Sobel’s 2019-20 PGA Season Preview: Power Ranking Every Golfer on Tour

Sobel’s 2019-20 PGA Season Preview: Power Ranking Every Golfer on Tour article feature image

Adam Hagy, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Brooks Koepka

  • The 2019-20 PGA Tour season begins on Thursday at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.
  • Which golfers will make good fantasy sleepers and who should you target if you're looking for a longshot bet?
  • Jason Sobel previews the season by ranking the field ahead of the new golf season.

So, how did you enjoy that two-and-a-half-week offseason?

Technically, it will have been 17 days, 13 hours and, oh, about 15 minutes or so between the end of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season and the beginning of the 2019-20 PGA Tour campaign.

Depending on how we count a few quasi-sanctioned events (Hero World Challenge? Presidents Cup? The Olympics?), there are somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-a-hundred tournaments on the upcoming schedule, starting with this week’s A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.

That leaves plenty of opportunities for plenty of players, as many of the same ol’ superstars will continue ranking amongst the world’s best and some up-and-comers will make their presence felt.

If you’re part of a season-long fantasy league that drafts before the opener, or if you’re joining a pool with a Thursday deadline, I salute you. Many leagues and pools – OK, most of ‘em – don’t start until the calendar turns over. Collectively, we usually have to finish off fantasy football before we move on to golf, but I admire those who kick things off this week.

Speaking of football, it was some of our Action Network pigskin preview content – notably, Sean Koerner’s tiered fantasy rankings – which inspired me to create a similar list for the impending golf season.

Whether you’re starting now or waiting a few more months, the following tiered rankings should offer a unique breakdown for not only how every PGA Tour member stacks up for this season, but where we can find some separation between them.

Of the 239 players (and yes, this number is always fluid) with some sort of membership – either full status, conditional or medical – I’ve divided them into 10 tiers based on potential for the 2019-20 campaign.

Tier 1

Rory McIlroy

Simply put, he ticks all the right boxes to stand head and shoulders above the competition. McIlroy’s overall strokes gained number last season was the best we’d seen in a decade. He won three times – and while none of them were majors, two were big-money events.

And since you’re wondering, yes, I did consider adding Brooks Koepka to this tier based on his major championship superiority, but let’s remember: This ranking is about the future, not the past. I like Rory’s chance to separate himself from the pack in the next 12 months.

Tier 2

Brooks Koepka

Justin Thomas

Jon Rahm

Two of these names will come as no surprise to those who have paid even the slightest bit of attention to the professional game over the past few years. The other one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s watched more closely. Rahm is an elite-level talent – and he’s on the verge of some big-time results. With four top-10 in majors over the past two years, the soon-to-be 25-year-old is only gaining more confidence and experience the more he competes. He belongs up here with some of the world’s best.

Tier 3

Patrick Cantlay

Xander Schauffele

Tony Finau

Justin Rose

Dustin Johnson

The first three players here aren’t just in the same tier; I’d also place them in the same category: Consistent weekly performers who can win anyplace, anytime. I’ve got Cantlay with the biggest short-term upside of the trio, but it’s certainly a close race. I’d love a wager on Cantlay/Schauffele/Finau to win a 2019 major, though their 12 combined opportunities might come at something just slightly more than even-money.

As for the more well-established players in this tier, Rose turns 40 next summer and DJ is fresh off an end-of-season head-scratcher, but each is still worthy of inclusion here.

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Viktor Hovland’s professional career is off to a flying start. Credit: Rob Kinnan, USA Today Sports.

Tier 4

Hideki Matsuyama

Webb Simpson

Bryson DeChambeau

Patrick Reed

Sungjae Im

Rickie Fowler

Tommy Fleetwood

Paul Casey

Gary Woodland

Adam Scott

Matt Kuchar

Viktor Hovland

Jason Day

You’ll see the tiers start to increase in numbers as there becomes less separation between players further down the list. This one is still full of blue-chippers, featuring five players who are major champions and a half-dozen more who are on the short list of best players to have never won one. But of course, the most noteworthy names here are a pair of youngsters in Im and Hovland, each of whom I (and many others) expect to ascend into the next echelon very soon.

