Ranking the Top 25 Golfers Heading into 2014

James McMahonContributor IDecember 30, 2013

Ranking the Top 25 Golfers Heading into 2014

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    With an albeit slight measure of debate toward the back end of the list, the identity of the golfers included among our current top 25 is a relatively clear picture as we head into a new year and a restart of sorts on the PGA Tour, which somehow already began its 2014 season a couple months ago.

    The larger and more interesting question, however, is where we place those stars along the pecking order of the best of the best.

    By looking back in order to judge the present, we analyze players' major performances, strength of game and their quality of victories. Likewise, we look ahead to determine each golfer’s potential to hold steady, move forward or regrettably slide backward as the 2014 season plays out.

    In shaping the list we've identified five tiers that naturally group golfers based on their standing, talents, challenges and even their origins. 

    Bottom line, there’s no science to this latest list of the 25 best or how they are grouped. It's just opinion fueled by evaluation, observation and an appropriate measure of anticipation.

    That said, here are those top 25 golfers as we reignite what should be a compelling and entertaining 2014 PGA Tour season.

25 to 21: Restless but Ready

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    Given the impressive depth of young and veteran talent on the PGA Tour, there's no shame in being ranked just outside the top 20. That said, this ensemble of established veterans and rising stars are eager to show they belong much higher in this ranking. 

    Whether it's major winners looking to add to past glory or rising stars striving for the first shot at it, these golfers have proven their worth and are looking to rise up the ranks in 2014. 

    Rankings aside, each of these gifted golfers have the skill to win at any time and more than enough game to make that next triumph a major championship. It's all about capitalizing on opportunity when it presents itself.

25. Webb Simpson

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    The Upside: A four-time PGA Tour winner, the 2012 U.S. Open champion already has a pair of top 10s in the 2014 season, including a victory at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open back in October. That strong form provides hope for a rebound from an uneven 2013 campaign in which Simpson failed to win a single event but did post five top 10s along the way.

    The Downside: His strong start to the 2014 season notwithstanding, Simpson’s 2013 goose egg can’t be ignored. In fact, the American has won just once since his Open victory, and has failed to post even one top 10 in any subsequent major while missing two out of five cuts.

    2014 Outlook: It’s not uncommon for a talented golfer to struggle after winning a first career major, and Simpson is no different. Yet if his play in the Presidents Cup, where he earned multiple points for the American team, and his solid start to the 2014 season is any indication, things are certainly looking up.

24. Jordan Spieth

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    The Upside: When 2013 began, Spieth didn't even have a PGA Tour card; by the time it ended, he was the hottest young golfer on tour with a history-making victory in his possession.

    Indeed, the 20-year-old showed so much talent and potential last season that this ranking is likely far too low related to what he could accomplish in 2014. In his rookie season, the former University of Texas standout posted nine top-10 finishes, and become the youngest golfer to win on tour in 82 years when he captured the John Deere Classic in early July.

    The Downside: The only reason to doubt further success and a continued climb up the world rankings for Spieth is the dreaded sophomore slump that has a knack of derailing even the most talented players as the strenuous nature of life on the PGA Tour takes root.

    2014 Outlook: We’re eschewing talk of a second-year dip, and expect Spieth to put together another strong season that will include a second career victory at the very least.

23. Bubba Watson

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    The Upside: Two years ago, Watson claimed his first major title at the Masters, and in the process announced himself as one of the top young golfers in the game. While he's failed to win another tournament since that breakthrough, he remains one of the most dynamic and powerful golfers on the PGA Tour.

    The world’s 28th-ranked golfer already has a top 10 in the brief 2014 season and finished a solid third against a terrific field at the unofficial Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in early December.

    The Downside: Despite a wealth of talent, Watson's career has stalled in large part because he tends to make the big mistake at the wrong time. Likewise, the four-time PGA Tour winner needs to improve his short game if he’s going to take full advantage of his awesome length. In 2013, Watson ranked only 119th in strokes gained-putting, 116th in total putting and only 150th in scrambling.

