Ranking the 10 Biggest Surprises from the PGA Tour in 2013
The first half of 2013 really has seen it all. Unexpected accomplishments, unforeseen struggles, the emergence of new personalities and headline-grabbing controversies on and off the golf courses have made for an entertaining past five months.
That said, the best stories are the ones we do not see coming, and there have been plenty of unexpected left-hand turns since the PGA Tour started anew this past January.
A new rival for Tiger, controversy surrounding the world's best player and the emergence of unexpected new stars, including a 14-year-old Chinese golfer and a 19-year-old Texan, are just a few of the surprises that have owned our attention this past year.
It's a list we fully expect to have to update later this summer, but here are the top 10 surprises on the PGA Tour as of May 20.
10. Shockingly, Singh Sues
On the course, Vijay Singh is struggling and that's no surprise. Off the course, Singh is suing his own tour and that very much is.
Almost two weeks ago, Singh filed suit against the PGA Tour, contending that its investigation and subsequent public threat of suspension for his admitted use of deer antler spray has caused significant damage to his professional reputation. The tour announced prior to the suit that there would be no suspension for the three-time major champion, but that wasn't good enough for the Fijian.
Ironically, it’s a reputation that had already been marred by a 1985 suspension by the Asian Tour for alleged scorecard doctoring, yet Singh still felt the need to file the lawsuit.
Fellow PGA Tour players have by and large been silent on the issue, but there can’t be a lot of support for Singh’s lawsuit among his brethren. Given that, one has to wonder whether the end result will really be worth the backlash that he will likely feel behind the scenes should this play out deep into the future.
9. Jordan Spieth's Fast Rise
When the 2013 PGA Tour season began, Jordan Spieth had no status. Now, only five months into the season, the 19-year-old has multiple top-10 finishes and is showing all the promise of a future great player.
Playing on a temporary membership status that allows him to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions, Spieth has played like a PGA Tour veteran, posting top 10s at Tampa Bay, Puerto Rico and Hilton Head en route to earning just under $700,000 in just nine events.
Spieth, who sits 12th on Tour in all-around ranking, posted his best finish at the Tampa Bay Championship with a tie for second on the difficult Copperhead Course at The Innisbrook Resort.
Still shy of his 20th birthday, the former Texas Longhorn is proving on the course that the potential promised from him as an amateur is for real. He's just showing it a little sooner than anyone expected.
8. The First Time Is the Charm
Call it a fluke. Call it the arrival of PGA Tour parity. Whatever the label, seven victories by first-time PGA Tour winners in just 22 events through this weekend is something few saw coming in 2013.
Indeed, both PGA Tour journeymen realizing that breakthrough win and rookie golfers finding success sooner than most expected have managed to claim nearly 30 percent of the titles in 2013.
Two of those victories came from tour rookies Russell Henley and Derek Ernst. For good measure, Henley won the Sony Open in his first-ever PGA Tour start, becoming the first to accomplish that feat in the past 12 years.
The other five first-time victories have come from veteran, yet unknown, golfers of the likes of Billy Horschel, Michael Thompson and Kevin Streelman. Those wins, however, have come in several strong-field events. Thompson won the Honda Classic, Horschel claimed victory at the Zurich Classic and John Merrick captured the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.
It's more than likely Henley will be heard from often in the future. Whether the other 2013 first-time winners break through again remains to be seen.
7. Sergio Garcia Is Putting Well. Really, Really Well.
Seemingly cursed by the flat stick for pretty much the entirely of his somewhat disappointing career, Garcia is rolling the ball better than he ever has, and it's fueling some strong results in 2013. In fact, in the extremely important Strokes Gained—Putting category, Garcia ranks second on the PGA Tour, meaning he's making more putts than he ever has before, and the results are unmistakable.
In just eight starts, Sergio owns four top-10 finishes, including a tie for eighth at The Masters and a third-place tie at the Cadillac Championship, a World Golf Championship event claimed by Tiger Woods.
Throughout his career, Garcia has failed to live up to expectations because of his poor putting, but if his surprising first half of 2013 is any indication, things might very well be changing and Sergio is likely to be a significant player during the remainder of the year.
6. Where Have You Gone, Mr. Mickelson?
To be fair, Phil Mickelson does own a PGA Tour victory in 2013 and has played well in a couple of other events. That said, he’s come up rather small in some very large tournaments through the first half of the season, and that’s not at all Lefty-like.
After struggling to poor finishes at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach on the West Coast and missing the cut at The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, Phil even more surprisingly spit the bit at Augusta National in early April.
A tournament Lefty has won three times, Mickelson finished in a tie for 54th in The Masters at a stunning nine-over. He has since followed that performance by blowing a final-round lead to a PGA Tour rookie at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow and then five days later missed the cut at The Players Championship at one-over.
