Who is the most intriguing player in golf going into 2022? Is it Tiger Woods and his quest for another comeback in a career that has been defined by them? Is it Jon Rahm's bid to win majors in back-to-back years and avenge some of his near misses in 2021? What about Jordan Spieth's reemergence as a top-20 player in the world and whether he can continue playing at that clip?
Even though golf's offseason is minuscule, a lot of players take off a big chunk of the fall and winter, which provides time to evaluate where they're at in their careers and what they feasibly could accomplish going into a new year. That new year is now upon us, which means it's time to take a look at the 10 most intriguing players going into the year.
You could insert any number of adjectives after "most" (important, underrated and enjoyable to watch are all phrases that come to mind), but these are the guys whose career narratives are most interesting. Sure, somebody could come out of nowhere – from outside the top 500 in the world – and win twice in February, and all of a sudden that person might be on the list. But, for now, we're talking stars or at least golfers who are star-adjacent going into 2022.
Here are my 10.
1. Tiger Woods: After the last month, it would be extremely disingenuous to have anyone else No. 1 here. If Tiger is active, and even remotely healthy, everything revolves around him, and it always will. The fact that his swing speed and ball speed were both top shelf at the PNC Championship a few weeks ago and that it's been over a year since he played in an OWGR event, he's an easy No. 1, especially with Augusta National and the Old Course at St. Andrews on deck in 2022.
2. Bryson DeChambeau: It's hard for somebody to usurp DeChambeau, and it turns out that the best player of all time trying to comeback from the gnarly aftermath of a horrific car wreck is the only one who can do it. DeChambeau remains endlessly entertaining, even when he's not playing well. And after a year in which he didn't finish in the top 10 at any of the four majors, I'm fascinated to see what he does to rectify that.
3. Collin Morikawa: I wouldn't have Morikawa this high if not for that Open Championship victory. But now we're talking about an historic major pace -- two of his first eight -- that hasn't been accomplished in nearly a century (Bobby Jones did it in the 1920s). Can he make it three of his first 10? Four of his first 12? This is a huge storyline going into 2022, and while Morikawa is not the content creator the caliber of DeChambeau, his game is in a more stable state going into the new year and is fascinating to follow in and of itself.
4. Jon Rahm: He's a combination of the two guys ahead of him. He says interesting things (albeit in a very different way than DeChambeau), and his overall game is better than Morikawa's. Oh, and he's the No. 1 player on the planet and his win total in 2021 was not commensurate with his statistical performance. Is there a correction coming? And will somebody who has walked in Rory McIlroy's footsteps as a golf sage at a young age take on an even bigger voice in the game in 2022 and beyond?
5. Jordan Spieth: Data Golf posted a fascinating statistical comp for Spieth this week (Freddie Couples), and it reminded me that even though Spieth made a U-turn in 2021, he still feels slightly erratic going into 2022. I think we're getting another top-10 year out of him, but I'm less sure of that than I was, say, four years ago. Regardless, he's the rare player who intrigues whether it's going really well or really poorly. He could also move into the four-major club with 29 other men, including contemporaries Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.
6. Viktor Hovland: He maybe wouldn't be on here if he was 30, but he's 24 and youth wins out when it comes to intrigue. He also has three PGA Tour wins and is coming off another (unofficial) victory at the Hero World Challenge in December. I have yet to meet somebody in the sport who has anything but glowing things to say about him. Oh yeah, he's maybe the single best ball-striker on the planet. So I'm very intrigued by Hovland in 2022.
7. Brooks Koepka: Speaking of clubs, Koepka can get to five major wins this year, which only 19 other men have done and only 12 have done since World War II. His golf, especially at non-majors, is not always the most exciting, but as a player and an historical figure, the intrigue is limitless. He's also not afraid to say whatever is on is mind, which we found out just before last year's Ryder Cup. Though his words can be abrasive, they often contain a load of truth.
8. Rory McIlroy: While I'm dubious about McIlroy winning a major, he's too intertwined as the preeminent voice of the entire sport to leave off this list. He played terrifically at the end of 2021 following his emotional Ryder Cup, and he carries a gravity that few others in the sport currently emit. Any tournament he shows up at matters simply because he showed up. I'm intrigued to see if he can go on an extended run of world-class play similarly to how he did after his emotional missed cut at the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush when he went on a run of eight top 10s in his last 10 events.
9. Justin Thomas: You could make the argument -- I probably wouldn't, but you could -- that he's the best player in the world. J.T. admitted at the end of 2021 that the year was not a success for him – despite winning the Players – and he has more "I have to win this event" in him than most of the superstars in the sport, which means he could come out hot starting 2022. The part that I'll be focused on with him is his major performance. Since winning the 2017 PGA Championship, he has just three top 10s in his last 14 appearances, which does not match up with where his talent level is at.
10. Matthew Wolff: There were at least five other guys I could have put in this spot -- Will Zalatoris, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele among them -- but Wolff has that level of talent and I also have less of an idea what I'm getting from him. He could rack up two top 10s at majors like he did at the end of 2020, or he could be away from the game for long stretches like he was in 2021. Regardless, I'm extremely intrigued by how he performs, where (if) he contends and what the third full year of what has been a very successful career to date looks like.