My latest edition could be appropriately labeled “The Rise of Jimmy Walker.” When we last checked in, he was relatively fresh off his breakthrough win at the Frys.com Open. Now he has three wins in nine starts to begin the season.
Perhaps the toughest thing about this third update is trying to figure out how to slot in guys who have barely played against guys with 10 tournaments under their belts. Guys like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have exactly one start and find themselves in quite a deep hole relative to players like Walker, Dustin Johnson and Harris English. With plenty of majors and WGCs remaining, there is little doubt that there is a handful of golfers well outside the top 125 that will end the year inside the top 30.
Since we last checked it, here’s what went down:
• Zach Johnson said aloha to 2014 with a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He entered as one of the hottest players in the field, but his course history didn’t suggest a triumph. He finds himself seventh in the current FedExCup standings.
• Walker picked up his second win of the season at the Sony Open in Hawaii, holding off Chris Kirk by a stroke. English finished fourth. (Walker, English and Kirk rank first, third and fourth, respectively, in the current FedExCup standings. If Walker wasn’t taken seriously after his Frys.com win, he served notice at Waialae that he would once again be a force in the West Coast Swing.)
• Patrick Reed picked up his second PGA TOUR win at the Humana Challenge. He entered the final round with a seven-stroke lead, eventually holding off Ryan Palmer by two and Zach Johnson by three. Reed's birdie binge was the perfect fit for a guy with plenty of open-qualifying experience just two seasons ago.
• Arguably the biggest surprise winner of the West Coast Swing was Scott Stallings at the Farmers Insurance Open. He has proven successful over the years on easier tracks, but Torrey Pines' South Course is no walk in the park. Most of the golf world expected perennial favorites in this event like Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker to stand tall, but both disappointed.
• It took him long enough, but Kevin Stadler finally broke through at the Waste Management Phoenix Open for his first PGA TOUR title. He held off a strong charge from Bubba Watson and Graham DeLaet late in the day to punch his first ticket to the Masters where he will compete against/with his father Craig, who announced that this will be his last official start in the major.
• Momma, there goes that man again. Walker entered the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with a T9-T9-T3 record in his last three trips to the Monterey Peninsula. He walked out of there with his third victory of the season. Sporting a large lead most of the final round, he did his best to choke it way late, but held on with a par at the iconic par-5 18th.
• Fresh off his T2 at the WMPO, Watson fired back-to-back, bogey-free 64s on teh weekend of the Northern Trust Open to chase down William McGirt and win for the first time since the 2012 Masters. His main competition down the stretch was Dustin Johnson, who finished alone in second.
A quick refresher, this ranking is not the current FedExCup standings. It is an evolving valuation of where players are likely to finish the regular season based on current FEC standings, opportunities that have passed, remaining tournaments on the schedule, expected starts, mind reading and a little bit of dumb luck.
Hold on tight:
Rank Golfer (Previous Rank) Comment
1 Jimmy Walker (20) The West Coast Swing has always been the sweet spot of his schedule. He took full advantage.
2 Tiger Woods (1) It isn’t so much that his only start ended with a MDF at Torrey Pines as it is the amount of ground he has to make up.
3 Dustin Johnson (14) Coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes, he looks like a guy that will contend often this season, including majors.
4 Rory McIlroy (3) Most of our questions will be answered between the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the Florida Swing. Expecting a win is fair.
5 Adam Scott (2) His schedule could limit how much ground he can make up, but he should be a factor each time he tees it.
6 Harris English (16) This kid has come into his own with four top-11 finishes in his five 2014 starts. That doesn’t even count his win at Mayakoba earlier in the season.
7 Jordan Spieth (18) The chink in his armor is proving to be sleeping on a 36-hole lead. He faced that twice on the West Coast Swing, but didn’t respond well. Still, he’s a top-10 threat every week.
8 Bubba Watson (27) He’s baaaaaaaack! Complete bag of Skittles, in that you have no idea what flavor he’s about to pull, but his form of T2/Win is as good as any.
9 Zach Johnson (8) He’s taken a little break after his win-T8-T3 to start 2014, returning to action at this week’s Match Play.
10 Webb Simpson (10) His T70 at the Northern Trust Open marked the first time he finished outside the top 25 all season.
11 Matt Kuchar (4) Shaking off the cobwebs after a four-week vacation in Hawaii, he missed the cut at Riviera. He's defending the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship this week.
12 Keegan Bradley (9) Second-round 80 at the WMPO was a weird one, but he’s finished inside the top 20 in his other three starts on the West Coast Swing.
13 Justin Rose (5) Knocked off the rust of some shoulder tendinitis with a T45 at the Northern Trust Open.
14 Phil Mickelson (6) Lefty always wins on the West Coast Swing, but didn’t this year. With his focus on the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, his performance in other tournaments could suffer.
