Skip to main content

2020 watch list: Who to watch in the new year, and what's at stake

Getty Images

As we turn the page to a new year in golf, there was plenty to like about what we witnessed in 2019.

Tiger Woods won the Masters for major victory No. 15 and tied Sam Snead's record mark of 82 career PGA Tour victories. Brooks Koepka added another PGA title and three other top-4 major finishes. Rory McIlroy had the best strokes-gained season in PGA Tour history. Jin Young Ko became the next great women's golf star and Suzann Pettersen gave us one of the best walk-offs ever at the Solheim Cup.

All sights to behold.

So what can we expect this year? Who should we keep our eyes on?

Here are 12 players to watch – some obvious, some not – and why in 2020:

2019 champion: Tiger Woods
Getty Images

Tiger Woods

Watch him break Sam Snead’s record

Tied with Snead at 82 career PGA Tour wins, Woods needs just one more victory to set a new record. After closing 2019 with a win at the Zozo, a solo fourth at Hero and a 3-0 Presidents Cup performance, everyone will be expecting No. 83 – and possibly major No. 16 – in 2020. But the question surrounding the now-44-year-old Woods is health – and it’s been that way for years. How many events will his body allow him to play? (He teed it up 14 times in 2019.) When he does play, can he string together four good days? (Fred Couples revealed that Woods was physically unable to play either session Saturday at the Presidents Cup.) Still, Woods is a strong bet to win at least once this year.

Getty Images

Justin Thomas

Watch him earn another Player of the Year Award

Despite taking seven weeks off after the Masters and missing the PGA Championship because of a wrist injury, Thomas managed to win twice and post eight other top-10s in 2019. At age 26, Thomas is one of the most complete players in the world and major victory No. 2 should be right around the corner. Thomas won Player of the Year in 2017 after a five-win, one-major season. Another one of those – if not better – is certainly in the cards for 2020.

Getty Images

Jon Rahm

Watch him win his first major

No player enters the new year on more of a hot streak than the 25-year-old Rahm, who capped last year with two wins and two seconds in his final five starts. (Oh, and he also got married in December.) Now, Rahm has his sights set on becoming world No. 1 – and winning a major. Despite already being a 10-time worldwide winner, Rahm has yet to nab a major title. In 14 career major starts, Rahm has missed four cuts but also owns four top-10s, including two straight at Augusta National. Can he win a green jacket this year on the 40th anniversary of Seve Ballesteros’ first Masters win? If not, he should give himself a couple more chances this major season.

Getty Images

Jordan Spieth

Watch him bounce back

It wasn’t long ago that Spieth was winning majors and sitting atop the world rankings. But 2019 marked the second straight year in which Spieth failed to win a tournament. Prior to that, Spieth had won at least three times in three straight years, including 2015, when he won two majors and three other titles. Now, Spieth is ranked No. 44 and is in danger of quickly falling out of the top 50. The key for 2020 will be improving his weaknesses without dropping off in another area. Two years ago, Spieth finished No. 123 in strokes gained putting. Last season, he rose to No. 2 but also dropped to No. 145 in strokes gained approach and No. 176 in strokes gained off the tee. Despite a 16th-place finish at Hero, Spieth said, “I'm actually really confident about what 2020 holds for me.” What will the new year actually have in store for Spieth? Everyone is anxious to find out.

Getty Images

Viktor Hovland

Watch him outshine Matt Wolff and Collin Morikawa

Hovland, Wolff and Morikawa – the young stars of Summer 2019 – will forever be linked. The comparisons have already begun, as well, with many predicting which of the three players will have the most successful career. While Hovland didn’t join Wolff and Morikawa in the winner’s circle in 2019, he did have the most consistent first six months as a pro by posting eight finishes of T-16 or better in 12 starts last year. He’ll also play a bunch on both tours as he eyes a Ryder Cup spot. Morikawa and Wolff will play in more majors and should have solid years, but a year from now look for Hovland to have had the better 2020 of the three.

