7 bold predictions for the 2017-18 PGA Tour season

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlory, Justin Thomas, Ryder Cup
USA Today Sports Images
Are even bigger things on the horizon for 2017 PGA Champion Justin Thomas? Will Tiger play again? Can the U.S. win a Ryder Cup in Europe? These are on our mind as the new PGA Tour season begins.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
Connect with T.J.

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 | 1:46 p.m.

It's hard to believe, but the 2017-18 PGA Tour season is already upon us... 11 days after the last season ended.

Brendan Steele successfully defended his Safeway Open title in Napa on Sunday, winning the first event on the schedule for the second straight year.

RELATED: What we learned from the Presidents Cup that will help U.S. at Ryder Cup

So what can we expect with the new season ahead? Here are seven bold -- maybe even outlandish -- predictions.

7. Maverick McNealy will be the Rookie of the Year

There was a time where the Stanford product didn't even think professional golf was in his future. He thought he might instead explore the business world like his very successful father, Scott, co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

In a change of heart, McNealy made the decision to turn professional after the Walker Cup in August and made his debut at the Safeway Open, where he tied for 52nd. McNealy had a fine round of 4-under 68 in Round 1 and shot 71 in Round 2. He struggled on the weekend with rounds of 73-74.

Given his amateur record, which included such accolades as the Haskins Award in 2015, Mark H. McCormack Medal in 2016 and Ben Hogan Award in 2017, expect big things from McNealy as he takes the next step. Plenty of rookies saw success on Tour this past season, most notably Xander Shauffele, winner of two events, including the Tour Championship. McNealy can continue the trend.

6. Justin Thomas will ascend to No. 1 in the world

Thomas, the 2017 PGA Champion, currently sits at No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking just behind No. 3. Hideki Matsuyama, No. 2 Jordan Spieth and No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

But it's not going to be that way for long. Thomas is on fire and I don't see him cooling off anytime soon. He won five times last season, including the PGA Championship, won the FedExCup, shot a 59 and was the Player of the Year.

Thomas looks hungry for more and has that ability to find a way to win. He's just going to add to that win total... in majors, too.

5. Rory McIlroy will complete the career Grand Slam

Do you guys understand how awesome 2018 is going to be for the majors? We're going to see three majors -- the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship -- where a player has the chance to complete the career grand slam.

McIlroy gets the first chance at Augusta National in April.

On the course, 2016-17 was a relatively forgettable season for Rors. Along with being plagued by nagging injuries and a caddie change, he was winless. Sure, he tied for seventh at the Masters and tied for fourth at the Open, but they were -- respectfully -- backdoor top-10 finishes. He was never truly a threat to the players who won.

Off the course, 2017 was terrific for McIlroy. He tied the knot with Erica Stoll, so the personal life is in great order.

He's going to enter 2018 as motivated as ever and keen on beating both Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth to the career slam.

McIlroy's worst finish in the Masters over the last four years is a T10 in 2016. His best? Fourth in 2015.

I like his chances.

4. Phil Mickelson will make his record 12th consecutive U.S. Ryder Cup team on points

Mickelson played in his first Ryder Cup at Oak Hill back in 1995. Or, if you prefer, a couple of months AFTER one Jordan Spieth turned 3 years old.

And he hasn't missed one since.

Arguably the most remarkable aspect of that feat is that Mickelson has never once had to rely on a captain's pick to be on a Ryder Cup team. I don't envision that changing this time around either.

With all the work Mickelson has done behind the scenes these last few years, he's virtually a playing captain as it is.

The only thing missing for Mickelson in the Ryder Cup -- until he surely becomes a captain -- is to win on foreign land. That's motivation enough to play his way onto the 2018 team.

3. The U.S. Ryder Cup team will win on foreign soil for the first time since 1993

You read that right. By the time U.S. Captain Jim Furyk brings his 12-man squad to Paris next fall, it will have been 25 years since an American Ryder Cup team won the matches in anything other than a home game.

Based on what we've seen these last few Ryder Cups, the momentum might be swinging in favor of the U.S. with all its young, dominating players. In 2016, the red, white and blue won at Hazeltine to snap an 8-year winless drought.

With likely the same core and the probable additions of guys like Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger to go along with Ryder Cup veterans like Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed, it's hard to imagine the U.S. not having its best chance in years to chalk up a road "W."

2. Phil Mickelson will break through and win for the first time since 2013

And, man, do I hope it's the U.S. Open.

Mickelson, famously, has been a runner up in the U.S. Open a record six times, including the 2004 edition at Shinnecock Hills... which also happens to be the site of this year's Open.

Lefty turns 48 next June. Just last week, he showed glimpses that his game might be moving in the right direction with a T3 at the Safeway Open, his first top-3 finish with brother Tim on the bag and also his first top-3 finish since finishing runner-up to Henrik Stenson at the 2016 Open Championship.

Evidenced by his 42 PGA Tour wins dating back to his first as an amateur at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, Mickelson's longevity is off the charts. He's still as long as he needs to be and if he can stay away from the crooked stuff and make some putts, he can certainly be a factor whenever he plays.

1. Tiger Woods will not play again

This is the hottest take on the list and one that's sure to disappoint many.

I don't care that just last week he released a video taking a ginger, full swing with a sand wedge. I hope he's feeling better and not experiencing pain. That's No. 1. With all the injuries and surgeries, Woods's situation has become a "quality of life" concern.

But secondly, and Tiger has said this before, he's not going to be a "ceremonial golfer." It's not in his DNA. He's a golfer who didn't just want to win -- he wanted to destroy.

With all the great, young players in the world today -- many of whom modeled their preparation after Woods himself -- Woods does not possess the intimidation factor that was such a crucial part of his dominance.

He's got nothing to prove to anyone. So, what's the point of coming back? The desire and drive to win aren't what they used to be -- they can't be with children, who are and should be the first priority.

Are you trying to tell me that the same Tiger Woods who once made a mind-blowing 142 consecutive cuts is going to come back out in his 40s, having gone through hell with surgeries, and bang his head against a wall trying to make cuts?

No way. No how.

 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.