15 Ryan Moore (25) Backed up his CIMB Classic victory with top 10s at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the WMPO.
16 Hunter Mahan (12) Top-six finishes at the WMPO and Pebble Beach, and enters the Match Play where he has a win and a runner-up in the last two attempts.
17 Jason Day (13) Out the gates strong with a T2 at the Farmers Insurance Open, and then offered the wrong kind of surprise with a T64 at Pebble Beach. Still on task for a great year.
18 Graham DeLaet (26) Strong final rounds netted him groomsman honors at the Farmers and WMPO. Hard to imagine a win not coming at some point this season.
19 Chris Kirk (29) Tends to run in streaks, so trying to show some restraint towards the man ranked fourth in the current FEC standings.
20 Sergio Garcia (19) Back in action on the PGA TOUR for the first time in 2014 this week.
21 Patrick Reed (48) Had him ranked 21st in the preseason top 125, but faded him a bit too soon. Lesson learned.
22 Graeme McDowell (34) Top 10s in both 2013-14 PGA TOUR starts, and plenty of motivation to make what looks to be another deep European Ryder Cup squad.
23 Charl Schwartzel (33) Off and running with a T4 at Riviera last week.
24 Henrik Stenson (21) Needs to log some starts so we can get a true read on him.
25 Kevin Stadler (50) Already chronicled his breakthrough, now we’ll see if he can build on it.
26 Jason Dufner (11) Got off to a similarly slow start in 2013, but came around late in the season.
27 Bill Haas (15) Didn’t replicate his Northern Trust Open success this time around, which is reason for a slight fade.
28 Hideki Matsuyama (28) Continues to impress and is on the short list for a first-time win this year.
29 Brandt Snedeker (7) Did not play well on his Poa Annua playgrounds out west, leading questions to linger about potential bad habits and compensations from the offseason injury. Putter slumping as well.
30 Billy Horschel (17) Fade could be premature, as he’s arguably playing as well as he was this time a year ago. Heads to home state of Florida soon.
31 Jim Furyk (22) Easing into the new season with a T35 at Pebble Beach and a T23 at the Northern Trust Open.
32 Steve Stricker (24) Returned to action at the Match Play less than a week after his brother’s successful liver transplant.
33 Brian Stuard (67) Certainly not a weekly contender, but a run of 2nd-6th-5th at Mayakoba, Sony and Humana have locked up his 2014-15 card.
34 Scott Stallings (56) Finished inside the top 40 only once in eight starts, but it was a win. That’s about right for him. Expect him to contend a couple of more times, with more misses than hits.
35 Matt Every (36) Four top 25s in eight starts matches his top-25 total from 2013 in 28 starts. Learning consistency.
36 Charles Howell III (38) Right on cue, he started the season well. Now we wait to see if he can do anything on the back half of his schedule.
37 Gary Woodland (39) Off to a nice start with a P2 at the CIMB and two more top 15s in six starts.
38 Nick Watney (23) Something’s not quite clicking yet. No top 25s in six starts despite missing just one cut. Dropped from 60th in the all-around category in 2013 to 120th in 2013-14.
39 Pat Perez (108) It’s not surprising that the Arizona native found some success out West, but four top-11 finishes in his last six starts is among the best runs of his career.
40 Charley Hoffman (46) Three top 12s on the West Coast has him cruising toward another solid season.
41 Ryan Palmer (74) Runner-up at the Humana Challenge following a T8 at the Sony Open have the Texan trending toward an above-average season.
42 Kevin Na (85) Satisfied the requirements of his Major Medical and is free and clear for the remainder of the year. Already has a pair of top-five finishes in 2013-14.
43 Lee Westwood (31) Starting to play like a guy in his 40s. Competed in three out of four tournaments on the PGA TOUR, ending with a season-best T20 at Riviera last week. Nothing all that inspiring.
44 Luke Donald (32) Having made just two PGA TOUR starts in 2013-14, he’s dug himself a deep hole.
45 Jason Bohn (71) Still riding the wave of two top-three finishes early in the season. Hasn’t found a top 30 in 2014, but is a great example of a guy who built an early lead and is holding onto 16th in the FEC standings.
46 Ryo Ishikawa (44) His T7 in the Farmers Insurance Open continued the momentum from the fall of 2013.
47 Brendon Todd (82) A new player, making all nine of his cuts with four top 25s and a top 10 this year.
48 Chris Stroud (42) Boom or bust, with three missed cuts and four top 20s in seven starts.
49 Brian Harman (84) Turned some heads with his T3 at Riviera last week. That was his third top 10 of 2013-14.
50 Ian Poulter (43) Say what? He was bounced by Rickie Fowler in the Match Play opener.