As I began compiling data for the preseason ranking for the top 125 players of the 2013-14 PGA TOUR, one thing became abundantly clear and very quickly. The middle tier is extremely deep. I’m not talking about the guys in the top 30, or even the top 50, but a range of players from around 70 to 140.
The difference between someone finishing 70th versus 100th versus 140th in money or FedExCup points could essentially be something like four strokes in one tournament. It is entirely possible for a player to step on the 71st tee tied for seventh in a tournament, where a birdie-birdie finish will move him into a tie for second or third, but a pair of bogeys would drop him outside the top 15. The ensuing difference in money and points between T2 and T16 is huge.
A specific trend to which I paid close attention this time was a player’s trend over a longer term when it came to money list. I went back to 2008 and studied the peaks and valleys, and what I tended to discover is that most players return to a certain baseline after a particularly great or poor season. That speaks to class being permanent, but form being temporary. For gamers, the biggest reason to factor this in is to avoid mistaking a good run of tournaments in 2013 for a change in class.
Take Kevin Streelman, for example. Beginning with 2008 and running through 2013, his respective finishes on the money list are 78, 91, 62, 72, 107 and 17. He’s due to slide back into a comfortable medium in the 60-80 range.
Something else to keep an eye on, it’s not uncommon for a mid-tier player to have a letdown in the season following a win. Especially if it’s his first win. He could feel additional pressure to repeat, change his schedule to include bigger events with deeper fields rather than picking off weaker fields in lower-tier events, take more money to change equipment or any number of other factors. Maybe this isn’t the year to jump on Ken Duke.
Here are other thoughts and lingering questions when looking back at 2013 and trying to properly slot players for 2013-14:
• There were a few notable sophomore slumps in 2013, with Bud Cauley and Seung-yul Noh leading that charge. What does that mean for a guy like Luke Guthrie with tons of potential, but who went winless in 2013?
• We have to do our best to figure out why a slumping player did so. Certain players change equipment, have babies, get engaged or married, get caught cheating on a spouse or girlfriend, etc. I can think of major impacts on players' games -- both good and bad depending on the circumstances -- resulting from factors off the course. If you read Twitter, it’s possible you came across Rory Sabbatini’s ex-wife’s page, in which case it makes perfect sense to you why he was slow out of the gate in 2013. Noh changed swing coaches and equipment. If anyone is curious as to why Jason Day went from ninth in 2011 to 88th in 2012 back to 12th on the 2013 money list, my guess would be the birth of his son in the heart of the 2012 PGA TOUR season had something to do with it. If anyone has information as to future mid-season births of Day children, I’d love to know about it!
• On the topic of players coming off rough seasons, be more forgiving of a younger guy like Sean O’Hair, who could find his swing and is still in his early 30s, than a guy who is pushing 40 or higher. A guy like Justin Leonard is probably on a very real decline due to variables out of his control; namely length and age. It doesn’t make him a bad player, but it does mean he is a risky investment.
• Billy Horschel didn’t come out of nowhere last season. He trended well into the pre-2013 offseason and easily escaped Q School. Jason Dufner didn’t come out of nowhere in early 2012, either. While it would have been foolish to confidently predict the type of seasons those guys enjoyed in their perspective breakthrough years, don’t overlook some potential candidates for 2013-14 stardom. My flavor is to look for a guy with some solid pedigree coming out of the college ranks that’s taken a little longer than expected to fully bloom. Already established, but still in that category could be Kevin Chappell, Matt Every and Cameron Tringale. Each are winless on the PGA TOUR. Coming off the farm will be John Peterson, Ben Martin and Jamie Lovemark, each with a taste of PGA TOUR experience to different degrees.
• Appreciate consistency. There are guys out there who aren’t flashy, but you know what you are going to get out of them every season. Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman, Brian Davis, John Rollins, Ryan Palmer and Martin Laird are all examples of guys that aren’t going to earn you high fives on draft night, but you almost never find them inside the top 30 or outside the top 80. Having a couple of those guys on a team of 10 or 12 is a smart move.
• Don’t overspend or fill up too many roster spots with guys that play global schedules. My salary cap team from last year was the billboard for that mistake. Guys like Martin Kaymer and Nicolas Colsaerts will make at or near the minimum of 15 starts, whereas the Hoffmans and Rollins of the TOUR will give you 10 or 12 more starts per year. There is also the factor of field strength in the 15 events the international players compete. Just because they can’t miss the cut in a WGC, doesn’t mean they’ll nab a top 10. Again, speaking from experience!
