PGA Tour: 11 Sleepers To Watch In '15
January 13, 2015
Of all the Web.com Tour graduates in 2014, the former University of Alabama star has gotten the most attention from tour pros and the media (Enough that he might just want to change his middle name to "Remember This Name"). Only 21, Thomas won a Web.com Tour Finals event and finished fifth on the tour's final priority list. The former NCAA player of the year also made a PGA Tour cut when he was 16. We're expecting a lot more of those this season -- like his T-4 performance at the Sanderson Farms Championship in November -- and we'll go ahead and make him our pick to win Rookie of the Year.
A three-time winner on the Web.com Tour in 2014, Ortiz is just the fifth Mexican-born golfer to be fully exempt on the PGA Tour. Just 23, Ortiz has a great chance of being his country's best golfer ever. Hmm. Maybe the U.S. Ryder Cup team should expand to include players from all of North America . . .
Stuard was a top-10 machine on the PGA Tour early in the 2013-14 season, and he also had a remarkable 395-hole stretch without three-putting. The 31-year-old Michigan native's best season yet included a runner-up at Mayakoba and a T-5 at Hilton Head, helping him finish 51st in FedEx Cup standings.
This consistent performer made 22 of 27 cuts in 2013-14, highlighted by a T-2 at the Valero Texas Open. Expect more high finishes to come from the 30-year-old BYU product, who finished ninth on tour in strokes gained/putting last season.
In the Jimmy Walker mold of a potential late bloomer, McGirt, 35, had runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2013 before putting together another solid season on the PGA Tour in 2013-14. He finished T-5 at the Barclays in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and he was the 54-hole leader at Riviera before a 73 dropped him to T-6. Closing out a PGA Tour title is next on his checklist.
We've seen glimpses of Koepka playing PGA Tour events the past couple years, but he'll finally have full-time playing privileges for the first time in 2014-15. Just 24, Koepka finished T-4 at last year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst and added two more PGA Tour top 10s in the fall as well as his first European Tour title. He was one of three nominees for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2014 despite only playing in 16 tournaments.
In 2014, his first full season on a major pro tour, Finau, 25, made 19 cuts in 23 starts on the Web.com Tour, and had five top 10s and a win. A former high school basketball star in Utah, Finau turned pro at 17 and was a contestant along with his brother, Gipper, on Golf Channel's "Big Break" in 2009. The 6-foot-4 Finau will be a quick crowd favorite on the PGA Tour with his prodigious drives, and his four top 15s in five fall starts did nothing to make us think he can't hang on the next level.
After graduating from BYU earlier in 2014, Blair got to work right away on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. He didn't make his first Web.com Tour start until July, but with a runner-up in the season finale, he managed to punch his ticket to the PGA Tour. Listed at 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, Blair isn't a bomber, but he still managed the fourth-best scoring average on the Web.com Tour in his 12 events.
Swafford was the only University of Georgia product not to win on the PGA Tour last year -- at least, it felt that way. But a breakthrough might not be far off for this 27-year-old ball-striker. Swafford finished 11th in greens in regulation and 33rd in driving distance. Those numbers should add up to more success in the future.
The 29-year-old Scot was 16th in the new strokes gained/tee-to-green stat on the PGA Tour last season, finishing ahead of players such as Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jimmy Walker and Bill Haas. Not too shabby. Neither was his 40th-place finish in last year's FedEx Cup standings -- the highest of anyone on this list. Perhaps, he'll make it all the way to East Lake this year.
The 27-year-old Canadian (Team North America!) had six top 10s on the Web.com Tour during the regular season and then he added three more in the Finals, including a win at the Chiquita Classic. Hadwin finished first on the tour's combined money list to become fully exempt in his rookie season on the PGA Tour. In limited time in the big leagues, he's performed well, making eight of 11 cuts and finishing T-4 at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.