In this bumper edition of Fourball the team get out their crystal balls and try and decipher what might happen on tour this year. Do you agree with our choices?
How will Tiger and co fare in the majors and beyond? The Fourball team look ahead to a fascinating year in prospect…
Who ends the year as the World No. 1?
Mark: I’m tempted to go with big Jonny Rahm but I’ll say what I say every year and that’s Rory. He’s definitely on an upward trend, particularly mentally, and these things only get better over time. He’ll rein in ‘Brooksy’.
Joe: Koepka’s ‘I’m only in it for the majors’ mentality will fail him this year and Jon Rahm will continue to get better and better. World No. 1 and a major champion by December 2020.
Alex: Rory McIlroy’s victory at Augusta will see him take top spot for a few months, until Brooks Koepka wins all three FedEx Cup Playoff events to take it back for the end-of-year crown.
Dan: Twenty years ago, when Peter McEvoy was GB&I’s Walker Cup captain and Gary Wolstenholme his stalwart, the skipper would wait until a few days of practice and then ask the senior man who he would most like to play foursomes with. McEvoy suspected/realised that Wolstenholme would simply list his team-mates in order of how good they were and how well they were playing with ruthless and forensic accuracy. He’d then base his pairings around it.
Where am I going with this? Well, who did Tiger pick as his partner at the Presidents Cup? JT. And that’s your answer.
Name the European Ryder Cup team?
Joe: McIlroy, Rahm, Rose, Fleetwood, Casey, Wiesberger, Hovland, Poulter, Schwab, Stenson, MacIntrye, Wallace.
Alex: McIlroy, Rahm, Rose, Casey, Fleetwood, Molinari, Lowry, Hatton, Wallace, Wiesberger, Hovland, MacIntyre
Dan: Casey, Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Garcia, Hatton, Hovland, McIlroy, Rahm, Rose, Stenson, Wallace, Wiesberger,
Mark: McIlroy, Rahm, Rose, Fleetwood, Lowry, Molinari, Hovland, Stenson, Wallace, MacIntyre, Casey, Willett.
Where will Rory finish at Augusta?
Alex: First. And I’ll say it every year until he retires.
Mark: By slipping his muscular arms into a Green Jacket. It’s going to happen so why not now when he’s thinking smarter so I imagine he’ll serenely glide through the week and finally get it done.
Joe: In his private jet with an extremely large bottle of champagne. Rory McIlroy, Masters champion.
Dan: A frustrating and enigmatic T11. He’ll be the favourite coming in, he’ll have a win under his belt, he’ll look a million dollars, he’ll make all the right noises and we’ll all (me included) agree that this has to be his year.
Then, come Thursday, his putter will go wonky and his driving turn erratic in an opening 73. He’ll rev, splutter and misfire on the periphery of contention before coming good on Sunday with a bogey-free 66.
Will Tiger add to his major haul of 15?
Dan: The Masters is his best bet by far. The longest, toughest courses with the most rough are not his friend (Harding Park will be a bombers’ paradise and Winged Foot has consistently been the most demanding course on the US Open rota along with Oakmont) while there are too many variables at the Open for us to be confident about our fragile hero’s chances at Sandwich.
Alex: Well he’ll be slipping the Green Jacket on McIlroy in April after an epic tussle down the stretch, then top-20 finishes in the other three without ever really threatening.
Mark: I would say a great bet would be at Sandwich if the weather’s OK and he’s not too done in by the first six months of the season. The answer to the question would be yes. How could you say otherwise?
Joe: I’d be interested to know whether he would rather win another Green Jacket or a Claret Jug – I’d guess he’ll have the Open as the No.1 target this year and win it.
Who’s going to win the Open at Sandwich?
Mark: If the sun shines then Tiger, otherwise I’ll go with Spieth. I can’t get enough of the latter on a links course and I reckon he’ll get switched on in Kent by all the foibles that St George’s presents.
Joe: Tiger. But my other selection would be Tony Finau. He has to come good eventually and he seems to like the Open so I’ll go with him.
Alex: I’ve backed Rickie Fowler for every Open since I can remember and nothing will change this year.
Dan: The more I think about it the surer I am that this will be Sergio Garcia’s year. He was 10th in 2003 and 9th in 2011 at Sandwich so he has the course form. Go and bet on it now.
With the European Tour’s four-point plan for slow play coming in will we see a player given a shot penalty in 2020?
Alex: Yes. They almost have to.
Joe: Nope, let’s try again next year.
Mark: Given the hoopla that there will be then almost certainly. The players (who play at a decent lick) all want it and the others have had enough time to sort themselves out so I think if it were to happen, and there were no mitigating circumstances, then everyone will be singing from the rafters if it were to happen.
Dan: No. There are more loopholes and levels of complexity than most people realise. There’ll be lots of noise but very little in the way of action.
Will the LET be in a better place a year into their LPGA merger?
Mark: The detail remains a bit patchy and things won’t change overnight but it has to be. The clout that the LPGA carry, and the deals that will be struck, should provide a huge boost to their current paltry pay pots.
Joe: I think the sole fact that this should lead to there being a lot more events is a win in itself, never mind the prize funds that should also see a boost.
Alex: If the players are saying it will be, then that’s good enough for me.
Dan: I don’t think we know yet but it’s clear that the LET was not sustainable in its previous form so something had to give.
Will a European woman win a major and, if so, who?
Mark: Charley Hull loves the big stage; she’s still only 23 and already has five major top 10s. She’ll win majors and it won’t change her whatsoever.
Joe: Unfortunately not. Jin Young Ko is simply magnificent and I can see her establishing a dominance in the majors, at least another two from her plus two from America.
Dan: It’s certainly possible but you would have to say that the odds are not in the Europeans’ favour given the current dominance of Jin Young Ko specifically and the South Koreans generally. And the Americans will have a say in it too.
Alex: The English trio of Charley Hull, Bronte Law and Georgia Hall all have the game to do it and it really wouldn’t surprise anyone if they picked up one of the big five.
Will everyone eligible to play in the Olympics play?
Alex: No. The Olympics isn’t anywhere near the pinnacle in golf so why bother? I hope they switch it up a bit in 2024, maybe a mixed event or a bit of matchplay.
Joe: Definitely not, some people don’t seem to see the Olympics being as big as it clearly is. It will still be brilliant, though.
Mark: We’ve already heard from Adam Scott saying he’s undecided so, bizarrely, no. Will it affect the Games? No. I think it will be incredible and we’ll all pipe down about the format.
Dan: Adam Scott apart, it seems to me that the players are getting the idea now. We’ve now seen proof of concept, which makes a big difference. And it clearly helps that Tiger has said he wants to be there. It will be a better event than in Rio, with way more spectator interest for a start.
Who, world-ranking wise from the world’s top 100, will be the most improved player in 2020?
Alex: It is inexplicable that Jordan Spieth ends 2019 as World No. 44. Expect to see him back in the top 10 – dare I say top 5? – in 12 months’ time.
Mark: It’s almost a bit naughty to include Viktor Hovland in here but he’s 93rd in the world now so we can have him. I’d expect him to be inside the top 25 in a year’s time.
Joe: Collin Morikawa looks to be the strongest of the PGA Tour’s new boys and I’m predicting a big year in 2020. He’s 66 now but will climb that quickly.
Dan: Sungjae Im. Only casual racism has prevented the golfing world from acknowledging the rise of a player who looks destined to be world-class very soon, if he isn’t already. So far he’s only played four majors, with only one cut made, my advice is to back him each way at generous prices while you have still got the chance.