    2014 Outlook: Both at the close of the 2013 campaign and the onset of the 2014 season, Watson has shown solid form both in his swing and his mental approach to the game. A slump following such an emotional and meaningful Masters victory is understandable, and it seems as if the Floridian is refocused and re-energized for a strong showing next year.

22. Hunter Mahan

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    The Upside: Mahan impressively played his way into the Sunday final pairing at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship in 2013, proving he's more than capable of claiming one of golf's signature events. While he still seeks that elusive major, the Texan owns five PGA Tour titles and has recorded 46 top-10 finishes during only one decade on tour.

    The Downside: Due in part to his lack of power, which can limit scoring opportunities, Mahan often struggles to put four consistent rounds together in signature events. His standing in the low 70s in driving distance notwithstanding, the American really doesn't have a major hole in his game. That said, he hasn't won since the 2012 Shell Houston Open, and his world ranking rests outside the top 30 heading into 2014.

    2014 Outlook: Ten of Mahan’s final 16 rounds in 2013 were shot in the 60s, and his tie for fourth at the BMW Championship lifted him to 20th in the final FedEx Cup standings. That strong season-ending form, coupled with his top 10s at the U.S. Open and British Open, promise even better things for the world’s 31st-ranked player in 2014.

21. Jim Furyk

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    The Upside: Anyone thinking Furyk’s days of winning PGA Tour events or challenging in major championships are behind him should review the tape of the 59 he crafted at the BMW Championship this past fall.

    The American’s historic second round at Conway Farms was just the sixth 59 ever shot on the PGA Tour and fully demonstrated that the 43-year-old has plenty of game left in his bag. In fact, in 22 starts this year, Furyk posted seven top-10 finishes, highlighted by his runner-up showing to Jason Dufner at the PGA Championship in August.

    The Downside: His multiple top 10s in 2013 notwithstanding, Furyk hasn't won a golf tournament since the 2010 Tour Championship and has slipped to No. 19 in the world along the way. Though accurate as the day is long, Furyk ranked just 169th in driving distance last season, a real disadvantage compared to the long-hitting golfers at the top of this ranking.

    2014 Outlook: Furyk finished among the top 10 in five of his final seven events after missing the cut at the British Open in mid-July. Provided that form carries over into 2014, it's a good bet that Furyk will end his PGA Tour victory drought and challenge for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team along the way.

20 to 16: Internationals Seeking Rebounds

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    By mere coincidence, the next five golfers in the rankings are international stars looking to reverse recent downward career trends that have dropped their world rankings, and by and large kept them winless and frustrated the past couple years.

    While their amount of time on the PGA Tour varies, the lack of victories on the world's toughest circuit is something these talented global stars will be looking to change in 2014. For each of them, a major championship would also go a long way toward validating their careers.

20. Lee Westwood

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    The Upside: Westwood posted a pair of top-10 finishes in majors last season, and held a two-shot lead with 18 holes to play at The Open Championship before fading into a tie for third. Those performances, coupled with a tie for eighth at The Players Championship in May, demonstrate the Englishman remains a significant threat despite the absence of recent victories.

    The Downside: Despite a focused effort to improve his short game during the past two years, the results simply aren't rewarding the commitment. In 2013, Westwood ranked a disappointing 168th in strokes gained-putting and 166th overall on the greens. His inability to make crucial putts hurt him at the British Open this past July, and has certainly hampered his performance on the PGA Tour, where he hasn't won since June 2010.

    2014 Outlook: Westwood had his chances in 2013, but it wasn't meant to be. Now without a PGA Tour victory in more than three years, it’s starting to look less and less likely that a resurgence is forthcoming for the two-time PGA Tour winner.

19. Luke Donald

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    The Upside: Two years ago, Donald was the top-ranked golfer in the world, and the one most expected to win a breakthrough first major title. While things haven’t quite worked that way for the Englishman, he still has plenty of talent to ultimately reach those expectations.

    Indeed, Donald is among the most accurate off the tee and has an all-around solid short game when dialed in and focused. Those attributes allowed the five-time PGA Tour winner to post five top-10 finishes in only 17 starts last season, and just under $2 million in prize money.

