Who will win his first PGA TOUR event in 2011?
Stan Awtrey: The heavy favorite in this category is Rickie Fowler, who most agree is bound for greatness. But my selection is Kevin Na. He’s only 27, but it seems like he’s been around a lot longer since he became a professional while seemingly still in Pre-K. He’s been a fulltime member of the PGA TOUR for four years and has qualified for THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola each of the last two seasons. Na had four top-10s in 2010, including a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard and a third-place showing at the BMW Championship. After being winless in 186 starts, this will finally be the year he breaks through.
Craig Dolch: Kind of a lay-up pick here, but I’ll be shocked if reigning PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year winner Rickie Fowler isn’t holding up a trophy soon. Fowler did everything but win last year, making the Ryder Cup team as a rookie and finishing 32nd in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. Fowler had two good chances to win last year, and the experience he gained at the Ryder Cup makes him a veteran inside a 22-year-old’s body. Not to mention, there are two other players who are a cinch to secure their initial win: Jeff Overton, another Ryder Cupper, and reigning Nationwide Tour Player of the Year Jamie Lovemark. Overton had three seconds and two thirds last year, while Lovemark almost won as a non-exempt player in 2009, losing in a three-way playoff.
Melanie Hauser: Oh, there will be more than one first-time winner, but there is only one no-brainer Rickie Fowler. He came close a handful of times in 2010 and he’s too good not to get win No. 1 in early 2011. If karma kicks in … maybe at the Waste Management Phoenix Open? The best of the rest? Jeff Overton keeps himself in check for win No.1 and Jamie Lovemark gets one. Maybe Marc Leishman, too. Wouldn’t be a surprise in the least to see Edoardo Molinari or Matteo Manassero take full advantage of an exemption over here and win, too. Go time. Boom, baby.
Helen Ross: The obvious answer is Rickie Fowler, and make no mistake, I do expect to see him win in 2011. But for the sake of conversation, I am picking Jamie Lovemark. The former Southern Cal All-American reached a playoff with Fowler and Troy Matteson at the 2009 Frys.com Open in just his fourth start as a pro and that year of seasoning on the Nationwide Tour can only help. Look for a Rookie of the Year season from fearless, soon-to-be 23-year-old who was the Nationwide Tour’s best last year.
Brian Wacker: Rickie Fowler. It’s a chalk answer, but it is so because it’s also a no-brainer. Fowler had seven top-10s in 2010 — two of which were runner-up finishes — and has all the shots to win multiple times and for a long time. One area he does need to improve in, however, is his putting — Fowler ranked 144th on TOUR in putting between 5 and 10 feet. Those are the putts that earn you wins.
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