The 5 Golfers Poised to Make a Career Leap in 2013

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

The 5 Golfers Poised to Make a Career Leap in 2013

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    Among the thousands of pros who tee’d it up this season, there were five golfers who showed talent and resolve that portends success in 2013.

    Golf is such a fickle sport. One week you may have an unshakable rhythm, making birdies effortlessly, and the next week you’re lucky to be saving pars and bogeys as you grind through 18 grueling holes.

    What distinguishes this group is not necessarily their consistency, mechanics or any one aspect of their game. But rather, the glimpse they gave us of greatness. 

    The young and stylish Rickie Fowler pulled out all the stops at the Wells Fargo Championship and captured his first PGA Tour victory at the ripe age of 23. The stoic southerner Jason Dufner rode his momentum from 2011 into 2012 with two wins and eight top-10 finishes, becoming a contender every time he tee’d it up. Adam Scott not only won abroad in 2012 but also flirted with major championship success twice.

    News headlines would have you believe Rory McIlroy’s season of four victories and Tiger Woods’ resurgence into golf’s elite were the most noteworthy stories of the year. Sure, these two Goliaths of golf definitely warranted the acclaim they received this season, but ahead are the Davids you need to have on your radar in 2013.

Adam Scott

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    Adam Scott has been a puzzle, and at times a let-down, to golf fans because he's shown he has all the pieces to win on golf's biggest stages yet has never been able to fit those pieces together for 72 holes. 

    Despite the ebb and flow of Scott's career, he's initiated a resurgence in his game over the last two years and become a formidable contender. Scott finished in the top 10 in four of the last eight major championships, two of which were second place finishes (Masters 2011 and British Open 2012).

    He also won the World Golf Championship at Firestone in 2011 in one of the year's most stacked and competitive fields, which was a turning point for Scott, showing that he's learned the importance of getting his game to peak at the right times. 

    At the very least, Scott has the capacity to win multiple times on the PGA Tour in 2013. Majors, however, are his priority. He's ready to make the transition of his career, officially vanquish the label of "best golfer without a major championship" and finally capture what he’s had his sights set on for so long.

    Scott is no stranger to winning. He's a 19-time champion in his career, but besides his 2004 Players Championship victory when he was just 23-years-old, Scott has only flirted with glory on golf's biggest stages.

    He's developed mental toughness from both crushing losses, as well as confidence from winning around the world for nearly a decade. Keep Scott at the top of your watch list for 2013.

Jason Dufner

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    Jason Dufner doesn’t hit the ball like Bubba Watson or fist pump after draining a clutch putt like Tiger Woods, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth keeping on your radar. 

    “Duff,” as he’s known around the golf course, was a legitimate candidate for Player of the Year in 2012, winning twice, notching eight top-10 finishes and earning a spot on the American Ryder Cup team.

    If you can believe it, this is the same guy who missed a combined 15 cuts between 2010-2011 and was considered a fluke after contending at the PGA Championship in 2011.

    So much for a fluke—Duff is here to stay.  

    For you skeptics out there, Dufner’s got the game to win a major. He’s one of the best and most consistent ball-strikers in golf, ranking seventh on Tour. His accuracy off the tee ranks in the top 20, and most importantly, Dufner is grinder. He thrives at scoring in challenging conditions, (ranked fourth in Scoring Average, 69.4) and has gained valuable experience competing among the best in high pressure situations.

    His stoic demeanor paired with his speedy, no-nonsense playing style proved to be a successful combination in 2012 and can lead to even larger triumphs in 2013. 

Louis Oosthuizen

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    More time has been spent figuring out how to pronounce Louis Oosthuizen’s name than admiring the beautiful game he plays.

    When he won the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010, Oosthuizen played with poise and was unflappable as the frontrunner despite his little experience and previously awful results in majors. While most wrote off his major victory as a fluke, Louis’ loved proving the naysayers wrong.

    In just his sophomore season on the PGA Tour, Oosthuizen had five top-10 finishes, which included two seconds and a third, and he ended up seventh in the FedExCup. The second place finish memorably came at the Masters where he seemingly did everything he could to win—even holing out on his second shot on a par 5, an albatross—but still fell to Bubba Watson’s miracle playoff shot.

    As Fred Albers at SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio said of Oosthuizen:

    I think he has the best swing on TOUR. He generates so much power for a man that is not physically imposing. Every time I watch Louie play, I always wonder why he doesn't win more often.

    Well, Fred, this is the year you stop wondering.

    Oosthuizen has one of the most complete games among golfers today and can give Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods a run for their money any day. Prepare to see Louis Oosthuizen’s name on top of many leaderboards this year.

Ian Poulter

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    We always knew the Ryder Cup was Ian Poulter's bread and butter, boasting an 8-3-0 record before the 2012 showdown. In general, though, he's always been just another competitive golfer, never a serious contender.

    But at this recent Ryder Cup at Medinah, Poulter absolutely shined, leading his team to a stunning victory and most importantly causing past skeptics to wonder if 2013 could be Poulter's breakout year.

    Poulter's tenacity at Medinah was palpable, and it became contagious among his teammates. He played in four matches and won all four points. He beat the Americans with his intensity, his dominant short game and with an attitude that left it all on the course, hence the rather bizarrely determined facial expression above, which became his trademark over the three-day event.

    The ripple effect of Poulter’s Ryder Cup dominance has yet to be seen, but there’s no denying his ability. This is a player boiling with talent. His stats may not "wow" you and his record may not either, but the nerves and talent he displayed in the pressure of the Ryder Cup bodes well for his future.

    He memorably made five consecutive birdies in his final five holes Saturday afternoon to beat the American team led by U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson.

    The guy can flat out compete.

    Poulter's short game has always been his winning attribute. It can be the difference maker for Poulter this year as he heads into the year's biggest events, like the World Golf Championships and majors. In the past, Poulter has finished inside the top 10 at every major championship at least once in his career, other than the US Open (most notably a solo second place finish at the 2008 British Open). 

    The question is whether Poulter can channel that special Ryder Cup energy that brings out the best in his game into more consistent play.

Rickie Fowler

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    At just 24-years-old, Rickie Fowler has already accomplished more on the golf course than most professionals will in a lifetime.

    The PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2010, Fowler earned three runner-up finishes that season alone, which in golf is Mike Trout-esque. He also received a Captain’s pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, making him the youngest American to ever compete in the Ryder Cup.

    His ball striking and accuracy with his irons are on par with the best in the game today. He's no longer one of the rising stars of the Tour but an established member of golf's elite.

    Coming into 2013, he’s averaging six top 10’s per season in his first three years on tour. More importantly, he’ll be riding the momentum of his first official victory at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship where he beat D.A. Points and Rory McIlroy in a playoff.  

    Although Fowler needs to improve his short game, mainly his putting (ranks 139th in Strokes Gained-Putting), he uses his deftness off the tee and iron skills to remain a threat. He clearly knows how to put himself in contention—he’s finished runner-up five times now—and 2013 will be the year where he creates more separation, with the potential to win multiple times and contend on a new level: the majors.

Who Do You Think?

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    Who do you believe deserves to be on this list?

    Perhaps Sergio Garcia, whose battles with injury and apathy were finally swept under the rug in 2012 when he displayed some excellent performances.

    What about the young Australian Jason Day? Between an injury and becoming a first-time father in 2012, Day lost the momentum he gained with a pair of second place finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2011. Will 2013 be his year?

    Please leave a comment below with who you think is poised for a career leap in 2013!