Revisiting our top 10 players to watch in 2015

By Al Tays, Nick MentaNovember 27, 2015, 5:15 pm

Last December we presented a list of 10 players to watch during 2015. Ever wonder how they did? Wonder no more - here's the rundown:

10. Cheyenne Woods

Why she bore watching: Well, there's the whole niece-of-Tiger thing, but Cheyenne Woods had credentials beyond a famous relative. In 2014 she won her first Ladies European Tour event and secured her LPGA card for 2015.

How she did: It was a rough year. Woods played in 17 events and made just seven cuts, leaving her 125th on the LPGA money list with $32,713. Her best finish was a T-24 in the JTBC Founders Cup, and her best round was a 63, which shared the opening-round lead in the Manulife LPGA Classic. Her scoring average was 73.22.

9. Peter Uihlein

Why he bore watching: Another player with a famous relative (his father, Wally, is CEO of the Acushnet Company, the parent of Titleist and Footjoy). Peter played a full European Tour schedule in 2014, with two top-10s. He also had a T-4 in the PGA Tour's Sanderson Farms Championship.

How he did: Uihlein played the European Tour again in 2015, with improved results. He made 19 of 26 cuts (up from 14 of 23), had four top-10 finishes (up from two) and had a stroke average of 70.38 (down from 71.37). He also got stuck on a Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios.

8. Carlos Ortiz

Why he bore watching: In his rookie season on the Tour in 2014, Ortiz led the tour with three victories, finished second on the money list and earned his PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season.

How he did: Ortiz played in a whopping 30 events in the 2014-15 PGA Tour season. He made 20 cuts, earned $964,137 and finished 93rd in the FedEx Cup standings.

7. Luke Donald

Why he bore watching: The former world No. 1 had fallen to No. 33 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but was optimistic about a career revival after returning to former swing coach Pat Goss.

How he did: Donald's world ranking has dropped further, to No. 72. On Tour in 2014-15, he had only two top-10s in 20 starts, compared to three in 17 during the previous season. His earnings dropped from $1.4 million to $1 million. Statistically, his driving accuracy dropped, from 63 percent to 59 percent; his greens-in-regulation percentage improved from 63 percent to 66 percent; and his strokes gained-putting dropped from .520 to .290. He is not currently qualified for any of next year’s majors or WGC events.

6. Justin Thomas

Why he bore watching: At 21, Thomas became the youngest rookie in the '14-15 PGA Tour class. In just one season on the Tour, he led in the all-around category and secured a victory during the Tour finals.

How he did: In his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Thomas played 30 events, making 23 cuts, with seven top-10 finishes. Earning more than $2.2 million, he wound up finishing 32nd in the FedEx Cup standings, narrowly missing out on a trip to East Lake. After all the close calls, Thomas finally cashed in for his first Tour victory this fall at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.

5. Tony Finau

Why he bore watching: Finau played his first full year on the Tour in 2014, won the Stonebrae Classic and earned his PGA Tour card for the '14-15 season.

How he did: Finau posted five top-10s and 16 top-25s last season. He finished tied T-14th at the U.S. Open and T-10 at the PGA. The 26-year-old earned just over $2 million, advanced to the BMW Championship and finished seventh on Tour in driving distance at 309 yards. All of it was enough to make him, like Thomas, a nominee for last year’s rookie of the year award.

4. Hideki Matsuyama

Why he bore watching: Matsuyama already had a PGA Tour win (2014 Memorial) and was ranked 16th in the world last December, when he was only 22. We wondered if this would be his year for a major breakthrough.

How he did: There was no follow-up victory in 2015, but there were six top-5 finishes, including a runner-up in Phoenix. He was third at the Tournament of Champions, fourth at the Northern Trust, fifth at the Memorial, fifth at the CIMB and — as for the majors — fifth at the Masters. Matsuyama racked up roughly $4 million and is now 14th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He represented the International Squad at this year’s Presidents Cup, going 2-1-1 and defeating J.B. Holmes in singles.

3. Victor Dubuisson

Why he bore watching: Images of him saving par from desert scrub brush — not once, but twice — at the 2014 WGC-Match Play were among the most memorable in golf. He also finished ninth at the British Open and seventh at the PGA Championship.

How he did: The enigmatic Frenchman stayed well under the radar for the majority of the year, struggling with his game. But he re-emerged earlier this month, winning his second Turkish Airlines Open. Dubuisson broke down in the tears after his victory, citing personal issues and a loss of confidence as reasons for his downturn.

2. Rickie Fowler

Why he bore watching: Fowler was the only player to finish in the top five in all four majors in 2014. Noting that he was working with Butch Harmon, we asked, "2015 has to lead to a win or two ... right?"

How he did: Fowler played his last six holes of regulation in 6 under Sunday at the Players to find his way into a four-hole playoff, which he went on to win for his most important victory to date. Fowler then followed it up with two more high-profile wins at the Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank Championship. He is now sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking. His breakthrough just happened to be overshadowed by two guys named Spieth and Day.

1. Brooks Koepka

Why he bore watching: He won the Turkish Airlines Open in November and before that, had strong showings at the PGA Championship (T-15) and the U.S. Open (T-4).

How he did: Koepka made us look smart with a quick victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Though injury slowed his momentum in the months after, the 25-year-old steadied himself during the summer, when his worst finish in a seven-event stretch was a T-18 at the U.S. Open. He tied for 10th at the Open Championship and fifth at the PGA. Although he was rather controversially left of the U.S. Presidents Cup team, he is currently eighth on the Ryder Cup points list for 2016.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.