    The Downside: Donald’s lack of length is only being magnified by a two-year downturn in iron play that has crippled his opportunities to claim a breakthrough title. In 2011, the Brit ranked a decent 41st in greens in regulation. Yet in 2012 that number dipped to 100th, and then spiraled downward to 156th this past season.

    2014 Outlook: After a tie for eighth at the 2013 U.S. Open, Donald missed the cut in three of his final eight events, including ugly showings at the British Open and PGA Championship. Those performances engender little confidence that a rebound is forthcoming, especially in the major championships where he has flat-out struggled of late.

18. Sergio Garcia

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    The Upside: If not for the damage that followed his feud with Tiger Woods, 2013 might have been the breakout year the enigmatic golfer has long sought. In his first eight starts of the season, Garcia posted five top-15 finishes, with four of those in the top 10.

    After a mid-summer slump following his unfortunate "fried chicken" comment, Sergio finished the season as strong as he started it. In fact, his mid-December victory at the Thailand Golf Championship was his first in a year, and vaulted the Spaniard to No. 10 in the world rankings.

    The Downside: Garcia has had stretches during his decade-and-a-half on tour when he’s looked like a top-10 golfer. Problem is those runs have typically ended under the weight of confidence issues that have plagued the Spaniard for almost the entirety of his career. Indeed, Sergio has suffered through a career of putting woes, major championship collapses and unfulfilled expectations that have left significant scars.

    2014 Outlook: Not only did Sergio finish 2013 on a strong note with his Thailand victory, he’s already captured a top 10 in the 2014 PGA Tour season with his fourth-place showing at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in early November. Those strong performances suggest a breakthrough 2014 could be coming.

17. Charl Schwartzel

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    The Upside: Schwartzel's 2011 Masters triumph has served as a springboard for the talented golfer, who has knocked on the door multiple other times during the past couple years, albeit without reward. A terrific shot-maker, the South African posted five top 10s in 19 starts last season, including a pair of third-place finishes.

    The Downside: Despite the multiple strengths of his game, Schwartzel's accuracy problems are concerning considering there’s been a downward slide of control since his Augusta National triumph.

    In 2011, he ranked 95th in driving accuracy and 79th in greens in regulation. The following year the iron accuracy ranking dropped to 153rd. This past season, his greens in regulation numbers rebounded back into the 70s, but he dipped to 110th in finding fairways.

    2014 Outlook: Schwartzel notched a pair of top 15s at the U.S. Open and British Open in 2013 and had a tie for eighth at the BMW Championship late in the season. Along the way, he notched two more top 10s as compared to 2012, and nearly doubled his earnings to $2.2 million. If that form continues, expect a victory or two next year.

16. Ian Poulter

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    The Upside: While the 2013 PGA Tour season was a huge disappointment for Poulter, it's far more likely his struggles were a blip on the screen rather than the beginning of the new normal for golf's social media star.

    Not only does he own two World Golf Championship titles, Poulter was the unquestioned leader of the Ryder Cup for the Europeans in 2012, and posted three top 10s in majors during that same season. In 2013, the Englishman claimed four top 10s, highlighted by a third-place showing at the Open Championship back in July.

    The Downside: The flamboyant golfer hasn't won a PGA Tour event since the 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions and posted just one top five in a stroke play event last season. By and large, it’s been Poulter’s lack of power that is ultimately his biggest disadvantage to the game's top stars.

    The Brit ranked 136th in length of the tee last year, which is sadly an improvement over 2012 in which he was 145th in distance.

    2014 Outlook: The two-time PGA Tour winner finished second at the WGC-HSBC Champions event back in November, his best showing on tour since his victory in the same event a year earlier. That performance, coupled with a solid finish in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge,  provides reason to believe Poulter is prepared to rebound from his shaky 2013.

15 to 11: Tried and True

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    Consistency is a crucial component to long-term success on the PGA Tour, and there's no denying the staying power and reliability of the next five experienced and proven golfers on this list.

    While their time on Tour ranges from more than two decades to less than 10 years, these veterans are no stranger to the top of leaderboards or Sunday triumphs against the toughest of fields. They're also strong candidates to continue those performances this season.

