Top Sleepers To Watch

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Top Sleepers To Watch

December 09, 2010

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Our bold list of 10 lesser-known PGA Tour players we expect big things from in 2011

Robert GarrigusWe've all seen the highlights of his meltdown at the St. Jude Classic where he blew a three-shot lead on the last hole with a comedy of errors. However, the 33-year-old picked himself back up off the seat of his muddied pants and came up clutch in the season's final event at Disney. Thanks to a final-round 64, he not only jumped into the top 125 on the money list, but racked up his PGA Tour card for the next two years by winning the event. More settled nerves and a continued distance advantage (He's led the tour in driving distance the past two years) should put Garrigus in contention a few more times in 2011.

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Brendon de JongeIt's tough to be a sleeper when you spend much of the season ranked in the top 25 on the money list, but that's exactly what the low-keyed de Jonge remains. He struggled down the stretch, but his consistency throughout the summer, including briefly leading the U.S. Open at Pebble beach late in the second round, showed that the Virginia Tech product has the game to hang at the highest level. He also made more birdies (429) than anyone on the PGA Tour this year, thanks in large part to being 17th in greens in regulation and 10th in all-around ranking.

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Michael SimNo one questions this Australian's talent, but he hasn't been able to avoid injuries during his brief time on the PGA Tour. Sim appeared poised for a big year when he nearly won at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, but soon after, a shoulder injury kept him out for a couple months. Despite his physical troubles, he came back with some good finishes (T3s at both Turning Stone and Wyndham) in the summer and still managed to finish 65th on the money list. We expect much, much more next year from the man who had a record-setting year on the Nationwide Tour in 2009. That shouldn't be a problem if he can continue to putt (ranked 11th on tour) and go low on Sunday (Sixth in final round scoring average) like he did in 2010.

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Arjun AtwalAtwal has unfortunately been better known for his 2007 car accident that ended in the tragic death of a fellow Isleworth Country Club member. He was next known for simply being one of Tiger Woods' close friends at the ultra-private, gated community located in Windermere, Fla. But after coming out of nowhere to win the Wyndham Championship as a Monday Qualifier, he is now being recognized for his ability on the course as well. When Atwal drained a seven-footer for par on the 72nd hole to hold off David Toms by a shot to win that event, he became the first Indian-born player to win on tour. He also showed that there is always room for improvement in golf, even at the age of 37.

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John SendenAfter squeaking his way into the 2009 Tour Championship, Senden wasn't able to produce the same results in 2010, slipping to 69th on the money list. A glance at the stats, however, shows he was closer to success than you may think. The Australian led the PGA Tour in greens in regulation and finished third in ball-striking. He also ended the year on a high note with an eighth-place finish at the Deutsche Bank and a T-15 at the Barclays. If a few more putts fall in 2011, he could be the latest player from Down Under to do big things.

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Charlie WiIt would be tough to find a player more consistent than Wi over the past four years. The native of South Korea has stayed under the radar for the most part since he hasn't won any tournaments, but he's stayed on enough leader boards (three career runner-ups) to earn nearly $6 million during that span at a very steady clip. Last season was Wi's best, as he made 21 cuts and had four top 10s in 27 events. If he keeps knocking on the door at the same rate, eventually the Big Wi-minus-the-e-sy will get over the hump and pick up that first PGA Tour title.

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Brian DavisDespite having five runner-ups and 16 top 10s in his PGA Tour career, the Englishman is still in search of his first win. That breakthrough nearly came twice in 2010 with a pair of second-place finishes, plus another one at the new, semi-official PGA Tour stop in Malaysia. The most memorable close call came at the Verizon Heritage when he lost to Jim Furyk in a playoff after calling a penalty on himself in a hazard (left). Some would say the Golf Gods owe him one following that honorable act. You can't count on them coming through, though, as Sergio Garcia likes to point out.

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Troy MerrittA third-place finish at New Orleans in April put Merritt in position to have a big rookie year on the PGA Tour, but a mid-season rough patch made keeping his tour card the main objective down the stretch. By making the cut in his final four events, the 25-year-old narrowly did just that, finishing right on the money list's magical No. 125 mark. Despite his young age, it seems Merritt plays best under pressure, first earning medalist honors at Q School in 2009 and then beating Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley in a sudden-death playoff to claim the Kodak Challenge. Don't think that's a big deal? You try playing one hole for a $1 milllion bonus.

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Jamie LovemarkAlready featured in our list of Nationwide Tour graduates to watch out for in 2011, Lovemark arrives to his rookie year on the PGA Tour with all the tools to succeed -- much like Rickie Fowler did in 2010. While at USC, Lovemark won the NCAA Championship as a freshman and in his first full season as a professional, he became the youngest player (22 years old) ever to lead the Nationwide Tour's money list. In just nine PGA Tour events since turning pro in 2009, he has won $499,272.

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Kevin NaDespite turning 27 in September, Na has been a pro for more than nine years and has played in 186 PGA Tour events. A cut-making machine, Na played the weekend in 23 of 26 events in 2010. When it comes to the big moment, however, he just Na-ver (Sorry, couldn't help it) seems to get it done. Still, his top performances last year came against impressive fields (A T-2 at Bay Hill and a T-3 at the BMW Championship), and he has managed to rack up nearly $5 million in prize money the past two seasons. Na's accomplished resume -- including playing in the Tour Championship the past two years -- probably makes him the most borderline pick for this list, but his lack of a win has kept him under the radar enough to maintain "sleeper" status in our eyes. That should change soon.

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