Rory McIlroy is going for his career Grand Slam at the Masters
The Masters is always the most-anticipated tournament on the golf schedule, but Rory's British Open win last year has given the first major championship of 2015 even more juice. The World No. 1 will attempt to become just the sixth golfer to complete the modern career Grand Slam in April. Not that he should feel too much pressure. At 25, McIlroy should have plenty more trips to Augusta National in his future.
Phil Mickelson goes for his Slam at the U.S. Open
We've been wondering whether Phil will win the U.S. Open forever, but winning the title to secure the career Grand Slam is something we're still not entirely used to. His first chance of doing it following his 2013 British Open victory was last year at Pinehurst, but he was never really in the mix and eventually finished T-28. On paper, Chambers Bay doesn't seem to suit Phil's game, but neither did Muirfield before his win there. So, will this be Phil's year?
Tiger Woods is back ... and will be healthy!
Tiger's back is back -- at least, for now. Woods returned to action too soon following April back surgery, but after the PGA Championship, he took proper rest and now insists he's feeling healthy. He also says he's excited to get to work on his latest swing under new coach Chris Como. That combination had an inauspicious debut at Tiger's tournament at Isleworth, but watching Woods take aggressive cuts was encouraging. Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' majors record fades with each passing year, but it's a lot more interesting to talk about if he's actually playing.
Tiger Woods is back ... period!
Look, we are rooting for Tiger to bounce back in 2015 because golf will be more interesting as a result. Let's not kid ourselves, though, into thinking Tiger needs to be successful to be a story. Truth is, anything the guy does is intriguing -- from his game, to his health, to his complicated personal life. We suspect Woods will want the focus to be on a renewed rivalry with Rory McIlroy, and perhaps even a renewed pursuit of Nicklaus. Regardless, we're eager to see the next chapter.
There are two big team events this year
The European Team has won the last two Solheim Cups despite being heavy underdogs -- the most recent by a large margin -- but with in-form players like Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, the American team will be desperate to regain the trophy. The International team will be equally desperate to take home the Presidents Cup, but for different reasons. They haven't won the match since 1998, a record that decreases the legitimacy of the competition with each passing year. It's not that the Internationals can't win, it's that 2015, especially when "hosting" in South Korea, is turning into the year where they really need to.
Bubba being Bubba
Whether you love Bubba Watson, or just love to hate him, his up-and-down antics are part of who he is. Whether he's snapping at his caddie under-pressure, refusing to take part in a long-drive contest, secretly getting a finger tattoo or winning his second green jacket in three years, it's tough to take your eyes off him.
Young Americans ready to make jump
Naysayers will argue it was just a couple of hot weeks and it didn't come at a major, but every golfer is jealous of Billy Horschel's timing in closing out last season with two wins and taking home the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. Most golfers also envy his swing. If Horschel, 28, continues to putt like he did at the end of 2014, the rest of the tour better watch out. Of course, the same could be said about Jordan Spieth, who won closed the year with two resounding wins, or even Patrick Reed, who enjoyed a breakthrough of his own playing alongside Spieth in the Ryder Cup.
The new wave of American stars you're not familiar with yet
The next U.S. Ryder Cup captain could have a lot more young talent to work with. Two guys who are drawing the most buzz as they embark on their first full year on the PGA Tour are Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas. Koepka, 24, has been mainly working his way up the ranks in Europe, but he finished T-4 at the U.S. Open last year and had top 10s in both fall events he played. Thomas, 21, earned his card through a strong Web.com Tour campaign. The former University of Alabama standout already picked up a T-4 in the 2014-15 season.
Rickie Fowler's encore
The impressive way Fowler lingered on the leader board in every major in 2014 -- joining Jack and Tiger as the only golfers to post top-five finishes in all four in one year -- has us anxious to see what's next for the flat-brimmed phenom. His work with Butch Harmon obviously proved fruitful, and his focus on majors has you thinking a title is likely to come soon. Same with his second career PGA Tour win.
The British Open returns to St. Andrews
Every Open Championship is steeped in history, but it's remarkable how an Open at the Old Course relegates everything else to the B flight. The 2015 tournament will be the 29th Open at the Old Course, but will also be the first since a controversial series of changes to nine holes that began in 2012, including a widening of the famous Road Hole bunker. With all due respect to 2010 champ Louis Oosthuizen, we're also curious to see whether a return to the Auld Grey Toon stirs some magic in Tiger Woods, who won the previous two Opens there in 2000 and 2005.
Chambers Bay makes its major debut
Here's what we know about this summer's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the seven-year-old public course outside of Tacoma, Wash. Crowds will be capital-B big, as the USGA takes the Open to the Pacific Northwest for the first time. And the course will be visually stunning, the Robert Trent Jones II's links-style layout hard by the Puget Sound having just one tree on the property. Unknown, though, is what kind of reception tour pros will have to Chambers Bay's fescue greens and subtle quirks. Regardless, the new major venue will have everybody talking.
Fox Sports begins broadcasting the U.S. Open
We're still bitter that this Open will be without Johnny Miller, who had become as much a part of the identity of the national championship as narrow fairways and double bogeys. Still, we're anxious to see what new life Fox can breathe into the otherwise staid world of golf broadcasting. Always a disrupting force but not always a successful one -- we give you the glowing hockey puck -- the new player in the game offers an opportunity to re-think the presentation of golf, and perhaps open it up to a wider audience in the process.
More Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko duels on the LPGA Tour
Just as is happening on the PGA Tour, young players are beginning to dominate the conversation in women's golf. Wie and Thompson won their first majors last year, and while Ko is still awaiting her first, the 17-year-old (!) won three times in 2014 and was the tour's rookie of the year. Hard not to get excited about this trio for years to come.
Big new courses on the horizon
The rocky state of the golf economy has turned "course opening" into a seldom-used phrase of late. Yet there are at least two big ones to be excited about this year. One, the Coore-Crenshaw-designed Cabot Cliffs (pictured) will have eight holes overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Inverness. Along with the existing Cabot Links, the opening turns Nova Scotia into a genuine golf destination. The debut of Trump Golf Links Ferry Point in New York City is an even rarer proposition -- a Jack Nicklaus-designed, Donald Trump-operated course in the shadow of the Whitestone Bridge that will offer gleaming views of the Manhattan skyline. Best of all, it will be public course when it opens this spring.
The USGA's new amateur championships
Best-ball matches are staples of causal rounds for recreational golfers around the country, which is why the debut of a men's and women's four-ball national championship -- the USGA's first new events for individual golfers in 28 years -- has our interest. Oh, and the fact that the Olympic Club and Bandon Dunes are hosting the two events, respectively, is pretty cool, too. Qualifying continues through March, with the inaugural championships set for May.