By Ryan O’Sullivan, Rotoworld
As I began compiling data for the preseason ranking for the top 125 players of the 2013-14 PGA TOUR, one thing became abundantly clear and very quickly. The middle tier is extremely deep. I’m not talking about the guys in the top 30, or even the top 50, but a range of players from around 70 to 140.
The difference between someone finishing 70th versus 100th versus 140th in money or FedExCup points could essentially be something like four strokes in one tournament. It is entirely possible for a player to step on the 71sttee tied for seventh in a tournament, where a birdie-birdie finish will move him into a tie for second or third, but a pair of bogeys would drop him outside the top 15. The ensuing difference in money and points between T2 and T16 is huge.
A specific trend to which I paid close attention this time was a player’s trend over a longer term when it came to money list. I went back to 2008 and studied the peaks and valleys, and what I tended to discover is that most players return to a certain baseline after a particularly great or poor season. That speaks to class being permanent, but form being temporary. For gamers, the biggest reason to factor this in is to avoid mistaking a good run of tournaments in 2013 for a change in class.
Take Kevin Streelman, for example. Beginning with 2008 and running through 2013, his respective finishes on the money list are 78, 91, 62, 72, 107 and 17. He’s due to slide back into a comfortable medium in the 60-80 range.
Something else to keep an eye on, it’s not uncommon for a mid-tier player to have a letdown in the season following a win. Especially if it’s his first win. He could feel additional pressure to repeat, change his schedule to include bigger events with deeper fields rather than picking off weaker fields in lower-tier events, take more money to change equipment or any number of other factors. Maybe this isn’t the year to jump on Ken Duke.
Here are other thoughts and lingering questions when looking back at 2013 and trying to properly slot players for 2013-14:
• There were a few notable sophomore slumps in 2013, with Bud Cauley and Seung-yul Noh leading that charge. What does that mean for a guy like Luke Guthrie with tons of potential, but who went winless in 2013?
• We have to do our best to figure out why a slumping player did so. Certain players change equipment, have babies, get engaged or married, get caught cheating on a spouse or girlfriend, etc. I can think of major impacts on players' games -- both good and bad depending on the circumstances -- resulting from factors off the course. If you read Twitter, it’s possible you came across Rory Sabbatini’s ex-wife’s page, in which case it makes perfect sense to you why he was slow out of the gate in 2013. Noh changed swing coaches and equipment. If anyone is curious as to why Jason Day went from ninth in 2011 to 88th in 2012 back to 12th on the 2013 money list, my guess would be the birth of his son in the heart of the 2012 PGA TOUR season had something to do with it. If anyone has information as to future mid-season births of Day children, I’d love to know about it!
• On the topic of players coming off rough seasons, be more forgiving of a younger guy like Sean O’Hair, who could find his swing and is still in his early 30s, than a guy who is pushing 40 or higher. A guy like Justin Leonard is probably on a very real decline due to variables out of his control; namely length and age. It doesn’t make him a bad player, but it does mean he is a risky investment.
• Billy Horschel didn’t come out of nowhere last season. He trended well into the pre-2013 offseason and easily escaped Q School. Jason Dufner didn’t come out of nowhere in early 2012, either. While it would have been foolish to confidently predict the type of seasons those guys enjoyed in their perspective breakthrough years, don’t overlook some potential candidates for 2013-14 stardom. My flavor is to look for a guy with some solid pedigree coming out of the college ranks that’s taken a little longer than expected to fully bloom. Already established, but still in that category could be Kevin Chappell, Matt Every and Cameron Tringale. Each are winless on the PGA TOUR. Coming off the farm will be John Peterson, Ben Martin and Jamie Lovemark, each with a taste of PGA TOUR experience to different degrees.
