-plays to fend off disrupters who want to smash the status quo.

Here’s what we can expect in 2022, including my predictions for the majors.

Tiger Woods

Return of the Tiger

Apart from his hit and giggle appearance with son Charlie at the PNC Championship in Florida last month, 2021 was a barren year for Tiger Woods, who recently turned 46.

Woods spent most of it recovering from a February car crash which almost resulted in the loss of his right leg. His Orlando return surprised many and while young Charlie stole the show, the outing proved the 15-time major champion can still play.

Realistically, though, it may be a while before we see him compete again at the highest level. Woods would love to play the tournament he promotes, The Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February, but that may prove too soon.

Likewise for another favourite stop at Bay Hill in March and would undulating Augusta prove too physically demanding in April?

I would be most tempted to back his return at The Open at St Andrews in July. The Old Course terrain should be forgiving enough and where better to come back than the home of golf where Woods has won two of his three Open titles?

Landmark Opens

Regardless, that week will be exceptional as golf celebrates the 150th Open. The oldest and most historic of the majors has come a long way since eight men first teed off in Prestwick and Willie Park won the Challenge Belt back in 1860.

The Open is one of the world’s biggest sporting events and there will be an air of celebration when Collin Morikawa embarks on the defence of the title he won on his Open debut last summer.

There is likely to be a mini champions challenge event on the eve of the main competition. At the very least we can expect to see Woods appear in that.

A couple of weeks later, the AIG Women’s Open will be played at Muirfield for the first time. Many a female golfer will tell you the sport still has a long way to go on the path of equality.

In 2017, Muirfield needed to change its male-only membership policy and staging the biggest women’s golf event in the UK there could be another significant step. Expect plenty of focus on Anna Nordqvist’s title defence come August.

Europe’s captaincy dilemma

There is no Ryder Cup this year but both Europe and the United States will be keen to appoint captains sooner rather than later.

With favourite Lee Westwood having taken himself out of the running to lead Europe in next year’s match in Italy, one of his former partners, Luke Donald, is the most likely candidate to succeed Padraig Harrington.

Others in the frame include 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson and another Swede, Robert Karlsson. He is highly regarded for his analytical skills and has been a vice-captain in the past two matches.

Francesco Molinari has strong credentials for an Italian job while Graeme McDowell is another future captain but more likely for Adare Manor in 2027.

Is it too soon for Ian Poulter? Observers also wonder whether Europe might break with recent convention and offer the job to a successful former skipper such as Thomas Bjorn, who led the continent to success in Paris in 2018.

After the USA’s record 19-9 win at Whistling Straits, Zach Johnson is favourite to succeed Steve Stricker to lead their quest for a first away win this century, but a certain Mr Woods may also be interested.

Europe could make their choice as early as this month at the tour stop in Abu Dhabi. Regardless, the Middle East will prove increasingly important ground in golfing geo-politics.

Money, money, money

Much attention surrounds Greg Norman’s bid to revolutionise the professional game, aided by a back pocket wad of Saudi Arabian cash to shake the status quo.

Permissions have already been grudgingly granted by the PGA Tour to allow some of their biggest stars to compete without sanction in February’s Saudi International, which is now an Asian Tour event.

But the spectre of a Saudi funded rebel super league still remains and we can expect the established circuits on both sides of the Atlantic to try to find more imaginative ways to keep top players happy.

Announcing a lucrative post FedEx Cup series with guaranteed millions and potentially a team element is not beyond the realms of possibility.

The PGA and DP World (formerly European) Tours have already acted with this July’s rebranded Genesis Scottish Open counting on both circuits. Expect plenty of big name US stars to be part of the field at Renaissance Club the week before The Open.

The distance debate

Golf will continue to wrestle with this issue with the R&A and USGA courting top tours and manufacturers to find agreement on how to restrict the lengths that golf balls travel.

Potentially, local rules will be approved more frequently for elite golf. Some will see it as bifurcation by stealth to ensure ancient links such as the Old Course at St Andrews remain relevant for decades to come.

