THINGS can only get better. Then again? With the kind of natural pessimism that would make Private Frazer from Dad’s Army look like a glowing beacon of positive thinking, I still have my reservations about the year ahead. 

If 2020 was an annus horribilis, then 2021 could yet be an annus equally-bloody-awfulis. Well, that’s what I was muttering and cursing to myself yesterday as I shuffled, skited and shoogled along an ice-covered pavement with about as much composed, confident assurance as Captain Hook attempting to apply some soothing ointment to an area of particular sensitivity.

The going has been decidedly treacherous these last few months but, as the PGA Tour season resumes this week, golf is gearing up to open the shoulders and get back in the full swing during a potentially jam-packed year of majors, team tussles and an Olympic outing.

HeraldScotland:

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TO BE THERE OR NOT TO BE THERE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Matchplay golf has always been a wonderfully alluring spectacle which captivates and intrigues with its wildly fluctuating fortunes. How many of you, for instance, have been one up with two to play only for your opponent to reel off a couple of sturdy eights to pinch the win?

Away from the hapless hackings at our level, the 2021 calendar – covid permitting – will feature a mouth-watering array of matchplay showpieces, from the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup to the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup. Whether any spectators will be there remains to be seen.

The Ryder and Solheim Cups, in particular, feed off the energy of spectators like nothing else in the game. Raw emotion is encouraged. Players, perhaps reserved for much of the touring year, suddenly find themselves bursting out of the strait-jackets. Golf as a whole does too. In these topsy-turvy times, though, we can’t proceed with any guarantees. 

Organisers of The Masters, for example, have delayed the ticketing process for April’s occasion while the various tours will continue with caution and limited guests. The idea of thousands behind the ropes again still feels as far off as one of Bryson DeChambeau’s raking drives. Hopefully, the various shows in 2021 will go on unhindered, even if they are more tranquil than tumultuous.

HeraldScotland:

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ANY MORE TWISTS IN THE TIGER TALE?

Alongside things like death, taxes and perhaps a landslip at the Rest And Be Thankful during heavy rain, another of life’s certainties is eager golf enthusiasts asking, ‘will Tiger Woods win another major?’.

When Tiger won major No 15 at Augusta in 2019, his assault on Jack Nicklaus’ record haul of 18 was galvanised. Or so we thought. It was a miraculous achievement from Woods but then miracles don’t happen very often. Woods heads into 2021 as a 45-year-old. In the history of golf, only five men have won a major at 45 or older. You can beat Old Man Par now and then but Auld Faither Time can be a tougher opponent to conquer. 

Forget winning a major, just adding to his 82 tour wins will require a herculean effort for a man whose body continues to creak and groan like a galleon on the high seas. 

Woods played just nine times in a pandemic-plagued 2019. He had one top-10 and dropped from sixth in the world to 41st. This an era of rapidly rising young stars. The likes of Matt Wolff, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa all turned pro in 2019 and are now in the top-15 of the world with six wins, including a major, among them. Woods may not win again but, wherever he plays, interest in him will still be sky high. That’s another of life’s certainties.

HeraldScotland:

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LONG AND SHORT OF IT IN DISTANCE DEBATE

The R&A and USGA’s Distance Insights Report, a hefty volume of data-gathering, statistical analysis, graphs, pie charts and tables, makes the Brexit trade agreement document look about as mentally taxing as the Mr Men books in comparison.

In March, the game’s custodians will release an update on the thorny issue of hitting distances which, they described last year, as “detrimental to the game’s long-term future.”

Will the update unveil decisive action? Could bifurcation – different equipment rules for amateurs and pros – be introduced in the future? Given we are in the midst of a global pandemic and golf, like everything else, tries to muddle on through, we can probably assume that distance is not top of the immediate priority list.

That 63-year-old Bernhard Langer – average drive 260 yards – finished ahead of Bryson DeChambeau – average drive 324 yards – at November's Masters could have had the top brass saying ‘let’s just delay this update for another year’. Whatever comes out in March, this complex issue, like a booming drive, will continue to run and run and run …

HeraldScotland:

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MACINTYRE INCHES TOWARDS TOP 50

The promised land – and no, we’re not taking about Oban – is within sight for Robert MacIntyre. He may not have hit a competitive shot yet in 2021 but, such is the way the world rankings are calculated, he’s already on the move having inched up to 53rd on the latest world rankings.

The top 50, and all its dizzying trappings, is tantalisingly close. It's onwards and upwards. Just like this scribe’s legs on that bloomin’ ice.