Rankings: Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth among top 30 golfers entering 2018
Who should you be following as the 2018 season kicks off? Let's take a look
Determining who is the better golfer among a pool of thousands of golfers is like attempting to figure out who is a stronger dunker among a pool of thousands of dunkers (hold the Dustin Johnson jokes, please). Thankfully in golf, we have real statistics that aid the process, but it's still difficult.
My go-to question when completing this exercise is always "if these two or three or 10 golfers played 1,000 rounds on the same course in the same conditions, which would have the lowest score?" That seems like a pretty fair way to try and assess these things.
With that, I've come up with my top 30 list for 2018. Throw out the Official World Golf Rankings. Throw out career wins. Throw out everything. Who are the top 30 golfers in the world right now as the calendar flips from 2017 to 2018? I am presuming full health for golfers like Brandt Snedeker, Tiger Woods and Si Woo Kim, all of whom were injured for all or part of 2017.
Just missed: Thomas Pieters, Pat Perez, Alex Noren, Ollie Schniederjans, Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Dunne, Adam Hadwin, Xander Schauffele, Martin Kaymer, Gary Woodland, Ian Poulter, Bud Cauley, Brian Harman, Patrick Reed, Si Woo Kim, Kevin Chappell, Branden Grace, Jason Dufner.
The golfers who were left off of this list are ridiculous. Look at that group. You have a five-time major winner (Mickelson), the reigning Players Championship winner (Kim) and somebody who shot 62 at a major last season (Grace). I had to make the cut somewhere, though, and we start with somebody coming off an improbable first season on the PGA Tour.
Top 30 for 2018
30. Peter Uihlein: I've tried out about five different names in this slot before finally settling on Uihlein. I know he's outside the top 50 in the world right now, but Justin Thomas was outside the top 20 to start last year, and he's now the No. 3 player in the world. I'm all about pedigrees, and Uihlein's is a great one. I might look foolish for not putting DeChambeau, Paul or Schniederjans in this slot, but I'll ride with Uihlein.
29. Phil Mickelson: I had Pieters slated here because I'm buying all the stock, but Mickelson is probably the right choice. He finished No. 17 on the PGA Tour last year in strokes gained, and even though he hasn't won since 2013, he's playing maybe as well right now as he has since then. Whether he ever wins again will be a massive storyline over the next five years.
28. Kyle Stanley: A poor man's Rory McIlroy. If he could putt, he would be a top 15 player in the world. But he strikes it well enough to garner top 30 honors. Stanley ranked No. 11 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green last season, and with this swing it's easy to see why.
27. Tyrrell Hatton: He stumbled before he ran based on expectations coming out of 2016, but he's on fire right now. He finished in the top 10 in five of his last eight European Tour events and won two of them. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact that he missed the cut at all four majors in 2017. I'll write it off, though, considering he finished in the top 10 in the two majors before those four.
26. Tiger Woods: There is a case to be made that Woods hasn't been healthy since 2013 when he, you know, won five times. I saw enough at the Hero World Challenge that made me fearful to leave him off this list.
25. Adam Scott: The older Scott gets, the less confidence I have in him. The problem is that he was top 20 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green and overall in a sport that values ball striking over everything else. He also finished T9 at Augusta National. I'm still in ... for now.
24. Matthew Fitzpatrick: I've had to be talked into Fitzpatrick by multiple people, but I'm a now a believer. In his last eight tournaments on the European Tour during the 2016-17 season, he never finished lower than 15th. He also slid into a run of DP World Tour Championship winners that includes Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Jon Rahm. You don't just happen upon these things.
23. Francesco Molinari: Speaking of strokes gained tee to green, Molinari ranked fourth (!) on the PGA Tour last season, ahead of Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama. It didn't translate to wins because he was No. 106 in putting, but he still had 14 top 25s and five top 10s.
22. Daniel Berger: He had six top 10s including a win over Mickelson (and others) at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. It's not always the prettiest with Berger, but he has a knack for getting it done when it counts. That's an ambiguous, non-measurable component of being a great golfer, and he seems to contain it more than most.
