Now that the fall is behind us, we can look ahead to 2015 and update the players to watch.
Not much has changed... aside from our expectations for Jordan Spieth heading into 2015. We already figured it would be a monster year for the 21-year-old Texan, but the knock on Spieth (a one-time winner on the PGA Tour) has been his inability to close out a tournament. Cut him some slack. Those missed opportunities were nothing more than learning experiences.
... And did he ever learn. Spieth's win on Sunday at the Hero World Challenge was his second in as many weeks on two different continents.
We're certainly sky-high on Spieth, but there are plenty more we can't wait to see in 2015.
10. Phil Mickelson: Let's face it -- 2013-14 was a season Lefty would like to forget. Outside of a runner-up finish in the PGA Championship, there aren't a whole lot of positives Mickelson can take away from the last 12 months, his first winless season since 2003. That second-place finish at Valhalla also happened to be Mickelson's lone top 10 in 21 starts on the PGA Tour. In 2014-15, he's bound to be better. He typically feasts on the West Coast Swing. That didn't happen last winter, but I expect it to change. What we saw out of Mickelson in 2014 was an aberration. Yes he's 44. That doesn't matter. The drive and the power are still very much there.
9. Billy Horschel: In all honesty, pre-September, there's no way Horschel would have made this list. Things can change in a hurry, however. The FedExCup champion was marvelous in September. After a tie for second at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Horschel went on to win the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship in consecutive starts. Talk about remarkable play in the clutch. Horschel turned an otherwise disappointing season into the best of his career. And, to boot, a couple of days after winning the Tour Championship, Horschel and his wife welcomed their first child -- a baby girl -- into the world. Imagine being 27 years old and without a worry in the world. That's Billy Horschel right now, folks.
8. Jimmy Walker: OK. We saw what Walker is capable of last season when he won three times. Does that mean we should expect another three-win season out of him? Though not likely, it's certainly possible. Perhaps more impressive than the three wins in 2013-14 for Walker was his consistency throughout. In all, he accumulated 19 top-25 finishes in 27 starts, including 10 top 10s. We're not talking about a flash-in-the-pan kind of player who happened to be exceptional for three tournaments. Walker is more confident than ever. He's clearly comfortable with seeing his name on the first page of leaderboards. Expect to see more of the same in 2014-15. That might not equal another three-win season -- hey, winning ain't easy -- but it will be a solid one.
7. Adam Scott: For a good chunk of the 2013-14 season, the 2013 Masters champion was the No. 1 ranked player in the world, until Rory McIlroy reassumed that position. On paper, it was a great year for Scott -- 16 top-25 finishes in 17 starts, including 10 top 10s, highlighted by a win at Colonial. But, as a No. 1-ranked player in the world, we've come to expect multiple-win seasons. And, frankly, that's what Scott expects for himself. Having recently parted ways with caddie Steve Williams, with whom Scott saw the bulk of his success, it'll be interesting to see how the Aussie fares in a new season (as well as who will be toting the bag). One thing you can take to the bank is this: Scott will be a factor in the majors. Since 2011, in 16 major starts, Scott has racked up nine top-10 finishes. After winning the Masters, he made it clear -- his focus now is adding to his major total.
6. Justin Rose: What's not to love about Rose's game? He has emerged as one of the best in the world for the last several years and he's coming off an incredible performance in the Ryder Cup, where he led Europe to its eighth win in the last 10 matches played. The thing about Rose is this -- when he wins, those wins come at special places. Places like Muirfield Village, Merion, Congressional, Cog Hill and Aronimink Golf Club. Rose has won at least once per season on the PGA Tour since 2010. There's no reason to believe that streak won't continue in 2014-15.
5. Sergio Garcia: It's hard to imagine a better PGA Tour season without a victory than the one Garcia put together in 2013-14. In 16 events played, he finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions, highlighted by three runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes. The three runner-up finishes came in consecutive starts at the Travelers Championship, Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He closed the season with a T4 at the BMW Championship and a T9 at the Tour Championship. Often times when people think of Garcia, they wonder: How hasn't he won a major yet? His on-course maturity level was at an all-time high this past year, so maybe that means a major victory isn't all that far away.
4. Jordan Spieth: Talk about closing out the year on a high note. One week after winning the Australian Open, Jordan Spieth took the long trip back across the Pacific to Orlando to compete in the Hero World Challenge. It was there where Spieth absolutely dominated the star-studded field, winning by a tournament-record 10 shots. His confidence level is through the roof right now. Between the way Spieth and McIlroy are playing, golf fans should be salivating for the major season to begin.
3. Tiger Woods: Ah. Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. What will he give us in 2014-15? Struggling through injuries in 2013-14, Woods was limited to just seven starts -- two of which resulted in withdrawals. After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Woods decided to sit out the remainder of the season to get healthy (he wouldn't have been able to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs anyway, but could have played in Europe). Woods also made news when he announced he was leaving swing coach Sean Foley. Tiger is expected to return for his own Hero World Challenge at Isleworth in December and then -- provided he's healthy -- we should see a full slate for Tiger in 2014-15. Two seasons ago, Woods won five times on the PGA Tour. He's been sitting on 14 major wins since 2008. Will this be a comeback season? Again, health will be the biggest factor.
2. Rickie Fowler: Much like Garcia before him on this list, the only way 2013-14 could have been any better for Fowler would have been with a "W." Instead, he registered 10 top 10s, including a pair of second-place showings and a pair of third-place showings. Remarkably, he was the only player in the world to record a top-5 finish in each of the four majors (T5 at the Masters, T2 at the U.S. Open and Open Championship and T3 at the PGA Championship). He's the only player in history to finish top-5 in all four majors in a single season and not win at least one of them. So, yes, while it's incredible to top-5 in the four majors, it's also got to be a bit of a bummer for Fowler to not have closed the deal in any of them. But, if he continues to put himself in a position to win, it's got to happen eventually, right? Speaking of which, how is it that this guy has just one PGA Tour win on his resume? That changes in 2014-15.
1. Rory McIlroy: He's the best player in the world. He'll be chasing a career grand slam and his third consecutive major win at the Masters. It's his world right now. Two seasons ago, everyone wondered what the heck happened to McIlroy. It was brutal (some say it was the change in equipment and monster endorsements that led to his poor play -- more responsibility and more pressure). In 2013-14, however, McIlroy exploded out of his funk, picking up major wins three and four. It seems now that the sky is the limit for McIlroy. He's far and away the favorite whenever he decides to tee it up. He'll be adding more hardware to his trophy case in 2015 ... and probably a green jacket to his closet.