Rory McIlroy has shined throughout 2010 and has become a constant threat on the PGA Tour. Oh, and he's 21.
Tiger Woods is not the No. 1 player in the world right now.
There, I said it.
The ranking system is flawed and he is undeserving of that honor.
However, in a year of professional golf defined by parity, 10 outstanding golfers have out-shined the rest.
From Matt Kuchar's No. 1 ranking in overall statistics on Tour to Ernie Els' multiple wins this season and near major victory at the US Open, the realm of golf emits a new-found thrill without the overwhelming, overshadowing presence of Tiger Woods at the forefront.
Golf has never been a one-dimensional sport, but instead, the kind that rewards those who can fuse the various elements of the game under pressure.
A long hitter like Bubba Watson would not be intimidating if he didn't blend his length with precise touch inside 100 yards. Similarly, a shorter striker of the ball like Jim Furyk would not be such a constant threat week in and week out if he didn't have such exceptional accuracy from tee to green.
There's been an indisputably dramatic level of competition roaring through the PGA Tour this season and these 10 gifted golfers have led the way.
McIlroy has played consistently stellar golf all season and deserves to be considered for PGA Player of the Year
Of Rory McIlroy's five top 10 finishes this season, he has recorded two third place finishes in major championships (the British Open and PGA Championship).
Not too shabby for a 21-year-old kid.
The Northern Irishmen captured his first PGA Tour victory earlier in the year at the Wells Fargo Championship, carding a final round, course-record 62 to beat No. 2 ranked Phil Mickelson.
Though McIlroy missed the cut at both the Masters and US Open, he has made noise in a variety of other major events this season, including the Memorial Tournament (T-10) and the WGC-Invitational at Firestone (T-9).
Rory has become a reliable player who can recover from trouble. In his opening round at this year's PGA Championship, he carded two double-bogeys and one bogey, but countered those big numbers with six birdies to shoot a one-under-par 71. In his second and third rounds, McIlroy had just two blemishes along with 11 birdies, allowing him to climb the leaderboard and become a true contender come Sunday.
His exceptional performance throughout the season, and especially luminous showings at the last two majors, have revealed his potential for greatness.
Johnson suffered a tragic penalty Sunday at the PGA Championship, but took it in stride and will undoubtedly be in the winner's circle soon.
Two specific things impressed me about Dustin Johnson this past weekend at the PGA Championship.
First, though he suffered a tragic penalty for grounding his club, ultimately inhibiting his chance to move into the playoff, he handled it with poise. He admitted to not reading the rules close enough, was not visibly bitter about the officials' call, and exercised maturity and the kind of integrity that golf is all about.
Second, for a guy that has become notorious on Tour for his extreme depth, he sure does have incredible touch on and around the greens.
Johnson was not just a contender on Sunday because he bombs the ball 300+ off the tee or because he hits a 9-iron from 180 yards. It was his wedge play and putting that set him apart from the competition.
He recorded his fifth Top 10 finish of this season, which, along with his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, illuminates his unceasing competitive edge.
He's undeniably one of the best players on Tour right now.
Watson nearly captured his first major victory Sunday at the Open Championship, but fell just short to German Martin Kaymer.
So there's the intangibles that make you love Bubba, like the fact that he's never had a lesson, his unconventional stance to hit a fade, and his bluntness during interviews.
But then there's just the pure grit that he emits from tee to green. As you watch him play, he meticulously rehearses practice swings, talks strategy with his caddy, and is outwardly emotional when he hits his best and worse shots.
Let's face it though, just like baseball fans love to watch home-run hitters, golf fans love to watch Bubba because he's ranked second in driving distance, averaging 309 yards off the tee this season. On Sunday at the PGA Championship, on the first playoff hole, a 370-yard par-4, Watson held nothing back and swung for the fences with his driver.
He was just short of the green.
Not only did Watson nearly win his first major championship at Whistling Straits, but 2010 has been a breakout year for the hard-hitting lefty. Watson has had four top 10s, a victory at the Traveler's Championship this season, and recently earned a spot on the Ryder Cup Team.
If he can continue to play aggressive and consistent golf, he will be one of the most intimidating players on Tour for years to come.
Mickelson finished strong at the PGA Championship, firing a 5-under par 67 Sunday to finish T-12.
Phil Mickelson is a guy who can never be counted out of a competitive tournament.
On the final day of the PGA Championship, after shooting three relatively mediocre rounds of golf, Mickelson stormed the Whistling Straits golf course and fired a five-under-par 67 to finish at six-under (par) for the Championship (T-12).
Obviously, the highlight of Lefty's year was his April victory at the Masters. Since then, Mickelson has played some of his best golf in some of the most competitive fields, including a T-2 at the Wells Fargo Championship, a T-4 at the US Open, and a T-5 at the Memorial Tournament.
However, he's been a bit ebb and flow considering he's the No. 2 ranked player in the world. Mickelson struggles from the same flaw that has plagued him throughout his career—unpredictable play. Some say it's a product of his over-aggressive nature on the golf course, while others just assume he's an erratic player under pressure.
Whatever it is, Mickelson remains a constant threat and is deservedly one of the best players in the world right now.
