The 2012 PGA Tour Preview: Playing for the Top of the World

Paddy MillerContributor IIIJanuary 4, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Bill Haas watches his tee shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 25, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2012 PGA Tour season tees off on Thursday in Hawaii with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii.

The 2011 season provided us with many surprises including four first-time major winners.

The upcoming season looks to hold just as many surprises as last year, given how wide-open the competition is. Without the presence of a dominating figure, each tournament is an affair where anybody can win.

Let’s take a look at some of the top players and events upcoming this season.

Top Five

Luke Donald

The current World No. 1 enters the 2012 season after winning a slew of end of season awards on the PGA Tour, including the Jack Nicklaus Trophy for Tour MVP.

Donald was especially strong in the World Golf Championship events, finishing in the Top-10 of every tournament and winning the Match Play Championship in March.

He was also close to breaking through in a major tournament, finishing tied for fourth at the Masters.

Donald will look to win a major in 2012 along with keeping his spot here atop the world rankings. He split time between the European and PGA Tours in 2011 and will probably do the same this coming year, given the success he has experiences in all corners of the planet.

Luke Donald looks to carry on his impressive 2011 form into 2012
Luke Donald looks to carry on his impressive 2011 form into 2012Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Lee Westwood

Westwood began 2011 as the top golfer in the world, but lost the position about halfway through the year.

His only win in 2011 came at the Ballantines’ Championship on the European Tour in South Korea.

He did finish tied for third behind a dominant Rory McIlroy in the US Open, but really didn’t threaten beyond that on North American soil.

The Englishman will look to rebound in 2012 and attempt to claim the top spot in the world from his fellow countryman, but with Donald surging into the new year it will be no easy task for Westwood.

Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won twice in 2011, including his impressive performance at Congressional Country Club, taking the US Open title by eight strokes.

He also displayed consistency after the DC victory by finishing runner-up in the Race to Dubai on the European Tour.

While the US Open victory was viewed as a breakout win for the young player from Northern Ireland, McIlroy failed to threaten in either the Open Championship or the PGA Championship—something that was viewed as being vital in establishing him as the next top player.

Steve Stricker is still looking for that first major title
Steve Stricker is still looking for that first major titleScott Halleran/Getty Images

McIlroy would like to climb this list and cement himself among the elite. The best way to do that would be by earning major victories.

Rory can make up for a disastrous final round in the Masters last April by eyeing up the green jacket this spring.

Martin Kaymer

Kaymer won early and late in 2011 in a season that saw him overtake the number one spot in the world rankings. However, Kaymer was very seldom a factor in tournaments during the summer—including the majors—therefore, he slipped back down the list.  

The German will look to climb back to the top, but will need to get it done in majors, much like his European counterparts.

Kaymer, now playing the role of favorite has had moments of success in every kind of tournament, but he will need to be more consistent to remain atop the OWGR’s.

Adam Scott

The Australian made some of the biggest headlines in the 2011 season by hiring the recently fired Tiger Woods caddy Steve Williams.

Then, he made even bigger headlines by winning the very next week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Who doesn't look forward to the Masters?
Who doesn't look forward to the Masters?Harry How/Getty Images

It was his only win of the season, but it capped off a solid campaign in which Scott had two top-10’s in majors including a runner-up finish at The Masters.

Top American Players to Watch 

Because the OWGR top five contains all players that play on the European Tour for the majority of the season. We will take a look at the top golfers who will be doing most of their playing in North America in 2012.

Steve Stricker

Stricker won twice last summer at the Memorial and the John Deere Classic.

After he failed to factor in the FedEx Cup playoffs, Stricker will look to start strong in 2012.

Amongst his impressive season last year, Stricker was ranked third in putting, second when missing the green, and third in scoring average, some very solid statistical averages along with his two wins.

Dustin Johnson

Johnson got in the win column late in the year in the Barclays during the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Johnson finished three strokes behind Darren Clarke in The Open Championship in his only close major call of the year. Johnson is now looking to overcome a handful of runner-up finishes in major tournaments and break through on the big stage.