One additional note, I will frequently refer to a player’s money list for two reasons. First, many games are based on earnings. Second, the FEC standings are so heavily weighted in the Playoffs that it can throw off the full-season value of a player. I’m not ignoring the elevated place of the FedExCup standings, rather choosing money as a better gauge of a player’s overall value.
Rank Golfer Comment
1 Tiger Woods There shouldn’t be much debate surrounding this one.
2 Brandt Snedeker Coming off back-to-back top five finishes on the money list, and was trending toward a special 2013 until an injury derailed him temporarily. Twice a winner in ’13.
3 Matt Kuchar The ultimate safe pick in that he will rack up plenty of starts and there isn’t a course that doesn’t fit his game.
4 Phil Mickelson Logic says he should fall off, but his average finish on the money list dating back to 2008 is sixth and he was fourth in 2013.
5 Adam Scott He belonged in this part of the conversation before his Masters win, and I’m holding my breath that he doesn’t have a letdown in 2013-14.
6 Justin Rose See Adam Scott. Rosie is also the first 2014 European Ryder Cup player to crack the list, and yes, he will make the team.
7 Rory McIlroy I can’t imagine him having another year as bad as 2013, yet he still was 41st on the money list and secured a runner-up finish last season. If you are drafting seventh in a league and he’s available, you have to take a shot given the upside.
8 Billy Horschel He struggled down the stretch, but that’s an expected hangover given his hot spring and early summer. When the greens are large and his confidence is high, he can be scary good.
9 Jordan Spieth A bit of a guess as to how he will progress given he now has the status to set a schedule filled with top-tier tournaments, but he has always responded in his young career. Could be the American McIlroy.
10 Henrik Stenson Given his streaky nature, if you told me he would finish second or 102nd in the FedExCup standings or PGA TOUR money list in 2013-14, I wouldn’t blink. When he’s on, he’s something special with the irons.
11 Keegan Bradley In his three years on the PGA TOUR, he’s finished 13th, 10th and 11th on the money list. That’s amazing consistency for such a young player.
12 Jason Dufner That he was able to finish the season 16th on the money list despite "Dufnering" through the first two thirds of the schedule speaks to his permanent class elevation.
13 Hunter Mahan Always has a hot-and-cold spell in him, but hasn't finished higher than ninth or lower than 18th on the PGA TOUR money list in the last five seasons.
14 Jason Day How has he won only one time on the PGA TOUR?
15 Bill Haas I give up trying to figure him out on a week-to-week basis, but has been inside the top 20 on the money list in three of the last four years.
16 Webb Simpson After finishing second on the 2011 money list, he’s been 17th (2012) and 20th (2013). The last two years seem reflective of his baseline.
17 Zach Johnson I consistently underestimate him, and I doubt I’m the only one. Has finished inside the top 10 in the money list three of the last five years and inside the top 20 four times in that span. It would be a slap in the face and reckless to fade him any further.
18 Jim Furyk He consistently finishes a little higher than this, but his inability to close out a win since 2010 will force him to net plenty of high finishes to do much better than this.
19 Nick Watney I was surprised to see that he has ranked inside the top 27 in each of the last five money lists.
20 Rickie Fowler I’m buying into the trend that he has finished 22nd and 21st in the money list in even-numbered seasons, but faded to 36th and 40th in the odds. Could be that the expectations are a little lower coming off a top-40 season versus a top-25 season.
21 Patrick Reed Once he made the switch away from Nike and to Callaway mid-season, he caught fire and never looked back. Similar to Horschel, Spieth and even Bradley, I like a confident kid without much scar tissue.
22 Dustin Johnson He’s won every year of his PGA TOUR career, but there is plenty of risk. It’s fair to question his focus with a high-profile relationship and pending wedding.
23 Graham DeLaet Was 21st on the 2013 money list without a win, and seems destined for a breakthrough win in 2013-14. Should he convert and win early in the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little hangover.
24 Steve Stricker Hard to imagine he can finish as high as he did in 2013 (seventh on the money list) again in 2013-14 as a part-time player.
25 Sergio Garcia He can be all over the place in terms of the PGA TOUR money list historically, but at 29th and 26th in 2012 and ’13, respectively, he’s dialing in some solid returns and will be motivated for the Ryder Cup.