PGA: A Glance Back and a Look Ahead

PGA: A Glance Back and a Look Ahead

For the past few years there has always been something big happening off the golf course that has largely overshadowed what took place on the course. First, it was the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it is LIV Golf. If golf fans were asked to name one big storyline from 2022, many of you, perhaps most of you, would say it was the burgeoning battle between the PGA Tour and LIV.

And that may well be the case again when we return in 12 months to write the next RotoWire year-end review/year-ahead preview in fantasy golf. Legal battles between LIV and the PGA Tour and LIV and the DP World Tour will continue in 2023, beginning in February when the European circuit will try to bar LIV golfers from competing in its tournaments. A temporary ruling in London last year allowed such golfers to play in DP World Tour events; an opposite temporary ruling last year in California blocked LIV guys from PGA Tour events.

As this article was being written, we received confirmation of what was anticipated: LIV golfers will be allowed to play in the Masters, and the other three majors should fall in line. Augusta National announced just before Christmas that its invitation criteria will remain intact for 2023, meaning at least 16 LIV guys will be in the Masters field, which right now stands at 78. 

Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and others could very well be part of the story in the 2023 majors. So we will address some LIV guys, at least briefly. While fantasy golf and golf betting have opened their arms (or bank accounts?) to LIV tournaments, most of our attention here will focus on PGA Tour events.

Through all the ups and down, 2022 was a representative showcase to determine the best golfers. With that in mind, let's look back at the year and use that information to help forecast what lies ahead in 2023. DFS golf resumes the first week in January with the annual lid-lifter, the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Many season-long fantasy leagues have not yet drafted yet, and the long-running RotoWire League always begins with the Sony Open in Hawaii.

So you could treat this article as a Fantasy Preview 2.0.

As always, the comprehensive RotoWire Draft Kit should serve as your primary guide.

The Best of the Bunch

OWGR rankings as of Dec. 30, 2022

1. Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won three times with two runners-up and two third-place finishes to return to No. 1 in the world in an utterly brilliant 2022. The year, of course, and sing along with us because you all know the words, did not include a major win for the eighth straight year. McIlroy's total body of work was all the more remarkable considering he did so much of the front-facing heavy lifting for the PGA Tour in its battle with LIV. Entering his age-34 season, McIlroy shows no signs of slowing down. His 2023 litmus test won't be so much whether he can remain No. 1 but whether he can again win multiple times (he can and will) and whether he can pick off another major (he probably won't because something always goes awry).

2. Scottie Scheffler
Scheffler front-loaded his 2022 with four wins in six starts culminating in April with his Masters victory. That Tiger-esque stretch vaulted him to No. 1 in the world until being overtaken by McIlroy in late October. While Scheffler didn't win again over the final eight months of the year, he did have four additional podium finishes, including a co-runner-up to Matt Fitzpatrick at the U.S. Open. A great year that resulted in Scheffler being named the PGA Tour Player of the Year was very close to being a year for the ages. Do we see four wins including a major in Scheffler's 2023? No. But multiple wins, another major and a return to No. 1 even early in the year is certainly possible.

3. Cameron Smith
Some would argue that Smith is rightly the No. 1 golfer in the world right now and there surely is a case. But he didn't ascend to the top spot even after winning the Open Championship and completing the PGA Tour season through the tour Championship before leaving for LIV. Smith did win another OWGR event after his exodus, capturing the Australian PGA Championship in December. With the expectation that LIV golfers will be able to compete in all four majors, Smith has a real chance to pick off a second major championship, most likely at the Masters. If your pool/league has a majors component/bonus as the RotoWire season-long does, there's a compelling argument to roster him, depending how deep your bench is. Smith will be carrying the weight of LIV on his shoulders; let's see whether he can withstand the pressure that McIlroy has endured.

4. Patrick Cantlay
Depending on your viewpoint, Cantlay had an exceptional 2022 or he didn't. He did because he won the BMW Championship playoff event, finished second four times and third once. He didn't because he continued to underperform in majors: T39-MC-T14-T8. That last result at the Open Championship was his best major finish in three years and only his third career top-10 in 23 major starts. It's actually stunning that the golfer who often looks like a stone-cold killer on the course has been such a disappointment in majors for his career. It's hard to see that continuing much longer, but do look for Cantlay to win at least one tournament in 2023 and stay in the top-5 in the world rankings.

5. Jon Rahm
A year ago at this time, Rahm was No. 1 in the world. At this time next year, he could be No. 1 again. That's how closely bunched the top guys are and also indicative of how Rahm came on late with three wins over the final eight months of 2022. He surprisingly was a no-show in the majors, with only one top-10 (T9 at the Masters). Rahm's big issue was a suddenly terrible short game, and that's still an issue to some extent. But multiple wins and a return to contention in the majors is on the horizon for Rahm in 2023.

