Tiger Woods' hiatus from golf leaves an enormous void, of course, one that can't be filled, but with or without Woods around, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy bears a close watch as he joins the PGA Tour in 2010.
McIlroy has moved up to ninth in the World Ranking, the highest ranking ever achieved by a 20-year-old. Though he did not play last week, he jumped from 11th to ninth, bumping Sergio Garcia from the top 10.
A year ago at this time, McIlroy was ranked 39th, but his has been a linear ascent that isn't likely to have peaked at No. 9. Though he won only once, the Dubai Desert Classic early in the season, he has evolved into one of those rare players who reliably is in contention virtually every week.
In his last eight starts of '09, McIlroy finished out of the top seven only once (a tie for 30th at the Portugal Masters). He closed his season with fourth- (WGC-HSBC Champions), second- (UBS Hong Kong Open) and third-place finishes (Dubai World Championship).
-- John Strege