Ranking Golf's Most Pleasant Surprises of 2014 so Far

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Ranking Golf's Most Pleasant Surprises of 2014 so Far

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    It's not difficult to identify the most unpleasant surprise of 2014 in the world of golf: Tiger Woods spending three months on the shelf after back surgery. 

    In Woods' absence, however, there were pleasant surprises aplenty, including one notable off-course shocker related to a certain world No. 1. 

    In ranking the entries on the list, we're looking at two elements: the surprise factor and the pleasantness factor. 

    Let's have a look at the most pleasant surprises of the year in golf thus far. 

10. 3 Top-10 Machines Appear

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    What happened: Harris English, Jimmy Walker and Matt Kuchar have racked up 24 top-10 finishes between them in a total of 57 starts. Thus, at least one of them is finishing inside the top 10 at a tournament more than one-third of the time. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: While we might have expected consistent quality play from Kuchar, the rate of top-tier performances from English and Walkerboth first-time winners this seasonis pleasantly surprising. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: Coming in at No. 10 on our list, top 10s are trumped by more significant achievements. 

9. Adam Scott's Off-Course Surprise

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    What happened: At the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Adam Scott casually announced that he'd married his longtime girlfriend in a private ceremony in Bermuda. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: It's great to see Scotty tie the knot. It's even more refreshing to see that a public figure can actually keep something so personal and significant concealed from the prying eyes of the press if he chooses to. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: Adam Scott's marriage was a big surprise. However, as it was an outside-of-the-ropes golf development, it can't place too highly here. 

8. Jordan Spieth Contends in First Masters

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    What happened: Competing in his first Masters, Jordan Spieth entered the final round tied for the lead with Bubba Watson. Rather than folding on Sunday, Spieth put together a respectable round. Unfortunately, Watson was better and Spieth finished second. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: First-timers at the Masters traditionally struggle. No one would have been surprised if Spieth had failed to make the cut. Instead, he played with the composure and course knowledge of a veteran at Augusta. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: Spieth's performance was surprising. Moreover, it's hugely significant for the future of the game that one of its brightest stars is so comfortable at Augusta. 

7. J.B. Holmes Punctuates His Comeback

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    What happened: J.B. Holmes has had a long road back to the winner's circle since brain surgery in 2011. He completed his return with a steely win at the Wells Fargo Championship, beating Jim Furyk by a stroke. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: Who doesn't love a comeback story? With just one other top-10 finish this season, nobody could have predicted Holmes would win at Quail Hollow. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: As Holmes' pleasant surprise involved a win, it necessarily lands ahead of those that did not. 

6. The Bounty of First-Time Winners

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    What happened: We've had a number of first-time winners on the PGA Tour this season: Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler, Chesson Hadley, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch, Matt Jones, Seung-Yul Noh, Brendon Todd and Hideki Matsuyama. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: A bevy of first-time winners indicates the depth of PGA Tour fields and the relative quality of up-and-comers. It's both exciting and encouraging when first-timers win, and they've won aplenty this season. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: A ton of first-time winners were individually surprising in their victories and collectively significant for the future of the PGA Tour. The achievement lands at No. 6 because of the collective unexpectedness of the wins. 

5. Rory Wins Again

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    What happened: Although he hasn't won on the PGA Tour since 2012, Rory McIlroy managed to capture the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour. The event is one of the more prestigious and challenging tournaments on that circuit. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: The win was a surprise mainly because McIlroy had announced his split from fiancee Caroline Wozniacki prior to the start of the competition. The fact that he was able to put together a winning performance in such circumstances was a surprise indeed. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: Rory McIlroy is the second most important player in the game of golf. It's hugely important that he continues to win. It's also hugely surprising that he was able to do so in such an emotional state. 

4. Bubba Watson's Second Masters

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    What happened: Bubba Watson held off Jordan Spieth to capture his second Masters just two years after his maiden victory at Augusta National. Watson moved his ball around Alister MacKenzie's masterpiece like a magician en route to an eight-under 280.  

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: With two Masters victories in three years, Bubba Watson is a "horse for the course" at Augusta National. He's dominated the draw-favoring track by bombing the left-handed equivalent, the power fade, and has made a statement that he is uniquely equipped to continue winning Masters. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: Bubba Watson will now be a perennial favorite at the Masters. The fact that he is now the man to beat at one of the season's four majors bumps him ahead of other entries on the list. 

3. Tiger Woods Returns from Injury Early

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    What happened: Tiger Woods had back surgery in late March. He was expected to return for the Open Championship, which begins July 17th, but instead returned to competition at the Quicken Loans National, which began June 26th. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: Woods' early return was itself a surprise, as was his stated absence of any back pain. The fact that he missed the cut really wasn't, given his lack of practice and the length of the layoff. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: As unpleasantly surprising as Tiger's back injury was, his pain-free return ahead of schedule is equally as surprising and significant. It's the most important surprise development in the short run for the PGA Tour, if not the most purely surprising. 

2. The Emergence of Jimmy Walker

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    What happened: Jimmy Walker turned pro in 2001. In his first 13 years as a professional golfer, he didn't raise a single trophy on the PGA Tour. In 2014, though, Walker has won three times, including the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: It's always great to see a journeyman find winning form. It's also always a surprise when a guy who hasn't won in more than a decade as a pro finds a way to do so. It's even more surprising when he's able to do it three times. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: An unheralded veteran winning three times would be the surprise of the year were it not for a golfer surprisingly winning golf's most challenging major and fifth major. 

1. Martin Kaymer Returns to Form

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    What happened: Martin Kaymer, who hadn't won in the U.S. since 2010, has captured a pair of pretty significant PGA Tour titles this season. The German overpowered both TPC Sawgrass and Pinehurst No. 2 to capture The Players Championship and the U.S. Open, respectively. 

    Why it's a pleasant surprise: After winning the 2010 PGA Championship, Kaymer, former world No. 1, fell off the face of the golfing earth. With dominant performances at a major and a near major, he has again assumed his position as one of the premier players in the game. 

    Why it's here in the ranking: Kaymer didn't give any indications he'd exceed his 2010 major-winning form. No golfer has surpassed expectations this year so significantly or surprisingly as the German.