When it comes to ranking the performance of professional golfers, some measures are easy. How many victories do they have? How much money have they won? How many majors? What's their world ranking? Other criteria are less black and white, but not necessarily less significant, even though it may be important for other reasons, such as overcoming obstacles.
In the first six months of 2014, we have seen stellar performances easily measured by facts, and we have witnessed some extraordinary efforts, the kind not altogether measured in trophies.
Here are the front nine top performances of the 2014 season:
9. Jordan Spieth, The Kid
Though he has only one victory to his short PGA Tour career, Jordan Spieth has been able to move the needle in terms of fan support. Some people just have that indescribable "It," and he has loads.
Spieth has come close several times in 2014, posting a second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and then fighting to a heart-wrenching second at The Masters. A few weeks later, he clawed his way up the leaderboard in the toughest field in golf at The Players, challenging Martin Kaymer until the final nine.
At this juncture, people want to see him win something colossal, and everyone is sure it's going to be soon. Hopefully he doesn't face the Linus van Pelt problem: "There's no heavier burden than a great potential!"
8. Tiger Woods, the Comeback, Again
OK. We've officially lost track of the number of comebacks Tiger Woods has had. He has more lives than the neighborhood cat. Of course, with a name like Tiger, we should expect no less.
Usually, after injury, he returns triumphant, with a near victory or some kind of stupendous play. This week was different. He returned, unsure what to expect and said so. He was humble about it. His first nine holes, he shot a 39, the kind of score that Woods does not shoot. However, he was taking the long view.
"Even though I missed the cut by four shots, the fact that I was able to even play—I came back four weeks earlier than we thought I could," he said after his second round. "I had no setbacks. I got my feel for playing tournament golf."
He confessed he had been worried about hitting a driver, but answered that question for himself.
"I roasted most of them the last two days. Hit it really well," he said. "The short game was off."
Whatever imperfections he had, the most important thing is that Woods has returned to professional golf. These days, it needs him more than he needs it.
7. J.B. Holmes, Miracle Victory
Golfers are like other people. They get sick. They get illnesses.
In the case of J.B. Holmes, it wasn't anything commonplace, like the flu or even un-commonplace like the plague. Holmes had to have brain surgery to fix something called Chiari malformations, where the skull is too small to fit all parts of the brain inside it. Then he had to have surgery to fix an allergic reaction to the first surgery. (Ouch!) It's a lot tougher than having a hangnail.
Initially, no one, including Holmes, knew what the outcome would be. He was out of commission from September in 2011 until late January in 2012.
"When they cut part of your skull out, there's quite a bit of pain. They had to go through the muscles and I had a real stiff neck," Holmes explained earlier this year. "I'm still working on getting all my rotation back with my neck."
After the brain surgery, he had elbow and ankle injuries which sidelined him for most of 2013.
Amazingly, in early May, he chalked up a victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, his first in six years.
"It's been since 2008 since I've won, and since then I had two brain surgeries and broke my ankle and had arm surgery," he said. "I'm just ecstatic."
6. Adam Scott Finally Gets to No. 1
It was only a year overdue. Finally the World Golf Rankings caught up with Adam Scott's performance in 2013, but it took the ranking system until May 2014 to do it.
In 2013, Scott won in April at The Masters, and late, at The Barclays on the PGA Tour, and then he won the Grand Slam of Golf, the Australian PGA, the Australian Masters and was edged by Rory McIlroy in the Australian Open.
Finally, in May 2014, the rankings gave him the No. 1 position he richly deserved. That same week, he won at Colonial CC, at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. Can't anybody devise a rankings system that is only one year's worth of results?
5. Zach Johnson, One-and-a-Half Victories
The Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, isn't an official event. Still, it has a strong field that garners world ranking points. Zach Johnson marched out of Sherwood CC with the Tiger trophy, took a break and then backed it up a month later with another victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. There are just winners in Hawaii and he overcame them all.
He may get the Jim Furyk grit and determination award if he's not careful.
4. Patrick Reed, Former Self-Described Top 5
OK, just giving Patrick Reed a little grief. For a couple of weeks earlier this year, he looked like he was a top-five player, winning at the Humana and then against all the top players at Doral. His wife has since had a baby, which distracted him, and guess what—this week he's back on top of the leaderboard at Tiger Woods' tournament, the Quicken Loans National. Reed was wearing a red shirt on Friday, his homage to Woods, and told Golf Channel he did it because his game needed a little boost.
Two victories in the actual calendar year of 2014 is more than most of the rest of the PGA Tour this year.
3. Jimmy Walker, Butch Harmon Convert
Jimmy Walker is the only three-tournament winner to date in the 2014 season. One victory came last fall at the first event in the split season at the Frys.com. The other two have been this year at the Sony Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach. Both events feature quality golf courses with history and character.
If it were Woods winning three times this season, everyone would be screaming Player of the Year already, so Walker may be too quiet for his own good. However, what does have everyone taking notice is that another Butch Harmon student has continually made his presence felt this season.
2. Bubba Watson, Master of the Green
It's hard to believe a guy could win his second Masters and not be the No. 1 pick, but that's the kind of year it's been at the very, very top. Bubba Watson not only captured another green jacket, but earlier this season, he won the Northern Trust Open.
Dare we say it?
One of the most unconventional golfers of the decade, if not ever, has had success at two of the most traditional and demanding golf courses in professional golf. Everybody underestimated Bubba Watson but Bubba Watson. He's great for golf, and hopefully golf continues to be great for Bubba.
1. Martin Kaymer, Captain Amazing
In any ordinary year, halfway through the season, it's always a toss-up for the best between the winner of The Masters and the winner of the U.S. Open. But when the winner of the U.S. Open, the toughest tournament all season, also wins The Players, the toughest competition all season, he gets the nod.
Kaymer was surgical at The Players, starting with a Greg Norman/Fred Couples/Davis Love-esque 63, building a lead that got slimmer until he nearly lost it after a rain delay in the final round. A miracle putt at the 17th island green allowed him to play the final hole in par for a win.
At the U.S. Open, Kaymer posted back-to-back 65s to lap the field after two days. The course was just not that easy. He ended up beating everyone else by eight shots, which was almost unbelievable, even though we all saw it happen. Kudos to Kaymer.
There you have it, from Spieth and Holmes, to Watson and Kaymer, the best to date in 2014.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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