While only one man can win, plenty of golfers can leave the 2014 PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Club with their heads held high and eyes focused on what's to come in 2015.
Rory McIlroy remains on top of the golfing world after following up his Open Championship triumph with yet another major win. He bettered Phil Mickelson by one stroke at 16 under.
Although the PGA Tour season continues on after the final major of 2014, talk is already underway for what's to come next year. With such a deep talent pool, the Tour boasts no shortage of challengers to knock off McIlroy.
Golf, like any other sport, is in part decided by momentum. How many times have you seen one great shot all of a sudden light a spark under a golfer? Conversely, how many times has one poor shot beget another poor shot, and then it's lights out for a golfer's title hopes?
The four golfers below all looked strong on the final day of the PGA Championship. Maybe they can carry some of that belief into the next season when they head to Augusta for the Masters.
Henrik Stenson falls into the category of top golfers going today without a major title. He sits fourth in the world golf rankings and has four top-five finishes over his last eight majors. Like Rickie Fowler, he's been very good on the grandest of stages but simply not good enough to win.
The 38-year-old couldn't have asked for a better start on Sunday. After five birdies on the front nine, he was sitting at 14 under with a share of the lead, per SportsCenter:
Every group has played 9 holes at Valhalla. Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson & Henrik Stenson are tied for lead at -14. pic.twitter.com/1VcHlYVMEF— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 10, 2014
Stenson wasn't so much bad as he was average on the back nine. Cue the "Coffee is for closers" speech from Glengarry Glen Ross. Being average doesn't win major tournaments. McIlroy, on the other hand, had an eagle and two birdies in the final nine holes.
All of this is part of the process for Stenson, who's inching ever closer to that elusive first major win.
Charl Schwartzel quite literally played the best he ever has in a major tournament, and he still finished seven strokes behind McIlroy. His final-round 66 tied his career best for a single round, per PGA Tour Media:
A cynic could argue that having one great round doesn't mean that Schwartzel's all of a sudden going to double up on his 2011 Masters win when next year rolls around.
However, you have to put his 15th-place finish in the larger context of his performances at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. Schwartzel missed the cut at the 2013 PGA Championship and subsequently the 2014 Masters and U.S. Open.
He finished seventh at The Open Championship and then stormed up the leaderboard on the final day at Valhalla.
It's important to remember that Schwartzel's only 29 years old. Dismissing him now would be a little too hasty.
For the longest time, Jimmy Walker remained atop the FedEx Cup rankings, which was no easy feat given what McIlroy, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler have done this year. However, Walker succumbed to the back-to-back major winner on Sunday, per Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press:
Don't laugh ... but it took Rory two majors and a WGC to take over the No. 1 spot in the FedEx Cup over Jimmy Walker. #barely.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) August 11, 2014
That doesn't negate what Walker's done for the whole of 2014. He has three top-10 finishes in the four majors to go along with three wins in 23 PGA Tour events.
Walker certainly made things interesting on Sunday. His six-under 65 tied Ernie Els for lowest score of the round. Both finished at 11 under for the tournament.
Despite his success this year, the 35-year-old is 20th in the world golf rankings. He's punched above his weight all year. That should change next year if Walker can continue the progress he's made throughout 2014.
I'll admit that I was completely wrong about Mickelson in this tournament. I thought his poor 2014 signaled more disappointment at Valhalla. Instead, he nearly pulled out the sixth major win of his illustrious career.
Even the best athletes in the world can have a crisis of confidence. Lefty admitted before the PGA Championship that there are some moments on the course when nothing is going right and he can't help but question himself.
"I'm streaky, and I'll get on rolls and get some good momentum, and all of a sudden the hole looks like it's huge," he said, per Golfweek.com's Alex Miceli. "Then there are days where it's just the opposite. It's just the way it's always been for me. I don't have a great answer."
If Sunday demonstrated anything, it's that Mickelson is like a microwave. He doesn't take long to get hot. No matter how poorly he's played leading up to a major tournament, as long as he's healthy, he's a threat.