Ryan's Top 125: Preseason

Ryan O'Sullivan
Tiger Woods is making his season debut as the TOUR heads to Torrey Pines

Before we dive into the Top 125 for 2015-16, along with some salary-cap advice, let’s tackle one little announcement first.

As many of you know, Mike Glasscott has stepped away from Rotoworld to be the fantasy writer for Golfweek. With that, there is a void in terms of tournament previews. The powers that be at Rotoworld have somehow thought it wise to allow me to plug the gap during the fall. Should you find the time to check out those previews, I’ll do my best to keep you from plummeting into the depths of fantasy oblivion until a full-time replacement can come on board at a later date.

Now to the matter at hand.

The 2014-15 PGA TOUR season proved to be the year of Jordan Spieth, with Jason Day nearly playing spoiler, and now it is our task to determine who will be the stars of 2015-16. So, let’s start by laying out a few points of clarification, ground rules, disclaimers, or whatever you want to call them.

This ranking is intended to be utilized as a way to value players for the entire season, with fantasy drafts and salary leagues in mind. That said, a ranking of players can’t account for any and every format. For example, some players traditionally make more starts than others. It is wise to diversify your lineup so the first five picks aren’t all players that split time between the PGA TOUR and European Tour.

Because this ranking is intended to project out for the entirety of the season, the metrics used in determining these slots focus on broad brushstrokes. We’re talking money lists over the last three years, top 10s and top 25s for 2014-15, and the stats most commonly used for every tournament breakdown. Some weeks, it might be great if a player ranks inside the top 10 in scrambling, but when projecting across a season, the par-4 scoring average and strokes gained: tee-to-green (SG:TTG) are the way to go.

While the PGA TOUR puts a massive priority on FedExCup points, this article is focused more on money over points. That’s because most full-season games still follow the dollars, and not the points.

Oh, and there is still one Web.com Tour Finals event remaining as of the press time of this article. Keep an eye on that tournament to verify the final 25 PGA TOUR cards.

The comments associated with each player are meant to further frame the ranking.

Got it? Good.

Let’s do this!

Rank Golfer Comment

1 Jordan Spieth – Was there even a question? The big bonus is the quantity of events he plays versus most elite players.

2 Rory McIlroy – While this wasn’t a no-brainer, a healthy 26-year-old is best set up to battle Spieth for top honors next season.

3 Jason Day – McIlroy lands above him for one simple reason: Day has a tendency to get hurt more often.

4 Bubba Watson – I’ve heard the argument that driving distance is the most overrated stat on the PGA TOUR, but the results of 2014-15 simply say otherwise. He's proven to be a class player and not just a bomber.

5 Dustin Johnson – The only player with more top-10 finishes in 2014-15 was Jordan Spieth. And DJ missed a chunk of the season.

6 Rickie Fowler – Watch out, friends. Somebody figured out how to win last season.

7 Justin Rose – Slumped a bit early in the year, but produced another class season in 2014-15. He is first-round quality in any draft.

8 Henrik Stenson – Was a disappointment until three runner-up finishes in the FedExCup Playoffs. If he starts fast, he will prove to be undervalued in this spot.

9 Hideki Matsuyama – Statistically, he’s close to perfect. He tied Jordan Spieth with 19 top-25 finishes (in 25 starts) in 2014-15. That’s consistency you can count on.

10 Zach Johnson – Would rival Jim Furyk as the best non-bomber on the PGA TOUR over the past 10 years.

11 Brooks Koepka – Has a lot of similarities to Jordan Spieth this time last year.

12 Jimmy Walker – Very predictable in that he did all of his heavy lifting in the first half of the season once again in 2014-15. If he starts slow, you’re in big trouble as an owner.

13 Matt Kuchar – He's an incredibly good value at this point in any draft. Coming off a season slightly below his standards, but a win in 2015-16 in any event would make him well worth the buy here.

14 Brandt Snedeker – Fixed the putter early in the year and returned to being a high producer. Arguably the worst ball-striker in the top 15 of this list on a TOUR that is very much about tee-to-green game.

15 Patrick Reed – Seemed to slow down when the chatter around his college days picked up. That’s a reason for concern as it could pop back up again. Also some rumblings about an instructor change back to his college coach.

16 Justin Thomas – Fully expect him to be the 2015-16 version of Brooks Koepka of 2014-15. A win and a run at the Ryder Cup team would not be a stretch.

