Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The calendar has flipped to 2015 and the Masters commercials are already running. This is not a bad thing.
The four-month buildup to the first major helps people in cold-weather states dream of spring as they shovel out from the latest snow storm. The serene pictures of Augusta National make golf addicts hear the roars of the crowd in their head and help them reminisce about previous Masters memories.
The buildup will be especially big for the No. 1 player in the world. Rory McIlroy will enter Augusta as the holder of the Open Championship and PGA Championship titles. He is also one Masters win from completing the career grand slam.
While people debate McIlroy's chances, a player that once dominated Augusta comes back from injury. Four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods was held to nine events, including his unofficial one in December, in 2014.
Woods seemed to be healthy at his event at Isleworth, but his short-game was awful. He has said that he will tweak his schedule a little with the WGC- Cadillac Match Play Championship moving to Apr. 29-May 3 from its traditional February date.
No one knows what that tweak will entail since Woods keeps his schedule as close to his vest as the secret service does with the Presidents' schedule.
Another player returning from a long layoff will be Dustin Johnson. He took a leave of absence, or was suspended, depending on what you believe. Regardless, Johnson will return for his first tournament action since he missed the cut at the Canadian Open last July.
Johnson and fiancee Paulina Gretzky are expecting their first child in the near future as well. He has said he won't play until after their son is born.
According to reports, Johnson will play the Farmers Insurance Open, February 5-8. That likely is also the first PGA Tour event at which Woods will play, while McIlroy will make his first European Tour start of 2015 in Abu Dhabi, but he hasn't announced his PGA Tour debut yet.
Those three will garner plenty of attention once they tee it up. What other players are we interested in for 2015?
To start off, Mr. Almost from 2014 - Rickie Fowler. He finished in the top- five at all four majors last year and had six top-five finishes overall. Fowler is still searching for his first victory since his only tour title at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.
Next are a pair of wily veterans - Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson. Furyk has blown eight 54-hole leads in a row, including a pair last year. He hasn't won since the 2010 Tour Championship. Can he win again? Or will he have to wait five years until joining the Champions Tour before he wins his next title?
Mickelson is coming off arguably the worst season of his career. He didn't have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour until the PGA Championship. Mickelson was winless for the fourth time since he turned pro in 1992. In the seasons that followed his first three winless years, Mickelson combined for eight wins, including his 2004 Masters victory.
History says Mickelson will bounce back and win this year.
As for the European Tour, what will we see from Ian Poulter and was Victor Dubuisson just a flash in the pan?
Poulter had just three top-10 finishes in 14 starts and had a subpar Ryder Cup, an event which he had dominated in the past. Dubuisson had four runner-up finishes after earning his lone tour win in 2013. The Frenchman was 2-0-1 in his first Ryder Cup. Will he keep that momentum going into 2015?
The LPGA continues to grow after some down years and four of the biggest names in the sport are ranked in the top-six in the world rankings. Inbee Park, Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis are 1-2-3 in the rankings and all three are coming off three-win seasons.
Lewis is the oldest of the group as she will turn 30-years-old in February. The trio should continue to wrack up victories for years to come. World No. 6 Michelle Wie, the reigning U.S. Women's Open champion, won twice last year for her first wins since 2010.
Wie is the biggest name in the game, and if she keeps winning, the LPGA will gain even more appeal.
The Solheim Cup is this September and with six players ranked in the top-20 in the world, to just three for the Europeans, the United States team will be the favorite on paper.
But that was the case in 2013, when the Europeans rolled to an 18-10 win in Colorado. That was their first-ever win in the U.S. in the Solheim Cup and it marked the first time the Europeans ever won back-to-back cups.
Those are a few of the things we'll be watching in 2015. Now it is time to tee it up and enjoy the action.
- The field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions includes 34 players that have combined for 100 PGA Tour titles, including six major championships, and has six members of the 2014 United States Ryder Cup squad that lost in Europe.
- One non-golf thought for the week, the passing of ESPN's Stuart Scott hit home for many, including myself. My father is in his third battle with cancer and it pains me to see what he is dealing with on a daily basis. Scott dealt with much of the same, and maybe worse, yet was able to be strong for his family, his coworkers and his viewers. Rest in peace, Stuart, you will be missed by many.