Introducing our new “Question of the Week” piece. Each week, our panel of writers will be asked a question about the game of golf. Topics will range from their predictions for the Tour season to what they would order from the concession stand at Augusta National Golf Club. No subject is off limits for this esteemed group.
With the first six tournaments of 2019 in the books, our group of writers has been able to see most of the big names tee it up stateside. This week, we ask them to look ahead to predict who will make a jump in the Official World Golf Rankings by season’s end.
This week’s question: Which player currently outside of the OWGR Top 25 (as of 02/11/2019) will finish in the Top 20 by the end of the season?
Bear: Cameron Smith (ranked 27th). I’m picking someone who has never been inside the Top 20 but is well on his way. Ranked 61st at the start of 2018 and 28th at the start of 2019, Smith is on the rise. In last year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, he showed he has the guts to compete with, and be, one of the world’s best – finishing T3 and solo 3rd in the first two events. Hop on the Cameron Smith Train now because it’s charging full steam ahead.
Jack Corrigan: Hideki Matsuyama (28th). Currently 28th in the world, Hideki has pretty much flown under the radar. This is a man who at his peak was 3rd in the world, but we somehow forget that! We all know about last season’s demise of Jordan Spieth, and Hideki had a down year as well, but his 2019 looks much more promising. Hideki has two Top 15’s in his last two events, and I believe he will have a huge season. I am going to predict two wins this year, and I believe he will breakthrough to win a major.
Frank Laterza: Hideki Matsuyama (28th). Only at 28th, he may be an obvious choice. People have been down on him since his WD at the Waste Management Open in 2018, and I enjoy his post shot antics on shots stuck to 16 feet. His putting remains a shortcoming, but he’s currently 2nd in shots gained approach, and 2nd in SGTTG. Any tournament he putts at a field average, look out.
Sean Carney: Tyrrell Hatton (30th). Taking a look at the World Rankings, I am going with someone who has been inside the Top 25 before. Many were introduced to Hatton during the Ryder Cup over in France, though he had some success on the big stage prior. He has contended in the Open Championship, US Open, and the World Golf Championship in Mexico. Hatton is still looking for his first win on American soil and a lot of that has more to do with where he is mentally. If Tyrell can control his emotions, he has the game to compete on any course. I think Hatton is a name to keep an eye on this year and should pick up his first American win in 2019.
Kevin Walsh: Adam Scott (33rd). Great Question. There are some fairly obvious answers here – Hideki (currently 28th and spent ample time off due to injury), Sergio (maybe), but I’ll roll with Adam Scott. Adam had a pretty poor 2018 for his standards but looks motivated to play well in 2019. He putted very well using the pin-in method at The Farmers, and he actually ranks 21st in SG: Putting so far this year. Of course he is currently outside the top 140 in strokes gained off the tee, outside the top 200 in strokes gained around the green, and 122nd in strokes gained tee to green. I’m banking on years of quality ball striking turning those numbers around soon enough, and although he won’t be as consistent as in years past, when he’s on he is a real threat. Expect to see Adam Scott at the top of plenty of leaderboards throughout the season and sneaking inside that Top 20 by year’s end.
Tony Kasper: Henrik Stenson (35th). He is off to a slow start this year overseas, as he may still be dealing with some lingering effects from the elbow injury he suffered near the end of 2018. If he can come back fully healed, he will once again prove to be a contender on the game’s biggest stages. A six-time Tour winner and former World #2, he has at least one Top Five finish in each major the past five years, including his Open Championship victory at Royal Troon in 2016. He just needs a clean bill of health and one solid weekend to return to form.
Mike McNamara: Branden Grace (40th). Gracey has started 2019 strongly, and I think this will be a trend that will only continue as the year moves along. Always dangerous in majors, I expect him to be right in the thick of things in a couple of them this year, and to also secure his 2nd career victory at some point this season. Has been inside the top 20 before, and by summertime he will be back.
Sam Scherman: Emiliano Grillo (50th): Grillo hasn’t missed a cut since The Open Championship last year and is one of the most consistent ball strikers on Tour. He has had some solid, albeit not spectacular, finishes in his last 7 events, which includes 7th, 2nd, 14th, and 15th finishes, but has lost strokes putting in every one of those tournaments. If Grillo can start to figure out the putter and even see some average, or above average, SG: Putting weeks, I can easily see him well inside the Top 20 OWGR to end the year. I like Grillo to see success at the majors this year as he’s extremely accurate off the tee, gains strokes on his approaches from all distances, and has the ability to gain strokes on the field in difficult and/or windy conditions. I expect a win (at least) for Grillo this year as he cements himself as one of the best 20 players in the world come August.
Jake Mulholland: Thomas Pieters (79th). To my fellow writers…some of whom may eagerly write about guys ranked within the TOP 50 of OWGR to crack the Top 20, I say be gone with your cold takes!!! This segment is meant for the bold believers, the ruthless rapscallions, and the unforgiving usurpers of the second and third tiers of Golf. At such an early stage in the season, anything is possible, so why not buy in on a guy that has nothing to lose? Settling in at #79 in the OWGR is Thomas Pieters – a 6’5” stud who I believe is meant to make a mark in 2019. Since his career began with the PGA in 2016, Pieters has cracked the top 10 five times over 30 events. You may argue that his PGA Tour presence limits his ability to spring up the ranks, but despite playing in 12 events or less on the PGA circuit the past two years, Pieters was able to snag the #23 OWGR following his WGC Bridgestone performance in 2017. His fiery attitude has juxtaposed his smooth swing over the past four years, but I predict he will hone in on his strengths (long irons/driving) and make a run at the top 20 by season end.