17 Jim Furyk – Would have been higher if not for the late-season wrist injury. Coupled with his age, a wrist injury for a golfer is very scary. Monitor this closely and assess your willingness to take a risk when considering him.

18 Bill Haas – Goes about his business in a fairly boring fashion, but manages to bag a win every year and a number of other solid finishes.

19 Paul Casey – If I felt really good that he would be healthy for the next 12 months, he would be in the mix for a top-10 ranking. A really good 2014-15 was nearly spectacular.

20 Sergio Garcia – It’s all about starts. He tends to make pretty close to the minimum (15) most seasons, so he has to perform in those limited opportunities.

21 Robert Streb – Was on the radar going into last year due to his excellent par 4 play, and then delivered above our wildest dreams. Only slump came right after the birth of his first child, so expect another really good campaign.

22 Billy Horschel – The 2014-15 season proved to be a hangover winning the FedExCup in September of 2014, meaning most people will have him undervalued for the upcoming season. A great pick late in the second or early in the third round.

23 J.B. Holmes – Built on a really good 2013-14 season with an even better 2014-15. Of the known bombers, he’s not in the same class as Watson and DJ, but Holmes is much more potent than Gary Woodland.

24 Charley Hoffman – If he’s a stock, the temptation will be to buy high. Expect him to trend back towards the top 50, but he plays enough to allow for some value around the top-25 range.

25 Kevin Na – Goes about his business quietly (and slowly), but he's proving to be a consistent top-30 player on the money list.

26 Kevin Kisner – Three runner-up finishes in 2014-15 paved his way to East Lake. The biggest concern is how he will handle a higher-class schedule in 2015-16.

27 Ryan Palmer – Another guy that isn’t going to garner a big reaction on draft night, but he has been very reliable over the last couple of seasons.

28 Gary Woodland – A walking contradiction when you compare his critical stats (low) to his money-list position over the next few seasons.

29 Daniel Berger – Was hot early, especially on the Florida Swing, which also happens to be his home state, but really rebounded late in the FedExCup Playoffs to back up his early play.

30 Russell Henley – Top 40 on the money list in each of his first three PGA TOUR seasons. He’s also an excellent par-4 player and a very steady putter, making him a threat on most par-70 layouts.

31 Harris English – Talent often teases for bigger results than what we’ve seen, but moving him any lower would be risking letting a potential big fish get away.

32 Ryan Moore – Needs to get it done in the CIMB late in 2015, where he is the two-time defender, because he’s tailed off as the dog days of the last two seasons have approached.

33 Chris Kirk – After a monster 2013-14, he battled through an injury in the heart of the 2014-15 season and came out in good shape.

34 Phil Mickelson – Father Time is keeping an eye on him, but he is still reliable for a few really big weeks every year.

35 Keegan Bradley – Continued his slide down the money list in 2014-15. Not so coincidentally, he made the switch away from the anchored putter. He’s one of a few that regressed with such a move. Moderate improvement with the putter would land him right about here.

36 Tony Finau – Was a top-25 machine with 16 as a rookie, but converted just five of those into top 10s and didn’t really threaten to win. Somebody will likely fall in love with him and draft him too early.

37 Louis Oosthuizen – This is all about his health. If good for 15-18 starts, he’s worth more than this slot. If he endures multiple trips to the DL, this pick will be catastrophic. Good luck.

38 Danny Lee – Really came into his own after a playoff win at The Greenbrier Classic. It will be interesting to see if he backs off his ironman schedule in 2015-16.

39 Scott Piercy – Looked more like the guy we were growing used to counting on a few years ago before an injury knocked him off the tracks, winning an opposite-field event in 2015, and is poised for another good campaign next season.

40 Russell Knox – Has lurked in multiple events over the last two years and boasts great SG:TTG and par-4 numbers.

41 Charl Schwartzel – Struggled for a good part of the 2014-15 season before pulling it together late. If he can start a little stronger in 2015-16, he’s a steal at this slot.

42 Brendan Steele – Top 20 in both SG:TTG and par-4 scoring average last season means that when he putts, he’s dangerous.

43 Marc Leishman – His season was saved with a P2 at The Open Championship in 2015, but he also had to overcome a major health scare involving his wife. He’s a top-50 TOUR talent.

44 Brendon Todd – Didn’t match his top-20 money list finish from 2013-14, as was predictable, but proved it wasn’t a fluke either.

