by Sal Johnson
Merry Christmas to all.
Here is a look at some players who will play well and players that will struggle in 2023.
In looking ahead to the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the next 34 weeks of tournaments for the 2023 season, let’s take a look at some players who should do well and some players to avoid as we look at the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and improved.
Hard to believe that just like that, it’s Hawaii time and the start of the main run of the 2023 season. Yes, in 2023, the PGA Tour has played in nine events, and some players went over and played on the DP Tour, but for most players, Kapalua is the true start of the PGA Tour season.
Here is a look at the good from the 2022 season, which consisted of 47 events won by 33 players. It was an exciting year in which not one player showed he dominated the year. Yes, Scottie Scheffler won the Player-of-the-year, but because of his final round 73 on Sunday at the Tour Championship, he ended the thought of a dominating year, finishing 2nd to Rory McIlroy in the FedExCup standings. On Sunday at East Lake, Scheffler started the day six shots ahead of Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele. Even with a bogey on his first hole, it was no harm for McIlroy as Scheffler also bogeyed, but when McIlroy made birdies at 3, 5, 6, and 7 caught up to Scottie, who made bogey at 4 and 6. At the end of the day, McIlory shot 66 to take the title by a shot over Scheffler and Sungjae Im, who also shot 66 on Sunday. Still her is a look at five players and their prospects for 2023.
Yes, Scheffler was the best player of the year despite the carnage of East Lake. The round cost him just over $12 million, but he still got a share of 2nd, which paid him $5.75 million. If you add the $14 million he won in the 25 events for the year, he has to be very happy. 2022 was Scheffler’s third season on the PGA Tour, and at 25, he not only won for the first time but won four times for the year, including his first major at the Masters. His season included four runner-up finishes and a 3rd the week before at the BMW Championship. Statistically speaking, Scheffler made strides in improving his iron play, ranking 1st in Greens in Regulation. Besides enhancing his putting, he ranked 58th in Strokes Gained Putting after finishing 107th in 2021. Scheffler also improved his birdie average, going from 4.39 per round in 2021 to 4.60 in 2022. The gain seems small. It isn’t when you consider over the year, he averaged .80 birdies per event better in 2022, which means adding just about one birdie per event. What made Scheffler the best player of the year is that all of his stats for the year are very good except for two. One is Driving Accuracy. He ranked 100th on tour, and frankly, Driving Accuracy for the season means very little in this day and age when if you hit it as long as Scheffler did, you can still get it close even from the rough. But two putting stats were a problem for Scheffler, and we saw it happen in the final round at East Lake. In putting from 4 to 8 feet, Scheffler made 161 putts out of 253 tries and ranked 180th on tour. In 2021 Scheffler ranked 102nd on tour. The second one is Putting inside ten feet. He ranked T-155th making 1,048 putts out of 1,204 putts. Last year for the same stat, he ranked 81st, so his putting wasn’t as crisp in 2022 and about the only poor thing about his game in 2022, something that he will need to improve in 2023. Still, if you look at his stats, you can see that Scottie has the game to play well any week he plays. Now for you folks that play Draftkings regularly, Scheffler earned 2,209 points in his 25 events in 2022, so he averages 88.36 points per event which means yes, he will make you a lot of points, even with the high cost. In conclusion, Sunday at East Lake was terrible, but since he is only 26, we expect many more great things coming out of him. Now Scheffler did play some fall golf. He was T-3rd at Mayakoba thanks to a final round 62 and was runner-up at the Hero World Challenge. We have to ask ourselves if he could play at the same level as last year, he has the game, but frankly, that may be a tall order. But Scheffler is one of the top-ten players on tour who can strike during any given week.
After seeing him win on Sunday at the Tour Championship, I tried to figure out any way to manipulate his record to make him Player-of-the-Year, and even with a victory at East Lake, he was a tick below Scheffler. For the year on the PGA Tour, Rory played in 16 events which is one of the reasons you could name him player of the year. That’s because he played in nine fewer events than Scheffler, so with 3 victories, he has an 18.75% win percentage compared to Scheffler’s 16% win percentage. What carries Scheffler to the title was winning the Masters. In the majors, Rory was terrific, finishing 2nd at the Masters, 8th at the PGA, T-5th at the U.S. Open, and 3rd at St. Andrews. So Rory was great and had the best record in 2022 in the majors. Rory may have had 10 top-ten finishes for the year, but in the events, he wasn’t in the top ten, he struggled. He missed two cuts in events before something special (At Valero Texas and FedEx. Jude), but he also didn’t play well at the Players, Memorial, and Travelers. Now the bigger problem I had with Rory’s year in the majors, he opened up strongly in the PGA (65), the U.S. Open (67), and the British Open (66) and wasn’t able to take advantage of his great starts. At the Masters, Rory opened up with rounds of 73-73-71 and was ten shots back of Scheffler before finishing with a 64 to finish runner-up. Statistically speaking, McIlroy had one of his most consistent years. Of the 12 most essential stats, Rory improved 10 of these over his 2021 totals and tied one (was 2nd both years in driving distance) and worst in just one (4th in birdie average, was T-1st in 2021). Just like with Schauffele, McIlory faired poorly in putting from 4 to 8 feet (was 76th making 147 of 209 tries) and was T-143rd in putting inside ten feet (making 812 putts of 931). Now we could chalk this up to finishing 12th in Greens in Regulation, but we know that Rory is not like he was in his prime in 2014 when he ranked 29th in putting from 4 to 8 feet and 46th in putting inside ten feet. We saw how well he putted at East Lake making a total of 382 feet of putts, including 115 feet on Sunday when the shortest putt he missed was a 12-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole. We have seen Rory play well for 13 years now and know that if Rory is driving well and putting well, he is unbeatable. Now in Draftkings in 2022, McIlroy earned 1,411 points for an average of 88.19 per event, just about the same as Schauffele, showing that despite his high cost, he is worth the pick. You can see that Rory is fired up to play well in the future and would love to win more majors. He quickly agreed to the new PGA Tour requirement for playing in 20 events in 2023 and has played the most this fall in his career. He was T-2nd at the BMW PGA Championship, a shot back of winner Shane Lowry. McIlroy traveled to Italy the following week to play in the Italian Open, which was played on the same course that holds next year’s Ryder Cup. McIlroy played well but was two shots back of winner Robert Macintyre to finish 4th. He had another 4th place finish in the Dunhill Links at St. Andrews, showing more frustration at the home of golf. McIlroy did get into the winners’ circle in defending his CJ Cup in South Carolina. Rory shot 67-67 over the weekend for the one-shot win. McIlroy ended his fall swing by finishing 4th again at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, four shots back of Jon Rahm. In conclusion, we can see a revitalized Rory McIlroy, and we will be looking for some great things in 2023.
