If you blinked, you missed the PGA Tour offseason.
Just 19 days after the final putt of the 2018-19 season dropped at the Tour Championship, the 2019-20 season tees off Thursday morning in West Virginia with the season-opening A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier.
Thankfully for golf fans, since the offseason was so brief, there really wasn’t any time for players to accumulate rust.
So which players should you be keeping a close watch on at the Old White TPC?
To help answer that question, we reached out to three experts – the people who walk alongside the players inside the ropes each week – the caddies.
Each caddie – anonymously – provided a pick to win, a darkhorse pick (darkhorses must be outside the top-50 in the Official World Golf Ranking) and a player to finish inside the top 10.
Here are the players they like for the season opener…
Winning pick: Viktor Hovland
Why: He’s on a heater right now, having secured a card for the new season thanks to a T2 in the Albertsons Boise Open – a week after a T11 in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship – at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. That, along with his four-consecutive top-16 finishes to end the PGA Tour regular season in August tells me this kid is ready to win. Hopefully, he’s not too tired. Then again, how could he be. He’s only 21!
Darkhorse pick: Harold Varner III
Why: It’s a story of redemption with this pick. Harold was tied for the lead going into the final round at Greenbrier last summer but faded on Sunday with a 2-over 72 to finish T5. He didn’t let it bring him down, though. Varner had a nice 2018-19 season, finishing 38th in FedEx points, just missing out on the Tour Championship. He also collected his best finish of the season – T3 – at the Playoffs-opening Northern Trust. I’m sure he’s excited about getting back at it and getting another crack at Greenbrier.
Top-10 finisher: Joaquin Niemann
Why: He really came on strong toward the end of last season, starting with a T5 at the Travelers Championship. In his last eight starts, he had just one missed cut to go along with four, top-13 finishes – three of those inside the top 10. I think that solid play will continue at Greenbrier, where he had a nice finish in 2018 – a T5, thanks largely to a final-round 64, his best score on Tour that season.
Winning pick: Jason Kokrak
Why: I just feel like he due. Jason’s been playing really well. He really turned it on at the end of the season, finishing no worse than T19 in his last four starts. He was solid at the Tour Championship a few weeks ago, too, to ultimately end the season at 14th in the FedEx standings. He’s just a player who is in good form and hasn’t had time to get rusty. If you drive it well at Greenbrier, you can set yourself up for a lot of birdie chances, which is something Jason is more than capable of doing.
Darkhorse pick: Viktor Hovland
Why: By criteria – he’s currently 111 in the OWGR – he qualifies as a darkhorse. But I think everyone knows Hovland won’t be a darkhorse consideration much longer… so I’m going to swoop him up while I still can. He’s playing so good right now. He just rolled right through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals no problem. And he’s got a great veteran caddie in Shay Knight. Shay took a chance and jumped onto Viktor’s bag without a second thought. There’s no doubt Shay is an asset and that had to boost Viktor’s confidence as well. We played with Viktor in a final round not long ago and he’s fearless. He goes for everything. Playing that way means he’ll make his share of mistakes, but he’ll also make a whole lot of birdies and turn in a lot of low rounds.
Top 10 finisher: Sungjae Im
Why: He’s been one of the most consistent players on Tour and enjoyed a great rookie season, making it all the way to the Tour Championship. He plays almost every week and he somehow seems to not get tired, or just tired of golf. It’s impressive. I know he’s young, but that high level of golf for this long is impressive. He’ll have a new caddie on the bag this year, so we’ll see how that goes, but I wouldn’t expect much drop in performance for him. I’d pick him for a top-10 finish every week until he proves me otherwise.
Winning pick: Marc Leishman
Why: It’s a case of an elite player in a weaker field event. Leishman is a great ball striker and that’ll come in handy at the Greenbrier – especially since the course is playing harder and faster this year as compared to years past when the tournament had been played in July.
Darkhorse pick: Robert Streb
Why: He’s got two runner-up finishers here and four top 15s in his career. The course obviously fits his eye.
Top 10 finisher: Russell Henley
Why: Like Streb, Henley has got a great track record here with three, top-10 finishes in his last three starts, highlighted by a solo fifth in 2016.