Fellow players and caddies have called Im a top-10 player in the making and Hovland wasn’t just impressive in limited exposure in the big leagues, he was impressive in final rounds, when it meant the most.

Tier 5

Jordan Spieth

Collin Morikawa

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Joaquin Niemann

Kevin Kisner

Cameron Smith

Marc Leishman

Byeong Hun An

Matthew Wolff

Jason Kokrak

Billy Horschel

Emiliano Grillo

Aaron Wise

Corey Conners

Abraham Ancer

Keith Mitchell

Charles Howell III

Chez Reavie

Andrew Putnam

Brandt Snedeker

Scottie Scheffler

Francesco Molinari

Tiger Woods

There’s admittedly a lot to unpack here. Spieth is the ultimate wildcard, a player who’s capable of winning multiple majors in a year or one who struggles just to get into contention.

Speaking of high floor-low ceiling types, Woods obviously offers the potential to still win some hefty hardware, though his limited playing schedule prevents him from being ranked higher, even if he’s healthy and motivated. In between them, this tier offers an amalgam of established performers, recent risers and impending stars. Morikawa and Wolff are already PGA Tour champions and it might not take long before Niemann and Scheffler join them.

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Shane Lowry won his first career Major at the 2019 Open Championship. Credit: Thomas J. Russo

Tier 6

Shane Lowry

Si Woo Kim

Sergio Garcia

Kyle Stanley

Ryan Moore

Alex Noren

Keegan Bradley

Rafa Cabrera Bello

Phil Mickelson

Scott Piercy

Adam Hadwin

Wyndham Clark

Ian Poulter

Sam Ryder

Sam Burns

Harold Varner III

Luke List

Kevin Na

J.T. Poston

Henrik Stenson

Brian Harman

Bubba Watson

Dylan Frittelli

Daniel Berger

Russell Knox

Joel Dahmen

Kristoffer Ventura

Cameron Champ

Mackenzie Hughes

Matt Wallace

Rory Sabbatini

Louis Oosthuizen

Ryan Palmer

C.T. Pan

Branden Grace

Beau Hossler

Max Homa

Brendan Steele

Bill Haas

Doug Ghim

Jason Dufner

Andrew Landry

Talor Gooch

Patrick Rodgers

Bud Cauley

Maverick McNealy

J.B. Holmes

Kevin Tway

Tyrrell Hatton

Troy Merritt

Martin Kaymer

Cameron Tringale

Austin Cook

Consider this a lengthy list of players who can potentially contend any week and wouldn’t be a shock if they were to win. What you’ll find in this tier is a combination of talented internationals who won’t necessarily play 25-30 times on the PGA Tour and U.S.-based stalwarts who will. Most in this group are high-floor, low ceiling guys, though the electrifying Champ owns an opportunity to be a hit-or-miss selection.

As for the freshman class, I’m expecting a solid opening season from Ventura, Ghim and McNealy, each of whom starred on the collegiate level before qualifying for the PGA Tour through the developmental circuit.

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Kiradech Aphibarnrat has four top-5 finishes in WGC events over the last two years. Ray Carlin, USA Today Sports.