It’s hard to talk about Cameron Smith since he is going to play in LIV golf, and that would mean we only see Smith in the majors next year. When Smith won the British Open at St. Andrews, he was in the race for Player-of-the-Year honors. A combination of injuries and possibly staying away from the media to answer LIV questions prevented him from playing well in the playoff events. He was T-13th at the FedEx St. Jude and 20th at the Tour Championship. Now the reality of Smith, he is one of the best putters on the PGA Tour. Last year he was 9th in putts from 4 to 8 feet and T-14th in putts inside ten feet. But his weakness is driving. He is short off the tee, ranking 101st in driving distance, and in 2022 was 135th in Driving Distance and 136th in Strokes Gained off-the-Tee. So frankly, Smith will never be the same type of player as Schauffele and McIlroy. He isn’t sharp enough to play well in the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship. Now Smith was T-4th in the 2015 U.S. Open, played at Chambers Bay, a links course that fits his profile. In the other 13 U.S. Opens and PGA Championships, he only has one top-24 finish, a T-13th at the PGA Championship this year at Southern Hills. Now for the Masters and the British Open, it’s a different story. Just in the Masters, he has four top-ten finishes in six Masters starts. Still, it is hard to talk about Smith who took the money (rumor says he is getting $100 million to play LIV Golf), and we will not see much of Smith in 2023.
After the 2021 season, Rahm was considered the player to beat in 2022. Rahm was fresh from winning the 2021 U.S. Open, and in 22 PGA Tour events, Rahm had 18 top-25 finishes and was in the top ten 15 times. But a strange thing happened to him. At the 2022 Fortinet Championship, Rahm missed the cut and a few weeks later was T-17th at the Spanish Open and missed the cut at the Andalucia Masters. Rahm had a son born before the 2021 Masters and, after playing poorly in Spain, decided to take a couple of months off for the first time in his career. Things looked good in his first start at the Sentry Tournament of Champions when he finished 2nd, a shot back of winner Cameron Smith. He finished T-3rd at the Farmers Insurance after holding a share of the lead after the 2nd round. But Rahm didn’t play up to his regular standards during the season. Sure he made cuts and did win the Mexico Open, but something was off with Rahm’s game. Putting was a suspect. In interviews, Rahm said there was nothing wrong with his game and at the Memorial said he thought his swing was as close to perfect as it ever was. He was T-12th at the U.S. Open and Then T-34th at the British Open. After that, things seemed to jell for Rahm. He was T-5th at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, then T-8th at the BMW, and finished the PGA Tour with a T-15th at the Tour Championship. After a few weeks off, he flew to Europe and was T-2nd at the BMW PGA Championship, just a shot back of winner Shane Lowry. A month later, he played the Spanish Open and won it for a third time with rounds of 64-68-65-62 to win by six shots. He played in the CJ Cup in South Carolina and finished T-4th, just three back of Rory McIlroy. He ended the year winning the DP World Championship for the third time and finished 3rd on the DP Tour points list. Rahm struggled a bit with a T-8th finish at the Hero World Challenge, but his play over the last five months has shown that his game is ready, and he should play much better in 2023.
Just like with Rahm, Finau struggled with his game for the first part of 2022 before things seemed to fall into place. Since winning for the first time in Puerto Rico in 2016 and his subsequent win at the 2021 Northern Trust Finau has been remarkable. In 144 starts, he finished in the top 10 39 times and was runner-up 8 times. But after the victory in the Northern Trust, it was like someone turned off the faucet. In his next 14 starts, his best finish was T-11th in the 2021 Tour Championship. In that span of 14 events, he only had three top-25 finishes as he struggled with his game. At the Mexico Open, it was like the faucet had been turned on. He shot 71 in the first round but followed up with rounds of 68-66-63 and finished T-2nd just a shot back of winner Jon Rahm. Finau was five under par in his last six holes, and if there were just another two or three holes, he probably would have caught and past Rahm. He was playing that well. He was T-4th at the Charles Schwab Challenge and, again after a first-round 71, was 8 under in his final 54 holes. At the RBC Canadian Open, Finau shot 71 again, but in the second round, he finished with 62-64 to finish 2nd, just two shots back of winner Rory McIlroy. Finau finished the year with a flourish winning the 3M Open and the Rocket Mortgage, before ending his season with a T-5th at the FedEx St. Jude, T-28th at the BMW Championship, and 9th at the Tour Championship. It was a significant boost to finish 9th in the FedExCup points list after being 139th after the Masters. Finau wasn’t finished. He won the Houston Open and was 7th at the Hero World Challenge. What was the most significant turnaround to his game? Putting and scrambling. After the 2022 Masters, Finau was T-195th in Strokes Gained putting and was 122nd in Scrambling. At the end of the season, Finau was 85th in Strokes Gained Putting and 22nd in Scrambling incredible gains. In his 2023 starts, he is 2nd in Strokes Gained Putting and 47th in Scrambling, so he has a good jump on the 2023 season, and by the time the tour gets to Phoenix, I can see Finau continue his great play and have a banner year in 2023.
