Now that the PGA tour season is in full swing, it’s only natural to wonder which stars will shine and which will fade on the fairways in 2014.
Naturally, veteran heavyweights like Tiger Woods are expected to be strong contenders this year. And more than a few of the younger players are looking pretty promising.
Still, when you factor in all of the tangibles and intangibles that make the game of golf so unpredictable, it’s anybody’s guess which players will come out on top this year (a fantasy wild-card season, for sure).
In fact, they might even be the players you least expect.
That being said, here are five pro golf underdogs to watch out for in 2014.
In 2012, a young Bubba Watson donned the green jacket and joined the ranks of the golfing elite by winning the Masters. Since then, Watson has been on a losing streak—a slump that may be attributed to a lack of focus and form that keeps getting him into trouble off the tee. He even missed the cut at the PGA golf championship, which put him into real underdog status.
However, judging by his recent play, there are signs that Bubba is on the rebound.
First came a pair of top-25 finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs, followed by finishing tied for eighth at the World Golf Championship-HSBC Champions event in November.
Going into 2014, if Bubba can maintain his focus and hone his powerful swing to keep the ball on the fairways and greens, you can expect him to claim at least one PGA Tour win, if not more.
Beginning his professional career in 2006, Jason Day is regarded as a skilled and talented player. But the 26-year-old Australian boasts only one PGA Tour victory, the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship. That, and a number of very near misses in major events over the past couple of years—he’s now gone three full seasons on the PGA Tour without a win—have solidified Jason Day as an underdog going into 2014.
But with each of those losses has come valuable experience.
In 2013 alone, Day posted seven top-10 finishes, and many feel that 2014 will be Day’s year to win his first major championship.
It’s hard to picture an eight-time PGA Tour winner as an underdog. All it takes is one bad season, and for Dustin Johnson, 2013 is a season he’d like to forget. After an early victory, which would be his only win of the season, things got worse for Johnson when captain Fred Couples failed to select him for the 2013 United States Presidents Cup team.
Turning defeat into motivation, Johnson launched his 2014 campaign with a win at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
With his sights set on making the United States Ryder Cup team next fall, Dustin Johnson is predicted to have multiple wins on tour.
Last year couldn’t have been much worse for Rory McIlroy.
Along with struggling all year and failing to win a single tournament, McIlroy lost his world No. 1 ranking to Tiger Woods. Then there was the talk about poor work ethic, relationship issues and other distractions that were affecting his game. Not to mention the fact that he switched over to Nike clubs all at once, instead of gradually working them into his bag.
But things are looking up for the Irishman. Not only did he shoot an impressive seven-under 65 to take the lead in the first round at the WGC-HSBC this October, but he also bested Tiger Woods by one stroke in a one-on-one competition held in China a few weeks ago.
With renewed confidence in his game and his new clubs, plus the fact that he’s still just 24, McIlroy will pose a legitimate threat in 2014.
Seriously? Mickelson’s on the underdog list?
There’s no denying that he is one of the all-time greats. He’s been so consistently good in the past that maybe we just expect too much of him now.
But let’s be honest. Yes, he won the British Open in July. But the rest of his 2013 golf season was lackluster considering that he is, after all, Phil Mickelson.
Some say that age is starting to creep up on Phil and that’s why he’s been having trouble off the tee and on the greens. But Mr. Mickelson is an amazingly talented golfer with a strong offseason work ethic.
Come 2014, look for Phil to come out playing like his “old” self again.