15. Dustin Johnson

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    The Upside: While the 2013 season didn't end the way Johnson would have liked, his 2014 campaign is already off to a successful and promising start. The long-hitting American captured the WGC-HSBC Champions event in early November, guaranteeing him an impressive seventh straight campaign with at least one victory, and in the process demonstrated a renewed focused for the eight-time PGA Tour winner.

    The Downside: Johnson’s talent is undeniable; so is his penchant for imploding at the absolute worst time. Indeed, if not for a mixture of poor judgment and really bad fortune, Johnson might well be a major champion two times over. Instead, the game’s 16th-ranked golfer is among the best four or five Yanks without one of golf’s most important prizes, and the pressure is undoubtedly mounting on him to change that status. 

    2014 Outlook: With a win already in his pocket, the pressure has eased a bit on Johnson and he can focus on simply playing his game and making smarter decisions on the golf course. If he does that, more victories will come next year. 

14. Steve Stricker

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    The Upside: Due in large part to his incredible putting, there’s no more consistent golfer on the PGA Tour than Steve Stricker. Despite making only 13 starts last season, the 23-year veteran notched eight top 10s, including four runner-up finishes, and was in contention late for a FedEx Cup title.

    The Downside: Stricker turned pro way back in 1990, and given his reduced schedule one has to wonder just how much remains in the tank for a golfer who turned pro so long ago. 

    The 46-year-old's lack of distance has been an issue since he first arrived on tour, so that’s nothing new to deal with. His desire to chase the elusive first major title and continue to compete against golfers a decade or two his junior, however, remains to be seen.

    2014 Outlook: Stricker hasn't won a PGA Tour event since the opening tournament of 2012, and wasn't much of a factor in major championships during that same 24-month stretch. Given what we expect to be a light schedule in 2014, Stricker will have to make the most of his opportunities if he’s going to climb in these rankings, much less hold his ground.

13. Jason Dufner

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    The Upside: Five months ago, Dufner was better known as a social media icon than the talented golfer he absolutely is. That all changed this past August when the former Auburn University standout won his first major title at the PGA Championship.

    The victory, which included a rare 63 in the second round, cemented Dufner’s place among the game’s top stars, and should serve as a springboard to even greater things in his future.

    The Downside: Last season, the former Byron Nelson and Zurich Classic champion ranked just 107th in driving distance and an even-more-alarming 142nd in strokes gained-putting and 146th in total putting. There’s not much the 36-year-old can do about his lack of power, but he needs to improve on the greens if he’s going to take advantage of his strong iron play and overall solid accuracy.

    2014 Outlook: It’s not uncommon for first-time major winners to go into a bit of a slump following a breakthrough victory. Dufner, however, managed to maintain top form in the latter parts of the 2013 season with two top 10s in the FedEx Cup playoffs and a solid performance at the Presidents Cup.

    There’s at least one tour victory in him this season and potentially a couple challenges in golf’s signature events as well.

12. Zach Johnson

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    The Upside: After a slow start to his season, no other golfer this side of Henrik Stenson had a better close to 2013 than Johnson. Not only did the veteran win the BMW Championship back in October, he recently rallied past Tiger to claim the Northeastern Mutual World Challenge. The American also posted seven other top 10s to go along with his triumph at Conway Farms.

    The Downside: In addition to Johnson’s distance disadvantage, his putter can at times betray him, evidenced by the fact he ranked only 79th in total putting last season. As a result, Johnson was only 63rd in birdie average despite his spectacular game from 150 yards and in. Likewise, due to his limited power supply he was only 77th in eagles.

    2014 Outlook: After missing the cut at the U.S. Open, Johnson finished among the top 10 in seven of his final nine starts, a run that included a tie for sixth at the British Open and a share of eighth at the PGA Championship. Given that stellar form, there’s no reason to believe Johnson won’t begin 2014 the same way he closed last season.

