06 February 2019
Game Of Thrones: Players To Watch
Several players are in contention for the world No. 1 throne this year. Each demonstrating their strong game and capability to win last season, this year's competition map is unpredictable and the battle to reign supreme more passionate than ever before. As always, there are some favorites to take the throne, thanks to the consistency of their play and ability to reach their goals, while other players could arrive by surprise if they bring their A game.
The Rise of a New Alpha
Brooks Koepka won two PGA Tour events in the 2017-18 season. Although that doesn’t appear too spectacular on the surface, when you add in that they were both Majors, that changes the perception. Koepka, who missed the last Masters because of a wrist injury, became the first player since 1989 to successfully defend a US Open title when he won at Shinnecock last year. Just two months later, hardly disturbed by Tiger’s Sunday fireworks, he won by a two-shot lead at the PGA Championship.
Despite missing four months at the start of the year to recover from his partially torn tendon in his left wrist, Koepka made up for lost time in a big way. He went as far as to end the 2018 season as the No. 1 player in the world and thus established himself as a new alpha and a player who thrives when the stakes are the highest. Still just 28 years old, Koepka is well positioned to become one of the all-time greats. Eyes will be on him throughout this season, never more so than at the US Open where he’ll try to become the first player since 1905 to win the title at the third major of the season for three years running.
It’s not easy to find weaknesses in Justin Rose’s recent performances and assessing how he might progress in 2019. The facts identify Rose as golf’s most consistent performer. The 38-year-old won the major title at the 2013 US Open, a gold medal at the Rio Games in 2016, and most recently the FedExCup in September last year. He secured the latter with a birdie on the 72nd hole at the TOUR Championship at East Lake, keeping Tiger Woods from sweeping both the tournament and season-long trophy. At the start of 2019, Rose reclaimed No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking from Koepka.
While Rose may not always get into the winner’s circle, only securing two titles and the FedEx Cup Playoffs last year, he is almost always in contention. He placed in the top-10 seven times, five of those being top-fives, in his final nine starts last season.
Reaching world No. 1 position was Rose’s ultimate goal and he’s been building his path there since he was a very young player. For more than two decades the English player has dedicated himself to learning, practicing, and trying to improve so he can be what he is today.
For this current season, Rose is using new Honma clubs. The change has raised concerns that Rose will experience difficulty with his new clubs as Rory McIlroy did. McIlroy struggled to find consistency on the course during the 2013 season after he made a switch to his equipment. Rose is aware of the risk.
“Of course there's a few unknowns; there's always a settling-in period with change generally,” Rose said. “Obviously I believe that I've made some good decisions and some good changes, and I feel confident about things. But you never quite know until the scorecard is in your hand.”
Losing his No.1 spot to Justin Rose, and Brooks Koepka in turn, did not downgrade Dustin Johnson's position as one of the favored golfers to occupy the most honorable position in the OWGR. Johnson is still in the race.
Since winning his first major, the US Open in 2016, Johnson has become something of a phenomenon. Over the past three years, he has collected ten PGA Tour titles, including the major, while before 2016 it took him seven years to collect just nine.
Collectively he’s up to 19 PGA Tour titles and he could easily surpass 20 titles this year, including an additional major title… or two. While he may not come out and say it and may try to make us believe he doesn’t really care that much, don’t be fooled, Johnson wants to win. And he wants to win often.
The statistical data proves the strength of the former the world No. 1 who has held that position for a total of 81 weeks. In his last five seasons on tour, DJ has ranked sixth, fifth, first, seventh, and first in scoring average. He is far from just a bomber, with his wedge game being one of the deadliest in the world to go with his bashing efforts off the tee.
Regaining the throne could only be a matter of time for Johnson. If all of his shots find the best rhythm, DJ will be unstoppable and will dominate as he did during the 2016-2018 seasons.
Despite only being top of the world for a short time, Justin Thomas has shown himself something important: that he has the capability to be there. A five-win 2017 helped Thomas gain major ground in the OWGR, he climbed from 22nd at the end of 2016 to 3rd by the end of 2017.
His victory at the Honda Classic, followed by a runner-up finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship in 2018, moved him to second. He had a couple of opportunities to pass Johnson recently but wasn’t able to get it done. Two months ago, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Thomas won the tournament to grab the No. 1 ranking. The 26-year-old became the fourth-youngest player to hold the top spot on the OWGR and the 21st overall since the ranking began in 1986. This year could see him rise up to once again claim what every pro golfer dreams of: being the best in the world.
The name Bryson Dechambeau first came on the radar when he displayed his unique approach to playing golf. Currently sitting at fifth in the world, it may be unique but it clearly works for him.
After winning the Memorial Tournament in the middle of last year, he exploded in the FedExCup Playoffs, winning the opening two starts at the Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship. Starting the 2019 season, DeChambeau attended his only fall tournament at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and won it. That ensures that his campaign in 2019 is set to be bright. DeChambeau is one of the dark horses that could win the race to the No. 1 throne.