PGA 2019-20 Season Preview
Coming off a dramatic Presidents Cup victory for the United States, the PGA Tour takes a break for the holidays until the Sentry Tournament of Champions kicks off the 2020 slate at Kapalua.
The Tour is loaded with arguably the most talent of any time in its history. In addition to the deep pool of studs and major champions lining the ranks, many rising stars who have yet to reach those lofty heights are primed to knock on the door -- or charge right through it -- in 2020. Tour mainstays will look to break through for a deep run in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, a race up the Tour Money List, or a long-awaited win. And finally, an incredibly deep pool of young players will look to vault themselves into consideration among the world's elite.
Golfers are using data and analytics to shape how they approach every tournament, every round, every hole, and every shot. The gap between the best players and even an above-average Tour pro is massive, but the sport features enough variance that three-figure long shots routinely contend and, as was the case in 2019, even win on occasion.
Below we'll preview golfers to watch across betting markets and daily fantasy contests this season, based on their current form and prospects going forward.
The Top 25
|Player Name||My Rank||Official World Golf Ranking||2018-19 Strokes Gained: Tee to Green Average*||2018-19 Scoring Average*||2018-19 Top 10s*|
*Stats are for PGA Tour events only courtesy of Tour's official website.
Rory McIlroy just completed one of the great seasons of the past 25 years, but without a major title, there is still room to improve in 2020. With Brooks Koepka recovering from knee surgery, perhaps he'll let someone else contend at a major for a change. We shouldn't count Koepka out though, as his torrid run of major success was interrupted briefly by a wrist injury in early 2018 that clearly failed to dampen his prospects once healthy.
A cadre of incredible talents who have not quite reached the game's highest level of success -- Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, and Tommy Fleetwood -- all border the top 10 both in our ranking and the OWGR (Official World Golf Ranking). Any would be a great bet to claim their first major championship in 2020, with Rahm in by far the best form heading into the season. Fleetwood was a popular bet in every world-class field last season and came up short with a T5 at the PLAYERS and a runner up at The Open as his high points, though the latter was by a massive six strokes to the smoldering Lowry. The books will have to lengthen his prices this year, and he will be a very attractive option right up until the point where he actually wins one.
There should be few surprises through the rest of the list until perhaps the last, where it was nigh impossible to leave out Sungjae Im after his dismantling of Gary Woodland in their singles match at the Presidents Cup. Im plays just about every week in a relentless effort to cash checks and accrue points in the FedEx Cup Standings, and if he happens to pick up a win, he'll be all but assured a trip to East Lake for the TOUR Championship come August.
The most intriguing name, as has been the case for over two decades, is Tiger Woods. But more on him later.
The Middle Class
The drop from elite is, as referenced above, precipitous. It would be difficult to try to power rank this many professional golfers, each of whom can quite reasonably be projected to finish in the top 10 or miss the cut at any given event. Golfers like Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, and Graeme McDowell are former major winners who have won in the past 12 months but would rarely be offered anywhere close to a favorite in a full field at this stage of their careers. Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedeker, and Billy Horschel have major championship or at least FedEx Cup pedigree, but look like a safer bet to make you curse their name by Friday afternoon rather than sweat out a win or top 5. Kevin Na, Kevin Kisner, Chez Reavie, and J.B. Holmes were winners last year but seem unlikely to play well enough or long enough to become a fixture among the top players in the world.
You'll find names like Byeong-Hun An, Jason Kokrak, Lucas Glover, Rory Sabbatini, Emiliano Grillo, and Kyle Stanley if you focus primarily on statistics, but none have demonstrated significant win equity week-to-week. Each should be a target in their preferred conditions for DFS contests or finishing position wagers, with a sprinkle on the outright win they seem so long overdue for. European golfers who look like world-beaters from an OWGR standpoint often don't play enough on Tour to pop on stat models. Quality of competition and course comparisons make it difficult to project guys like Bernd Wiesberger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace, and Erik Van Rooyen. Still, each is far more talented than they'll get credit for in the betting markets.
So, who can we target in this vast player pool on a week to week basis when filling out our betting cards or daily fantasy lineups? Each week, we'll put out a course primer, daily fantasy helper, and betting guide to help you identify which golfers fit the course layout and style, and who is coming in with the best form. The dream is to pinpoint a grinder offered at massive odds who has enough juice in their game and the right set up to make it this week -- that's what happened last year for Corey Conners, Nate Lashley, and Max Homa.
While Im (21 years old) has the most well-rounded game and piles up starts on Tour, he is just one of a slew of bright young stars who have already begun to make their mark in the golf world. Matthew Wolff (20), Collin Morikawa (22), and Cameron Champ (24) lead the way for the Americans, all winners on Tour in their first pass through, with Champ earning a win in each of the past two fall swings. Joaquin Niemann (21) showed enough this fall to earn a spot on the Presidents Cup roster, and it would be no surprise to see Viktor Hovland (22) land on the Ryder Cup team. And the top amateur in the world is the Japanese Takumi Kanaya.
The future is now for most of these names -- all of the professionals except Im and Hovland have already won, and they are arguably the two best of the bunch. Less proven but still intriguing are Brandon Wu (22), who finished T17 in his pro debut at the Houston Open this fall, and Scottie Scheffler (23), who booked five top-20 finishes in his first fall as a professional. And finally, a name to watch as a sponsor's exemptions in the summer months is Akshay Bhatia, who at that time will have just graduated high school. He missed his first five PGA cuts this fall, but with the start of the new school year and homecoming to worry about, we won't be too harsh on the 17-year-old.
The Masters victory was an undeniably special moment, but Woods booked only two other top 10 finishes in stroke play and missed the cut at both the PGA Championship and The Open. He'll pick his spots and play another limited schedule, and after last year's disaster at Royal Portrush, his days in cold and windy conditions are likely numbered. After failing to qualify for the TOUR Championship, Tiger has started off the new season like gangbusters. A dominant performance in Japan is almost forgotten given his undefeated personal record and successful captaining of the United States in their Presidents Cup victory. If he can somehow claw his way back to the top of the world or win another major, Woods will once again be not only the biggest name in golf, but potentially in all of sports.