TPC Scottsdale
TPC ScottsdaleChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Johnson completed 2011 with a strong fourth place finish in the FedEx Cup playoffs, primarily as a result of his win at the Barclays.

He played quite a bit early last year and look for that this season as Johnson looks to become one of the top golfers on the planet.  

Webb Simpson

Simpson had a breakout year in 2011, winning two tournaments toward the end of the year while earning well over $6 million.

One of those wins came in the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the Deutsche Bank Classic, earning him a good chunk of that yearly total, and Simpson had a chance at the Tour Championship to take the lucrative logistics trophy.

The Wake Forest alum will look to keep his end of season form into early 2012 as he attempts to climb the world list.

Matt Kuchar

Kuchar failed to get in the win column in 2011 but did manage to get into the top-10 in nine different tournaments.

While those finishers weren’t enough to match Kuchar’s substantial monetary gain in 2010, one thing is for certain, he has brought consistency to his game on the PGA Tour.

If Kuchar is able to stay atop a few leader boards in 2012, the sky is the limit, as he always seems to be there at the end of every weekend.

Nick Watney

Watney scored two wins in 2011 at Doral and in Philadelphia at the AT&T National.

However, he failed to crack the top-10 in any major event a year after close calls at the Masters, Open and PGA Championship in 2010 where he blew a three-shot lead on Sunday with the Wannamaker Trophy in sight.

Watney will look for consistency in 2012. He has shown us he can win, but now it is about major glory or a FedEx payday.

The Majors

The Masters

Of the players mentioned above, few have a major title to their name to this date, and Augusta presents a great opportunity for any one of them to pick up their first.

Charl Schwartzel started to grab some headlines last spring, and his victory last year propelled him to the international stage.

Could one of the top names break through in Georgia, or could a resurgent Tiger Woods add a fifth green jacket to his closet once Spring rolls around?  

US Open

The Olympic Club in San Francisco hosts the 2012 US Open at it’s famed Lake Course. The Open was last held here in 1998 when Lee Janzen took the championship.

We will see what the USGA does to the course after Rory McIlroy personally played golf with a bulldozer and a beach ball last year at Congressional, breaking all kinds of scoring records along in the process.

The Open Championship

The British Open returns to the coastline of the Irish Sea, playing at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club for the first time since 2001 when David Duval won his first and only Claret Jug.

Darren Clarke was an unlikely winner in 2011, and we will see if the town in western England produces another surprise.

PGA Championship

The PGA Championship heads to South Carolina and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island for their 2012 event.

Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a playoff in the 2011 edition to add to his already impressive rookie season.

Kiawah Island has hosted other various tournaments, but this will be the first major held at the location along the Atlantic.  

Other Notable Events

It is always fun watching one of the most unique golf experiences at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course’s 16th hole. Surrounded by thousands of spectators and drunken Arizona State students, the par 3 presents a great environment for players and fans alike, and many memorable moments when there is an ace on the board.

Won by Nick Watney last season, the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Doral will certainly be an interesting event. We will see which name from the list above makes a move toward the top and winning this event would help anybody make a big leap in that regard.

Tour players will make a return to Congressional Country Club this July in the AT&T National. Hosted by Tiger Woods, we will see if Eldrick has rediscovered some of his old form, or if the Chevron World Challenge was just an illusion, draped by being another party hosted by Tiger.

It is without a doubt that we will be hearing about the FedEx Cup all year long from CBS and NBC commentators alike. Although, the 2011 cup did give us a very exciting ending with the moment, nobody will forget when Bill Haas put the brakes on a wedge shot with his ball laying in a green-side pond.

The season begins on Thursday with a champions-only tournament, but after that we will get into the regular season and start to begin to find out who will be making a name for himself on the PGA tour.

The 2012 season promises to be full of good shots, compelling headlines, and surprise results.


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