Dilemma: Will the players who've shined throughout this season be forced to wonder how this year would have been different if the Tiger Woods scandal was never exposed?
Answer: It makes no difference.
The 2010 season should receive its warranted repute for excellence, youthful talent, and overwhelming parity that delivered a fresh intrigue to professional golf.
It was undeniably a season of transition as Tiger Woods' decline in superhuman qualities on the golf course were as visible as they were gut-wrenching.
But while he attempted to recover, recuperate, reevaluate, or whatever he was doing, players from all walks of life and of all ages were coming out of the woodwork shooting record scores, hitting remarkable shots, and taking home the glory of winning golf tournaments.
With the final hole of the FedEx Cup Playoffs in sight, are there 20 players who stand out from the rest?
Before Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin could even finish uttering the name Rickie Fowler, golf fans and critics alike had an almost entirely dichotomous reaction.
Pure joy or total indignation.
Though the 21-year-old phenom did not warrant a spot in the upcoming Tour Championship, Rickie Fowler earned his position to compete with the best of the US in Wales Oct. 1-3.
His five top-10 finishes this season include two near wins, first at the Phoenix Waste Management Open and then at the Memorial.
His most impressive performance undoubtedly came across the pond at this year’s British Open where after a disastrous opening round 79, he recovered with rounds of 67-71-67 and a T-14 finish.
Just a rookie on Tour, Fowler is breaking through the traditional barriers of professional golf and becoming the face of the future.
Judging by the way Ryan Moore dresses, one may wonder whether or not he belongs on a golf course. However, one glance at his swing and you’ll be praying you don’t have to play against him.
In the last two seasons, Moore has blossomed on the PGA Tour. He earned his first professional victory last season and has already compiled five top-10’s in 2010.
His stats may not impress you, but Moore is the kind of player that cares less about his stats than he does about sponsorships.
Moore tends to make noise in the most prestigious and competitive tournaments, such as with his T-2 at AT&T National, T-5 at the Memorial and most recently with his T-3 at the BMW Championship.
He’s a go-for-broke kind of player and he’s experienced the trials and triumphs of that kind of golf mentality.
Hunter Mahan has developed into one of the best drivers of the golf ball on Tour, and when his short game is on, not many can compete.
His two victories from this season are a testament to his continuing evolution as one of the most talented players in professional golf today.
His first win in Phoenix was purely the result of remarkable weekend play. Mahan fired back to back 65s to capture the victory, but he wasn’t done yet.
His T-8 at the Masters was his best finish in a major and then just a few months later he capitalized once more at Firestone for his second win of the season and the third of his career.
Whereas Mahan was a Captain’s Pick two years ago at Valhalla for the Ryder Cup, he undoubtedly earned his place this year and will ride the momentum of his impressive season into Wales.
Zach Johnson won the Masters in 2007 and there seemed to be widespread gossip that the ‘elite’ players choked and Johnson somehow slipped through the cracks.
Three years later, Johnson’s won four more PGA Tour events and become one of deadliest putters on Tour.
Johnson meticulous nature bodes well for his performance on putting greens, allowing him to read speed and break with the utmost precision.
He won this season at the Crowne Plaza Invitational and blistered through Hogan’s Alley with a 21-under par total and four consecutive rounds in the red (65-66-64-64).
Johnson has emerged as one of the PGA’s premiere players and will compete for the US Ryder Cup Team in October.
Before this season, did Bubba Watson ever realistically pose a threat as a competitor?
Sure, he can drive the ball like Happy Gilmore, but he was not a reliable putter and struggled to capitalize with short irons. But this season, Watson made the adjustment and not only earned his first professional victory, but also contended at the PGA Championship.
The most visible change in his game has been a new-found confidence inside 125-yards, a distance that he constantly finds himself with due to his gargantuan length off the tee (ranked second in Driving Distance).
As he’s learned to consistently hit the ball closer to the hole, he’s begun to take advantage of viable birdie opportunities.
He ranks sixth in Birdie Average, 17th in Scoring Average and recently broke into the top-40 in Putting Average on Tour.