• Appreciate consistency. There are guys out there who aren’t flashy, but you know what you are going to get out of them every season. Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman, Brian Davis, John Rollins, Ryan Palmer and Martin Lairdare all examples of guys that aren’t going to earn you high fives on draft night, but you almost never find them inside the top 30 or outside the top 80. Having a couple of those guys on a team of 10 or 12 is a smart move.
• Don’t overspend or fill up too many roster spots with guys that play global schedules. My salary cap team from last year was the billboard for that mistake. Guys like Martin Kaymer and Nicolas Colsaerts will make at or near the minimum of 15 starts, whereas the Hoffmans and Rollins of the TOUR will give you 10 or 12 more starts per year. There is also the factor of field strength in the 15 events the international players compete. Just because they can’t miss the cut in a WGC, doesn’t mean they’ll nab a top 10. Again, speaking from experience!
One additional note, I will frequently refer to a player’s money list for two reasons. First, many games are based on earnings. Second, the FEC standings are so heavily weighted in the Playoffs that it can throw off the full-season value of a player. I’m not ignoring the elevated place of the FedExCup standings, rather choosing money as a better gauge of a player’s overall value.
1) Tiger Woods There shouldn’t be much debate surrounding this one.
2) Brandt Snedeker Coming off back-to-back top five finishes on the money list, and was trending toward a special 2013 until an injury derailed him temporarily. Twice a winner in ’13.
3) Matt Kuchar The ultimate safe pick in that he will rack up plenty of starts and there isn’t a course that doesn’t fit his game.
4) Phil Mickelson Logic says he should fall off, but his average finish on the money list dating back to 2008 is sixth and he was fourth in 2013.
5) Adam Scott He belonged in this part of the conversation before his Masters win, and I’m holding my breath that he doesn’t have a letdown in 2013-14.
7) Rory McIlroy I can’t imagine him having another year as bad as 2013, yet he still was 41st on the money list and secured a runner-up finish last season. If you are drafting seventh in a league and he’s available, you have to take a shot given the upside.
8) Billy Horschel He struggled down the stretch, but that’s an expected hangover given his hot spring and early summer. When the greens are large and his confidence is high, he can be scary good.
9) Jordan Spieth A bit of a guess as to how he will progress given he now has the status to set a schedule filled with top-tier tournaments, but he has always responded in his young career. Could be the American McIlroy.
10) Henrik Stenson Given his streaky nature, if you told me he would finish second or 102nd in the FedExCup standings or PGA TOUR money list in 2013-14, I wouldn’t blink. When he’s on, he’s something special with the irons.
11) Keegan Bradley In his three years on the PGA TOUR, he’s finished 13th, 10th and 11th on the money list. That’s amazing consistency for such a young player.
12) Jason Dufner That he was able to finish the season 16th on the money list despite "Dufnering" through the first two thirds of the schedule speaks to his permanent class elevation.
13) Hunter Mahan Always has a hot-and-cold spell in him, but hasn't finished higher than ninth or lower than 18thon the PGA TOUR money list in the last five seasons.
14) Jason Day How has he won only one time on the PGA TOUR?
15) Bill Haas I give up trying to figure him out on a week-to-week basis, but has been inside the top 20 on the money list in three of the last four years.
16) Webb Simpson After finishing second on the 2011 money list, he’s been 17th (2012) and 20th (2013). The last two years seem reflective of his baseline.
17) Zach Johnson I consistently underestimate him, and I doubt I’m the only one. Has finished inside the top 10 in the money list three of the last five years and inside the top 20 four times in that span. It would be a slap in the face and reckless to fade him any further.
18) Jim Furyk He consistently finishes a little higher than this, but his inability to close out a win since 2010 will force him to net plenty of high finishes to do much better than this.
19) Nick Watney I was surprised to see that he has ranked inside the top 27 in each of the last five money lists.
20) Rickie Fowler I’m buying into the trend that he has finished 22nd and 21st in the money list in even-numbered seasons, but faded to 36th and 40th in the odds. Could be that the expectations are a little lower coming off a top-40 season versus a top-25 season.