In looking at some others that played well in 2022 and should do great in 2023, you have to like Justin Thomas the most. He won the PGA Championship and, in his 21 starts, has ten top-tens, including finishing 3rd in three starts. Sure Thomas has been one of the most successful players since joining the tour in 2015 but he has never had a breakout year. Look for that to happen in 2023.
The same with Xander Schauffele, who had his best season in 2022. He won three times, with one coming in a team event, and in 21 starts had seven top-ten finishes. At 29, Schauffele is entering his prime and will have a good 2023. He still will be looking to play better in majors, yes, in 2022, he was in the top 15 in three of the majors, but his best finish was T-13th at the PGA Championship. He will be looking to do better in 2023.
Max Homa had his best season in his six-year PGA Tour career, making it to the Tour Championship for the first time and finishing 5th. In 24 starts, Homa made 21 cuts and, with it, 15 top-25 finishes. He won twice but in the majors, his best finish was T-13th at the PGA Championship. Now for Homa to really be accepted, he has to play better in the majors, where he has a dismal record. Last year’s PGA Championship finish is his best finish in 13 majors, in which he only has made six cuts. Still, Homa has gotten very consistent and, at 32 entering his prime.
Let us look at the bad.
Lots can happen to players in a year. Most injuries take their toll, along with personal problems, and then you have the problem of lack of motivation which affects players. Here is a list of players who had a good 2021 and then fell back in 2022 and how they should do in 2023.
He has been a member of the PGA Tour since 2012. English is a four-time winner but has seen his ups and down. In his first five years, he saw lots of success. He won in 2013 and ’14 and made it to East Lake in 2015 when he finished 28th on the FedEx Cup point list. English ran into problems starting in 2017, and things were low in 2019 when he finished 149th on the money list. The cause of the issues was a nagging hip that plagued his career starting in 2012. He endured it and would take time off, which in some cases helped the problem, he found that injections improved things.
In 2020 the hip was a lot better, and he was able to have the best season of his career, finishing 12th on the FedExCup point list. In 20 starts, he finished in the top-ten six times, and his most significant moment came in the FedEx Cup playoffs when he finished 2nd at the Northern Trust, which helped him get to East Lake. The following season was even better as he won two titles at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and then the Travelers. He finished 4th at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his eighth top-ten finish. English went into the FedExCup playoffs 4th in the rankings. Unfortunately, the excellent play didn’t progress through the playoffs, and with his T-18th finish at East Lake had a successful season, but he knew it could have been better. One worrisome thing was his old nemesis, his hip starting to hurt again, but the pain was worst this time. Rest and physical therapy didn’t work. He was able to play in the Ryder Cup and did win his singles match, but after that, it was a struggle. The pain got worst, and by the end of 2021, things hit a peak. He knew that there was only one answer, surgery. Doctors determined that he had to have surgery on a torn labrum in his right hip, and after playing in the Sentry TofC and Sony Hawaii had the surgery in Vail, Colorado. After three weeks of heavy rehab, he went home and continued the rehab with rest. After not playing on tour for five months, he never lost his confidence and returned to the Memorial. In 2020 & ’21 English tee-to-green game was sharp, but around the green and putting was the key to his excellent play. When he returned in 2022, things weren’t the same, and it’s been back to the learning blocks for English. He showed some of his old magic at the Travelers opening up with rounds of 66-65, but he shot 69-71 to finish T-19th. English ended his year missing the cut at the British Open, Rocket Mortgage, and Wyndham and finished 189th in the FedExCup rankings, his worst career finish.
So it was back to business in 2023. English showed some promise with a final round 66 at the Fortinet Championship to finish T-9th, his first top-ten since Memphis in August 2021. Unfortunately, that is the extent of his good news. He has struggled with his game since. Yes, he made the cut in his last five starts, but his best finish is T-28th at the Shriners Children’s. What concerns me is his tee-to-Green game hasn’t been sharp. He is T-140th in Driving Distance, T-110th in Fairway Accuracy, and 182nd in Greens hit. In past years his putting has carried him, but in his seven starts in 2023, he is 52nd in Strokes Gained Putting. In his career, English has not been the best in the first four months of the year, but when he has had good finishes on the west coast swing, it carries him to a good year. So it will be interesting to see how he does in his first event at the Sony Open in Hawaii. So January and February will be a good indication of his year, but I feel he will struggle for most of the year.
