While the Masters has historically served as the beginning of the golf season for the casual fan, Bubba Watson’s second green jacket ceremony essentially marks the halfway point of the 2013-14 season. A developing trend this season has been the emerging underdogs stealing wins from the top-tier veterans, which has thrown the current FedExCup standings into a relative state of disarray. The problem for the veteran is that they have extra ground to make up following the annual pilgrimage to Augusta National since the season started with Jimmy Walker’s breakthrough win at the Frys.com Open. Walker just so happens to lead the FEC standings.
Let's visit what's gone down since we last checked in.
• While we were enamored by Victor Dubuisson’s impersonations of Seve Ballesteros out of the desert at Dove Mountain in a final-round match with Jason Day, it was the Aussie that claimed the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in extra holes. We would later find out that Day injured his thumb, and this would be the last we would see of him until his T20 at the Masters.
• The Florida Swing began with The Honda Classic, and it looked for all the world like it would be Rory McIlroy’s return to the winner’s circle. It wasn’t meant to be, as he made a mess of the par-4 16th hole on The Bear Trap in the finale and eventually lost in a playoff to Russell Henley after the Ulsterman failed to convert a makeable eagle putt on the 72nd hole. It was Henley’s second PGA TOUR win.
• The WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trumped-up Doral saw Patrick Reed put on his best mimic of the Donald. With this being Reed’s third win in less than a year, the youngster declared himself to be a top-five player in the world. That seems like something a young Trump would have done, so sure, why not? Problem is, since then, Reed has scored a T52 at Bay Hill and a missed cut at the Masters. He’s third in the FEC standings, top five in his heart, but 24th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
• Snaps for Chesson! While the Cadillac was going on in south Florida, the Puerto Rico Open crowned Chesson Hadley the victor. In case you missed the tape-delayed coverage, Hadley celebrates birdie putts of anything outside of about six feet with raised arm and snap of the finger. The way things are playing out, he’s snapping his way towards Rookie of the Year honors.
• Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! John Senden scored his second PGA TOUR win at the Valspar Championship. Known as an elite ball-striker and below-average putter throughout his career, the demanding tee-to-green layout of the Copperhead Course was the perfect setup for his return to the trophy presentation. His only other win came at the 2006 John Deere Classic. Senden's solid play has carried over, contending into the weekend at Augusta National and tying for eighth at the Masters.
• Fulfilling promise that he had flashed for some time, Matt Every topped Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Every’s final-round 70 was good enough to leapfrog Bradley as they both watched Adam Scott give the tournament away with a 4-over-par 76 in the finale.
• The elite players struggling late in tournaments carried over from Florida to Texas, as Steven Bowditch essentially went head-to-head on the leaderboard with Matt Kuchar over the final nine holes of the Valero Texas Open for his first PGA TOUR win. Considering his well-documented bouts of depression over the years leading up to this, it was quite the feel-good story.
• Punching the last available ticket to the Masters with a win at the Shell Houston Open was Matt Jones. His first win came at the expense of a second Matt Kuchar collapse in as many weeks. The Aussie holed an unlikely birdie putt on the 72nd hole, forcing Kuchar to make a par from the fairway to close the deal. Kuchar instead pulled his approach into the water and battled for a par. Jones then holed out from off the green for a birdie in the playoff and that was all she wrote. Like Every, Jones was on the short list for players likely to break through this season.
• Bubba golf was at it again at the Masters, holding off a charging Jordan Spieth for his second green jacket in three years. Watson was trailing Spieth by two on the eighth tee Sunday afternoon, but flipped the script when his birdie-birdie run on eight and nine coincided with back-to-back bogeys for Spieth. Watson did his best to provide the patrons with a couple of Phil Mickelson moments, since the elder lefty missed the cut. Watson smashed a drive 366 yards over and through the dogleg on the par-5 13th for an eventual birdie, then went for the green in two and hit it just over on the par-5 15th when he was nearly blocked out and in the pine straw to the left of the fairway. By Bubba’s standards, he kept the post-round crying to a minimum.
A quick refresher ... This ranking is not the current FEC 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.
Off we go:
Rank Golfer (Previous Rank) Comment
1 Jimmy Walker (1) He hasn’t finished outside the top 25 in a tournament since a MC at Torrey Pines, and his T8 at the Masters put us on notice that he isn’t going to give up the top spot easily.
2 Bubba Watson (8) With two wins already under his belt, the remaining question is how hungry he will be the rest of the way.
3 Jordan Spieth (7) He looked really solid playing in the final pairing of his first Masters. Nothing he accomplishes this year would be a surprise at this point.
4 Matt Kuchar (11) As consistent as ever, but the guy can’t close out a final round to save his life.
5 Dustin Johnson (3) Missed cut at the Masters is only a mild surprise when you consider his mediocre record at Augusta National.
6 Rory McIlroy (4) Backdoor top 10 at the Masters and a P2 at Honda continues to show he’s close.
7 Zach Johnson (9) He’s been a tad down lately, but the sweet spot of his schedule is about to begin.
8 Harris English (6) Still a lofty fifth in the current FEC standings and every course seems like a good fit for the emerging star.
9 Keegan Bradley (11) His runner-up at Bay Hill finally got him upgraded from the top-20 train.
10 Webb Simpson (10) Hasn’t had a top 10 in a stroke-play event since Phoenix, but he’s one of the bigger names that played enough early to where he doesn’t have a ton of ground to make up.