21) Patrick Reed Once he made the switch away from Nike and to Callaway mid-season, he caught fire and never looked back. Similar to Horschel, Spieth and even Bradley, I like a confident kid without much scar tissue.
22) Dustin Johnson He’s won every year of his PGA TOUR career, but there is plenty of risk. It’s fair to question his focus with a high-profile relationship and pending wedding.
23) Graham DeLaet Was 21st on the 2013 money list without a win, and seems destined for a breakthrough win in 2013-14. Should he convert and win early in the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little hangover.
24) Steve Stricker Hard to imagine he can finish as high as he did in 2013 (seventh on the money list) again in 2013-14 as a part-time player.
25) Sergio Garcia He can be all over the place in terms of the PGA TOUR money list historically, but at 29th and 26th in 2012 and ’13, respectively, he’s dialing in some solid returns and will be motivated for the Ryder Cup.
26) Luke Donald It’s time to come to grips with the fact that he is no longer the elite player that ascended to world number one and led the 2011 money list. He is now in that next tier.
27) Ryan Moore Finished 32nd or better in earnings in three of the last five seasons. Could be a nice candidate for a big rebound coming off a 61st in 2013.
28) Charl Schwartzel Due to heavy global schedule, he’s never finished better than 24th on the PGA TOUR money list. While he could win at any time, starts are a reason for caution if the value isn’t reasonable.
29) Harris English Perhaps not the sexiest member of the 2012 rookie class, he may be the most stable. Picked up his first win in 2013 and was 27th on the money list after a respectable 79th in his rookie campaign.
30) Graeme McDowell His 2013 season was defined by missed cuts and wins, with plenty of each across the globe. Has never finished better than 28th on the money list.
32) Lee Westwood Given his history of high finishes, but rare victories, this is a good slot for his value.
33) Matt Every High on the list of non-winners with the ability to get hot and pick one off, his 40th on the 2012 PGA TOUR money list is evidence of the potential.
34) Kyle Stanley Fought through a pretty lengthy slump and still finished 62nd on the 2013 ML. The few weeks he putts can be very special.
35) David Lingmerth I’m already regretting this, as he is a perfect candidate for the sophomore slump.
36) Ian Poulter Ryder Cup season should bring out the best in the Brit.
38) Bubba Watson Very average last season. Important season for him to prove he is a top-tier player.
39) Kevin Chappell Coming off his best season on the PGA TOUR at 56th on money list, all signs point to another solid campaign.
40) Roberto Castro Made the leap from 118th on the 2012 money list to 29th in ’13 with several near misses.
41) Rory Sabbatini Played really well down the stretch in 2013, with his focus seemingly returned to his career.
42) Bo Van Pelt After four consecutive seasons inside the top 40 on the money list, he plummeted to 88th in 2013. With no obvious reason as to why, a return to a more familiar status is possible, if not likely.
43) Chris Kirk Quickly becoming one of those guys where you know what you get. His money list finishes dating back to 2011 are a respective 45th, 78th and 47th.
44) Brendon de Jonge Never a winner, but has been 42nd or better on the money list in three of the last four seasons. Great before the cut, but a notorious weekend fader.
45) Scott Piercy After a career-best 27th in money in 2012, he finished a very quiet 39th in 2013 meaning this spot is entirely in the cards.
46) Morgan Hoffmann Young gun loaded with potential and coming off a successful 2013 rookie season.
47) Scott Stallings He will miss his share of cuts, but has a knack for winning out of nowhere in events where the scores go deep and prestige is lacking.
48) John Huh Backed up a stellar rookie season with a 58th on the 2013 money list.
49) Jason Kokrak Has length to spare and has progressed from 119th as a rookie to 70th on last season’s money list as a sophomore. Made a legit run at AT&T National.
50) Marc Leishman Aussie will enter the season fresh off his first Presidents Cup appearance and having challenged for the Masters deep into the back nine on Sunday.