45 Webb Simpson – As with Keegan, the putter change caused some problems.

46 Matt Jones – Quietly cracked the top 50 on the last three PGA TOUR money lists.

47 Ben Martin – Was a likely candidate for a breakthrough win in 2014-15, and delivered it early, but didn’t make much noise in the second half of the season.

48 Jason Bohn – Excellent par-4 numbers led to 11 top 25s and six top 10s. Another boring pick on draft night, but the kind that could result in a nice return over the long haul.

49 David Lingmerth – In 2014-15, he looked much more like the guy who almost won the 2013 PLAYERS than the one who had to return to the Web.com Tour Finals following the 2013-14 season.

50 Hunter Mahan – Have to wonder if having two children over the last couple of years has shifted his focus off the golf course. The 2014-15 returns were not good and he missed the TOUR Championship for the first time in the FedExCup Playoffs era.

51 Patrick Rodgers – Young stud began the year with no PGA TOUR status and a pair of runner-up finishes locked him in for 2015-16.

52 Tiger Woods – News of his most recent medical procedure earned him a bit of a fade. Thought he was top 20 based on the way he was putting things together before the season ended.

53 Shane Lowry – Winner of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, it will be interesting to see how committed he is to the PGA TOUR this season.

54 Shawn Stefani – Steady progression over the past three seasons included 10 top 25s in 2014-15. Top 50 in both SG:TTG and par-4 scoring average.

55 Brian Harman – Suffered a mild regression in 2014-15 after his breakout win the season prior, and should be poised for a solid season this time around.

56 Patton Kizzire – The rookie to be dominated the Web.com Tour’s regular season, coasting to the top spot on the money list. Has length to spare and is a member of the Sea Island Mafia.

57 Emiliano Grillo – Nearly won the Puerto Rico Open, settling for a P2, and coasted through the Web.com Tour Finals for his card.

58 Francesco Molinari – Premium ball-striker retained his PGA TOUR status on his first full PGA TOUR season and should build on that in 2015-16.

59 Kevin Streelman – Slight regression the last few years but can be very dangerous on the weeks when his putter keeps up with his ball-striking.

60 Ian Poulter – Has finished in the 45-65 range on the last three money lists. It’s likely he’ll figure out a way to do the same next season as well.

61 Daniel Summerhays – Nice playoff run and great par-4 numbers offer plenty of hope for a breakthrough win in 2015-16.

62 Steven Bowditch – One of the best stories of the 2014-15 season, the Aussie will likely slip a bit in 2015-16 but shouldn’t fall off the map.

63 Nick Watney – Quietly finished inside the top 60 on the 2014-15 money list after free falling outside of the top 100 the prior season. Given his history, he would be a solid pick up in the sixth or seventh round.

64 Cameron Tringale – Conventional wisdom had him breaking through by this point in his career, but it has yet to happen. Cracked the top 50 on the last two money lists, so offers solid value here.

65 Will Wilcox – One of the tougher calls in terms of ranking. His excellent sophomore season with conditional status featured nine top 25s, but most of them came against weak fields. Par-4 and SG:TTG numbers are about as good as it gets.

66 Pat Perez – Bagged 11 top 25s to finish ahead of his career arc.

67 Luke Donald – Pretty much sucked all season, but managed to pull it together at the last minute for a respectable conclusion. Could offer some nice value in salary-cap games.

68 Adam Scott – This is one of the bigger question marks of 2015-16 due to the upcoming ban of the anchored putter. He could fall completely off the map.

69 Branden Grace – Four top 10s and six top 25s in events recognized by the PGA TOUR despite not having any status pretty much says it all.

70 Charles Howell III – Normally a top-25 machine and a walking ATM machine without contending, he stumbled a bit in 2014-15. Interesting to see if he pulls it back together this season.

71 Boo Weekley – The only PGA TOUR member with multiple top-three finishes who failed to qualify for the BMW Championship in 2014-15.

72 Brendon de Jonge – Are comments really necessary?

73 Sean O’Hair – Pulled himself up by the bootstraps beginning with a P2 on the Copperhead Course to revive a stalled career.

74 Graham DeLaet – Couldn’t stay healthy in 2014-15. If his health isn’t an issue in 2015-16, he could be a steal at this point.

75 Jason Dufner – Certain players respond to life events favorably. With his divorce making headlines during the middle of the 2014-15 season, we could see a revived Dufner over the next 12 months.

76 Anirban Lahiri – Class player who stepped down to the Web.com Tour Finals to earn his PGA TOUR card. Hopefully this turns out a little better than what we saw from Richard Sterne after similar circumstances last season.