6. Xander Schauffele
The biggest win of Schauffele's career, in the eyes of the OWGR people, came during 2022 at the Scottish Open. What? Yes, he has won Olympic gold and a Tour Championship, but the former was in a so-so field and the latter was a small field, and it illustrates the shortcomings in his career. Schauffele was knocking on the door of seemingly every major for a few years, but he didn't crack the top-12 in any in 2022. That's not to say he won't win one in 2023 or won't stay in the top-10 but, like his good buddy Patrick Cantlay, he's been around long enough that the major void is starting to create its own baggage.
7. Will Zalatoris
First and foremost, Zalatoris' return from a season-ending back injury will one of the central storylines of the Sentry Tournament of Champions the first week in January. After his breakthrough win at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in August, Zalatoris' year was done a week later with a mid-tournament WD at the BMW Championship – where he again was in contention. He then missed the Tour Championship and the Presidents Cup thanks to two herniated disks in his back. Zalatoris did not have surgery. Back injuries are a dicey thing for any professional athlete. We're going to take a wait-and-see approach before forecasting Zalatoris' 2023, but suffice to say that when healthy he's capable of multiple wins and being in the mix in multiple majors.

8. Justin Thomas
Thomas won the PGA Championship for his first victory in more than a year. He hadn't really been contending beforehand and he hasn't really done so since. He had a bunch of top-5s and top-10s, good for propping up your world ranking, but it's safe to say that the superstar pairing of Thomas and Bones Mackay as his caddie underperformed in 2022. While a major win is a major win, Thomas was fortunate that all the relatively inexperienced leaders came back to the pack that Sunday at Southern Hills. Thomas announced his engagement in November and, while no wedding date was announced, a big change in a golfer's personal life is just one more factor to consider going forward.
9. Matt Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick finally reached the next level as he approached age 28, after years of unfulfilled high expectations. Sure, he had won seven times on the DP World Tour, but it took his first PGA Tour win, and what a win it was: the U.S. Open. Anyone can win a major out of the blue, have one great week. That doesn't appear to be the case with Fitzpatrick, who had a whopping nine other PGA Tour top-10s, including fifth at the PGA Championship. We could see the Englishman not winning on U.S. soil in 2023 but holding his high ranking or close to it with a steady stream of great weeks. After all, he ranked in the top-10 last season in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Around-the-Green and Tee-to-Green.

10. Viktor Hovland
Hovland recently won the Hero World Challenge for the second time, which is wonderful for his world-rankings points doesn't carry the perceived weight of big-time PGA Tour event. Hovland has three PGA Tour wins and, curiously or not, all of them came outside the United States, along with his two Hero wins. Two were at Mayakoba and one at Puerto Rico. Hovland also won in Dubai at the beginning of the year. He had some excellent weeks with top-5s at Riviera, Bay Hill and the Open Championship, but there were not as any of them for him as with some other top players. That likely is related to his continued woeful wedge play – he ranked 191st in SG: Around-the-Green last season. Hovland is now 25, has been a very good player for a few years and it's really time for him to win on U.S. soil. But we're not sure that will happen. That doesn't mean we think he'll have a bad year, as you'll see lower down.

11. Collin Morikawa
By every account, 2022 was a terrible year for Morikawa, who began the year at No. 2 in the world. He's even fortunate to have not fallen further than 11th, thanks to some well-timed great weeks in big tournaments, notably T5s at the Masters and U.S. Open and a runner-up at Riviera. In none of them was he in contention for a title. It's hard to believe the best iron player in the game can go into a slump, but Morikawa found a way. As the year ended, there was little to suggest he had found his way out of it. Morikawa got married toward the tail end of the year. Who knows, that may help his game.

12. Tony Finau
Finau is No. 12 in the world, but it certainly feels as if he deserves to be much higher. He closed the year as the hottest golfer going, winning three of his last seven starts, plus a top-5 and a top-10 in the playoffs. But his majors were terrible with zero top-25s. With improved putting complementing an otherwise elite game, Finau surely seems capable of winning more tournaments in 2023 and entering the top-10. The question is, whom would he bump? And now 33, what about a major for this late bloomer before it's too late?

