Five golfers who could make a leap toward stardom during the 2018-19 PGA Tour season
Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay lead a group of players poised to break out in 2018-19
Kevin Tway won his first event on the PGA Tour over the weekend at the Safeway Open in a playoff over Brandt Snedeker and Ryan Moore. It was his 91st start as a professional, and he said after the victory that just because guys like Jordan Spieth make winning look easy at a young age doesn't mean that's the case.
"Yeah, it's a little harder than most people think," Tway said. "Those guys are really good to come out and get that many wins that young. I don't think I was mature enough to do that at that age. I'm still kind of immature, but I'm kind of getting there. But it's a lot harder than you think to win. I've been doing this a long time and it's been a long road, but it's nice to finally get here."
Tway is certainly a nice candidate to make a leap this year. This is his fourth full year on the PGA Tour, and he finished in the top 75 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained last season. In other words, we're starting to see who he is, and who he is is an unknown name who has some game. He's not on my list of five golfers I think can make a leap up this season, but he could be. Here are five to watch as the 2018-19 season begins to unfold.
Tony Finau: Wait, Tony Finau? Isn't he already a star? Well, yes and no. It's true that he finished in the top five in the FedEx Cup and thrived at the Ryder Cup in Paris. But it's also true that he only has one win in his career. I think he could jump a level this year into "wow, this guy is a star and is going to win multiple times on the PGA Tour this season" territory. A potential top five player in the world.
Luke List: He's nearly doubled his earnings from the previous year in each of his last four seasons on the PGA Tour. He's done the same with his top 10 numbers, and he already has one under his belt by finishing T4 behind Tway at the Safeway Open. I'm in on guys who are lights out from tee to green, and List finished one spot behind Rory McIlroy and one ahead of Tiger Woods. Sign me up for more of that in 2019.
Patrick Cantlay: He's probably Finau-lite this year. He was really, really good in 2018, finishing ninth in strokes gained from tee to green, winning once and finishing high on the leaderboard in tournaments you expect stars to finish high on the leaderboard (Riviera, Muirfield Village and Carnoustie).
The next level for him is more or less the same as Finau. Winning a big boy event (or multiple times in a year) and clawing his way into the top 10 or top five in the world. Sometimes that's the hardest leap to make, but his statistical profile says it can happen. He was a menace with his irons but finished outside the top 150 in putting for the first time in his career. Avoid that in 2019, and he'll be a factor throughout.
Ben An: He had essentially the same season as Cantlay but without the victory. Four top 10s, a pair of runners up, a top-15 finish from tee to green and woeful putting. His pedigree engenders all the eyes emojis, and like I said, I'm a sucker for great ball-strikers. It's important to note that Cantlay and An haven't even played 100 events yet. An's trajectory over the last three years is the same as List's, and he made the cut at three majors for the first time in his career. With a season like that under his belt, An should be a consistent factor on the PGA Tour for several years going forward.
Sam Ryder: Quietly had three top 10s and finished in the top 50 on the PGA Tour in 2018. I'm a fan of picking guys for this exercise who haven't played many PGA Tour events, but have found some level of success when they have played. Ryder was a rookie last season, made over $1 million and struck the ball better than Daniel Berger, Peter Uihlein, Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Phil Mickelson and Tyrrell Hatton. He's a little older (which concerns me mildly, just as it does with the other guys on this list), but I'm confident he'll make a small leap on the learning curve, which could lead to a big leap on leaderboards.
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