Though Kuchar lost his lead at the PGA Championship, he still carded his ninth top-10 finish of the season
In the 18 cuts Matt Kuchar made this season, he's finished in the top 10 nine times.
You do the math.
It began at the opening event of the PGA Tour season, the SBS Championship, where Kuchar finished in solo third place and he's carried that prowess to this past week for a T-10 at the PGA Championship. He's played exceptional golf everywhere from Houston to Palm Springs to Akron because he has been the most consistent player on Tour.
His stats confirm it.
Kuchar ranks No. 1 in All-Around Ranking, which totals the rankings from eight other stats, such as Scoring Average, Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Putting Average, and Greens in Regulation.
Though Kuchar is without a victory to his name this season, he is a player that cannot be overlooked.
Like Mickelson, Ernie Els has become the kind of competitive force that you can never count out.
Ernie Els is not only one of the few players on tour to earn multiple victories this season, but he came painfully close to a major championship victory at this year's US Open as well.
Els, nicknamed "The Big Easy" for his incredibly fluid swing, has carded six top 10s this season, but more significantly, 11 top 25s in 13 cuts made. He's constantly in the mix because each and ever facet of his game is solid.
After playing such consistently competitive golf, Els' leads the FedEx Cup Points and ranks No. 1 in Scoring Average on Tour at 69.68.
Els' putter has been a bit streaky this season, but has still warranted him two victories at the WGC-CA Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Jim Furyk has won twice this season and ranks 3rdin Fed-Ex Cup Points.
Aside from the unconventional swing and the fact that he looks like some kind of bird, Jim Furyk remains one of the most gifted players on tour.
His two victories this season, first at the Transitions Championship and then at the Verizon Heritage, rank him among the elite few to have multiple victories this season.
But what truly distinguishes Furyk from his competition is his unceasing accuracy from tee to green. Furyk ranks 14th in Driving Accuracy Percentage and 63rd in Greens in Regulation, meaning he rarely puts himself in a position where he can't be aggressive. No wonder he also ranks eighth in one of the most significant stats on Tour, Scoring Average (69.89).
Though Furyk let a great opportunity slip away Sunday at the PGA Championship when he shot a five-over-par 77, he was undeniably in the mix in his first three rounds after shooting 68-70-68.
Mahan is one of the few players to earn multiple victories this season and will compete for the US Ryder Cup Team.
Mahan is a grinder.
He thinks his way around the golf course and plays aggressive, gritty golf. Aside from his golf course demeanor, the guy is flat-out talented; long off the tee, accurate with his irons, and is developing exceptional touch on and around the greens.
Mahan has won twice this season, first at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and second more recently at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He hasn't missed a cut since June 27th and has not finished outside the top 40 in that time.
He is undoubtedly at his best when he has the driver in hand. Mahan ranks No. 1 on tour in Total Driving, which combines those stats from Driving Distance with Driving Accuracy, which shows how often Mahan puts himself in position to get aggressive with his irons.
Now that Mahan has broken through as a multiple event winner on Tour, it's time he starts making noise in major championships. Other than a stellar T-8 at this year's Masters, Mahan missed the cut at the US Open, finished T-37 at the British Open, and T-39 at the PGA Championship.
After being a Captain's pick for last year's Ryder Cup Team and playing exceptionally well, Mahan's second season victory officially earned him a spot on the team and will compete at Celtic Manor in October.
More than half the time Lee Westwood has competed this season he has finished in the top-10.
Though Lee Westwood was unable to compete in the PGA Championship due to an injury, he's had an absolutely incredible 2010 season earning six top 10 finishes and a single victory.
Westwood's win at the St. Jude Classic this season seemed overdue for the 37-year-old Englishman, who has come painfully close a variety of times to victory on the PGA Tour. The most brutal, yet momentous, finishes for Westwood came at the Masters and British Open where he earned second place honors.
Like most of the best players in the world today, Westwood doesn't make many mistakes on the golf course. He's long off the tee (averaging 298 yards), hits the fairway 61 percent of the time, and ranks in the Top 5 in Scoring Average (69.31).
If he can heal in time, Westwood will compete for the European Ryder Cup Team, where he's the eighth most successful European golfer on points scored, with the second highest scoring rate.
Steve Stricker won twice this season and earned his spot to compete for the US Ryder Cup Team.
If PGA Tour pros played in a mini-golf tournament, Steve Stricker is the guy to put your money on.
Steve Stricker is the best putter on Tour.
Ranked fourth in Putting Average and 11th in Putts Per Round, Stricker is the most reliable putter under pressure, especially with the gut-check putts inside of six feet.
Stricker is one of the few players to win multiple times this season, first at the Northern Trust Open and then at the John Deere Classic. His accuracy off the tee (ranked 23rd in Driving Accuracy) has facilitated constant, golden opportunities to attack pins, and once he's on the green, the flat stick takes care of the rest.
Whistling Straits was a course Steve Stricker knew far too well as a Wisconsin native and though he didn't play to the expectations of his fans, he still earned a T-18 finish at four under par for the PGA Championship.
In addition to Stricker's six top 10 finishes, he earned his spot to compete for the US Ryder Cup Team.