51) Martin Kaymer Finished 94th on the money list in his first season as a member of the PGA TOUR. Familiarity will breed more success, as he finished the 2013 season better than he started.
52) Louis Oosthuizen An admitted shot in the dark, his 2013 season was cut short due to injury and he eventually finished 137th on the money list after ranking 15th in 2012.
53) Jimmy Walker Has improved his position on the money list every year since ranking 185th in 2008, finishing 30th this season. Expect a correction back to a sustainable baseline. This position is between his 48th in 2012 and his 67th in 2011, which feels about right.
54) Gary Woodland Returned to significance with his win at the Reno-Tahoe Open, and played pretty well down the stretch. Record of inconsistency doesn’t warrant much better than this.
55) Ernie Els He has an every-other-year trend working that bodes well for 2013-14, but with a 93rd in 2011 and a 74th in 2013 it’s hard to be overly optimistic. He turns 44 on October 17th.
56) Hideki Matsuyama Japanese star has committed to make the requisite 15 starts this season and played well in the majors, with top 20s in the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship.
57) Bud Cauley After a terrible 2013 that cost him his card, he dropped down to the Web.com Tour Finals and earned it back. Expect him to come back humbled and motivated.
58) D.A. Points Finished inside the top 70 on the money list in four of the last five years, so this is right in his range.
59) Richard H. Lee Improved from 138th to 89th in earnings in his sophomore year and consistently posts impressive splits in important statistical categories.
60) Aaron Baddeley A virtual dart throw, he has finished outside the top 100 on the money list in three of his last five years, but posted a 20th during that stretch as well. Putter is a known commodity, but has to find fairways and greens a couple of times a year to have a chance.
61) Charles Howell III Catching on to a weaker trend in Ryder Cup years, he was 69th, 60th and 67th in 2008, 2010 and 2012, respectively.
62) Charley Hoffman Steadily in this range for each of the last five years, he’s finished no higher than 25th and no lower than 66th on the money list since 2009.
63) Ben Martin Was 164th as a rookie on the 2011 money list, but a breakout year on the 2013 Web.com Tour, with a pair of wins, points to a nice second trip to the big stage.
64) Robert Garrigus Proved that his 20th spot on the 2012 money list was a step outside of his class, but nothing worse than 77th or better than 51st in the three years surround that slots him in nicely here.
65) Kevin Streelman If he’s a stock, it’s time to sell high. Finished 62nd to 107th in each of the five years leading up to the season of his first win, so expect a noticeable drop from 17th in 2013.
66) Martin Laird Considering he’s been no worse than 65th on each of the last five money lists, this is a bit of a slight. Consistency from week to week is a legitimate concern.
68) Brian Davis Captain Consistent has an average money list finish of 65.33, ranging from 43rd to 96th over the past six seasons and was 72nd in 2013.
69) John Rollins Another Steady Eddie, ranges from 59th to 76th in the last four money list. He tends to peek his head up in weaker fields and on easier courses, but don’t count him out in any Texas event either.
70) Ryan Palmer Has trended in the wrong direction on each of the last four money lists, moving from 17th in 2010 to 47th, 58th and 59th in subsequent seasons.
71) Jeff Overton Busy year off the course saw him fall to 112th in the 2013 money list, but was no worse than 76thin the four seasons prior.
73) Chesson Hadley Fresh off his win at the Web.com Tour Championship, his second of the season, consider him a threat as a rookie in 2013-14.
74) Michael Thompson Has plenty of bad weeks, but can’t ignore that he’s improved from 98th to 60th to 52nd in earnings in his three TOUR seasons. Expect a minor correction back to a weaker spot on the money list.
75) Cameron Tringale Probably should have won by now. At four years in, he’s ranked inside the top 90 in each of his last three seasons on the money list. Admits he does not look at a leaderboard in tournaments when in contention.
