I’m looking forward to the 2017 PGA Tour season and getting to watch live golf again. Here are some players I expect to have breakout seasons. I consider a breakout season taking your game to the next level. For some players, it’s going from regular contender to occasional winner. While for others, it's going from cut maker to contender. Here are 10 guys I expect to move their career up a level or two in 2017.
Woodland is one of the finest ball-strikers in the game and regularly finds himself in contention late on Sundays. Woodland’s struggles have come from the flatstick which has tended to go cold on Sunday. His steady play and explosive tee-to-green game reminds me of Dustin Johnson who finally broke through in a big way in 2017. I expect Woodland to have a big season in 2017 and notch at least one win.
As a 22-year-old rookie during 2014-2015, Berger showed he could consistently contend on the PGA Tour earning him Rookie of the Year honors. The 2015-2016 season saw Berger take the next step notching his first win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. I expect the 2017 season to see Berger win multiple titles and be a regular contender in major championships. Berger is one of the most talented young players in the game and is often overlooked due to Jordan Spieth and the popular Justin Thomas.
Few on the PGA Tour hit the ball farther than List. His career has been marred by inconsistency, but the 2016 fall events saw List become a regular on the leaderboard, notching 4 top 15 finishes in 5 starts. List’s worst finish during the fall was a t26th. I expect this trend to continue and List to breakthrough for his first career PGA Tour win in 2017.
The 28-year-old USC star has had a lot go right since turning professional, but a severe back injury cost him much of his 20’s. It looks like Lovemark has finally moved past the issues that the injury caused and he had the best season of his career in 2015-2016. Lovemark was one of the best amateur golfers in the last 20 years, and I expect his confidence to grow and him to become a fixture on leaderboards in 2017. More on Jamie Lovemark.
The Canadian from the little town of Moose Jaw is in his third season on Tour and has seen a steady progression, finishing 107th in the FedEx Cup in his rookie season (2014-2015) and 85th last year. Hadwin made 20 of 27 cuts in the 2015-2016 season and was a regular on leaderboards,but was typically held back by a bad weekend round. Hadwin was positive in every strokes gained statistic which tells me he can play and contend anywhere. This year, I expect Hadwin to take the next step and move into the top 60 players on the PGA Tour.
Kizzire had high expectations after winning the 2014 Web.com Tour’s regular season money list. Kizzire played solid in his first season on the PGA Tour, finishing 82nd in the FedEx Cup standings with 5 top 10 finishes. Now that Kizzire has seen most of the courses and adjusted to PGA Tour life, I expect to see a lot more top 10s and potentially a win from the talented former Auburn Tiger.
A lot was expected of Rodgers when he turned professional after a historic collegiate career at Stanford where he tied Tiger Woods’ all-time wins record. The first few years have had some ups and downs and some people have cooled on his long-term potential. I am buying on talent, and like many young players, Rodgers wedge game and putting needs to move to above average in Tour standards and then the wins will come fast. In 2017, I expect to see a big improvement in these areas and a win or two from Rodgers.
Looking for a name that a lot of people won’t know who could really surprise? Look no further than Wilkinson, who despite finishing 113th in last year’s FedEx Cup had a total strokes gained rank of 44th. The 38-year-old New Zealander isn’t the sexy breakout pick, but I foresee Wilkinson becoming a top 30 finish machine in 2017.
Barber enters his 3rd season on the PGA Tour poised for a breakout season. Last year, he finished 101st in the standings with a season highlighted by a 3rd place finish at the Honda Classic. In the fall, Barber worked his way into a playoff at the RSM and eventually fell to MacKenzie Hughes. With comfort established after two years on the PGA Tour and some high finishes, I expect Barber to become a regular on Sunday leaderboards, particularly in the southeast on Bermuda greens.
I mean, this one is kind of obvious, but I think this kid will ascend into one of the top 20 players in the world this year. His consistency is mind-boggling for a young player. He drives it far and straight and is a great putter. It’s only a matter of time before he earns his first win. More on Jon Rahm.
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