11. Keegan Bradley

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    The Upside: Bradley already owns the major championship that proves his mettle; now he's out to show there are more such victories inside him. The 2011 PGA champion managed seven top 10s, including a pair of runner-up finishes in 2013 and ranked 11th in driving distance, second in total driving and 10th in overall scoring average.

    The Downside: Given his average putting stats with the use of an anchored putter, there’s reason to be concerned about Bradley’s mindset on the greens when its use is banned in 2016.

    Last season, the game’s 20th-ranked golfer was 44th in total putting, a performance that was good enough to keep him in contention several times but couldn't lift him over the top. In 24 months, Bradley is among a host of tour stars that lose the ability to anchor the long putter to his belly, an unwelcome change that will be a challenge to overcome.

    2014 Outlook: Bradley slipped in the world rankings last year and hasn't won a PGA Tour event since the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. That said, he already has two top-11 finishes in the 2014 season, indicating 27-year-old will end his relatively modest victory drought this year. 

10 to 6: Knocking on the Door

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    The next five golfers in this ranking might not top anyone’s “best of” list, but they’re absolutely among the sport’s elite, with more than enough talent to rise further up the ladder in the next couple years.

    A strong mix of International stars, these golfers rest just outside the top five in the world, and each have plenty of game to make the leap into it. 

    Together they have more than 20 career PGA Tour wins, and given their stellar form of late, it’s a safe bet that even more triumphs are forthcoming sooner rather than later.

10. Justin Rose

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    The Upside: After years of falling short of great expectations, Rose finally broke through with that elusive first major victory at the 2013 U.S. Open. In the process, the career-defining triumph elevated the Englishman from great potential to one of the top golfers in the world.

    A five-time PGA Tour winner, Rose seems to have added improved confidence and the right mental approach to a game that has always been rich in talent. In addition to his victory at Merion Golf Club, Rose had six other top 10s, including a pair of second-place finishes, in just 17 starts.

    The Downside: One has to wonder just how great a season Rose could have had if he only putted better during key stretches of 2013. While the flat stick came through for Rose at the U.S. Open, it hindered him at times to the tune of 133rd in strokes gained-putting and 99th in overall putting.

    2014 Outlook: After a mild slump following his U.S. Open victory, the five-time PGA Tour winner rebounded late in the season with a pair of top 10s in the FedEx Cup playoffs, including a runner-up finish at The Barclays. That strong performance, coupled with a fifth-place showing at the WGC-HSBC Champions event back in November, promises another strong year ahead for the British star.

9. Graeme McDowell

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    The Upside: McDowell managed a U.S./Euro double-dip last spring by winning the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island in April and then the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria just a month later. He then followed those triumphs by capturing the French Open in early July.

    Those three victories reinforced the 2010 U.S. Open champion's place among the game's elite, and his status as one of the game's global stars. McDowell also managed three additional top 10s on the PGA Tour, including a tie for third at the Cadillac Championship, a World Golf Championship event.

    The Downside: McDowell ranked just 161st in driving distance last season, an issue made all the more challenging by his 144th standing in greens in regulation and 104th showing in total putting. As a result, the Irishman missed the cut in a number of significant events, including the Masters, U.S. Open and the Players Championship.

    2014 Outlook: Statistics don’t tell an entire tale, and there is certainly something to be said for McDowell’s experience and accomplishments over the past several years. That said, numbers don’t lie either, and his poor performance in so many critical areas warrants significant concern as to McDowell’s ability to rebound with a more consistent 2014. 

8. Brandt Snedeker

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    The Upside: Snedeker posted nine top 10s in 23 starts last season, highlighted by victories at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am and the RBC Canadian Open. That performance followed a 2012 campaign in which the former Vanderbilt star won twice, finished in the top 10 seven times and captured the FedEx Cup title.

    The Downside: Snedeker suffered a leg injury getting off of a Segway in China this past November, sidelining him for an extended period of time and casting doubt as to how prepared he will be for a fast start next year.

    It’s the second straight season in which the sport’s 13th-ranked golfer has missed time due to injury. After a torrid start on the West Coast last winter, the American missed several weeks of competition with bad ribs, and it took him several weeks to shake off the rust upon his return. 

