Good riddance, 2020. Hello and welcome, 2021.
With our annus horribilis now behind us, it’s time to look to the future – and there is much to be excited about.
From major championships to the Olympics to the battle to be world No.1, 2021 is shaping up to be a packed year to remember. Here are some things I expect to happen over the coming 12 months…
Jordan Spieth will end his drought
The three-time major champion starts 2021 outside of the world’s top-80 and still searching for a first win since the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017.
His form in the past two to three years has been as miserable as his breakthrough season in 2015 was spectacular. He has spent much of that time looking lost, forlorn and completely at odds with his odds own swing.
There have, however, been recent green shoots of a recovery. With the exception of a second round 81 at a brutally tough US Open, Spieth has posted nothing worse than a 74 in six starts on the 20/21 PGA Tour season. He has also reported sought out the advice of none other than Butch Harmon in a bid to resolve his technical issues.
Bottom line? Spieth is on the way out of this slump – and, at 27, his best years are ahead of the 11-time PGA Tour winner. Title No.12 will be right along this year.
The US will do the Ryder-Solheim double
As Joe Biden sets out to actually make American great again, Uncle Sam’s charges will restore some pride when they win both the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup in September.
This could be a transitional year for the European Ryder Cup team, with several mainstays of recent successes ageing and facing a battle to make Padraig Harrington’s team. The US side, by contrast, largely picks itself. As the year begins, ten of the world’s top-15 players are American, as are the last three major champions. Plus, in Steve Stricker, they have a popular captain who will lead in front of a home crowd in Wisconsin.
A formidable American side is bound to assemble for the Solheim Cup, too. At present, 14 of the world’s top-50 players are from the US, compared with just five from Europe. As in the Ryder Cup, the US will have home advantage – and, historically, that has been one hell of an advantage. The Americans have won seven of the eight Solheim Cups played in the States to date.
My heart wants me to be wrong but my head says I’m not.
A Brit will win The Open
Eight of the 14 editions of the Open to have been staged at Royal St George’s have been won by British golfers, including Darren Clarke on the championship’s most recent visit to Sandwich in 2011. Expect that trend to continue this year.
RSG is a notoriously difficult and unforgiving course. Its undulating fairways demand accuracy off the tee, solid ball-striking and good distance control.
My pick: Tommy Fleetwood. Alternatively, Paul Casey.
Mickelson will finally win the US Open
The US Senior Open, that is.
Six times a runner-up in the main event, there would be a certain irony in Mickelson winning the round bellies’ championship at the first time of asking. But that’s what will happen if, as is expected, he decides to play.
The US Senior Open takes place at Omaha Country Club in Nebraska the week before the Open and the coffee-swilling, aviator-wearing, newly-svelte ‘Lefty’ is two-for-two on the Champions Tour to date. Good luck to him.
No wins for Woods
Only five of the 464 major championships played to date have been won by a golfer aged 45 or older. Woods turned 45 on December 30.
But it’s not just the weight of history and Father Time that are conspiring against the 15-time major champ; it’s his own form.
In nine starts on the PGA Tour in 2020, Woods posted only one top-10. That was a tie for ninth in his first event of the year, the Farmers Insurance Open. He played seven times after the COVID-19 lockdown lifted and was a total non-factor each time. He started 2020 ranked sixth in the world; he finished it in 41st place.
As talented and steely a competitor as he is, he simply doesn’t play often enough to be a threat in what is an increasingly youthful sport. I’ve said it before but it's worth repeating: Tiger Woods is a middle-aged man, burdened with an old man’s body, playing a young man’s game.
He’ll finish the year as he started it: a winner of 82 PGA Tour titles and arguably the greatest player of all time.
The return of Ko
It's easy to forget that Lydia Ko is still only 23, a fact made all the more remarkable when you consider that it's almost three years since she won the most recent of 15 - fifteen! - LPGA titles.
The Kiwi's 'Hall of Fame'-trajectory career has taken a few wrong turns in the last few years, a consequence, perhaps, of too many interfering voices.
However, as with Spieth, there are encouraging signs. Her last seven starts of the truncated LPGA season yielded four top-10 finishes, whilst the decision to seek out Sean Foley for coaching advice, would seem to be a shrewd and sensible move.
If Ko doesn't win at least once in 2021, I'll eat every hat I own.
Nelly Korda will win her first major championship… Dustin Johnson will become just the fourth player to successfully defend the Masters… Sandy Lyle will make his 100th major start at the site of his Open triumph in 1985… Sungjae Im will win Olympic gold.