77 George McNeill – Bermuda specialist enters off a solid 2014-15 campaign.

78 Rory Sabbatini – Was shocked to see that he found 12 top 25s last season. It made sense once a deeper look revealed that he ranked T10 in par-4 scoring average.

79 Zac Blair – One of the bigger surprises as a rookie, he notched eight top 25s and a pair of top 10s.

80 Kevin Chappell – The 11 top 25s made securing his card for 2015-16 an easy task, but just two top 10s were rather disappointing.

81 Graeme McDowell – Last season was a disaster. He’s too good to do that twice in a row.

82 Matt Every – Always a streaky player, it seemed like he checked out after winning his second Arnold Palmer Invitational in as many years. Hard to predict weekly, but should reach or surpass this spot on the money list.

83 Morgan Hoffmann – Poised for a breakout 2014-15 after a great run in the 2014 FedExCup Playoffs, but failed to deliver.

84 Scott Brown – This is the neighborhood where he’s been living the last few seasons. No reason to expect anything better or worse next season.

85 Martin Laird – Decent bounce back in 2014-15, but didn’t do anything special. Putter is a concern next season.

86 Danny Willett – Plenty of fire power, but declined membership. Still, we'll see him in all of the biggest events.

87 Jerry Kelly – If Jerry Kelly had his own mascot, it would be the Energizer Bunny. It helps that he never misses a fairway.

88 John Senden – After putting out of his mind in 2013-14, he returned to normal this past season. This is where he belongs when everything is working at a normal level.

89 James Hahn – Ranked 42nd on the money list last season, but his breakthrough win had a lot to do with that. Can’t count on another win in 2015-16.

90 Troy Merritt – Most weeks, he is a disaster, but those few weeks when it clicks he can be very dangerous. Sort of like Scott Stallings.

91 Colt Knost – Eight top 25s and T26 in par-4 scoring average. It should be noted that he is very short off the tee, which is a problem on certain tracks.

92 Bryce Molder – Going to sound like a bit of a broken record, but T18 in par-4 scoring and six top 25s. Two very safe numbers.

93 William McGirt – Manages to do much better in the FedExCup standings than he does the money list because he lives in that T20-T40 range. Had just one top 10 last season, but seven top 25s.

94 Chris Stroud – Looked poised for a big 2014-15, but flopped. Could offer decent value this far down the board.

95 Jamie Donaldson – Not the first guy to come up a little below expectations when giving the PGA TOUR a go after success on the European Tour.

96 Ryo Ishikawa – This marks a good average of where he has placed on the last two money lists. Now going about his business under the radar in the U.S.

97 Cameron Smith – A pair of top fives, including a T4 in the U.S. Open, land the young Aussie on the PGA TOUR in 2015-16.

98 Scott Stallings – Steady downward trend over the last few seasons make this ranking a bit optimistic, but he’s good at catching lightning in a bottle for a few weeks out of the year.

99 Jim Herman – Somewhat surprising by finishing 80th on the money list in 2014-15, given he’d never previously cracked the top 125. He did so by ranking inside the top 60 in SG:TTG and par-4 scoring average.

100 Hudson Swafford – His sophomore season of 2014-15 saw him improve from 146th to 107th on the money list and tempt many savvy gamers with his tee-to-green game.

101 Adam Hadwin – First full PGA TOUR season resulted in the Canuck retaining his card, so that’s a start. Has the tools to be a top-100 player.

102 John Peterson – Made a lot of cuts, but didn’t really flirt with any big finishes. Slow and steady won the race to avoid the Web.com Tour Finals in 2015.

103 Scott Pinckney – Of the rookie class, he was one of the pleasant surprises in 2014-15.

104 Kyle Reifers – After several prior TOUR campaigns, 2014-15 was the season that finally clicked. Earned seven top 25s including a pair of top 10s.

105 Hiroshi Iwata – In his four PGA TOUR events, he earned enough equivalent FedExCup points to make it to the Web.com Tour Finals and will secure his card from that experience. Highlights were a T3 at the CIMB Classic and a T21 at the PGA Championship.

106 Kyle Stanley – Streaky player with a high ceiling that trended well into the Web.com Tour Finals and essentially locked up his card in two Finals events. Could be the surprise of the fall.

107 David Hearn – Total guess to figure out how the putter ban will impact the Canadian. Has put together a solid 24-36 months leading up to this.