76) Ben Crane Perhaps we learn down the road that his 105th on the 2013 money list was caused by something other than a poor year, but for now we have to assume he finds his way back to a more familiar higher spot. Typically slots in the 40-70 range, so this could be a value buy.
77) Tim Clark Since an injury-plagued 2011, finished 61st and 64th on the last two money lists. Could play more events than normal due to upcoming anchored putter ban in an effort to make hay while the sun is shining.
78) Matt Jones Looked strong at times in 2013 and eventually finishing 48th on the money list, which is much higher than his career trend. This season could go either way. A worthy risk in the right spot.
79) Kevin Stadler The book on him is simple. He’s very dangerous the few weeks where his long putter cooperates.
80) Bryce Molder Slipped to 102nd on the 2013 money list, which is his worst finish in the last five seasons. Another solid guy on the stat sheet that could put it together for a few big weeks.
81) Mark Wilson Known as a player that does most of his damage early in the calendar year, consider bailing once the major season dawns if that is an option.
83) Peter Hanson Concluded 2013 at 125th on the money list in his first PGA TOUR season as a member. Similar to Kaymer, familiarity should yield better results.
84) Brendan Steele Was 38th on the 2011 money list with a win as a rookie, then dropped to 110th in 2012 before rebounding to 82nd in ’13. Barring a win, this seems to be a stable range.
85) Brendon Todd Finished 140th on the 2013 money list with conditional status and picked up a Web.com Tour win on the side. It’s all coming together for the Georgia Bulldog.
86) Seung-yul Noh Suffered a sophomore slump, but regained his card after a nice run in the Web.com Finals. If he plays like he did to end the year on the Web.com, this spot is too low.
87) Carl Pettersson Stay with me on this one. He was 21st on the 2008 money list then collapsed to 136th in 2009. He was 13th in 2012, and then fell to 110th in 2013. Hangovers seem to be a problem for the Swede, but he rebounded from ’09 to finish 39th in 2010.
88) Pat Perez The last four years, the money list range has been 73rd to 101st. This is who he is.
89) Padraig Harrington At 42, it has to be considered that he isn’t going to significantly rebound from form that has seen him finish outside the top 100 on the money list in two of the last three years. He is no longer elite, and the data says he hasn’t been since 2009.
90) Luke Guthrie Failed to deliver on lofty expectations to the degree Russell Henley and Patrick Reed did in 2013, but easily earned a ticket for at return trip. Fingers crossed he isn’t this season’s Bud Cauley.
91) Daniel Summerhays Six top 25s and four top 10s in each of his last two years on TOUR qualify him as a stable investment.
92) John Merrick Finally got a win in 2013, but made little noise after his triumph. Expect a quiet 2013-14.
93) Thorbjorn Olesen Wouldn’t be surprised to see him higher on numerous rankings, but the 2013 efforts ofNicolas Colsaerts, Peter Hanson and Martin Kaymer should be reason enough to temper immediate expectations.
94) David Lynn Played well enough early in the 2013 season to head back to Europe for the better part of the summer, one must question his commitment once his card is locked up.
95) Russell Henley The winner of the first full-field event in his rookie season, this is around where he would have finished without that victory.
96) John Senden The veteran dropped to 120th in the money list after four consecutive years inside the top 70. It’s reasonable to expect a moderate rebound.
97) Boo Weekley Season slowed down after his win at Colonial, which could easily carry over to the new year.
98) Fredrik Jacobson Hasn’t had a top 10 on TOUR since the WGC-Accenture Match Play, so while this is below his career value, it is in line with his struggling form.
99) Angel Cabrera Somewhat similar to Baddeley, he’s finished everywhere from 21st to 174th on the last five money lists.
100) Sang-moon Bae Didn’t crack the top 30 in any event and missed seven cuts after winning the Byron Nelson.
Ryan O’Sullivan joined Rotoworld in 2012. The Clemson grad blogs as The Golf Aficionado.
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