Golf's next best players... potentially

Jordan Spieth
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In less than two years, Jordan Spieth has shown the world that he has the potential to be the next best player in the game for years to come.
By T.J. Auclair, Senior Interactive Producer
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Who will be the next of the best in professional golf? As we've seen over the last couple of years, there's a lot more parity on the PGA Tour.

You may see a guy win one week, think to yourself, "Who is he?" and then the next thing you know he's contending and winning a lot more (Example: Jimmy Walker).

READ: Current U.S. Ryder Cup points list | Europeans points lists

For the purposes of this piece, we wanted to examine players under the age of 30 who have already made a splash, are making a splash, or who we anticipate to make a splash in the not too distant future.

Here are 10 players you can expect to see contending for majors and battling for the No. 1 World Ranking over the next several years.

1. Rory McIlroy
Age:
25
Current World Ranking: 6
Number of PGA Tour victories: 6
Number of European Tour victories: 6
Best finish in a major: Won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship
Why you need to watch: Among his fellow pros on this list, McIlroy is the lone player to have already won a major championship and also hold the world's No. 1 ranking. As we all know, 2013 was a down year for McIlroy for a host of reasons -- off-the-course business that was taking his mind off golf and an equipment change that took some adjusting. On Sunday in the European Tour’s flagship event – the BMW PGA Championship – McIlroy won on that Tour for the first time since the end of 2012. He's the type of player who we've seen be dominant once before and -- if everything falls into place -- there's no reason to think he can't be dominant, and for a long time, once again.

2. Jordan Spieth
Age:
20
Current World Ranking: 10
Number of PGA Tour victories: 1
Number of European Tour victories: 0
Best finish in a major: T2 at the 2014 Masters
Why you need to watch: Out of every player on this list -- with the lone exception of McIlroy who has been there, done that and will likely do it again -- it's probably safe to say Spieth has the most upside. In 37 starts on the PGA Tour as a professional, Spieth has finished in the top 25 on 24 occasions, highlighted by a win at the 2013 John Deere Classic. Though he hasn't won since the John Deere, Spieth has become a regular contender. Some might knock his perceived inability to close out a tournament. Not me. That comes with time and 75 percent of the challenge is putting yourself in a position to win, which he's doing. The wins will come. What impresses me most are the tournaments where he's putting himself in contention -- Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass, Colonial, East Lake, Pebble Beach, Harbor Town -- the best of the best.

3. Jason Day
Age:
26
Current World Ranking: 7
Number of PGA Tour victories: 2
Number of European Tour victories: 0
Best finish in a major: Second at the 2011 U.S. Open; T2 at the 2011 Masters and 2013 U.S. Open
Why you need to watch: First off, isn't it a little bit hard to believe that Day is only 26 years old? It feels like he's been around forever. And, yes, while he is one of those players you'd expect to have won more on Tour, I'm giving him the same pass as Spieth. It takes time to learn how to win. The only thing that scares me about Day are injuries. This season, after winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, it's a thumb injury that's forced him to miss time and not be at his best when he is able to play. Any injury that involves any part of the hands is scary for a golfer. That's where all the feel is. I'm optimistic that Day will heal and when he does, I wouldn't be surprised to see him rattle off some multiple-win seasons.

4. Dustin Johnson
Age:
29
Current World Ranking: 14
Number of PGA Tour victories: 8
Number of European Tour victories: 0
Best finish in a major: T2 at the 2011 Open Championship
Why you need to watch: DJ just barely made his way onto this list... but that's only because of his age. He'll turn 30 in late June. Talent-wise, we always hear there may be no better pure athlete walking the fairways today (with the arguable exception of Gary Woodland who, by the way, turns 30 on May 22). There are a couple of factors that make Johnson stand out -- 1. His ability to bounce back from and forget a heartbreaking defeat like he suffered at the 2010 U.S. Open and the 2011 PGA Championship; 2. His winning consistency. Johnson has won on the PGA Tour in every season since 2008 (including this one. Even though his last victory -- the WGC-HSBC Champions -- came last November it was part of the new wraparound schedule). He's got more PGA Tour wins than anyone else on this list.

5. Rickie Fowler
Age:
25
Current World Ranking: 37
Number of PGA Tour victories: 1
Number of European Tour victories: 0
Best finish in a major: T5 at the 2011 Open Championship and the 2014 Masters
Why you need to watch: In terms of popularity amongst the younger crowds in the game, there may be no one more popular than Fowler. He certainly has a fashion style that's his own. The competitor in Fowler would love nothing more than for us to be talking less about his clothes and more about wins. To date, he has that lone PGA Tour win, which came at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012 in a playoff with Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points. People genuinely want Fowler to be the face of the game -- you'd be hard pressed to find a nicer person. He's charismatic. He possesses a swing that's very much his own and not the cookie-cutter variety you see with a lot of Tour players. He just needs to get it done down the stretch. Again, like Spieth and Day before him on this list, that will come with time.