    2014 Outlook: Snedeker struggled down the stretch after his July victory at the Canadian Open, posting just one top 10 against two missed cuts in his final seven events. Now with his injury factored in, it’s not a stretch to suggest a slow start to this year could be forthcoming.

7. Jason Day

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    The Upside: It’s hard to fathom how a talent like Day has only one PGA Tour victory to his credit. That said, it's an easy prediction that win total will grow sooner rather than later.

    Though just 26 years old, the Australian has challenged for multiple majors, including three top-10 finishes in golf's biggest events last season. All told, Day tallied seven top 10s in 2013 and didn't miss a cut in any of his 21 starts.

    The Downside: Day was in contention late at both the Masters and U.S. Open last season, only to watch other first-time major winners celebrate victory. Likewise, Day has failed to consistently challenge on the PGA Tour, notching only three runner-up finishes since his lone PGA Tour victory at the 2010 Byron Nelson Classic. Until he can win at a more consistent clip, there will be doubts as to the Aussie's ability to close.

    2014 Outlook: Provided Day improves his driving accuracy and remains solid with his short game, he's simply too talented to keep out of the winner’s circle. Expect a complete breakout when that next victory happens, especially if it takes place in one of golf’s four signature events.

6. Matt Kuchar

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    The Upside: In a robust 2013, Kuchar won his first career World Golf Championship event at the Accenture Match Play in February and then the prestigious Memorial Tournament back in June. Those victories were just the highlights of a campaign in which the former Georgia Tech standout notched six additional top 10s, including a pair of second-place finishes.

    The Downside: The six-time PGA Tour winner has never been considered among the game’s power brokers off the tee, so his ranking of 116th in distance is forgivable. The same cannot be said, however, about Kuchar’s driving accuracy position of 124th, which certainly helped lead to his equally disappointing 73rd in greens in regulation. 

    2014 Outlook: With his tie for seventh at the McGladrey Classic, the world's seventh-ranked golfer already has his 2014 season off to a solid start. That showing, coupled with his strong performance while paired with Tiger at the Presidents Cup this past fall, provides good reason for optimism moving forward.

5 to 2: The Tiger Hunters

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    If not for the existence of the one overwhelming presence in golf, each of these next four golfers could make a case for being the top player in the game. As it is, they are certainly hot on the trail of the man who currently carries that mantle.

    Albeit at different stages of their careers, each member of this foursome has world-class talent and a litany of accomplishments that warrant such high esteem.

    In addition to the man they are tracking, these stars are the golfers to watch this season as they look to build on already impressive resumes, and distinguish themselves from the rest of the hunting pack in the process.

5. Rory McIlroy

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    The Upside: After going winless for the majority of 2013, struggling in majors and losing significant confidence along the way, McIlroy appears determined and poised to regain his status as the once-presumed heir apparent to Tiger’s throne. 

    The Irishman won the Australian Open in December, his first victory since the 2012 PGA Championship. Not only did the victory silence many critics, it shows Rory is growing more confident with his Nike clubs, and is poised to return to the form that earned him two major titles before the age of 24.

    The Downside: In 2013, McIlroy ranked just 140th in driving accuracy and 86th in greens in regulation. Despite a quartet of victories, those respective rankings were similarly low in 2012. Such directional issues were certainly on full display in the 2013 majors, where Rory missed the cut badly at the British Open and managed just a single top 10 in the four tournaments altogether.

    2014 Outlook: By coming from behind to defeat Adam Scott in Australia, the former world No. 1 removed a significant monkey off his back, and can enter 2014 refocused and determined to fully rebound from his awful 2013.

4. Phil Mickelson

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    The Upside: Mickelson's stunning five-shot Sunday rally at this year's British Open not only delivered his first Claret Jug, it left him just a U.S. Open victory short of a historic career grand slam. In addition to that victory, Lefty posted seven top 10s, including a win in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and earned more than $5.4 million along the way.

    The Downside: As often is the case with Mickelson, accuracy off the tee was a barrier to even greater things in 2013. The 42-time PGA Tour winner ranked just 149th in driving accuracy last season, which surprisingly was an improvement of 24 spots compared to his 2012 showing. In 2014, the five-time major champion would do well to ease his stress on the golf course by finding more fairways than he has during the past several years.