Watson has undeniably had his best season as a professional and will be one of the rookies competing for the US Ryder Cup team.
Meet Rory McIlroy, the emblem of the next generation of professional golf.
Critics attack the 21-year-old Northern Irishman for his less than stellar finishes in the FedEx Cup Playoffs (T-56 at the Barclay's, and two T-37 finishes at the Deutsche Bank and BMW).
Despite his last three weeks of play, not only did McIlroy earn his place on the European Ryder Cup team, he developed into one of the most consistent, intimidating players on Tour.
His final round 62 at the Wells Fargo Championship catapulted him atop the leaderboard for his first victory, beating major champions like Phil Mickelson and Angel Cabrera.
In spite of a second-round collapse at the British Open McIlroy demonstrated his tenacity with his T-3 finish. He followed his sensational comeback across the pond with a T-9 at Firestone and then another luminous T-3 at the PGA Championship.
In almost half the events he competed in this season, he finished in the top 10; the kid is the real deal.
Tiger Woods is not back. He’s not about to start routing fields by ten shots or suddenly resume his once-unbeatable ways.
But, three top-15 finishes is a strong sign of progress.
Woods has the extraordinary ability to adjust and thrive even when his game does not feel fully fused together.
Throughout the FedEx Cup Playoffs Woods looked reborn off the tee, splitting fairways with ease.
He was hitting more long irons and woods off the tee, which was a crucial adjustment that facilitated more aggressive play into greens.
The void created by Woods’ absence at the Tour Championship will be palpable, however there is fervid suspense building for how he will perform at the Ryder Cup.
Geoff Ogilvy is one of the most unbeatable players when his game is on.
Over the last couple weeks he appears to have found his rhythm, carding two of his best finishes since his win at the beginning of the season at the SBS Championship.
Ogilvy stormed out of the gates at the Deutsche Bank with a terrific opening round 64, and followed up with rounds of 72-66-65 for a T-2 finish. His T-24 finish at the BMW Championship was highlighted by a final round 68 and propelled him into the top-30 for the Tour Championship.
Simply put, Ogilvy is not a competitor to underestimate. He bombs the ball off the tee, is deadly with his wedges and has a major championship under his belt to attest for his stellar putting skills under the most pressure-filled circumstances.
If he gets off to a hot start at the Tour Championship he has a solid chance of being a Sunday presence.
Phil Mickelson hit one of the greatest golf shots of all time on the 13th hole from behind a tree at the Masters this year, which proved crucial to his victory. He was aggressive, but poised, and pulled off the unthinkable.
That’s how Lefty plays golf and it’s been both the ingredient and hindrance to his success throughout his ebb and flow career.
This season, Mickelson has both over and under-whelmed. He hit an array of costly shots that didn’t pay off at the US Open, where he finished T-4, but drained clutch putts when he needed it most in his final round 67 at the BMW Championship to secure his place in the Tour Championship.
He keeps his fans and nemeses alike on the edge of their seats because he holds nothing back.
His wide-ranging experience paired with his aggressive strategies have the potential to pay off at the Tour Championship, especially considering he won at East Lake last season.
Remember when you couldn’t discuss Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods without worrying what that pesky, young Aussie Adam Scott might have up his sleeve?
Well Scott not only wants back in on the conversation, but he’s proven that he’s got the game to battle with the best.
His stats really tell the story; eight top-25s in 15 events, four top-10s, a victory at the Valero Texas Open, and three top-15 finishes in the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs.
Scott drastically improved his ball-striking this season, ranking 12th in Greens in Regulation and sixth in All-Around Ranking, which is emblematic of how he’s found a consistent rhythm in his game.
He began the season as the underdog searching relentlessly, and hopelessly, for a comeback.
With the Tour Championship just around the corner, Scott has earned his place back into the winner’s circle, into the elite of professional golf, and as a player with unprecedented major championship potential.
Retief Goosen deserves this season’s award for ‘Best Player without a victory.’