Now it may sound weird having Zalatoris on the same list as those that have played poorly. Zalatoris doesn’t land on this list for his poor play. In Zalatoris’ second season on the PGA Tour, 2022 was a big success. He won for the first time at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, moving him to first in the FedExCup standings, but a nemesis struck him. At 26 years old, Zalatoris is on the cusp of being a breakout star. Two things have kept him from achieving that goal, first, his putter. From tee to green, Zalatoris is one of the best on tour, but in 2021 he was T-122nd in Strokes Gained Putting and T-103rd in 2022. The year was massive for Zalatoris. In 24 starts, he was in the top-ten nine times, and in the majors, he was T-6th in the Masters, runner-up at the PGA Championship, losing a playoff with Justin Thomas, and was T-2nd at the U.S. Open just a shot back of winner Matt Fitzpatrick. But along with all the excellent play, Zalatoris had a dodgy back that would pop up several times in his two years on the PGA Tour. After winning for the first time at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first playoff event, he went to the BMW Championship. After good rounds of 70-69, which placed him T-22nd, the back pain he had experienced hit a new high, and he was forced to withdraw after playing just 3 holes. Upon returning home, an MRI revealed that Zalatoris had two herniated discs. He wasn’t about to play in the Presidents Cup and was home rehabbing the problem. The good news, he didn’t need surgery, but the bad news is that his rehab has stretched longer than many thought. It was rumored that he could make a return to Bermuda, but that didn’t happen. Then the thought was to play at the Hero Challenge, but that didn’t happen either. So now the plan is for him to return to competition at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Zalatoris has been quiet on social media, and not much has been written. So pure speculation on my part. I have seen and heard many of these rehabs without surgery not working out. Zalatoris has been away from the game for over four months, so despite him being a great ball striker, it will take a bit to get competitive again. But just like Jason Day, who has a similar problem and never had surgery, he never regained his game. So I have to wonder if Zalatoris will be 100%? Jason Day wasn’t, and you could never rely on Day playing well from week to week. We should know by the time the tour gets to the Florida swing, but we still have to worry that the back could flair up again at any time for Will.
He was another of those consistent players who, for the first time in his career, ran into problems. In Simpsons’ case, it was a herniated disc in his neck. Between 2009 when he first played full-time on the PGA Tour, Simpson always made it to the top 100 of the FedExCup playoffs. After a win in the 2012 U.S. Open, Simpson experienced tough times when the way he putted with a long putter attached to his body which he had used since he was a junior golfer, was banned in 2016. After a lean year, Simpson devised a new approach to using his long putter, which was legal in golf. He won the 2018 Players Championship and then in 2020 won the Phoenix Open and Heritage. Things couldn’t have been better, but he tweaked his neck at Wells Fargo in 2021 while hitting balls. Things didn’t get better for him as the pain got worst. He took time off after the 2022 Sony Open and returned to the Players, but in his last 15 events, he only had two top-20 finishes, the best a T-13th at the Travelers. The thought would be that things would be better in 2023, but in three starts, his best finish was a T-52nd in the no-cut CJ Cup. His stats haven’t improved in 2023, and before the RSM Classic, he switched swing coaches from Butch Harman to Cameron McCormick. He felt a degree of confidence with an opening round of 67 at the RSM Classic, but with a second round, 74 missed the cut. So will this continue into early 2023? We know that Simpson has always been a fighter, but between the neck injury and redoing his game under McCormick, I am not very keen on Simpson’s chances in 2023.
Here is a look at the ugly players who could struggle in 2023.
These guys had seen a degree of good times, but now they are struggling and looking to regain some of the magic they used to have.
When Champ won the Sanderson Farms Championship in October of 2018, many thought he was the star of the future. It came in his seventh start as a professional, and between that and the distance Champ hits the ball, the thought of him being a can’t-miss was big news. Champ won again in Napa the following year and had a productive 2020. But after winning the 2021 Safeway Championship, we noticed something that was a problem for Champ, inconsistency. Champ won again in 2021, but the 2020 & ’21 seasons weren’t that successful. Other than the victory in the 3M Open, in 26 starts in 2021, Champ only made 14 cuts and had just two top-ten finishes. Going into the 3M Open at the end of July, Champ was 142nd in the FedExCup rankings. The win saved an abysmal season, and in the playoffs, he finished T-27th at the Northern Trust and T-66th at the BMW Championship. So yes, he spent the year 57th in the rankings, but that was due to the 3M win. So that helps make sense to his 2022 season that saw Champ finish 144th in the FedExCup. In 19 starts, he missed 11 cuts, and if he weren’t for a T-10th at the Masters and T-6th at the Mexico Open, things would have been worst. 2023 looks like the trend of being inconsistent is continuing. He only made one cut in six starts, a T-8th at the Zozo Championship. So in looking at Champ, don’t expect much, but he could have one or two great finishes on courses that long hitters thrive on.
When Higgs got his PGA Tour card in 2020, thanks to his excellent season on the Korn Ferry Tour, Higgs showed some promise. In his sixth start on the PGA Tour at the 2020 Bermuda Championship, he finished 2nd, four shots back of winner Brendon Todd. In his first year, 2020, Higgs played in 25 events and was in the top ten seven times. Yes, he missed nine cuts, but we felt it was a great rookie season. 2021 started strongly. In his first start, he was 2nd at the Safeway Open. But that would be his last top-20 finish until he was T-4th at the PGA Championship. Those two finishes carried him to the first two FedExCup playoff events as he finished 66th in the standings. But in 28 starts, he missed 15 cuts, making him a problematic pick in 2022. That year he had a similar season as 2021 but didn’t have the runner-up and T-4th as he had. In 30 PGA Tour starts in 2022, he only made 13 cuts, and his T-9th finish at the CJ Cup was his only good finish. He was T-14th at the Masters and T-11th at the Barracuda, but the year was a bust as he finished 147th in the FedExCup rankings. In looking at his stats for 2022, they were terrible. He was at the bottom of the scale in every category except for finishing T-53rd in Strokes Gained Putting. 2023 has proven to be the same as 2022. In five starts, he has only made two cuts, the best finish was T-21st at the RSM Classic. Again his stats for 2023 is terrible, except for putting, which seems to be the only thing keeping him on tour.