Bottom line, despite his victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open early in the year, Mickelson has been anything but himself and is struggling to find his game against the most talented fields thus far in 2013.
5. What's Up with a Winless Rory?
If Rory McIlroy’s early 2013 results belonged to another golfer, they might not have made this list. That said, a winless campaign during the first five months of the season coupled by an unexpected, albeit brief, controversy wasn't in the game plan for the sport’s most promising young star.
After ending the 2012 season as the reigning PGA Champion and the world’s top-ranked golfer, McIlroy made a $200 million switch to Nike clubs and ball and the results have been anything but worth the money. Rory has ceded his World No. 1 ranking to Tiger Woods, hasn't won an event and the only consistency his game has shown is inconsistency.
Couple his pedestrian play with his first taste of controversy after walking off the course during the second round of the Honda Classic in March and you have the ugly details of a disappointing first half to McIlory’s season.
To be fair, McIlory hasn't missed a cut this year and owns four top-10 finishes. Yet just like Tiger Woods, Rory's success is billed in victories, not good finishes, and through mid-May, his tally in that regard is zero.
4. Woods Winning Like Never Before
It’s rarely surprising when Tiger Woods wins a golf tournament; but even the pace he's capturing titles at in 2013 is noteworthy at the very least, surprising at best. Factor in the significance of the events he is claiming and his start to 2013 grows even more in stature.
Never before in Tiger Woods’ illustrious career had he won four golf tournaments before mid-May, but the world’s top-ranked golfer accomplished that with his triumph at The Players Championship.
That significant win added to victories at The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the Cadillac Championship at Doral and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. It’s an impressive laundry list of titles and courses that Woods has owned during the past several months.
More importantly, Tiger's solid start provides a prophecy for what to expect moving forward. The last time he won four events before the end of May was in 2000, when he went on to win three straight major championships to close out that amazing year. Better watch out next month at Merion Golf Club.
3. Woods Runs Afoul of the Rules....A Couple of Times
Tiger Woods might be playing his best golf since 2008, but the world's top-ranked player hasn't been quite so sharp when it comes to applying the rules of golf during competition.
Twice this year, Woods has been assessed two-shot penalties for bad drops and was questioned on a third at The Players Championship. The penalties, which came in January at Abu Dhabi and then several months later at The Masters, have been costly to Woods both from the standpoint of lost opportunity and reputation status.
The first infraction came during Tiger's first start of the year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship when he illegally took relief from a ball embedded in a sandy area. That infraction turned bogey into triple and cost Woods the opportunity to make the cut.
Then came the much-debated drop at the 2013 Masters that nearly resulted in the disqualification of the World No. 1. Woods avoided that punishment, but the two-shot penalty did stall his momentum and quest to win his first major in five years.
As if those issues weren't enough, Woods was questioned by the media about the position of his drop on the 14th hole during the final round of The Players Championship, demonstrating there is a hot bright light on Tiger when it comes to adhering to the rules in competition these days.
2. Toasting Tianlang
Tianlang Guan began 2013 Masters Week as a teenager no one at Augusta National knew. By Sunday, he was a rock-star 14-year-old and the youngest golfer to ever make the cut in golf’s most prestigious tournament this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite the Tiger Woods controversy, the Chinese teenager managed to capture the majority of the headlines during the first two days at Augusta with his three-over, 36-hole performance to make the cut while the likes of Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington and Hunter Mahan missed it.
Guan’s 2013 story, however, was just beginning. Two weeks later, Guan would make his first PGA Tour cut in the Zurich Invitational at TPC Louisiana. After shooting even par in the opening round, Guan fired a three-under 69 on Friday to become the youngest player to ever make a cut in an official PGA Tour event.
The fact he ended up finishing in a tie for last at the event and missed the cut this past weekend at the Byron Nelson Classic is immaterial to the true impact Guan has had in 2013. Professional golf is getting younger, and Guan is the unexpected face of that shift.
1. Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia Publicly Spat
Yes, we know it’s not a surprise that Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia dislike each other. It is, however, rather unexpected that their disdain for one another would become so public so quickly and at the PGA Tour’s signature event for good measure.
Yet through the words of Sergio saying Woods was "not the nicest guy on tour" and then Woods pretty much dismissing Garcia altogether, the biggest story of the 2013 season erupted at the 2013 Players Championship when pretty much no one saw it coming.
Their third-round pairing got ugly at the TPC Stadium Course, so the destruction of the Tiger/Sergio relationship has been thoroughly reported and the genesis of their mutual dislike is now well documented.
That said, it’s unusual for the golf’s elite to publicly call out one another. Happens all the time in NASCAR, even here and there in tennis. Golf, however, has always been the individual sport that has largely stayed above the fray.
That is, until Garcia called Woods out at The Players on Saturday and Tiger responded by taking him out on Sunday.