    2014 Outlook: There’s no doubt all eyes will be on Mickelson’s effort to complete the career grand slam with a U.S. Open victory at Pinehurst No. 2 this summer. Given what we saw from him in 2013, it's safe to say he'll contend at the Donald Ross masterpiece in June, and in several other significant events throughout the year.

3. Henrik Stenson

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    The Upside: Not only did Stenson win the FedEx Cup playoffs, he added the Race to Dubai to become the first golfer to win both the PGA and European tours’ season-ending playoffs in the same year. That spectacular finish to a breakout season followed top-three finishes at both the British Open and PGA Championship and a pair of PGA Tour titles.

    The Downside: For significant stretches of his career, the 37-year-old has struggled with his putter. In 2013, Stenson ranked just 95th in total putting, but he was solid on the greens in the majors and in the FedEx Cup playoffs, making the crucial putts when he needed to.

    Much of that success was due to the former Players champion's precision with his irons, so there’s still doubt as to whether his stroke will hold up enough over the long term to build off his amazing 2013 campaign.

    2014 Outlook: While matching his breakout season with a similar effort in 2014 may be a little much to ask, there’s little reason to believe Stenson won’t enjoy another strong campaign. Not only was he completely dialed in through the end of the Race to Dubai, his dogged accuracy and re-energized putter will keep him in the hunt in most tournaments he plays. 

2. Adam Scott

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    The Upside: Not only did Scott's electrifying Masters victory get the major monkey off his back, it made the sweet-swinging golfer an absolute hero to an entire continent as the first Australian to ever don a green jacket.

    The triumph also provided enough evidence that the 33-year-old is indeed the biggest threat to Tiger's No. 1 ranking. Scott followed that Masters victory with a third-place showing at the British Open and a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship. All told, the Aussie posted six top 10s, including his second victory of the season at The Barclays, and didn't miss a cut in 16 starts.

    The Downside: Due in large part to his erratic putter, it took Scott 13 years to win his first major title despite his wealth of talent and confidence. Last year's success notwithstanding, Scott ranked only 102nd in strokes gained-putting and 62nd overall with the flat stick. Like Bradley, Scott is faced with the prospect of losing his anchored putting style in 2016, which could cause those stats to weaken further down the line.

    2014 Outlook: Scott’s Masters victory removed a significant amount of pressure from his shoulders, and he played like it the rest of the year, especially in the final two majors of the season. With his confidence at an all-time high, and if his putter remains an asset and not a hindrance, there’s no doubt the Australian will continue his fine play in 2014, and perhaps capture that No. 1 ranking.

1. Tiger Woods: The Hunted

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    The Upside: Who else other than Tiger could possibly be at the top of these rankings? The 14-time major champion captured five tournaments in 2013, including a pair of World Golf Championship events and the prestigious Players Championship, giving him eight victories in the past two seasons.

    In addition to his five titles last season, the 79-time PGA Tour winner enjoyed three additional top-10 showings, including a second-place finish at The Barclays. Tiger also managed top 10s at both The Masters and the Open Championship and captured the top ranking from McIlroy along the way.

    The Downside: Yes, Tiger rang the bell five times on the PGA Tour last season, but he also missed time with an injury, uncharacteristically ran afoul of the rules multiple times and continued his struggles in the majors for the fifth straight year.

    Indeed, there were times in 2013, and most notably during the signature events, when Tiger’s judgment, putter and even his body betrayed him. The end result was a roller-coaster season and the continued stagnation of his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 career majors.

    2014 Outlook: Like it or not, success or failure for Woods in 2014 rests largely with his performance in the major championships. Win one, and the march to history is back on. Suffer another goose egg and the whispers from the doubters will grow to a dull roar.

    Given that reality, it’s fortunate then for Tiger that his year’s lineup of major championship venues couldn't be kinder to him. In fact, Woods has captured a major championship at three of them—Augusta National, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla—and finished among the top three the two times he contested a U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.