Getty Images

Scottie Scheffler

Watch him run away with Rookie of the Year

The 23-year-old former Texas star made quick work of the Korn Ferry Tour last season, winning twice, finishing second twice more and sweeping both the combined and Finals points lists to earn full exempt status on the PGA Tour this season and a Players invite. Entering the fall, Scheffler was the favorite to be top rookie. After three top-10s and two other top-20s this fall, he’s the overwhelming favorite and a strong candidate to be one of those rare newcomers to make it to East Lake.

Getty Images

Jason Kokrak

Watch him finally ‘break through’ for his first PGA Tour win

Last March at the Valspar Championship, Kokrak tied for second and defeatedly said afterward, “I just can’t break through.” At 34 years old, Kokrak has played at least 24 events in seven of the past eight seasons on Tour and owns three career runner-up finishes. But after posting four other top-10s and 14 total top-25s last season while finishing 14th in the FedExCup and reaching new heights in the OWGR, the 62nd-ranked Kokrak could finally get that elusive first PGA Tour win this year.

Getty Images

Robert MacIntyre

Watch him win on the European Tour

When it comes to potential first-time winners on the European Tour this year, there are several names that come to mind: Thomas Detry, Matthias Schwab and Romain Langasque. But one has to fancy MacIntyre’s chances, as well. The 23-year-old Scot had a breakout rookie campaign in Europe last season, posting seven top-10s, including runner-up finishes at the British Masters, Made in Denmark and Porsche European Open. He also tied for sixth at The Open at Royal Portrush and at No. 64 in the world, he’s knocking on the door to play in more majors and the WGCs. It seems as if a maiden victory on the European Tour is only a matter of time.

Getty Images

Nelly Korda

Watch her become a major champion

The 21-year-old Korda is already the top-ranked American in the world, at No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings. She closed 2019 with two wins in her last five starts. She also has played in 19 career majors and has cracked the top 10 in three of the five tournaments. All eyes will be on her to win one – or two – this year.

Getty Images

Jin Young Ko

Watch her spend entire year as world No. 1

Since the inception of the Rolex Rankings in 2006, just three players have held the No. 1 spot for an entire calendar year. Lorena Ochoa was No. 1 for all of 2008 and ’09, Yani Tseng kept the top spot for all of 2012 and most recently Lydia Ko spent the entirety of 2016 as the world’s best player. J.Y. Ko enters 2020 having been No. 1 since July 29 and holding quite the lead on No. 2 Sung Hyun Park (9.6 average points to 6.9). As Park, Nelly Korda and others look to catch J.Y. Ko this year, don’t expect the 24-year-old to slow down.

Getty Images

Davis Riley

Watch him finish atop the Korn Ferry Tour points list

A year after Scottie Scheffler led the KFT in combined and Finals points, how about at least one of the points titles going to the player Scheffler beat in the final of the 2013 U.S. Junior? Riley turned pro halfway through his junior year at Alabama two Novembers ago and qualified for the KFT Finals despite starting 2019 with no status. Entering 2020, he’s the next big thing on the developmental tour.

Getty Images

John Augenstein

Watch him become the next summer sensation

Cole Hammer will likely elect to stay amateur and return to Texas for at least another semester, leaving Augenstein to clean up on the maximum number of sponsor exemptions this summer. This year’s rookie crop pales in comparison to last year’s bunch, but Augenstein, last summer’s U.S. Amateur runner-up, has a chance to make some noise.

Getty Images

Rory Sabbatini

Watch him make the European Ryder Cup team

OK, this may be a long shot, but hear me out. After becoming a citizen of Slovakia last year, Sabbatini is now eligible to represent Europe later this year at Whistling Straits. While he isn’t on the radar at the moment, Sabbatini making Padraig Harrington’s squad is not an impossible task. After falling outside of the top 500 in the world rankings in 2017, a healthier Sabbatini is up to No. 84 thanks to six worldwide top-10s last year – the most he’s had since 2013. He made the cut in all three non-major European Tour events he played last fall, tying for 10th at the Italian Open, so the 43-year-old still got plenty of game to punch his ticket to Wisconsin and become the first non-American to ever play in a Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.