The Most Pleasant Surprises from the 1st Half of the 2014 PGA Tour Season
Especially this season, with the No. 1 player in the world sidelined, competition is fierce on the PGA Tour with many players trying to take advantage of Tiger Woods being out of the picture.
And there's certainly nothing wrong with that.
Just like there's nothing like pleasant surprises that pop up when you least expect them in a hotly contested season.
Here are five that have caught my eye as the most pleasant surprises in the first half of the 2014 PGA Tour season.
Jordan Spieth's Good Sophomore Season
When a youngster like 19-year-old Jordan Spieth has a season like he did last year, the question coming into the next year is: Will there be a letdown, a sophomore slump?
The answer to that is an emphatic no.
He hasn't won yet this year, but Spieth has a pair of runner-up finishes, including a strong performance that resulted in a T2 at the Masters.
Five top-10 finishes, $2.7 million earned and a solid fifth position in the Ryder Cup standings have answered any questions as to whether or not he was the real deal.
Jimmy Walker's Quick Start
Eight years and 188 starts later, Jimmy Walker became a winner on the PGA Tour when he won the Frys.com Open last October.
That was cool enough, but then the 34-year-old native of Texas won twice more and remains the wins leader on this year's tour.
Walker has led the FedEx Cup points chase all season, although Bubba Watson has closed the gap to within a couple hundred points thanks to his win in the Masters.
Walker also led the Ryder Cup points list until being overtaken by Watson, but is virtually assured of a spot on the United States team this fall.
No Major Rules Controversies
Tiger Woods won five times last year, earned a gazillion dollars and had three scrapes with rules infractions that created plenty of buzz throughout the golf world.
The first took place in the Abu Dhabi Championship where an errant drive found a cluster of bushes. He found his ball and determined after a discussion with his partner that he was entitled to a free drop. Later it was ruled he wasn't entitled to that drop and was penalized two strokes.
The second was at the Masters, where his approach shot hit the flagstick on the 15th hole and caromed into the water. Woods dropped his next ball a couple yards further from the hole to get a better yardage measurement. That was ruled to be against the rules, and he was hit with a two-shot penalty the next day.
The final came at the Players Championship. Coming down the stretch in Sunday's round, Woods pulled his tee shot into the water that parallels the 14th fairway on the left. He and his partner determined where the ball crossed the hazard, which happened to be about 250 yards off the tee. Woods took a one-shot penalty, but raised a lot of eyebrows because it wasn't more.
Woods has played hardly at all in 2014,and it's been very quiet on the front.
New Blood for Ryder Cup Team
Considering how the United States team has performed in recent Ryder Cup history, losing five of the last six and seven of the last nine, there was a definite need for a changing of the guard.
That wasn't going to happen if some members of that old guard, guys like Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, played well enough to earn spots on the team.
Well, they haven't, but the PGA Tour's young guns have and, barring a major collapse between now and Labor Day, Jimmy Walker (second on the points list), Jordan Spieth (fifth), Patrick Reed (sixth) and Harris English (seventh) will be on the team.
And that's a pleasant surprise.
Jarrod Lyle's Triumphant Comeback
Jarrod Lyle was diagnosed with leukemia for the second time in 2012, but miraculously was told his disease was in remission later that year.
That was good news enough, but when Lyle announced recently that he'd be returning to action this fall, that was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year on the PGA Tour.
According to Rex Hoggard's story on golfchannel.com, Lyle will play on a major medical exemption and will need to earn $283,825 to match last season's final spot in the top 125 on the money list to maintain his PGA Tour card.