Daniel Berger and Kevin Kisner were just some of the breakout stars in 2015. Who will make a big splash in 2016? Our writers weigh in.
By RYAN LAVNER
And yes, if you’re keeping score at home, that’d be back-to-back breakout years for the baby-faced assassin. After ending 2014 at No. 413 in the world, he soared into the top 50 this year on the strength of a European Tour victory and six other top-10s.
The 21-year-old Fitzpatrick didn’t play in a single major this year, but that will change in 2016 because of his top-50 status. His game draws plenty of comparisons to Jordan Spieth, a fellow youngster who won two majors by playing to his strengths – smart preparation, an off-the-charts golf IQ and a superb short game.
Fitzpatrick should make what could be a new-look European Ryder Cup team, and his match-play prowess will make him a tough out at Hazeltine. Don’t be surprised if he’s a top-10 player by this time next year.
By RANDALL MELL
South Africa’s Branden Grace has the resume for a breakout year.
At No. 14 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he is the highest-ranked player without a PGA Tour victory. He was one errant shot onto the railroad tracks on Sunday at Chambers Bay from a possible U.S. Open victory last summer. He followed that up later in the year with a third-place finish at the PGA Championship. He’s only 27, and now for the first time he will be playing as a full-time PGA Tour member. Add in a 5-0-0 week at the Presidents Cup, and this guy’s trending up.
With six career European Tour victories, Grace has more than proven himself overseas. He had his breakout year on the Euro Tour in 2012, winning four times. A victory in the United States could move him among the top 10 in the world rankings, and a major would put him in the mix with all the other young stars rising up in the ranks.
By REX HOGGARD
Perhaps Kevin Kisner already qualifies as a breakout star following breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour at Sea Island in November.
A week prior, he finished second in a deep field at the WGC-HSBC Champions. It was Kisner’s fourth runner-up showing of 2015, a run that began at the RBC Heritage in April when he suffered, on that occasion to a determined Jim Furyk, the first of three playoff losses.
He was beaten for the second time in extra holes at The Players Championship when Rickie Fowler turned in what was arguably the year’s most clutch performance down the stretch.
Another near miss at the Greenbrier Classic in July seemed to solidify Kisner’s fate for ’15 as a perennial bridesmaid, but he never doubted himself.
“This year I saw the strides where I'm leading coming into Saturday or taking the lead early in the week or having a chance on Sunday,” he said following his victory at the RSM Classic. “I knew if I kept playing that way I was going to win one sooner or later.”
It’s the same internal drive that will take Kisner to a new level in 2016.
By WILL GRAY
While he didn’t garner much Rookie of the Year attention, Tony Finau quietly had an impressive debut season and should only continue to improve in the new year.
The Utah product logged 16 top-25 finishes in 31 starts last season, including seven in a row during the summer. What’s more, he saved some of his best play for the biggest stages: a T-14 finish at the U.S. Open in his first-ever major appearance, followed by a T-10 finish at the PGA where his name was on the leaderboard deep into the weekend.
Finau has been one of the longest hitters for years, but he has sharpened other areas of his game in recent months and his results have consequently improved. He finished seventh last season in birdie average and 43rd in FedEx Cup points, barely missing a spot in the Tour Championship.
Finau ended 2015 ranked No. 87 in the world, but you can expect two things in the coming months: that the 26-year-old will land his first PGA Tour win, and that he’ll crack the OWGR top 50 in time to earn a spot at the Masters.