21. Charley Hoffman: One of the more fun late-in-his-career stories in recent memory. It's an embarrassment of riches that he's probably not going to be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team next year.
20: Kevin Kisner: He's not the sexiest player on Tour (or anywhere close), but he's playing like a top 20 player in the world right now. Eight top 10s and 12 top 25s in 28 starts in 2016-17 is so impressive, but even more so is his ability to finish No. 13 in strokes gained despite not finishing inside the top 20 in any singular category.
19: Matt Kuchar: Probably the best player on this list that I'm never truly convinced is going to win in any given week. Still, he seems to be getting better with age, and I would not want to face him down the stretch of a big time tournament after the goods he showed at Royal Birkdale.
18. Brooks Koepka: Did you know Koepka finished outside the top 100 in the world in strokes gained on approach shots? Did you also know that Koepka had seven top 10 finishes? I'm not sure how to reconcile those two realities.
17. Paul Casey: It's almost comical how long Casey has gone without winning. If we played this hypothetical 1,000-hole tournament, he would finish 115 under and in third place. No doubt.
16. Tony Finau: The American Pieters? Finau had 12 top 25s in 2017 and finished No. 10 in strokes gained tee to green. You could pretty easily argue that he should be higher on this list.
15. Louis Oosthuizen: A fun bar game is "if everyone in the world had Tiger Woods' work ethic as a 25-year-old, who would be the No. 1 player in the world?"
14. Jason Day: I'm just not convinced. We saw what happened in 2017 when his putter regressed to, uh, not the best putting season in the strokes gained era. Day still finished No. 15 in strokes gained but didn't win and slipped a bit overall. He's still great, but I'm not sure how well he's going to age.
13. Tommy Fleetwood: I'm all in. ::Pushes chips to middle of the table::
12. Henrik Stenson: I'm not sure if he's headed up or down, but I still believe in him. Stenson didn't have enough rounds to qualify, but he would have ranked in the top 10 in strokes gained if he did.
11. Patrick Cantlay: Come at me.
10. Sergio Garcia: Statistically, it wasn't a great year overall for Garcia, although I'm sure he was fine with it. But when the chips are down, I want Garcia in my corner. He has a history. He has all the shots. If the putts fall, he can be a monster.
9. Marc Leishman: I don't know how much longer he's going to be the most underrated player in the world, but it can't be much longer, right? He finished eighth (!) on the PGA Tour in strokes gained overall.
8. Hideki Matsuyama: I tried to overthink it with Matsuyama. I had him inside the top five and outside the top 10 before settling here. It's weird to me that Matsuyama finished lower in strokes gained than Adam Scott, despite winning three times. I don't trust him as much as I do most of the others in this top 10.
7. Justin Rose: He quietly finished 2017 with a bang and will be among the handful of favorites at Augusta a year after losing to Garcia in a playoff. The last quarter of his career is going to be fascinating, and he has a real chance to turn it into a no-doubt Hall-of-Fame-worthy campaign.
6. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman tops my "I know he wasn't that good in 2017, but just wait" rankings. When you're The One of your generation, there's little that can happen for me to move you outside the top 10. We say this with most great ball-strikers, but it's especially true of generational ball-strikers: If he putts averagely, it's over.
5. Rickie Fowler: Hello, Rick! Fowler showed a level of consistency in 2017 worthy of the top five. He was top five in strokes gained, although I'm mildly concerned that he his ball-striking wasn't closer to the top 25. That will be something I'm watching for in the first part of 2018.
4. Jon Rahm: Yeah, I'm here for it. He and D.J. are fairly equivalent in my mind right now, but Rahm is so young with so much room to grow. He's primed for a monstrous 2018, but even if it doesn't materialize, I refuse to flip on his trajectory.
3. Dustin Johnson: Another ho-hum four-win year for D.J. He's a mind-boggling machine off the tee and with his irons, but somehow his Hall-of-Fame career has become commonplace.
2. Justin Thomas: For some reason, we have somehow underrated what Thomas did in 2016. We shouldn't. It's sustainable, too. Buckle in for the long haul with J.T.
1. Jordan Spieth: I don't care what the rankings say. Spieth is the best golfer in the world. Period. Full stop. The end.
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