6. Harris English
Age:
24
Current World Ranking: 43
Number of PGA Tour victories: 2
Number of European Tour victories: 0
Best finish in a major: T15 at the 2013 Open Championship
Why you need to watch: English won as an amateur on the Web.com Tour and has victories in consecutive seasons -- 2013 and 2013-14 -- on the PGA Tour. His game has it all. He may not have the same star power as the players before him on this list -- he's just not flashy -- but don't let that fool you. In crucial stat categories like birdies made, greens hit in regulation and scoring average, English is sixth or better in all of them. In fact, his scoring average of 69.68 is tops on Tour. He plays a steady game with few mistakes... almost reminds you of fellow Sea Island, Ga., residents Matt Kuchar and Davis Love III.

7. Patrick Reed
Age:
23
Current World Ranking: 26
Number of PGA Tour victories: 3
Number of European Tour victories: 0
Best finish in a major: Missed cut in lone major start at 2014 Masters
Why you need to watch: Go ahead and laugh. Most people do these days when they hear Reed's name because of the brazen, unsolicited, "top-5 in the world," comments he made after winning at Doral this year in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. While it's wise for young professionals to let others toot their horn, Reed gets the last laugh. Do you realize he has three victories since last August? The only other player with three wins in a shorter amount of time recently is Jimmy Walker with three victories since last October. Whether you like him or not, we can all agree that Reed is a confident guy. I think we can also agree that based on his record, he should be.

8. Seung-Yul Noh
Age:
22
Current World Ranking: 99
Number of PGA Tour victories: 1
Number of European Tour victories: 1
Best finish in a major: T21 at the 2013 PGA Championship
Why you need to watch: OK, so Noh isn't a household name here in the U.S. just yet, but the South Korean should be on your radar at least after his win in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans a few weeks ago. What's also impressive about Noh is that he's won on every tour he's played -- PGA Tour, European Tour, Asia Tour, Web.com Tour. Noh is coached by Sean Foley, who also dishes swing advice to the likes of Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and Tiger Woods. Once asked about what makes Noh so good, Foley joked with a play on his pupil's name, "Soon you'll know." We're just beginning to find out.

9. Peter Uihlein
Age:
24
Current World Ranking: 92
Number of PGA Tour victories: 0
Number of European Tour victories: 1
Best finish in a major: T48 at the 2011 Open Championship
Why you need to watch: Peter is the son of Wally Uihlein, chairman and chief executive officer of the Acushnet Company, maker of Titleist golf balls, clubs and more. Though he's been in a bit of a slump lately -- just two cuts made on both the European and PGA Tours this season -- I love the unconventional route Uihlein has taken to become a player at the top level. Unlike so many in the U.S. who work their way through mini tours and the Web.com Tour to get to the big show, Uihlein hasn't been afraid to sow his oats in Europe. The 2010 U.S. Amateur champion started out on the Challenge Tour (Europe's equivalent to the Web.com) and earned his way up to the European Tour. He won in Portugal in 2013 and also had a couple of runner up finishes. The results might not be showing it right now, but all this travel, being exposed to all these different cultures and different styles of golf are going to pay off in the long run for Uihlein. It should be noted, too, that Uihlein withdrew from the BMW PGA Championship last week due to a back injury. Hopefully he bounces back from that soon.

10. Hideki Matsuyama
Age:
22
Current World Ranking: 24
Number of PGA Tour victories: 0
Number of European Tour victories: 0
Best finish in a major: T6 at the 2013 Open Championship
Why you need to watch: Don't be fooled by Matsuyama's apparent lack of victories. Truth is, this is the first full season for Matsuyama on the PGA Tour. If you want to be impressed, look no further than what he's done in Japan. Matsuyama turned professional in April 2013 and won his second professional tournament, the 2013 Tsuruya Open on the Japan Golf Tour. Five weeks later, he won for the third time on that tour and with a top-10 finish in the 2013 U.S. Open, he cracked the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Last December, he won for the fifth time on the Japan Golf Tour and became the first rookie to lead that Tour's money list. On the PGA Tour this season, Matsuyama has seven top-25 finishes in 13 starts, highlighted by a tie for third at the Frys.com Open. While Matsuyama's countryman Ryo Ishikawa has gotten a lot of the attention over the years -- and rightfully so, though his game hasn't fully adjusted to the PGA Tour -- don't overlook Matsuyama. 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.