Ones to watch

I’m expecting American Sam Burns to become a household name in 2022. Only Jon Rahm, Morikawa and Viktor Hovland picked up more world ranking points than the largely unheralded Burns last year.

Hovland looks ready to challenge for a first major, while a resurgent Thomas Pieters, Irishman Seamus Power (up 357 places to 72 in the world) and Denmark’s Hojgaard twins, Nicolai and Rasmus, are on track for big seasons this year.

After her major breakthrough in 2021, I’m interested to see whether the exciting Patty Tavatanakit can maintain the progress that has taken the Thai to the fringes of the women’s top 10.

Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko are formidable pacesetters, while Irish Solheim Cup hero Leona Maguire has climbed from 177 to a career high 40th in the past 12 months. She has attributes to put herself among the very best in the world this year.

Major predictions

Finally it is neck on the block time. In wishing you a happy new year, here are my major predictions for 2022 – apologies to all those selected but please do let me know your picks in the comments section.

31 March – 3 April: Chevron Championship, Mission Hills, Rancho Mirage Ca: Lydia Ko

7-10 April: The Masters, Augusta, Georgia: Jordan Spieth

19-22 May: US PGA Championship, Southern Hills Tulsa, Oklahoma: Viktor Hovland

2-5 June: US Women’s Open Southern Pines, North Carolina: Patty Tavatanakit

16-19 June: US Open, The Country Club, Brookline, Boston, Massachusetts: Justin Thomas

23-26 June: KPMG Women’s PGA, Congressional, Bethesda, Maryland: Jin Young Ko

14-17 July: The Open, St Andrews, Scotland: Rory McIlroy

21-24 July: Evian Championship, Evian-les-Baines: Danielle Kang

4-7 August: AIG Women’s Open, Muirfield, Scotland: Nelly Korda

–       bbc.com

Golf fiesta in 2022 …as Tiger Woods returns

 

ANOTHER intriguing year for golf is promised in 2022, a year expected to mark another comeback from Tiger Woods, a landmark Open Championship and the appointment of two new Ryder Cup captains.

There is much to anticipate, including the emergence of potential new superstars, the women’s game breaking new ground and political power-plays to fend off disrupters who want to smash the status quo.

Here’s what we can expect in 2022, including my predictions for the majors…

Return of the Tiger

Apart from his hit and giggle appearance with son Charlie at the PNC Championship in Florida last month, 2021 was a barren year for Tiger Woods, who recently turned 46.

Woods spent most of it recovering from a February car crash which almost resulted in the loss of his right leg. His Orlando return surprised many and while young Charlie stole the show, the outing proved the 15-time major champion can still play.

Realistically, though, it may be a while before we see him compete again at the highest level. Woods would love to play the tournament he promotes, The Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February, but that may prove too soon.

Likewise for another favourite stop at Bay Hill in March and would undulating Augusta prove too physically demanding in April?

I would be most tempted to back his return at The Open at St Andrews in July. The Old Course terrain should be forgiving enough and where better to come back than the home of golf where Woods has won two of his three Open titles?

Landmark Opens

Regardless, that week will be exceptional as golf celebrates the 150th Open. The oldest and most historic of the majors has come a long way since eight men first teed off in Prestwick and Willie Park won the Challenge Belt back in 1860.

The Open is one of the world’s biggest sporting events and there will be an air of celebration when Collin Morikawa embarks on the defence of the title he won on his Open debut last summer.

There is likely to be a mini champions challenge event on the eve of the main competition. At the very least we can expect to see Woods appear in that.

A couple of weeks later, the AIG Women’s Open will be played at Muirfield for the first time. Many a female golfer will tell you the sport still has a long way to go on the path of equality.

In 2017, Muirfield needed to change its male-only membership policy and staging the biggest women’s golf event in the UK there could be another significant step. Expect plenty of focus on Anna Nordqvist’s title defence come August.

Europe’s captaincy dilemma

There is no Ryder Cup this year but both Europe and the United States will be keen to appoint captains sooner rather than later.

