With the start of a new year and on the eve of the 2013 PGA Tour season, there's not a better time to get it on paper who we like this season. There will be 37 weeks of tournaments (including a few simultaneous events) on the Tour; after the Tour Championship in September, a newfangled schedule will kick in… meaning the Fall Finish will actually become part of the 2014 season. Confused? Don't worry, it won't mess up your fantasy season.
2012 was a year for the big guns, the stars new and old on Tour. Rory soared to No. 1 in the world and claimed his second major; Tiger came back to win three times; Lefty had a magical round at Pebble to best Woods; rednecks everywhere rejoiced as a Bubba won The Masters; there were the usual half-dozen or so first-time Tour winners, including rising superstar Rickie Fowler; and The Big Easy capped off a sizzling summer with an unlikely win at Royal Lytham.
With that in mind, and the Oscars on the horizon, let's preview the players to watch in 2013 Hollywood style. We'll break it into two parts so your eyes don't melt by reading it all in one sitting:
The Daniel Craig 'Box Office Smash' Group
The James Bond and Mikael Blomkvist actor is money in the bank for the Hollywood studios in a big way. These two are clearly the two top players in the world right now, and we can only hope that they battle it out all year in 2013.
- Rory McIlroy. The way he's been hyped in the offseason you'd have thought he won more majors in 2012 than say, Webb Simpson… which he didn't. In fact, his major performance was poor as an average, but his dominance at Kiawah and play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs stuck with us in the offseason. The truth is that he's currently ahead of Tiger's major championship pace and averaged more than $500,000 every time he teed it up on Tour in 2012. We have justifiably high hopes in 2013, even if he is making the switch to Nike equipment. More on that in the next few weeks.
- Tiger Woods. He was in position to win two majors in 2012 and faltered both times. But he won three times on Tour in 2012 and had an argument for player of the year if not for McIlroy. He also looked more comfortable as the year wore on, and if he hits just a few more fairways and drops a couple of more putts, he'll win five or six times in 2013. One of them will be a major, too.
The Brooklyn Decker 'Fun To Look At' Group
I'm not sure how many people saw her silver screen debut, but I doubt the men left the theater disappointed watching her for a couple of hours. So this category goes to the guys who are what we think they are and should remain top-20 stalwarts in 2013… with the potential for so much more. They can also go low or blow up at any given moment.
- Louis Oosthuizen. Had five top-10's and 12 top-25's in 19 events, with a great run of three top-5's in four events from July to September. Also played well in the offseason.
- Keegan Bradley. A go-for-broke style that is prevalent among the young stars, he's now won two big events (PGA Championship, WGC Bridgestone) in the last season-plus. His Ryder Cup experience could propel him to huge things.
- Bubba Watson. He missed three cuts in 2012, but in his other 16 events he didn't finish worse than T23. Oh yeah, he also won The Masters.
- Adam Scott. A limited schedule revived his game, and he'll have a similar one in 2013. Should've won the British Open, contended at Kiawah and has contended at Augusta before. Should break through for his first Tour win since 2011's WGC Bridgestone.
- Brandt Snedeker. FedEx Cup champ came on strong early in the season as well as late. Best pure putter in the game should do well again if he stays healthy, but is prone to lapses and needs to tighten up those stretches of inconsistency.
- Jason Dufner. Was the best player on the planet for two months in the late Spring. A great ball-striker who I expect to play well at Merion in the US Open - his 'stoic' (some might call it lifeless) on-course demeanor is similar to Ben Hogan, who did OK there.
- Ernie Els. What a run he went on as he tried to qualify for The Masters and later won the British Open. Always a great ball striker, and he's making a few more putts now. No reason to expect a letdown.
- Dustin Johnson. The Big Easy 2.0. Despite taking some time off with a back injury in 2012, basically finished in the top-10 half of the events he entered. Has major championship-worthy game and could breakthrough anytime.
The Emma Stone 'Making The Leap' Group
The young actor has already had significant film credits, including 'The Help' and 'The Amazing Spiderman,' hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared all over the place in 2012. She's definitely ready for meatier roles, as are the golfers below… who I expect to win multiple times and/or a major.