He has always been the type of player you could rely on in the Valero Texas Open, Arnold Palmer, and the first four months of the year. In his career on the PGA Tour, he has always been consistent. Between 2007 and 2021, he never finished outside the top 80 in the FedExCup race. After finishing 32nd in 2021, Hoffman dropped to 161st in 2022, and in 2023 he has only made two cuts in six starts. In the early months of 2022, Hoffman had back pains and had to think that this could be a problem for him. He has always been dependable from Tee-To-Green, but in 2023 he is 182nd in Driving Accuracy, and 205th in Strokes Gained Putting. It’s hard to believe, but Hoffman will be 46 at the end of the year, and maybe the motivation for him is not there anymore.
Erik Van Rooyen
In the summer of 2021, Van Rooyen was one of the hottest players in the world. He went into the Barracuda Championship 139th in the FedExCup standings. After winning the Barracuda Championship, he got into the FedExCup playoffs and finished 7th at the Northern Trust, 5th at the BMW Championship, and T-22nd at the Tour Championship. He continued the good play finishing T-12th at the 2022 Abu Dhabi Championship and T-4th at the Dubai Desert Classic. He was T-13th at the Players and T-10th at the Heritage, but he suffered back and neck pains. He missed five cuts in a row and, after the Scottish Open, pulled out of the British Open to take some time off. He returned to golf three months later in Spain, finishing T-61st at the Andalucia Masters, and missed the cut at the Mallorca Open. On the PGA Tour, he was T-35th in Bermuda, missed the cut at Mayakoba, and withdrew from Houston after a first-round 75. He missed the South African Open cut and was T-71st at the Dunhill Championship. He has no social media presence, and we haven’t heard of anything, but we have to wonder if his back and neck problems are still lingering. In his first three starts of 2023, his stats are terrible. Of all the key ones, his best is 81st in Greens in Regulation. Now last year at this time, a lot of people thought that Van Rooyen was going to be a star of the future, but frankly, he is one to forget in 2023 as he tries to figure out his physical problems.
So lets now look at those that are showing the most improvements,
the players who could be big contenders and consistent players in 2023
He hasn’t played much in the 2023 fall portion of the PGA Tour, but his good play at the Hero World Challenge, finishing 3rd, has convinced me he will have a banner year. Young is only 25 years old and already has had a banner career. His father was the head pro at the Sleepy Hollow C.C. in Westchester, New York. Young had a standout junior career at Wake Forest before turning pro in 2019. In what turned out to be a two-year cycle on the Korn Ferry Tour between 2020/21, he was 17th in the KF points standings after recording two wins, a runner-up finish, and six top-10s across 28 starts. He was 10th in the Korn Ferry Tour money list with $422,174 in earnings and was 33rd in the priority ranking, getting his PGA Tour card for 2022. In his second start of the year finished T-2nd, a shot back of winner Sam Burns at the Sanderson Farms Championship. He would be runner-up again at the Genesis Invitational and added three more runner-up finishes in the Wells Fargo, British Open, and Rocket Mortgage. He also finished T-3rd at the PGA Championship, a shot back of the Thomas/Zalatoris playoff. Young is one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, he ranked 3rd in 2022. Driving is the key to his game, as he not only hits it long but fairly straight. In 2022 he made 18 cuts in 25 starts, and one of the keys for him is more consistency, but when you finish in the top ten, seven times in 2022, that shows a lot of potential. Look for Young to have a breakout year like Scottie Scheffler had.
This Irishman has played in America since he came over to attend East Tennessee State in 2006. After two years on the Korn Ferry Tour, Power earned a PGA Tour card for 2017. He struggled in his first four years, primarily because of a worn-out elbow which he had surgery on in 2021. While rehabbing from the surgery, Power got together with Dr. Bob Rotella, who got Power to relax and gave him confidence. By the summer, his game had come around. His last eight starts in 2021 were in the top 20 six times, including winning the Barbasol Championship. Since that victory, Power hasn’t looked back. All of his key stats have improved, and in 2023 in 26 starts, he has 13 top-25 finishes and five top-ten. We have noticed that Power seems to play well on courses near oceans. An example, in 2022, Power was T-12th at Bermuda, T-11th at Mayakoba, T-15th at Sentry Toff, T-3rd at Sony Open in Hawaii, and T-9th at Pebble. But solidify this premise, in 2023, he won in Bermuda, was T-3rd at Mayakoba, and T-5th at the RSM Classic, all courses on major bodies of water.