Goosen is second only to Matt Kuchar in top-10 finishes with nine this season. From his T-4 at the Sony Open at the beginning of the season to a most recent solo 7th at the BMW Championship, he’s been a blueprint of consistency.
Goose has proven most threatening when on the putting greens where he ranks 11th in total putting and first in Putts from 5-10 feet, which are about as simple as tackling a bull.
But the South African has been a constant contender on Sundays because he ranks third in scoring average (69.81). His versatility from tee to green allows him to be aggressive from any yardage, under any weather conditions for all 18 holes.
Similar to a player like Els or Mickelson, Goose’s swing appears simultaneously effortless and explosive. His wide-ranging experience in professional golf has developed his dependability under pressure.
There’s something acutely distinctive about Jim Furyk. One may be quick to assume it’s his unconventional swing or monotonous and incredibly meticulous putting routine.
But Furyk’s distinguishable from almost any other player on Tour because he’s the most reliable.
Though Matt Kuchar has been the golden boy of 2010, when has Furyk ever had an off year?
2010 appears pretty typical for Furyk: 17 of 20 cuts made, 12 top-25 finishes, six top 10s, and two victories.
As a professional golfer, Furyk is a template for what the young guns—Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson—should aspire to become.
He’s the guy you feel confident consistently betting on (that is unless he oversleeps, too soon?) because he’s warranted the repute of reliability.
Jason Day has proven himself as one of the standouts among a plethora of talented youth who’ve dominated the PGA Tour this season.
Day earned his first professional victory at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, as well as five top-10 finishes, most notably a T10 at the PGA Championship.
Just 22 years old, Day’s rapid progress goes hand in his hand with his desire to become more versatile and well-rounded.
He can hit everything from titanium-denting drives to sky-high fades, but first and foremost Day’s a gritty player who understands when to execute the aggressive shot vs. a cautious one.
He’s on a tear right now and hasn’t missed a cut in 11 events. He demonstrated some his best golf in the Playoffs with a T5 at the Barclays and T2 at the Deutsche Bank.
The fact that Ernie Els only won twice this season is an anomaly.
To begin the season, Els made ten consecutive cuts and earned five top-10 finishes. Golf analysts believed this was the year of Ernie. There was not an element of his game that wasn’t reliable.
But in February, Ernie fell from grace. The US Open must still sting for Els, who finished T-3 after his putter endured a brutal case of frost-bite.
Since that challenging final round at Pebble Beach Els has fallen into the crippling habit of final round follies.
Ernie has failed to break 70 in his last six final rounds of competition, sending him on a spiral of agitating finishes that had the potential to be top-10s.
But that’s both the frustrating and remarkable aspect of Els; he’s undoubtedly one of the most talented players on Tour (and to ever play the game), which makes him a perpetual threat every time he steps on the tee box.
Over the last four years, Luke Donald has been simply frustrating.
He’d open a tournament with a 66 only to shoot a second round 76. He’d get our hopes by building a final round lead, but crumble and stumble and fumble into a bitter Sunday collapse.
For a guy whose swing was picture perfect, even flawless mechanics could not revive Donald’s slump.
However, 2010 has been Donald's year of rebuilding both his game and confidence. That four-year drought ended with a sensational final round 67 to cement his victory at this year’s Madrid Masters. But he wasn’t done yet.
Donald earned T11 honors at this year’s British Open, in addition to six top-10 finishes, highlighted by four consecutive rounds in the 60s at the Deutsche Bank Championship for a T2.
Donald’s transition into the upper echelon of professional golf can be directly attributed to major improvements in his putting.
Though he’s always had excellent touch on and around the greens, Donald refined his fluid stroke this season. He now ranks 8th in Putts per Round and 4th in Total Putting, two stats that directly correlate this No. 9 ranking in scoring average (69.97) on Tour.
Paul Casey might be the most talented and consistent European player competing in professional golf today. How and why then is he not competing for the European Ryder Cup team?
Even American fans are baffled by Monty’s decision to withhold Casey from one golf’s most prestigious traditions. But, if the European team loses, will there be regret or ambivalence on the matter of Casey?
