The so-called “silly season” is over. The next PGA Tour event on the calendar will be the first of 2014, and it starts a week from Friday.
So as we look ahead to the New Year, here are 14 players we’re keeping an eye on for one reason or another:
Tiger Woods: This one is quite obvious, as the entire sports world will be watching Tiger to see if he can get major No. 15. Some Tiger-friendly venues are on the docket, starting with the Masters at Augusta National, where’s he won four times.
Rory McIlroy: Another obvious player to watch. McIlroy struggled mightily in 2013 for a variety of reasons, but he finally pocketed a victory earlier this month and seems to have some off-the-course issues straightened out now. Can McIlroy win another major before Woods?
Phil Mickelson: Lefty in 2014 hopes to pull a Steve Stricker – play a scaled-back schedule but see continued success. After capturing his first Open Championship in July, Mickelson turned his focus to the Career Slam. He needs only to tame his nemesis – the U.S. Open – to win each major at least once in his career.
Adam Scott: The Aussie tossed the major monkey off his back with his epic Masters win, and he closed a strong year by romping through the Australian majors. Can he continue that rise and supplant Woods atop the world rankings? Or does Scott slowly begin to transition away from his anchored-putting technique that will be banned starting in 2016?
Henrik Stenson: How do you top winning the season-long points titles on both the PGA and European Tours? Who knows? Stenson was the first player to accomplish the feat. Obviously he’s hoping the hot streak continues in 2014, or at least leads to his first major, but we’ve seen Stenson rapidly regress before.
Inbee Park: She won three majors in 2013, bringing her career total to four – and she’s only 25. That means she’s not far off the pace of Tiger Woods, who had five when he turned 25. Just sayin’. But considering Park’s last three came five seasons after her first major, it’ll be interesting to see how the pace carries on in 2014.
Jordan Spieth: You might think it would be easy for the 20-year-old to improve upon 2013, which he began without a PGA Tour card. But sponsor exemptions and finally earning full status with a win in July allowed him to play 23 PGA Tour events. Spieth tied for the tour lead with nine top-10s, and he earned nearly $3.9 million. So yeah, that might be hard to top.
Lydia Ko: She’s the youngest to ever win a LPGA Tour event, and after turning pro this past fall, she received an exemption to join the circuit in 2014 as a 16-year-old (she’ll turn 17 in April). There shouldn’t be pressure on her to win, but expectations will always be there when you have big-name sponsors and are ranked fourth in the world.
Matt Kuchar: If Stenson is not the golfer who appears most primed to win his first major, then it’s Kuchar. The 35-year-old finished third on the money list last year behind Woods and Stenson, picked up a pair of wins, recorded eight top-10s, and didn’t miss a single cut in 23 PGA Tour events. Will Kuch breakthrough in 2014?
Stacy Lewis: The best American female, Lewis seeks her third career major in 2014. She picked up her second one in August by taking the Women’s British Open, but that didn’t help her regain the world No. 1 spot she held briefly in the spring. A few more majors in 2014 would, though.
Graham DeLaet: It’ll be impossible for the Canadian to climb as much in the world rankings in 2014 as he did in 2013 – when he rose from No. 592 to No. 32 – but we’re watching for DeLaet to keep climbing. A runner-up tie and solo third in the first two rounds of the FedExCup playoffs, respectively, helped launch him into the season-ending Tour Championship. Now let’s see if he can earn points consistently throughout the rest of the year.
Caroline Hedwall: The 24-year-old Swede tore up the Solheim Cup, becoming the first player to win five matches as she led Europe to an 18-10 victory, the biggest blowout in the competition’s history. Now we’re eager to see that translate into individual play. She’s yet to win on the LPGA Tour, and she’s only taken one European tournament since 2011, when she triumphed four times.
Jarrod Lyle: The 32-year-old triumphantly returned to professional golf in November, and if all goes well, he could reappear on the PGA Tour in 2014. After his second bout with myeloid leukemia, the tour gave Lyle a medical exemption to return whenever he’s ready. The entire golf community keenly awaits that day.
Michael Kim: The consensus collegiate national player of the year in 2013, Kim hopes to take after Spieth and earn PGA Tour status via sponsor exemptions. After his stellar sophomore season at the University of California-Berkeley and taking low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open, Kim will make his pro debut at the end of January at the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, which should be familiar for him. He attended Torrey Pines High.
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