Predicting career 'leaps' for the new season

By Jason SobelOctober 9, 2013, 10:56 pm

I’m not gonna lie. This feels weird.

For years, I’ve been writing my column on players who will make “The Leap” – and for years, it’s been posted on New Year’s Day, as much a tradition as the Rose Bowl and black-eyed peas. (OK, maybe less. Slightly.) As you may have noticed, though, today is not New Year’s Day. But it does represent a new year for the PGA Tour.

Two weeks, three days, 17 hours and some 12 minutes after the last putt of the 2013 season dropped comes the first tee shot of the 2013-14 season, part of a new wraparound schedule that quite literally ensures professional golf never stops.

So although the ink is hardly dry on stories about the United States’ Presidents Cup win and Henrik Stenson’s FedEx Cup crown, it’s already time to start talking about the upcoming campaign – whether we like it or not.

Just as its title states, “The Leap” isn’t simply about predicting certain pros to play well. It’s about predicting them to make a jump into the next echelon of their careers.

Last year’s edition of this column had its usual hits and misses. Graham DeLaet did indeed qualify for the Presidents Cup team and Kevin Streelman won his first PGA Tour event. Others weren’t so fortunate. Instead of reaching the world’s top-10, Bo Van Pelt suffered his worst year in a decade; rather than reach the Tour Championship, Seung-Yul Noh found himself back in the Finals.

But hey, it’s a new year – er, a new season. Time to make 10 more predictions about which players will make “The Leap.” And I’ve gotta hurry. I think the Rose Bowl is coming on soon.

Jason Day in the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play ChampionshipJason Day

The Leap: Major champion

Throughout my online chats during last week’s Presidents Cup, I was peppered with comments from fans who believed Day would be the next first-time major champion. I agreed – but with a caveat. I still think the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship winner needs another victory under his belt before he claims that elusive major. Each could happen this year, as the ultra-talented 26-year-old is following in the footsteps of buddy Adam Scott and setting his schedule to best prepare for the biggest events. He’s also proven he can contend with four career top-three major finishes – two apiece at the Masters and U.S. Open. The sign of a truly elite player is the ability to win any week on any course. Day has that ability. This coming year it will come to fruition.

Gary Woodland at the 2013 BarclaysGary Woodland

The Leap: Major championship contender

While he was bitterly disappointed and frustrated after missing a 72nd hole birdie putt to force a playoff at The Barclays, the result did have a nice residual effect. It got Woodland into each of next year's first three majors, which has been a battle of late. After dealing with injuries, he missed three of the four this past year. In 11 career major championship starts, he's never pulled a top-10, his best finish being a T-12 at the 2011 PGA Championship. That will change in 2014. He may not win one, but he will contend in at least one of ‘em.

Billy Horschel at the 2013 Valero Texas OpenBilly Horschel

The Leap: United States Ryder Cup team member

It wasn't so long ago that an American player could win a PGA Tour event and basically clinch a roster spot. What a difference eight years makes. There will be some heavy hitters who miss out on Gleneagles, as evidenced by the likes of Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Jim Furyk failing to qualify for the Presidents Cup, but Horschel would be a strong addition for multiple reasons. He's not only a terrific ballstriker, his intensity would make the excitable Keegan Bradley look uninterested by comparison.

Chris Wood

Chris Wood 

The Leap: European Ryder Cup team member

In the years before the likes of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero and Jordan Spieth were each hailed as the 'Future of Golf,” this Englishman was a major part of the story. Wood finished T-5 as a 20-year-old amateur at the 2008 Open Championship, then T-3 one year later as a pro. Now 25 and coming off his first European Tour victory in Qatar last year, he could be the next fresh face to earn a spot amongst Europe’s talented roster of Ryder Cup stars. With many of the top candidates splitting time between the PGA and European circuits, Wood has a terrific chance to vault up the points list by remaining (mostly) on one tour throughout the next 50 weeks.

Graham DeLaet at the 2013 Presidents Cup

Graham DeLaet

The Leap: Multiple PGA Tour winner

On the heels of correctly predicting him for the Presidents Cup team in the last edition of The Leap, I'm going to keep driving the DeLaet bandwagon. It's almost too easy to declare that the world’s 32nd-ranked player will win a tournament, so let's go one better: He'll win two. If late-2013 was his breakthrough, then 2014 will be the year DeLaet proves himself as one of the game's elite players.

Matt Jones at the 2012 Puerto Rico Open

Matt Jones  

The Leap: PGA Tour winner

Four rounds in the 60s helped Matt Jones finish T-2 at The Greenbrier Classic this past season – his first career top-three result. It was one of five results in his last 10 starts of the year in which the Aussie finished eighth or better, leading to a career-best final position of 48th on the money list after entering the year with conditional status. Most players need to knock on the door a few times before finding a way into the winner’s circle, and that process is likely happening for Jones right now.

Peter Uihlein

Peter Uihlein

The Leap: Top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking

Currently at 69th on the list, this wouldn’t be the greatest predicted jump, but it could be amongst the most crucial. Moving into the top-50 would help the full-time European Tour member gain entry into more majors and WGC events, which in turn could – and should – lead to claiming his PGA Tour card for the first time. With no direct route from Q-School to PGA Tour any longer, Uihlein’s story would serve as inspiration for the increasing influx of young players who are trying to find an indirect route to the big leagues. 

John Peterson

John Peterson 

The Leap: Top 50 on the PGA Tour money list

What a weird year it was for Peterson in 2013. Based on his T-4 finish at last year’s U.S. Open, he got into major fields at Augusta National and Merion, but failed to finish amongst the top-25 on the Tour. He easily made up for it during the four-event Finals, though, posting four consecutive top-five finishes to lead that late-season money list and claim his PGA Tour card. After so much time already in the spotlight during his young career, expect the former NCAA champion to thrive on the next level.

Daniel Summerhays in the 2012 Mayakoba Golf Classic third round

Daniel Summerhays

The Leap: Tour Championship competitor

Consistency, thy name is Summerhays. In each of the last two seasons, the 29-year-old has posted identical statistical records of 26 starts, 15 made cuts, six top-25s and four top-10s. That’s certainly not bad, but in his fourth full PGA Tour season, expect even more. A well-rounded player whose numbers prove he does nothing spectacularly well nor poorly, his leap could consist of a first career win or inclusion in some WGCs. But let’s go with a Tour Championship berth, based on finishes of 28th or better in each of the first three FedEx Cup playoff events this past season.

Kevin Stadler at the 2013 Barclays

Kevin Stadler

The Leap: Top 30 on the money list

As a general rule, I like looking at the PGA Tour’s all-around ranking as a definitive measure of skill level, because, well, it measures skill across the board. The first six on the final 2013 list prove that theory: Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Jordan Spieth, Keegan Bradley, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. Who was seventh? None other than Stadler, who despite owning tons of talent has never finished above 54th on the money list. Expect an improvement this year, as he’s working on borrowed time. No, the son of the Walrus isn’t that old at 33, but this longtime anchorer knows he’ll have to switch to a short stick soon enough.

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting a competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show in which he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing> Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a tournament.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.