Hard to believe that at just 20, he has already been a pro for four years and won eight times around the world with two of them on the PGA Tour. Kim’s father, Chang-Ik, was a professional golfer and played worldwide, including on the Korn Ferry Tour. Chang-Ik got Tom started in golf at age six. Tom, at age 11, decided to not only become a professional golfer but wanted to play on the PGA Tour like his hero Tiger Woods. Kim started playing on the Phillippine Tour before playing on the Asian Development Tour, the Asian Tour, and then the Korean Tour. With COVID making it hard to hold professional events in Asia, Kim made good of the limited events he could play in. In seven events on the Asian and Korean Tour, Kim was T-4th at the Singapore Open and New Zealand Open and was runner-up at the Busan Gyeongnam Open. He also won the Gunsan C.C. Open in Korea. Kim started the year 154th in the World Golf Rankings, and after winning the Sunsan Open, he found himself 92nd in the rankings. With that, Kim got an invitation to play in the PGA Championship in San Francisco and three more events on the PGA Tour. In 2021 he mainly played on the Korean Tour, and in 17 starts, he won once, was runner-up in three events, and with nine top-ten finishes, he led their money list. Between that and Kim winning the Singapore International and finishing runner-up in the Singapore Open and Asian Mixed Cup, Kim got back into the top 100 of the World Golf Rankings and got invited to the PGA Championship again. At the same time, by winning the Asian Tour order of merit, he got to play in the U.S. Open and qualified for the British Open with his 2nd place finish in the Singapore Open. Kim’s big break was getting into the Genesis Scottish Open, and with his 3rd place finish, he got enough points to get a temporary membership onto the PGA Tour for the rest of the 2022 season. He was T-47th at the British Open, T-26th at the 3M Open, and 7th at the Rocket Mortgage. That was enough to get him on the PGA Tour in 2023, but when he won the Wyndham Championship, that made sure he would play on the PGA Tour for at least two years and got him into the 2023 Masters. Kim also got to play in the FedExCup playoffs and, after a T-54th finish at the BMW Championship, ended the year 35th in the FedExCup standings. Another perk that Kim enjoyed was playing on the Presidents Cup team and earning two points. After taking some time off, Kim made his first 2023 start at the Shriners Children’s Open and won the event when Patrick Cantlay made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the final hole. So why is he going to be golf’s next superstar? First, he is a very hard worker and devotes much of his time to playing and getting better at golf. In Baseball, there is a term for a talented kid, a five-tool player. That means he excels in speed, Arm Strength, Fielding, Hitting for average, and hitting for power. In golf, we can say Kim is a five-tool player since he is accurate off the tee, can hit a lot of greens, can scramble successfully on greens he misses, is an excellent putter, and can make a lot of birdies and eagles. But most of all, he is being talked about in the same light as Tiger Woods when he first played on the PGA Tour in 1996. By winning twice on the PGA Tour before turning 21, it was the first time since Tiger Woods did it in 1996, and they have been the only players to achieve that feat since World War II. We are going to see how Kim does. On top of his Vegas win, Tom finished in the top 25 in four of his starts. He was T-10th at the Hero World Challenge. So look at great things from Kim right off the bat in 2023.
He has been on the PGA Tour since 2013 and has never been higher than 87th in the FedExCup standings, he’s been that consistent. Despite that, you would think he would win more. Henley’s game is a lot like Will Zalatoris’s, supreme tee-to-green game but lacks a good putting touch. Henley’s big question is whether he can continue getting better from tee to green and find a suitable putting game. One thing to remember, historically, Henley has shined on the West Coast and Florida swings and is very good on Bermuda Greens. His win at Mayakoba in November shows us that he is ready to break out in 2023.
When he first came on tour in 2011, we thought he would be a world-beater. He won the Byron Nelson beating Ryan Palmer in a playoff, and then the PGA Championship. That was his first start in a major, joining the likes of Francis Ouimet and Ben Curtis as the only players to win a major on their first try. Keegan went on to finish 20th in the FedExCup rankings, and the following year Bradley won again at the WGC-Bridgestone. He played well until 2015 when he finished 60th in the FedEx Cup and then 103rd. So what happened? Bradley won the PGA Championship and was the first player to win a major with an anchored putter. When he won the PGA, this started a trend of more players putting in that manner. So he was lost when that style of putting was banned in 2016. He tried new putters and tinkered with different grips, which was why he played poorly in 2016. His tee-to-green game was always good, which saved him. He had good moments, like in 2018 when he won the BMW Championship, which helped him finish 8th in the FedExCup standings. In the years after, he had three runner-up finishes and earned enough to make a good living on the PGA Tour but winning and being considered one of the best eluded him. Bradley has lived with his inconsistent putting, but things started to change when he finished 5th at last year’s Players Championship. His putting began to come around when he started working at the end of 2021 with coach Phil Kenyon and using the Putting Arc system of putting. Both gave him more confidence. In his last 13 events of 2022, he had four more top-tens, including a runner-up at Wells Fargo. But the one thing that Bradley showed in 2022 was an improved putting game. Since the putting ban in 2016, Bradley has never ranked lower than 126th in Strokes Gained Putting. In 2019 he ranked 178th, 185th in 2020, and 186th in 2021. That same year he ranked 178th in putting between 4 and 8 feet. In 2022 he jumped to 88th in Strokes Gained putting and was 124th in putting inside ten feet. These are drastic changes. Sure, he is not what you would can a word-beater, but he is good enough to get to another level. He showed that by winning the Zozo Championship and ranked 18th in 2023 in Strokes Gained Putting and 44th in Putting Inside ten feet. So with all of that, I can see some great things from Bradley as he will be more in contention.
In the last ten years, Harman could be the most consistent player on the PGA Tour. In his 11 years on tour, he has only been twice as high as 57th on the FedEx Cup. In 2013 he was 94th, and in 2019 he was 88th. But since that year, he was 37th in 2020, 21st in 2021, and broke into the top 30, finishing 21st in 2022. In the years 2021 and ’22, Harman played in 45 events and was in the top 25, 21 times. In that period, he had 11 top-ten finishes, meaning he was in the top ten in 25% of his starts. He ended 2022 finishing T-6th at the British Open and T-3rd at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, thanks to improving ball striking. He has progressively improved in Greens in Regulation. In 2019, he was T-160th, in 2022 he was 71st, the best he has ever finished in that stat. In four fall starts, Harman is now T-8th in Greens in regulation, thanks to runner-up finishes at Mayakoba and the RSM Classic. So the feeling is that Harman, who will be 36 in January, could be on the cusp of a breakout year. He has contended at the Masters and the U.S. Open to play well in the majors. The one thing that has held him back is putting. He was T-77th in Strokes Gained Putting in 2022 and T-48th this year. If he can find some improvements there, nothing will hold him back.
