As we say goodbye to 2013 and look towards the new year, there's only one thing on sports fans' minds: the 2014 PGA Tour season. Just kidding. As the NFL playoffs kick into high gear, the weekends (particularly Sundays) will be consumed by a different competition played on grass.
However, when the victors of the 2013 season descend on Kapalua, Hawaii for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions beginning on Jan. 2, they'll be plenty to talk about. Which players will breakout this year? Will Tiger win a major? Which PGA Tour youngster will catapult himself into the game's elite? Which veterans will rejuvenate their careers and reach previously unattained levels of success?
There are thousands of subplots to every PGA Tour season, and I can't wait for it to get started. For now, let's focus on six players who are poised to have breakout years in 2014. The competition has never been stiffer on the PGA Tour, and the purses are larger than ever. The tour boasts dozens of young, talented players who are all hungry to hoist shiny trophies on Sunday afternoons.
Admittedly, it was difficult to narrow down this list to just six, as there's no doubt that others will emerge throughout the season. Without further ado, here are six players who I expect to breakout in 2014.
At the age of 21, Patrick Cantlay has already made a splash in the world of golf. He had a remarkable amateur career that was highlighted by low amateur awards at both the U.S. Open and the Masters, four wins in just one year at UCLA and a Walker Cup appearance.
Cantlay didn't play great in his seven PGA Tour starts in 2013, which he was able to enter primarily through sponsor's exemptions. He made just two cuts and had trouble with the flatstick. Cantlay finished 178th in total putts gained, which was uncharacteristic for him.
He's a remarkably consistent ball striker, and he already has an elite short game. He played well enough on the Web.com Tour in 2013 to earn full PGA Tour status in 2014, winning down in Colombia back in March. Expect Cantlay to make a ton of noise this coming year, where he'll officially be designated as a rookie.
John Peterson, who turned pro in 2011, is absolutely oozing with talent. His long, fluid swing is truly a thing of beauty, and he generates a ton of power through the ball. He led the Web.com Tour in 2013 in greens in regulation at 75 percent and was second on tour in total driving
He introduced himself to the golf world in 2012 in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club where he finished an impressive tied for fourth. He also had the pleasure of playing with his mentor and fellow LSU grad David Toms on Saturday of that Open, which was highlighted by Peterson's hole-in-one on the 13th hole.
Peterson comes into the 2014 PGA tour season with plenty of momentum on the heels of a successful year on the Web.com tour, which culminated in winning the money title in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals. Peterson is fully exempt on the PGA Tour this year, and now that he has a bit of a safety blanket, don't be surprised if we see more of the player that we saw at the Olympic Club a year and a half ago.
It may look strange to include someone who finished 13th on the money list in 2013 in this slideshow, but I'm convinced that Billy Horschel has just barely scratched the surface of his potential as a professional golfer.
The four-time All-American at Florida turned pro in 2009 and promptly injured his wrist. He lost confidence in his game after the injury, and he was forced to play his way through Q-School three times in four years.
Things came together in a big way for Horschel in 2013, and for a two-month stretch of the summer, he seemed to be in contention every week. He made 22 of 26 cuts and posted eight top-10 finishes, which included the first win of his career at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.
It was a year of redemption for the young Horschel, and 2014 holds even more promise for him. He co-led the U.S. Open in 2013 with Phil Mickelson through two rounds, and although he faltered a bit on the weekend, he wound up in a very respectable tie for fourth. That was the first major he'd played in as a pro.
One of the most confident players on the PGA Tour who never shies away from a challenge, Horschel's ceiling is incredibly high.
Chesson Hadley is another young player whose earned his tour card for 2014 via the Web.com Tour. After a successful college career at Georgia Tech where he was a three-time All-American, Hadley played on a variety of mini tours for a few years.
Last year, however, Hadley found his groove on the Web.com Tour and finished first on the money list. He capped off the year with a victory at the Web.com Tour Championship in late September.
While Hadley won't blow anyone away with his driving distance, he earns his money on the greens. Hadley finished fourth on the Web.com Tour in putting average and 15th in putts per round with an average of 28.84. Hadley is another one of those guys who has the game to succeed immediately on the PGA Tour.
Perhaps no golfer will arrive in Hawaii with more momentum than Harris English. The third-year player out of Georgia is coming off an impressive win in Mexico at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, where he posted a 62 on Friday and held off Brian Stuard for a four-shot victory. Was it a strong field? No, but anytime you get to 21-under and win an official PGA Tour event, it's noteworthy.
He followed that up with a win in the Franklin Templeton Shootout with partner Matt Kuchar in December, who collectively, shattered tournament records.
Since joining the tour in 2012, English has made 47 cuts in 57 events. Talk about a model of consistency. But English has the kind of game that can do more than consistently make cuts; he can consistently win golf tournaments.
Clearly his game is in top form heading into the season, and don't be surprised to see him in the winner's circle a lot more often this year.
Gary Woodland, who looks a lot like Gerry Bertier from the movie Remember the Titans, has all the necessary tools to have a breakout year in 2014. He made 21 cuts in 26 events in 2013, but he posted just two top 10s.
He finished 37th on the PGA Tour money list and won the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2013, but his potential upside is much higher than what he's shown us thus far.
He was fourth on tour last year in driving distance with an average of 303.8 yards. Needless to say, he can absolutely rip the cover off the ball. Where he needs to improve is around the green, where he ranked just 169th with a save percentage of 40.3. To put that in perspective, K.J. Choi led the tour with a save percentage of 67.2.
No one in their right mind could ever question Woodland's ball-striking abilities. He's simply one of the purest strikers on tour, plain and simple. But considering how successful he was last year with that lowly save percentage, imagine how successful he could be if he could shore up his play around the green? For his sake, let's hope that he's spent his offseason working on the short shots.
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