- Justin Rose. Won a WGC event in the States, which is a big step for him. Has worked hard to become a big-time player; $4.3M in earnings in 2012. Expect at least as much this year.
- Bo Van Pelt. Twenty-three top-10's the last three seasons… but no wins in the US since the 2009 US Bank Championship. He's a stat stud, and is overdue for a breakthrough (or series of them).
- Ian Poulter. I say it every year about him, but the flashy Brit is due to win a major. He needs an intense environment to thrive, so look for him at Merion (US Open) especially, where length off the tee isn't a huge factor. He would be an ironic winner at Muirfield, where the membership is very traditional.
The Dane Cook 'How Does He Make Money?' Group
Choosing to watch Dane Cook is like opting to have your toenails removed by someone in the Russian mafia. Probably not high on the priority list. It's still one of the biggest enigmas to me in the Hollywood landscape: How does Cook get people to pay money to watch him? While these guys don't exactly fit that bill, they will cause you unnecessary pain if you count on them to produce in any given tournament, especially a big one. Pick your spots wisely.
- Phil Mickelson. Missed most cuts (3) since 2007 (5). The Masters and one of the early season tourneys are about the only places you can count on him.
- Padraig Harrington. He hasn't missed a cut on US soil since The Players, but we expect more from Paddy. He was awful in GIR% (156), driving accuracy (118) and putting (107) in 2012, and barely squeaked into the top third in scrambling (37)… so how does he rank 33rd in scoring average? It's a mystery. But his worst finish in a major was T39 and he posted two top-10's in those four events.
- Charlie Wi. A regularly used player in fantasy, Wi is always wont to disappoint. He's the forgotten man in the Lefty-Woods showdown at Pebble in 2012; he held a three-shot lead heading into the final round... and that's about how it typically goes with him. But he gets a couple of top-5's every year; think of him on courses with small greens.
The Nicolas Cage 'What the Hell Was That?' Group
A nod to those who might have been, ummm, a little difficult to predict in 2012 but have that upside to be a top-10 player any given year. I'm giving them somewhat of a mulligan on their respective 2012 seasons.
- Webb Simpson. Won the US Open with no head's up of good play. The rest of the year? Eh. Should be a lot better in 2013.
- Nick Watney. He was basically Ken Duke in 2012. Well, he did squeak out a win at The Barclays, which is the only thing that kept the year from being a complete disaster. A drop from 12th to 104th in putting will do that for you. He'll be better in 2013 unless his switch to Nike equipment knocks him further down into the abyss (which I doubt will happen).
- Bill Haas. The 2011 FedEx champ had a mediocre 2012. A dramatic win at Riviera was the lone highlight; after that he was awful. He works too hard and has too many genes and resources to be bad again.
The Kate Upton 'Out of Nowhere' Group
The buxom blond shot into the (male) stratosphere with the SI Swimsuit Issue cover and a series of viral videos that showed off her, uhhh, two main talents. These players made similar, although not nearly as entertaining, leaps in 2012 and showed they have the ability to be excellent fantasy golf contributors.
- Scott Piercy. Has very quietly won the last two years on Tour, something a lot of guys in the top 50 in the world can't say. But he also backed up his win with 13 other top-25's in 2012. He bombs it, is in the top-50 in putting and made the sixth most birdies on Tour, so I'm very high on his game heading into 2013.
- Robert Garrigus. He's the bridesmaid of the PGA Tour; FOUR second-place finishes in 2012. That's getting into Tom Lehman territory. I expect two wins in 2013.
- Marc Leishman. I like that he knows how to win -- four times in Australia, once on the Web.com, and in Hartford in 2012 on the PGA Tour. He isn't a good putter, but when it's hot he goes low and has high finishes. A great longshot in any event.
We'll have more in Part II on Wednesday
, including the much-anticipated categories 'Rising Star,' 'Shooting Star' and 'Mr. Underrated,' as well as comparing Tim Clark to James Gandolfini, which I'm fairly sure has never happened before. (UPDATED: LINK TO PART II)
Photo: USA Today Sports Images