In talking putting, one of the best putters on the PGA Tour could be Montgomery. He learned it the hard way, playing in high stake money games in his birth city, Las Vegas. His father Monte, was an excellent player and general manager of the famous Shadow Creek course in Las Vegas. At an early stage, Taylor found himself in many money games with high rollers, which helped him earn some money while going to UNLV. He graduated with a communications degree in 2017 and turned pro, playing on mini-tours. After turning pro, he won the Major Series of Putting and, at the end of 2019, made it through Korn Ferry Tour qualifying. Montgomery played well in the Covid shortened 2020 and was 23rd on the Korn Ferry Tour points list at the end of the year. Unfortunately, with the season shortened, the tour combined the 2020 and ’21 seasons, which meant another year on the Korn Ferry Tour. He started strong losing a playoff at the first event he played LECOM Suncoast Classic. At that time, he was 14th on the points list but struggled with his game for the next four months. By the time he played in the Utah Championship in August, he had dropped to 29th on the points list. With a T-2nd at the Utah Championship, he climbed back into the top 25 to 24th. But in the last event before the playoffs, Montgomery shot 77-68 to miss the cut and watch two players pass him up. He missed the top 25 and his PGA Tour card by a shot. He still had a good shot at getting his card in the Korn Ferry Tour finals. In the last event, the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, he was ranked 14th on the finals points list. After a first-round 70, with six holes left in the second round, he was a shot inside the cut line. Montgomery played those six holes in 12 over and missed the cut. Two days later, Justin Lower got up and down for par on the 72nd hole to pass him. So despite long odds, Montgomery finished 26th in both the Korn Ferry Tour’s season-ending qualifying event and the Korn Ferry Tour regular season points list. That meant he had to endure another year on the Korn Ferry Tour. After a slow start, which found him 38th on the points list, Montgomery played great in his remaining ten events, finishing in the top 13 in nine and the top four in six, securing his PGA Tour card for 2023. We mentioned how good a putter Montgomery is. His putting average rank was T-1st in the 2020/21 season and 3rd in 2022. In his rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2023, he got off to a great start finishing 3rd at the Fortinet Championship. He finished in the top 15 in five of his last six starts, and his worst finish is T-57th at the Houston Open. He ranks 13th in 2023 in Strokes Gained putting and is 8th in putting between four and eight feet. The weakest part of his game has always been driving. Between that and hitting greens, he needs to improve. Looking back, he now realizes the reason for that fault, swinging too hard. Over the last five years, he has worked hard with his swing coach Jon Sinclair to improve on this and understand the value of hitting fairways and greens. So we know that Montgomery’s game is a work in progress, but with his great putting, we will see Taylor play well on courses that don’t demand precision driving.
He could have been one of the biggest surprises on the PGA Tour in 2022. Born and raised in Canada, he went to Kent State in 2010 and played on the Golf Team for four years. He became one of only two players in Kent State history to play in the NCAA Championship in all four college seasons. He graduated in 2014 with a degree in Sports Administration and turned professional. He played mostly on the Canadian Tour but did qualify and play on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016. That experience wasn’t perfect, as he only made six cuts in 20 starts and went back to play full-time on the Canadian Tour in 2018 and ’19. At the end of 2019, Pendrith earned a Korn Ferry Tour spot in the qualifying tournament. After a slow start in which his best finish in his first seven starts was T-24th, things started to get better after the three-month pause due to Covid. Starting with his T-3rd finish at the Colorado Championship, he was runner-up in his following three events. In his last 12 starts on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020, he had eight top-15 finishes, including four runner-up finishes, and ended 2020 2nd on the Korn Ferry Tour points list. Unfortunately, just like with Taylor Montgomery, with the season shortened due to Covid, the tour combined 2020 with the 2021 season, meaning Pendrith was stuck on the Korn Ferry Tour for another year. Like the previous year, Pendrith started slowly and didn’t get his first top-ten until the ninth event, finishing T-8th at the Evans Scholars Innovation. He had one more top-ten with a T-4th after TPC Colorado Championship. He ended the year 5th on the Korn Ferry Tour regular season points list, and 7th on the KFT points list. He was one of three members of the 25 who earned a PGA Tour card without a victory. On the PGA Tour in 2022, he held the outright lead after the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the Bermuda Championship. He shot a final round 76 to finish T-5th. The positive news is that it was his first top-ten of his PGA Tour career. On the Florida swing was T-25th at the Honda Classic, T-42nd at the Arnold Palmer, and T-13th at the Players. Unfortunately, while hitting balls on the range at the Players, Pendrith fractured his ribs, and it was a grind to finish the week. After the event, Pendrith had an MRI that revealed a rib fracture and needed rest until it was fully healed. The thought was that he had to rest a month, which turned into four months as he returned to the Barbasol Championship. He tried to play in his national championship, the Canadian Open, but the ribs still weren’t perfect. He tried at the John Deere but tested positive for Covid. At the Barbasol, he finished T-13th, and the following week at the Barracuda was T-11th. At the Rocket Mortgage that was played just a few hours away from where he grew up in Richmond Hills, Canada, Pendrith opened with a 64. He added rounds of 65-66 and had a share of the lead going into the final round. Again he stumbled, shooting a final round 72 to finish T-2nd. That finish solidified his PGA Tour card for 2023 and with a T-13th at Wyndham got a place in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He ended the year 68th at Memphis and T-8th at the BMW Championship, finishing 47th on the final points list. With the good finish, Pendrith was given a captain’s pick to play for the International Team at the Presidents Cup. Despite losing all four matches, he gained a lot of experience. In 2023 Pendrith made the cut in all four starts; his best finish was T-15th at the RSM Classic. You may ask why we think Pendrith is a person to watch in 2023? He has the combination of hitting the ball a long way and straight, along with hitting many greens. On the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020/21, he was T-9th in Greens in Regulation. On the PGA Tour in 2022 was 10th and 27th in 2023. He is working hard on his putting. On the PGA Tour was 134th in Strokes Gained putting in 2022 and 132nd in 2023. What gives us some thoughts of improvement in 2023 is that he is 60th in putts between four and eight feet and 96th in putts inside ten feet. So watch Pendrith, especially when he gets to the Florida swing, which seems to fit his game.