108 Spencer Levin – Finished 109th on the 2014-15 PGA TOUR money list but has proven to be a wild card most seasons.

109 Chesson Hadley – Sophomore slump dropped him from 58th to 88th on the money list. Stats are hard to stomach in some key areas, but he’s still getting it done.

110 Jason Kokrak – Really struggled over the second half of the 2014-15 season, thus the fade.

111 Greg Owen – Top-50 player in both SG:TTG and par-4 scoring average led to him finishing 83rd on the 2014-15 money list. That’s well above his career arc, so expect some degree of a fade.

112 Stewart Cink – Key stats still check out to a large degree, but it doesn’t erase that he’s sliding down the money list over the last couple of years.

113 Tom Hoge – Now that he is in line to earn his card for a second year via the Web.com Tour Finals, it’s to time get excited about his top-60 numbers in SG:TTG and par-4 scoring.

114 Johnson Wagner – Did the unlikely by playing his way to a card after beginning the 2014-15 season with very limited status. It’s hard to trust or ignore him.

115 Lucas Glover – Put together four consecutive top-25 finishes dating back to the Wyndham Championship and including the first three starts of the Web.com Tour Finals. It appears that he’s begun to solve some of his woes with short-range putts. If so, he could be this season's Sean O’Hair.

116 Jonas Blixt – Stuck in neutral the last two years, but wins early in his career due to smooth putting render him valuable in this range.

117 Will MacKenzie – If you study his last two seasons, he quits after locking up his card for the next year.

118 Blayne Barber – Retained his card via money list (not FedExCup) with four top 10s and another top 25.

119 Jon Curran – Five top 10s in 2014-15 easily checked the box for him to earn a sophomore season on TOUR.

120 Steve Marino – Back healthy and on TOUR after his Web.com Tour performance in 2015, he’s still searching for his breakthrough win on the big stage.

121 Chez Reavie – Made five of his last six cuts to end the PGA TOUR season 166th in the FedExCup standings and promptly took care of business in the Web.com Tour Finals with a T10-Win-T20 start. Will start the new season with starts remaining on his Major Medical Extension, so he could retain status exempt from the reshuffle if he meets the terms.

122 Michael Thompson – Smooth putter lost his full status for 2015-16, but responded with a T2 in the opening event of the Web.com Tour Finals to earn it right back.

123 Roberto Castro – A ball-striking machine when hot, has a couple of top 10s including a T2 at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship to earn a return trip to the TOUR in 2015-16.

124 Jamie Lovemark – Has been a back-and-forth player for the last few years, due in part to injuries. Perhaps this is the year it clicks.

125 Wes Roach – His path reminds me a bit of Ben Martin’s, as he got a taste of the PGA TOUR in 2013-14, lost his card, and easily earned a second trip to the tour during his 2015 Web.com Tour campaign. He should be settled in for a better sophomore season.

Next 10: Kelly Kraft, Whee Kim, Seung-yul Noh, David Toms, Chad Collins, K.J. Choi, Geoff Ogilvy, Ernie Els, Sam Saunders, Mark Wilson.

Now. let’s talk Salary Cap.

A popular game type for full-season players is the salary-cap game. While the “price” of players may vary based on the commissioner or host site, often the best strategy does not. That, is load up on a couple of players that can really move the needle and try and find enough value further down the board to round out a competitive lineup.

With that in mind, here are two types of players to consider: those who move the needle and those that are valuable at a lower price.

Stud Farm: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose.

These seven players all have the game for multiple wins, thus validating their value and likely price. Gamers who won most full-season games last season likely paired Spieth with Day. Buying two of these guys is a good place for any team to start.

Value Buys: Charl Schwartzel, Patrick Rodgers, Tiger Woods, Patton Kizzire, Emiliano Grillo, Will Wilcox, Adam Scott, Anirban Lahiri, Graham DeLaet, Danny Willett, Jamie Donaldson, Cameron Smith, Scott Stallings, Kyle Stanley, Tom Hoge, Lucas Glover, Steve Marino, Chez Reavie, Michael Thompson, Roberto Castro, Wes Roach.

These guys all cracked my Top 125 and have the opportunity to drastically improve their stock from a year ago. What you want to find with these players are either up-and-coming studs or proven veterans coming off a below-average season. With a little luck, your value buys will figure out a way to scratch out at least $750,000 and hopefully much more. You're after this season’s Daniel Berger or Sean O’Hair when pulling the trigger.

We will return sometime during the holiday break with an updated Top 125. Until then, best of luck to all!