Casey finished in the top 10 almost half the time he competed this season (6 of 13). That’s a stat reminiscent of the old Tiger Woods. His two second places finishes came in two of the most competitive fields of the season, the Accenture Match Play and the BMW Championship.
He was outstanding in the last two majors, finishing 3rd at the British Open and 12th at the PGA Championship. Statistically, few are better than Casey, who ranks 3rd in Scoring Average (69.81) and 4th in all-around ranking.
Now, just a day before the Tour Championship, Casey ranks 5th in Fed-Ex Cup Points and has the potential to not only win the tournament, but to become the Fed-Ex Cup champion, which may be the ultimate payback for being left out of the European Team.
Steve Stricker’s unrivaled putting will win him the Tour Championship, and ultimately the FedEx Cup.
He’s created the ideal fusion of light touch with an aggressive, confident stroke and it’s been at the foundation of his immense success this season.
After winning early in the season at the Northern Trust he stunned the golf world with an overwhelming victory at the John Deere Classic. Stricker put together four consecutive under-par rounds, highlighted by an opening round of 60 and third round 62, ultimately ending in 26-under over four rounds.
In addition to Stricker’s two victories, he finished in the top-10 nine times, three of which have come in the last three events of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
He’s ranked 2nd in both scoring average (69.58) and all-around ranking because Stricker’s the most precise player on Tour.
His attention to detail separates him from his peers, allowing him to minimize mistakes from tee to green.
No need to continue sympathizing for Dustin Johnson and assuming Martin Kaymer’s win at the PGA Championship was a fluke.
Kaymer’s victory at the KLM Open Sept. 12 marked his third win of the season along with the PGA and Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
Now ranked 5th in golf’s Official World Rankings, Kaymer, who’s just 25 years old, has earned seven European Tour victories and will compete for the European's in the Ryder Cup.
In the seven events he competed in on the PGA Tour, Kaymer earned four top 10s, displaying some of his best golf in the major championships.
He finished 7th at the US Open, 8th at the British Open, and beat Bubba Watson in a playoff at the PGA Championship.
A crucial aspect of his success was undoubtedly his third round scoring (ranked 1st in third-round scoring average, 68.33), never once shooting above par on Saturday.
With seven wins already on the European Tour, Kaymer earned his place on the European Ryder Cup team.
None have impressed more than Matt Kuchar in the 2010 PGA Tour season; 11 top-10 finishes in 18 events, no.1 all-around ranking, and a victory at the Barclay’s.
Kuchar is inevitably in the running for PGA Tour Player of the Year. Similar to Stricker, Kuchar’s success blends a knack for limiting mistakes with playing aggressive, poised golf consistently.
Don’t believe me? Kuchar has finished outside of the top-25 just once in his last 11 tournaments, and hasn’t missed a cut since May 2.
There’s not one particular element of golf where Kuchar excels more or less, but whether he’s pummeling the ball off the tee, fading the ball over a tree, or putting a left-to-right 15-footer, he’s always got a smile on.
When Dustin Johnson tapped in his final putt to clinch the win at the BMW Championship two weeks ago, it wasn’t as though his disastrous final round at the US Open was forgotten or that suddenly he didn’t get penalized at the PGA Championship.
Instead, the victory at Cog Hill was one of retribution, his second of the season and a well-deserved feat.
Johnson, along with a select few players like Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker, has been a contender for multiple events this season, which is why this victory felt both merited as well as overdue.
However, the reason Johnson won the BMW and not the US Open, the PGA or a variety of other tournaments this season is because he’s still learning how to compete under final round pressure (currently ranked 167th in final-round scoring average, 72.50).
But, he’s the best player in the game right now for two reasons.
First, he’s evolving with every swing of the club, gauging what works and why and vice versa.
Second, he appreciates the learning aspect of the game and consequently never lets a mistake keep him from contending.
If he can compete with the same tenacity and patience that has been to his advantage through his luminous season he may be crowned FedEx Cup Champion come Sunday.