Where's Tiger, and other storylines that will own golf in 2010

The 2010 season is upon us! I know, I can't believe it either. But here we are, and here we go. Golf has always had a push-and-pull between storylines and statistics, and this year will be no exception. Here are the storylines you'll be discussing all year long.

When will ... you know ... when will he ... come on, don't make me say it ... Okay, like it or not, Tiger Woods will dominate headlines this year by his absence, and he'll go off the charts once he returns. Will it happen at Augusta? (My initial thinking was yes, but now I'm not so sure.) The U.S. Open? The AT&T National? The Chevron? 2011? Nobody knows, but everybody will be speculating.

Stars are born, stars are made. This is the moment where someone can step up, Paddy Harrington-style, and create an entire legacy for himself. Golf needs a new face, a non-tabloid-connected face -- could that be Rory McIlroy? (Is he even old enough to buy tabloids?) Or could it be Camilo Villegas or Anthony Kim, who could let some of the starch out of golf's tweedy image? Or could it be Brian Gay or Nick Watney or Dustin Johnson, who would completely counter golf's image as a sport of pleasant, inoffensive white guys who ... oh, wait. Right.

The tournament gap. There's already been a major gap between, well, the majors and everybody else. And with much of the TV viewership of golf tuning in elsewhere, it'll be that much tougher for the Insurance-Company-You've-Never-Heard-Of Classic in East Poochie, Indiana to keep afloat. The PGA Tour has touted its renewed sponsorships, but how long will those sponsors hang on without significant returns?

Room at the top. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took heat late last year for the overly rosy -- some would say myopic -- view he took of the game's health. On one hand, he had to -- his golden goose was laying rotten eggs, to twist a metaphor, and he couldn't bank on Tiger Woods anymore. On the other, he seemed to be deliberately avoiding the hard questions that the Tour faces on revenue, sponsorship, interest and image -- questions that aren't going away anytime soon.

We need a rivalry. Seriously, golf needs a big-time rivalry to get some interest going again. Somebody needs to step up and throw down with somebody else, if not physically, then at least on the scorecard. We need playoffs, we need drama, we need long putts dropping and short ones lipping out. Simple competence won't get it done in 2010; if golf has any chance of looking like a viable sport in the absence of Tiger, it needs this kind of drama, like it or not.

Major championships, major letdowns? While last year's majors were great theater, they were terrible for star power. In 2010, golf desperately needs the big dogs to come up ... well, big. We need Phil Mickelson to win. We need Anthony Kim to challenge at Augusta. We need Tom Watson to dominate at St. Andrews. Okay, that last one may be a stretch, but the point remains -- stars need to perform on the big stages.

Getcha Groove On. New groove rules will force a bit of tee discipline on some of the long-bangers (no Tiger jokes, please) on the Tour. Who will respond, and who will see their scores skyrocket by two or three strokes a round? (Side note: count how many bad "groove" puns you see in headlines this year: "Feelin' Groovy," "Groove is in the Heart," "The Groove, The Groove, The Groove Is On Fire." Fun for the whole family!)

You're on, Mr. Mickelson. It's Phil's time. No more excuses. The only downside is, if he wins now, idiot detractors will still call it cheap because Tiger wasn't involved. Sorry, Phil-haters -- the green jacket fits just as well whether it's being hung on your shoulders by Mr. Woods or Angel Cabrera.

Tiger's back! Tiger's back! Yes, we've already pre-written the article praising him and forgetting everything bad he ever did. We've also pre-written the article eviscerating him for letting us all down and saying he's not nearly as good as everybody thinks he is. We'll run whichever one seems appropriate at the time. (Seriously, come back, Tiger. Everybody wants you back. Everybody needs you back, whether to love or to hate.)

All right, your turn. What storylines do you think will dominate in '10? Have your say below!

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