13. Sam Burns
Burns won twice more in 2022, on the heels of winning twice in 2021. But for such a top player, he was really inconsistent. He had only three other top-10s on the year and missed six cuts. He could do no better in the majors than T20 at the PGA Championship. For those reasons, despite having enough talent to match the best players, Burns doesn't seem to us like he's at the level of the guys above him. His two wins in 2022 – the Valspar and Charles Schwab – didn't come in big-time tournaments. At 26, it's time for Burns to deliver week in and week out, to be more consistent. That, maybe even more than wins, would push him into the elite level.
14. Jordan Spieth
Spieth is fully back after his four-year sojourn far off in golf's Bermuda Triangle. He won in 2021 and again in 2022 – at the Valero and then the RBC Heritage. Wins are wins, but those aren't big ones.  Spieth had two runners-up in 2022, at Pebble Beach and the Byron Nelson – again, hardly marquee events. His majors were terrible till a top-10 at the Open Championship. Really, as blasphemous as this is to say about golf's Golden Boy, he's not a top-10 golfer. Heck, No. 14 may even seem a bit high, especially considering the on-the-rise trio right behind him at Nos. 15-17. There is more evidence to suggest that Spieth will have a better chance of falling in the rankings in 2023 than rising.

15. Tom Kim
There was no more meteoric rise in 2022 than Kim's. Playing largely in Asia to start the year, the 20-year-old finished third at the Scottish Open, then won the Wyndham with a closing 61 to secure his PGA Tour card, then won again in the fall at the Shriners. What was so impressive about Kim – other than, of course, his golf game -- was his composure and temperament, something you rarely see in an athlete so young.  Golfers who have won so young – Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, for example – tend to go on to greatness. There are no guarantees, but we believe Kim will continue to be a big-time story in golf in 2023.

16. Cameron Young
Young surely was deserving of winning the Rookie of the Year, bursting on the scene with so many high finishes. He didn't win, but he had a whopping four runners-up, including at the Open Championship, and two more thirds, notably at the PGA Championship. He hits the ball a ton (averaging almost 320 yards off the tee) and is a very aggressive player. That contributed to missing five cuts, which isn't so bad in themselves but three were at two majors and THE PLAYERS. Presumably, Young will find a way to temper some of his aggressiveness and pick his spots better as he gets older. Regardless, a win is almost certainly coming in 2023.

17. Max Homa
At first glance, you might wonder why Homa isn't ranked higher. After all, he won twice in 2021 and twice more in 2022. But a closer look shows a dearth of high finishes outside of the wins. Homa had only three other top-10s in 2022. The good news is, he missed far fewer cuts – seven in 2021 vs. two in 2022. And he finally started to deliver in the majors, where he was having trouble even making the cut. Homa cashed in three of the four, with a best of T13 at the PGA. What we have seen the past few years is not a golfer rocketing to the top, but a slow, steady progression toward the top echelon of the game. Homa likely will win again in 2023, but the real key will be whether he can be more consistent week in and week out and get into the conversation at a major or two. Until then, he's not quite as valuable in fantasy golf as all those wins would suggest.

18. Billy Horschel
Horschel is a little like Homa in that a few weeks out of the year have really propped up his ranking and his perceived level of greatness. He's won three times over the past two years, including a couple of big ones in the 2021 WGC-Match Play and the 2022 Memorial. The other win came at the 2021 BMW PGA Championship on the DP World Tour, a result that would count for nothing in many U.S.- or PGA Tour-centric fantasy games. Also like Homa, Horschel has not been great in the majors, failing to notch even one top-20 this past year. Unlike Homa, Horschel is closer to 40 than 30 (he's 36), and we never know when age-related decline will begin.  

19. Sungjae Im
Im, still 24 till the end of March, is a grizzled veteran now in his fifth full PGA Tour season. He has plenty of time to make a bigger impact, but he has won only twice in his career and has never been ranked higher than 16th. Im didn't win in 2022, though he did finish second three times. It just seems he should have done more in his career by now, especially for someone so good he was able to compete on the world level so young. Tom Kim has already reached a ranking higher than Im has, and he's been around 20 minutes. That's not to say that Im can't and won't be a valuable addition to a lineup; he did have those three runners-up, plus six other top-10s, and he plays as much as any top player. Just don't be surprised if he doesn't deliver as much as you might think.
20. Shane Lowry
Lowry had his best year on the PGA Tour in 2022 and, while his 2019 Open Championship will always be his career pinnacle, he was more consistent this past year than ever before. He turns 36 in April. The Open counts as a PGA Tour win, as does Lowry's 2015 WGC-Bridgestone victory, but he otherwise hasn't won on Tour. He came close at the Honda back in February, finishing second, and he was third at the Masters. Lowry won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship in England late in the year. But be mindful that the bulk of his PGA Tour success came in the first half of 2022, with only one top-10 after April (T10, Canadian Open).