With favourite Lee Westwood having taken himself out of the running to lead Europe in next year’s match in Italy, one of his former partners, Luke Donald, is the most likely candidate to succeed Padraig Harrington.

Others in the frame include 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson and another Swede, Robert Karlsson. He is highly regarded for his analytical skills and has been a vice-captain in the past two matches.

Francesco Molinari has strong credentials for an Italian job while Graeme McDowell is another future captain but more likely for Adare Manor in 2027.

Is it too soon for Ian Poulter? Observers also wonder whether Europe might break with recent convention and offer the job to a successful former skipper such as Thomas Bjorn, who led the continent to success in Paris in 2018.

After the USA’s record 19-9 win at Whistling Straits, Zach Johnson is favourite to succeed Steve Stricker to lead their quest for a first away win this century, but a certain Mr Woods may also be interested.

Europe could make their choice as early as this month at the tour stop in Abu Dhabi. Regardless, the Middle East will prove increasingly important ground in golfing geo-politics.

Money, money, money

Much attention surrounds Greg Norman’s bid to revolutionise the professional game, aided by a back pocket wad of Saudi Arabian cash to shake the status quo.

Permissions have already been grudgingly granted by the PGA Tour to allow some of their biggest stars to compete without sanction in February’s Saudi International, which is now an Asian Tour event.

But the spectre of a Saudi funded rebel super league still remains and we can expect the established circuits on both sides of the Atlantic to try to find more imaginative ways to keep top players happy.

Announcing a lucrative post FedEx Cup series with guaranteed millions and potentially a team element is not beyond the realms of possibility.

The PGA and DP World (formerly European) Tours have already acted with this July’s rebranded Genesis Scottish Open counting on both circuits. Expect plenty of big name US stars to be part of the field at Renaissance Club the week before The Open.

The distance debate

Golf will continue to wrestle with this issue with the R&A and USGA courting top tours and manufacturers to find agreement on how to restrict the lengths that golf balls travel.

Potentially, local rules will be approved more frequently for elite golf. Some will see it as bifurcation by stealth to ensure ancient links such as the Old Course at St Andrews remain relevant for decades to come.

Ones to watch

I’m expecting American Sam Burns to become a household name in 2022. Only Jon Rahm, Morikawa and Viktor Hovland picked up more world ranking points than the largely unheralded Burns last year.

Hovland looks ready to challenge for a first major, while a resurgent Thomas Pieters, Irishman Seamus Power (up 357 places to 72 in the world) and Denmark’s Hojgaard twins, Nicolai and Rasmus, are on track for big seasons this year.

After her major breakthrough in 2021, I’m interested to see whether the exciting Patty Tavatanakit can maintain the progress that has taken the Thai to the fringes of the women’s top 10.

Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko are formidable pacesetters, while Irish Solheim Cup hero Leona Maguire has climbed from 177 to a career high 40th in the past 12 months. She has attributes to put herself among the very best in the world this year.

Major predictions

Finally it is neck on the block time. In wishing you a happy new year, here are my major predictions for 2022 – apologies to all those selected but please do let me know your picks in the comments section.

31 March – 3 April: Chevron Championship, Mission Hills, Rancho Mirage Ca: Lydia Ko

7-10 April: The Masters, Augusta, Georgia: Jordan Spieth

19-22 May: US PGA Championship, Southern Hills Tulsa, Oklahoma: Viktor Hovland

2-5 June: US Women’s Open Southern Pines, North Carolina: Patty Tavatanakit

16-19 June: US Open, The Country Club, Brookline, Boston, Massachusetts: Justin Thomas

23-26 June: KPMG Women’s PGA, Congressional, Bethesda, Maryland: Jin Young Ko

14-17 July: The Open, St Andrews, Scotland: Rory McIlroy

21-24 July: Evian Championship, Evian-les-Baines: Danielle Kang

4-7 August: AIG Women’s Open, Muirfield, Scotland: Nelly Korda

–       bbc.com

The post 2022: Intriguing golf year …as Tiger Woods returns appeared first on The Financial Gazette.