Tier 7

Jhonattan Vegas

Danny Willett

Brice Garnett

Nick Watney

Sepp Straka

Charley Hoffman

Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Vaughn Taylor

Doc Redman

Roger Sloan

Jim Furyk

Graeme McDowell

Patton Kizzire

Denny McCarthy

J.J. Spaun

Zach Johnson

Jamie Lovemark

Kramer Hickok

Kevin Streelman

K.H. Lee

Pat Perez

Grayson Murray

Chesson Hadley

Nate Lashley

Rob Oppenheim

Dominic Bozzelli

Michael Gligic

Hank Lebioda

Jimmy Walker

Seung-Yul Noh

Brandon Hagy

Martin Laird

Lucas Bjerregaard

Danny Lee

Sung Kang

Bo Hoag

Sung Kang

Peter Uihlein

Charl Schwartzel

Russell Henley

Michael Thompson

Adam Long

Robby Shelton

Trey Mullinax

Tom Hoge

Kevin Chappell

Scott Harrington

Scott Brown

Nick Taylor

Stewart Cink

Michael Gellerman

Ryan Armour

Aaron Baddeley

Scott Stallings

Martin Trainer

Kelly Kraft

If you need ‘em, most of these guys should be decent lineup-fillers, though many have at least one mark against them – things like getting older, conditional status or limited experience. Some in this tier have dropped dramatically in recent years (Furyk and Johnson, for example), while others are just making a quick pit stop on their way to another level (Straka and Hickok to name a few).

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Bronson Burgoon put up a pair of top-10 finishes in 2019. Credit: Peter Casey, USA Today Sports.

Tier 8

Matt Every

Matthew NeSmith

Bronson Burgoon

Ryan Brehm

Peter Malnati

Robert Streb

Sebastian Munoz

Tom Lewis

Mark Hubbard

Seamus Power

Tyler Duncan

Matt Jones

Roberto Castro

Wes Roach

Adam Schenk

Brian Stuard

Brian Gay

Jim Knous

Ryan Blaum

Carlos Ortiz

Anirban Lahiri

Rhein Gibson

Chase Seiffert

Aaron Baddeley

Jim Herman

Brendon Todd

Richy Werenski

Xinjun Zhang

Harry Higgs

Fabian Gomez

Cameron Davis

Henrik Norlander

Tyler McCumber

Chris Stroud

Ted Potter Jr.

Josh Teater

Jonas Blixt

Zack Sucher

Cameron Percy

Hudson Swafford

Rafa Campos

If you’re drafting this deep in your leagues, well, you and I should probably be friends. There’s no better 19th-hole debate than which players deserve to be picked in the 17th round of your 12-team draft.

OK, maybe there’s a hint of sarcasm in there. But in all seriousness, if you are drafting this deep, be prepared, because most of your fellow fantasy leaguers won’t be. Taking a player like most of these above, each of whom – as they say in poker – has a chip and a chair can be advantageous over those who are drafting retired, injured or developmental tour players.

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Johnson Wagner collected three top-25 finishes in 2019. Credit: Eric Bolte, USA Today Sports.

Tier 9

Luke Donald

D.J. Trahan

Joseph Bramlett

Shawn Stefani

James Hahn

Zac Blair

Nelson Ledesma

Johnson Wagner

Sebastian Cappelen

Michael Kim

Mark Anderson

David Hearn

Vince Covello

Lanto Griffin

Ben Taylor

Chris Baker

Hunter Mahan

Padraig Harrington

John Huh

Colt Knost

Harris English

Vincent Whaley

Chris Baker

Tim Wilkinson

Satoshi Kodaira

A mixture of familiar names and Korn Ferry grads here, though nobody who pops off the page as a must-own in any season-long leagues.

Sure, the chip-and-a-chair philosophy still applies, though it’s more difficult to envision any of these players contending at a handful of events or reaching the season finale at East Lake.

Tier 10

Steve Stricker

Chris Kirk

Ben Martin

Graham DeLaet

Sean O’Hair

Kevin Stadler

William McGirt

Morgan Hoffmann

K.J. Choi

Wesley Bryan

Whee Kim

Greg Chalmers

Nicholas Lindheim

Chad Collins

Camilo Villegas

D.A. Points

Tim Clark

Briny Baird

Harrison Frazar

David Berganio Jr.

Wow, some blasts from the past at the bottom of the ranking here. Unless you want Stricker to offer your squad a putting lesson or Stadler to bring some needed personality or Villegas to get those calf muscles into shape, take a hard pass on this group, most of whom will be playing off a medical exemption this season – if they play at all.

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