21. Hideki Matsuyama
Matsuyama won the Sony Open way back in January and he missed only one cut all year. But his 2022 was curtailed by a neck injury that resulted in four mid-tournament WDs. He did finish fourth at the U.S. Open, displaying how good he is when healthy. There was much consternation whether the Japanese superstar would leave for LIV; thankfully for the PGA Tour, this key to the Asian market stayed.  Now the question is his health. Besides the four WDs, Matsuyama also pulled out before the Hero World Challenge in early December. He has qualified for the TOC the first week in January; let's see whether he plays there and/or defends his Sony title.

22. Joaquin Niemann
The fact that this LIV golfer remains this highly ranked despite not accruing any OWGR points over the final four months of the year speaks to how well he had been playing, highlighted by his win at Riviera. Niemann will qualify for all the majors, but it's hard to see him being a factor. He's never done much in them before, with a 2022 best of T23 at the PGA. He's still only 24, plenty of time to get better, but how much better he will get on the LIV circuit is in question. 

23. Tommy Fleetwood
Fleetwood came close to falling out of the top-50 earlier in 2022, after his career took a downturn during the pandemic. Now in his 30s, you never know if a golfer will get "it" back, but Fleetwood did, moving himself all the way back into the top-25. He had top-5s at two majors, the PGA Championship and Open Championship, plus another at the loaded Scottish Open. A cynic would note than two of those three came in Europe, where Fleetwood has always performed better than in the States. He recently won anywhere for the first time in three years, though it was at a low-level event in South Africa.

24. Brian Harman
At age 35, Harman remains the PGA tour's Little Engine That Could. After falling out of the top-50 and well into the 60s at the beginning of the year, the 5-foot-7 Harman strung together a number of high finishes. He closed with consecutive runners-up at Mayakoba and the RSM, after two earlier third-place showings during the year – one of them at the FedEx St. Jude -- and four other top-10s. Harman hasn't won since the 2017 Wells Fargo, which means he has to work extra hard to maintain his ranking. But he picks his spots at favorable tournaments and piles up high finishes. He normally doesn't do great in the majors, though he did tie for sixth at the Open Championship in July. Harman is a fun guy to have on your team and too root for.

25. Keegan Bradley
Bradley was sitting at No. 150 in the world early in 2021. He was 34 years old at the time (now 36) and, as we mentioned earlier with some other guys, you don't often reverse course at that age. But Bradley was runner-up at both the 2021 Valspar and 2022 Wells Fargo and seventh at the 2022 U.S. Open before winning the ZOZO this fall for his first title in four years. The key was not so much his elite ball-striking but undoing his historically woeful putting. For years ranking around 175th in Strokes Gained: Putting, Bradley ranked 88th for the 2021-22 PGA Tour season. Going from horrible to mediocre made all the difference. And in the very early going of this season, he's ranked 16th. Stay tuned.

The Next Level

No. 26 Tyrrell Hatton
No. 27 Sepp Straka
No. 28 Ryan Fox
No. 29 Seamus Power
No. 30 Russell Henley
No. 31 Kevin Kisner
No. 32 Abraham Ancer (LIV)
No. 33 Aaron Wise
No. 34 Corey Conners
No. 35 Adam Scott
No. 36 Tom Hoge
No. 37 Thomas Pieters (DP World Tour-centric)
No. 38 K.H. Lee
No. 39 Alex Noren

We address some of these guys in the Moving Up and Moving Down sections below. But Wise and Scott are our top candidates to move up. Fox and Lee are primed to fall back.

On the Cut Line

Being in the top 50 at year's end is incredibly important because it gets you into the Masters. So it is a huge demarcation. There will be further chances to get to Augusta all the way into April, but it's just one less thing to worry about for these golfers.

Here are the golfers who earned a top-50 spot by year's end.

No. 40 Talor Gooch (LIV)
No. 41 Dustin Johnson (LIV)
No. 42 Kurt Kitayama 
No. 43 Sahith Theegala
No. 44 Mito Pereira
No. 45 Harold Varner III (LIV)
No. 46. Mackenzie Hughes
No. 47 Jason Kokrak (LIV)
No. 48 Adrian Meronk
No. 49 Kevin Na (LIV)
No. 50 Louis Oosthuizen (LIV) 

The first thing that stands out is that six of the 10 are LIV guys. But Kitayama, Theegala and Meronk are noteworthy up-and-comers, especially Theegala. The 25-year-old did everything but win with two runners-up and a third and four other top-10s. Kitayama, 29, had three seconds at the Mexico Open, the Scottish Open and CJ Cup. Meronk, also 29, is the best golfer ever from Poland, and he's coming off his second win of the year at the Australian Open in December, after capturing the Irish Open in July. His one PGA Tour start in 2022 didn't go well, as he missed the cut in Bermuda.