Of all the players that came out with high expectations, Fowler could be the one that started strong and then collapsed. After a decent amateur career, he turned professional in the fall of 2009. In his first event, he finished T-7th at Las Vegas, and his next start at the Frys.Com in Arizona was T-2nd, losing a playoff to Troy Matteson. A little later, Fowler earned his PGA Tour card at the Qualifying school. Fowler was very consistent. In his first year, he finished 32nd in the FedExCup rankings. In 2012 he won for the first time on the PGA Tour at Wells Fargo and found himself in contention. In 2014 he came very close to winning a major as he was T-5th at the Masters, T-2nd at the U.S. Open, T-2nd at the British Open, and T-3rd at the PGA Championship. In his first few years on the PGA Tour, he was getting write-ups on what a great player he was but couldn’t win the big one. Soon after in 2015, he beat Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in a playoff to win the Players Championship. Later in the year, he won the Deutsche Bank Championship and finished 4th in the FedEx Cup. In 2017 he won the Honda Classic and earned just over $6 million. The following year he had six top-tens and two runner-ups and, in 2019, won the Waste Management Phoenix Open just a month after turning 30. A month later, he was T-2nd at the Honda Classic and continued his good play, but his game got erratic after finishing T-6th at the British Open. He finished the year 19th on the FedExCup, which wasn’t bad when you consider he was in the top 31 in the standings for the last six years and in the top 50 in every one of his ten seasons on tour. He got married in October 2019. He started the season with a T-5th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a T-10th at the American Express. That would be his last top-ten for 30 events. Of course, all of this came when Covid hit, and if you look at the stats, it wasn’t like he hit a brick wall. He went from 13th in 2019 in Strokes Gained Putting but dropped to T-60th in 2020 and from 59th in 2019 in Greens in Regulation to 112th. When Covid got better and the PGA Tour went back to normal for 2021, his Strokes Gained Putting went down to 126th, and his Greens in Regulation went to 156th. 2021 was his worst year on tour. In 24 starts, he only made 15 cuts and had just one top-ten, a T-8th at the PGA Championship. He fell to 134th in the FedExCup standings, the first time he had never made the playoffs. 2022 was just as bad, sure in his second start of the year was T-3rd at the CJ Cup, his best finish since the runner-up finishes in the 2019 Honda Classic. The event was played in Las Vegas, and he returned to Butch Harman, his teacher since college, but they split up when Butch cut his schedule in 2018. Fowler moved to work with John Tillery, but at the start of the 2022 season, Fowler was back part-time with Harmon. So with the T-3rd at the CJ Cup, many thought that maybe Fowler was back and would play better. That never happened, in the remaining 20 starts of the year, his best finish was T-21st, and his game got even worst. Putting was a serious problem, as in 2022, he was 161st in Strokes Gained Putting. He was even worst in Greens in Regulation, dropping to 186th. Once as high as fourth in the World Golf Rankings, after the 2022 season, he was down to 176. So going into the 2023 season, Fowler decided to make some changes. The first was his caddie Joe Skovron who had worked with him since he turned pro in 2009. He turned to Ricky Romano to become only Fowler’s second caddie of his career. He also decided to stop working with Tillery and stay with Harmon. Fowler worked with Harmon to create a steeper plane with his left arm, giving him more room on the downswing and making his action more efficient. Harmon also has a knack for helping players gain more confidence in themselves, which Fowler needed. Fowler also put more emphasis on his putting. Five years previous, he was one of the best putters on Tour, and now he struggled with it. Fowler focused more on situational practice than static mirror work and keyed in on putts inside ten feet. With all of that work, Fowler saw his confidence return. At the season-opening Fortinet Championship, Fowler finished T-6th. Despite missing the cut in Las Vegas, he finished T-2nd at the Zozo Championship just a shot back of winner Keegan Bradley. It was his best finish since the 2019 Honda Classic. Many will say it’s a fluke, especially when Fowler is down to 171st in Strokes Gained Putting. But the good news is that Fowler has seen major improvements in the rest of his game. He is now 3rd in Greens in Regulation and 19th in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. So we have to think that with some of the changes if Fowler could regain the stellar putting that made him so good the first ten years on the PGA Tour, we could see some good things. Rickie is starting 2023 at the Farmers in San Diego and then playing at Pebble and Phoenix. This should indicate if Rickie can accomplish a comeback and be a force on the PGA Tour. With that have to feel that 2023 could be a banner year for Fowler.