It takes just a cursory glance at the Official World Golf Rankings to see which golfers are the best going into 2017. It takes a short adjustment to those rankings to see which are currently the hottest (Hideki Matsuyama, come on down). But what about the most intriguing?
I'm talking abut which golfers I'm most interested in watching in 2017 to see how their years shake out. There are a variety of levels when it comes to intrigue. We are fascinated by athletes for different reasons. For example: I don't think Tiger Woods has a chance to have a better 2017 than Justin Thomas, but I am certainly more intrigued by what we will get from Woods than what we will get from Thomas.
This list includes emerging stars, fading legends and a handful of golfers at the apex of their games. Here are the 21 golfers I'm most intrigued by as a new calendar year hits the golf world.
21. Si Woo Kim: Kim became the youngest international winner on the PGA Tour since Seve Ballesteros in 1978 when he won the Wyndham Championship in August. He's just 21 and has a lot of room to grow. I'm excited about his future .
20. Beau Hossler: The Texas stud and 2012 U.S. Open star turned pro in the summer after an injury derailed the end of his college career. He will play at the Farmers Insurance Open in January and have a handful of other opportunities to earn his PGA Tour card via sponsor exemption.
19. Wesley Bryan: The trick shot artist-turned-PGA Tour pro gets his first crack at the big time this season. I think he has staying power, but nobody really knows how this will go until the chips are down.
18. Ollie Schniederjans: Another Web.com player last year, this is Schniederjans' first run around the big boy circuit. He was a superstar in college at Georgia Tech when he won five of six events during his junior season.
17. Tony Finau: I thought Finau's breakout season would come in 2016. While he did win the Puerto Rico Open, I was thinking more along the lines of a non-opposite field event and contending in a major championship. Maybe 2017 will be the year.
16. Daniel Berger: Could end up being the best of the young American group including Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas? He could, but I don't think he will. Still, the ceiling for Berger is as a top 10 player in the world. There aren't many 20-something American golfers you can say that about.
15. Sergio Garcia: The most interesting of the aging stars (Adam Scott, Justin Rose etc.) to me. Mostly because he still doesn't have a major championship but also because he is the one whose mental makeup is the most difficult to navigate. I'm not sure what the final few years of Garcia's prime hold, but I know the ride is going to be exhilarating.
14. Brooks Koepka: The Leap. Either Koepka or Thomas is going to make it this year. Into the top 10 and possibly the top five. All the tools are there. Now the experience is, too. His 2017 could look a lot like Jordan Spieth's 2015 after Spieth took what he learned at the 2014 Ryder Cup and applied it to his PGA Tour game.
13. Rickie Fowler: I'm still not totally sure what to make of Fowler as a golfer. He's good, certainly, but is he great? I don't believe he is, but that doesn't mean he's going to have a throwaway career. Fowler will probably win a major and should win several more times on the PGA Tour. He could end up being Andy Roddick, though, to Jordan Spieth's Rafael Nadal and Rory McIlroy's Roger Federer.
12. Patrick Reed: I confess that Regular Reed is not nearly as intriguing as Ryder Reed, but this season will be an interesting one to see if he can take whatever the hell happened at Hazeltine and apply it across the board. ::Whispers:: Patrick Reed still doesn't have a top 10 at a major championship.
11. Justin Thomas: I don't own all the stock, but it's only because I got in late on the IPO. Thomas has proven himself a stud by winning two straight CIMB Classics. Now it's time to apply that to a Players Championship or U.S. Open. He's got the goods, obviously, but I'm interested to see if he can win a big one.
10. Jon Rahm: Who? The best player you've never heard of, that's who. Rahm is going to be lights out in 2017 and will probably eventually have the European Tour rules change for him when it comes to the Ryder Cup. Right now, Europeans have to play at least five non-majors and non-WGC events, and it doesn't look like Rahm is going to do that. Europe can't afford to keep him off the team in future Ryder Cups, either.
9. Hideki Matsuyama: The only thing missing from Matsuyama's resume is a major championship. If he can get that in the next 2-3 years, he can start building towards the Hall of Fame. That sounds ludicrous, but it's really not.
8. Bryson DeChambeau: Forget all the scientific hoopla, DeChambeau is really good at golf. Is he Rickie Fowler good, though? Or just Harris English good? Or is he Jordan Spieth good? There are still more questions than answers when it comes to DeChambeau which is probably how he likes it.
7. Thomas Pieters: The breakout star on the European team at the Ryder Cup, Pieters will continue to play on the European Tour, but you'll see him at the major championships and WGCs. McIlroy said he was going to be his partner for the next 20 years in Ryder Cups. Will he challenge the Ulsterman as top Euro in the world anytime soon?
6. Jason Day: I think Day will fall off a bit in 2017 after he posted one of the greatest putting years in modern golf history in 2016. His back injury at the Tour Championship is a bit concerning as well. I'm interested because he's the No. 1 golfer in the world (currently), but I'm not as intrigued as I am with the stars ahead of him.
5. Phil Mickelson: It looks like Mickelson is going to miss some time at the beginning of the year after a second offseason sports hernia surgery. He hasn't won since the 2013 Open Championship. And yet I can't help but be all in on how or when he's going to play. Golf is better when Mickelson is playing great, and an aging, trash-talking Mickelson is one of the more fascinating storylines this sport can offer.
4. Dustin Johnson: When he said 2016 was the first time he'd really worked on his wedge game, the ceiling was officially removed from what D.J. can accomplish. You can talk me into four major championships. You can talk me into 30 PGA Tour wins. I'm here for the apex of Johnson's prime, and I have a feeling we're just starting to see it.
3. Jordan Spieth: It's humorous to me that Spieth won twice last season on the PGA Tour and finished T2 at the Masters, and everyone acted like he'd lost a limb and would have a five-year recovery on his hands. Spieth admitted himself that he's not going to win five times with two majors every year. It's just infeasible. That being said, I am so locked into the tussle for King of the Hill when it comes to him, Johnson, McIlroy, Day and others. He should (and probably) will be the favorite at the Masters and possibly U.S. Open where he had success at the U.S. Amateur in 2011.
2. Rory McIlroy: I have McIlroy ahead of Spieth just because his ceiling is higher. I sort of understand what I'm getting from Spieth. McIlroy on the other hand could do anything, and it wouldn't really surprise me. At some point in his career we will get a 10-week stretch in which he can't miss a putt, and that will be an empty, soul-searching time for the rest of the professional golfers in the world.
1. Tiger Woods: Who did you expect?