Masters Qualifiers

Seventy-eight players, including five amateurs, have already qualified for the Masters, according to Augusta National. Many of them qualified via multiple categories but they are listed only once.

Predicted Major Winners

Masters (Augusta National): Cameron Smith
PGA Championship (Oak Hill Country Club): Scottie Scheffler
U.S. Open (Los Angeles. Country Club): Jon Rahm
Open Championship (Royal Liverpool): Viktor Hovland

Movin' On Up

No. 5 Jon Rahm
No. 33 Aaron Wise
No. 35 Adam Scott
No. 43 Sahith Theegala
No. 62 Taylor Montgomery
No. 64 Davis Riley
No. 72 Cam Davis
No. 84 Thomas Detry
No. 85 Emiliano Grillo
No. 92 Alex Smalley
No. 115 Justin Suh
No. 121 Taylor Moore


No. 14 Jordan Spieth
No. 18 Billy Horschel
No. 26 Tyrrell Hatton
No. 28 Ryan Fox
No. 31 Kevin Kisner
No. 38 K.H. Lee
No. 53 Harris English
No. 60 Lucas Herbert
No. 73 Justin Rose
No. 93 Anirban Lahiri
No. 94 Luke List
No. 124 Webb Simpson

Now or Never

Rickie Fowler
Maybe "Now or Never" isn't the best title, since Fowler was listed here last year. But he did make some strides in 2022 – baby steps may be more accurate. He moved on from longtime cadie Joe Skovron and returned to longtime swing coach Butch Harman. The changes showed some early promise in the form of a tie for sixth at the Fortinet and a runner-up at the ZOZO across four fall starts. Fowler is actually 18th in the FedEx Cup point standings so far for 2022-23. After beginning 2022 at No. 85 in the world, Fowler fell into the 170s but now sits at 103rd. He just turned 34 and in 12 months, if not sooner, we should know the trajectory of his next few years of his golf career. Keep an eye on Phoenix, where Fowler has won before but missed the cut in 2022. A good result there in February is almost a requirement to show us he's turned a corner.
(Editor's Note: We will try very hard to not include Fowler in next year's Now or Never.)

Jason Day
Yeah, Day also was in this space last year. And like Fowler, after falling outside the top-150 in the world during 2022, he showcased some late-year magic that reminded us how good he used to be – and maybe can be again. Day finished eighth at the Shriners, then 11th at the CJ Cup, then 21st at Mayakoba and finally 16th at Houston before a year-ending MC at the RSM. It propelled Day to 113th in the world rankings. He is a year older than Fowler at 35, and who knows how old his oft-injured back is? An early-season indicator for Day might be Pebble Beach, where he traditionally has played lights-out. He didn't last year (a decent T24), and another subpar effort there might prove to be telling.

Webb Simpson
Simpson will turn 38 before the 2022-23 golf season ends. He's fallen well outside the top-100 in the world to No. 124. A real barometer for us with Simpson has been his results at the tracks where he flat-out killed it for much of his career. In 2022, after missing eight weeks at the beginning of the year with an injury, he tied for 59th at Harbour Town, WD from the Wyndham and missed the cut at the RSM. Year after year, these were lock top-10s and probably more for Simpson. Another indicator is Phoenix, which he missed in 2022 but comes up quickly in February. Then the RBC Heritage (Harbour Town) comes right after the Masters. Simpson has played Augusta every year since 2011 but has yet to qualify for the 2023 tournament.
Tiger Woods
Okay, one more returnee to Now or Never for 2023. We saw Woods on display twice in December, at The Match and the PNC Championship alongside son Charlie. The swing speed is there, the distance is there, the golf game is there. But the walking? How cruel is it that that is what is holding Woods back? He said he plans to play all four majors in 2023 and "maybe one or two more" tournaments. Presumably, they would be spaced out from the majors to allow for rest and recovery -- his Genesis Invitational in February? THE PLAYERS in March? Regardless, with Woods' current limitations it's hard to envision a scenario in which he could contend anywhere – and by contend we don't mean on Thursday or Friday. Four rounds of walking have a cumulative effect, as we saw at the Masters (weekend fade) and PGA Championship (weekend WD). We'll leave you with a look at the bright side: Just seeing Woods for however many rounds we'll see him in 2023 and beyond will be appointment viewing. Be thankful for what is there, not what isn't. Sit back and enjoy Tiger.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Len Hochberg plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DK: Bunker Mentality.
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Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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