11 Adam Scott (5) This is a math equation. The Aussie is a perfect example of a player with tons of ground to make up due to the wraparound season. Form is fine.
12 Patrick Reed (21) Currently third in the standings, he needs to respond to the microscope he put himself under due to his bravado. Also has a child coming soon, which could cut into his starts.
13 Bill Haas (27) He’s been steady, leading his last two tournaments after 18 holes before fades.
14 Chris Kirk (19) At seventh in the current FEC standings, he’s built himself a nice nest egg for the Playoff run.
15 Graeme McDowell (22) Set to defend the Heritage this week and is entering the prime of his season.
16 Ryan Moore (15) At 13th in the FEC standings and 15th in our last update, he’s settling into this range nicely.
17 Jim Furyk (31) Didn’t play his first event until Pebble Beach, but has teed it up in seven of the last 10 without missing a cut. Two top 10s and three additional top 25s in that steady run.
18 Justin Rose (13) Only logged six starts, but four of them went for top 20s, two of which for top 10s.
19 Matt Every (35) We’ll see how he handles his recent success. Can’t rule out a hangover.
20 Rickie Fowler (59) Recent swing changes seem to be working in the biggest events, finishing third at the WGC-Accenture Match play, then going 6-T5 in the Shell Houston Open and Masters in the last two weeks.
21 Kevin Stadler (25) His T8 as a Masters first-timer bodes well for the rest of the season.
22 Hunter Mahan (16) Played pretty well up until this point, but sometimes hits a speed bump right around now in Ryder Cup years. Recently dealing with a hip injury that bothered his back.
23 Kevin Na (42) The man with the newest fan club on TOUR is slowly (pun intended) building momentum. Currently 16th in the FEC standings with two top fives and three other top 20s in his last six starts.
24 Gary Woodland (37) A T26 at the Masters broke a streak of three consecutive top 25s.
25 Will MacKenzie (52) Um... He’s 14th in the FEC standings with nine top-15 finishes and a T2 in his last start (Valero). I’ll have two of whatever he’s drinking.
26 Phil Mickelson (14) And some people say the Yahoo! game is a dart throw...
27 Jason Day (17) Hedging due to thumb injury and limited schedule. His only start between the Match Play and THE PLAYERS will be his T20 at the Masters.
28 Sergio Garcia (20) He was trending perfectly into the Masters, but missed the cut. Imagine that, Sergio failing to meet lofty expectations.
29 Graham DeLaet (18) It has to be his turn to win soon, doesn’t it?
30 Henrik Stenson (24) Last four starts are T16 (Doral), T5 (Bay Hill), T54 (Houston) and a very quiet T14 at the Masters. Can’t decided if he’s lurking towards a win or taking a half-step back.
31 Charl Schwartzel (23) His six starts have resulted in four top 20s. He’s a guy that has to play a heavy schedule the next four months to make up some ground.
32 John Senden (96) Valspar win and Masters top 10 was highlighted above. How long he stays on this run is the question.
33 Matt Jones (90) As with any first-time winner, how long will the hangover last?
34 Ryan Palmer (41) He’s been a model of consistency for gamers, missing just one of his 10 cuts with four top 10s.
35 Russell Henley (119) Starting to remind us of Scott Stallings, who’s good for a couple of huge weeks and plenty of misses each year.
36 Jason Dufner (26) This is around the time of the year he’s peaked the last two seasons. He’ll need to again this year, as he’s currently 61st in the FEC standings.
37 Jonas Blixt (64) Proved at the Masters that he likes the limelight, playing each of his four rounds under par and tying for second.
38 Steven Bowditch (NR) Almost as impressive as his VTO win was his T26 in his first Masters. Gamers may have to reconsider his long-term value.
39 Cameron Tringale (56) Finished fourth at the Shell Houston Open, which marked his 10th consecutive cut made. Four of those were top 15s.
40 Brandt Snedeker (29) It’s just not coming together for him this year, and he’s running out of venues that have traditionally favored him.
41 Charley Hoffman (40) Should he score a top 10 at Harbour Town, as he has done the last two trips, he could inch up even further.
42 Chris Stroud (48) His body of work over the last 12 months is one of the more impressive efforts for players without a PGA TOUR win. Put him on the same list as guys like DeLaet and Tringale who are due to break through.
43 Chesson Hadley (74) Has steadily trended down since his win in Puerto Rico, but he’s got time for a second wind.
44 Brian Stuard (33) He’s 24th in the FEC standings, but without a top 20 since January. Fade.
45 Charles Howell III (36) It’s that time of year where CH3 goes from “how has he only won twice” to “how has he even won twice?”
46 Brendon Todd (47) Played 14 events, made 12 cuts with five going for top 20s. Eighth in strokes gained-putting.
47 Luke Donald (44) Not the same player on a week-to-week basis as he was on his climb to No. 1. Only remaining motivation is likely picking off a major.
48 Lee Westwood (43) Hadn’t made any noise all year, and then ties for 17th at the Shell Houston Open and puts up a solo seventh at the Masters.
49 Steve Stricker (32) May be a savage off the course, but hasn’t been one between the ropes this season.
50 Scott Stallings (34) As alluded to in the Henley comment, Stallings could pick off a win in any tournament and could miss without warning at any time.