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Rubenstein: Will McIlroy-Woods rivalry develop?

Rory McIlroy (L) of Northern Ireland talks with Tiger Woods of the U.S. as they approach the first green during round one of the BMW Championship golf tournament in Carmel, Indiana September 6, 2012.


If there's one thing golf-watchers can be certain of, it's that the new PGA Tour season that starts Jan. 4 th with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii will be full of controversy and intrigue. Above all, there's the delicate matter of anchoring a putter against one's chest.

The United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews announced in late November that as of Jan. 1, 2016 that it will be illegal to anchor a putter that way. Carl Pettersson refered to the movement against the long putter on Wednesday as a "witch hunt," saying that golf's governing bodies are over-reacting to three of the last five major champions having employed one.

"It seems silly to ban something that's been around for 40 years," said Pettersson, who qualified for Kapalua by winning at Hilton Head. "It's unfortunate. I feel like I'm 16 years behind because I haven't putted with anything else for 16 years. ... They keep harping on the younger generation using them, but I think they're going to ban it because it looks bad. But you have strong arguments from other players, too."

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Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Graeme McDowell are among those who have spoken against the anchored stroke, in the belief that it takes the skill out of putting.

Keegan Bradley, who used a long putter to win the 2011 PGA Championship, said he will do everything he can to protect himself and his fellow players though stopped short of threatening legal action. Ernie Els anchored his putter when he won the British Open in July. Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, anchors. The PGA Tour could ban the long putter prior to 2016, and has said it will address the issue during a player meeting Jan. 22 at the Farmers Insurance Open in La Jolla, Calif.

"I know it's a touchy subjection," said Bradley, who's playing this weekend. "I would prefer for it to go three years so we aren't rushed into it. I think that would be the fair way to do it."

Meanwhile, the R&A, itself a men-only club, will be in the spotlight when the British Open returns in July to the men-only Muirfield Golf Club in Gullane, Scotland. The issue will be on the front burner because the Augusta National Golf Club, which long restricted its membership to men only, invited former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore to join the club.

There's also the issue of how far players are hitting the ball, and the USGA's and R&A's reluctance to deal with that problem. So many classic courses have been rendered obsolete for modern tournament golf because they're too short. The USGA will be in the hot seat when players return to the Merion Golf Club in June for the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open hasn't been played there since 1971, when the course was about 6,500 yards. It will play under 7,000 yards, short by today's standards. There's concern already that the USGA has altered the course via fairway contouring and other means to make Merion look and play in strange ways.

Other Storylines

– The field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions is for last year's tournament winners, and includes 30 of the 37 players eligible. But only Bubba Watson of the four golfers who won majors last year has chosen to play. Will Watson, who is perhaps golf's most imaginative player, but who doesn't seem comfortable being in the limelight, win another major this year? That's one of many questions that should make the 2013 season interesting.

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– Even bigger questions relate to Rory McIlroy, the number one player in the world, and Tiger Woods, ranked third behind Luke Donald. McIlroy won the PGA Championship last year by eight shots. He won the 2011 U.S. Open by the same Secretariat-like margin. McIlroy, 23, is really just starting his career. Many people think he's the "next" Tiger Woods, although McIlroy has said repeatedly he's not trying to be the "next" anybody. An authentic McIlroy-Woods rivalry won't develop until and unless they face each other in the final group at tournaments, especially majors. Woods has won 14 majors, but none since the 2008 U.S. Open. His overarching goal is to pass Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors.

– Will Ian Poulter, the Englishman who led Europe to its Ryder Cup victory last fall when he won a full point in each of the four matches he played, move into the pantheon of truly elite players? Poulter posted three top-10 finishes in the four majors last year. He is playing this week, but taking the next six weeks off.

– Mike Weir, 42, is approaching the 10 th anniversary of his 2003 Masters win, which will intensify the focus on the problems he has been having with his game. Weir missed the cut in each of the 14 tournaments he played last year and made only two cuts in 15 tournaments two years ago. Weir will play a full schedule this year, beginning with next week's Sony Open in Honolulu. He will use one of the two yearlong exemptions from qualifying available to him off his position on the career money list.

– Four other Canadians will join Weir on the PGA Tour. They are Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., Calgary's Stephen Ames and Brad Fritsch, of Ottawa. DeLaet and Hearn finished 96 th and 98 th on the 2012 money list, each winning just over $1,000,000. Ames, 48, and a four-time PGA Tour winner, is exempt through this season. Fritsch, 35, qualified for this year's PGA Tour off his 18 th place finish on the 2012 Tour, and improved his position when he tied for seventh at last month's final qualifying school tournament.

This is the last season in which the PGA Tour starts and ends in the calendar year. The PGA Tour will switch to a wraparound season starting Oct. 10-13 th , 2013 with the Open in San Martin, Calif., the first of six tournaments that will be part of the 2013-14 season.

Six to watch

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Luke Donald: No. 2 in the world. Last year won the Transitions Championship on the PGA Tour, the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, and the BMW PGA Championship in England. T-5 in the British Open. It's time for him to win his first major. He knows it and the golf world knows it.

Jason Dufner: Implacable. The 35-year-old Ohioan took the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas last year. Dufner had eight top-10s in 22 tournaments, including a T-4 in the U.S. Open. Should be right there in June in the U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. No. 9 in the world.

Dustin Johnson: Preternaturally gifted, but unfulfilled. Johnson, 28, won the FedEx. St. Jude Classic in May last year, and posted nine top-10s in 19 tournaments. He either contends or is well down the line. He was 30th or worse in six tournaments. Johnson is a mega-talent, and could break out any time in a big way.

Hunter Mahan: Fired up and ready to go. Davis Love III raised a lot of eyebrows when he didn't take Mahan as one of his captain's picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Mahan had won twice on the PGA Tour last year, although early in the season. Mahan, 30, has something to prove.

Louis Oosthuizen: Swing supreme. The South African won the 2010 Open Championship in St. Andrews by seven shots and lost to Bubba Watson in a playoff for last year's Masters. The four-iron that he holed out for double eagle on the second hole the last round there was one of the shots of the year. When Oosthuizen, 30, is on, he's really on.

Brandt Snedeker: Fast talker, fast swinger, big money-winner. Snedeker won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup and the $10-million that goes with it to end his 2012 PGA Tour campaign. He tied for third in the British Open and by the end of the year had advanced to 10th in the world rankings. At 32, he could be on the cusp of busting out and winning a few times a year.

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