As we turn the page on 2019, there is no shortage of star power on the PGA Tour. Names like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm will populate the upper tier of leaderboards once again in the new year, but as a whole, the tour may be as deep as we’ve seen it in years.
Here’s a look at five breakout stars to watch for on the PGA Tour in 2020:
Talk about bursting onto the scene. Fresh off his senior season at Cal-Berkeley, Morikawa wasted little time making his mark on the PGA Tour. Playing on sponsors' exemptions, the world's former No. 1-ranked amateur put together one of the best three-week stretches we saw in 2019. A tie for second at the 3M Open and a fourth-place finish at the John Deere were followed by the first win of his career at the Barracuda Championship.
Six weeks after his Tour debut, the 22-year old had secured his PGA Tour card for 2020. In all, Morikawa played in nine tournaments, finishing 59th in the FedEx Cup standings while making it through two playoff events.
SI.com spoke with Morikawa back in June, prior to his victory, and what quickly came across in the interview was that Morikawa is wise beyond his years and is exactly where he belongs. He’s talented, knows it and is not intimidated by the bright lights of the PGA Tour.
From strictly a talent perspective, Ancer is already a breakout star, but he finds himself on this list squarely because he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour yet. "Yet" is the key word. There is no doubt that the 28-year-old Mexican will win on tour–something that became even more apparent after his 3-1-1 showing at the Presidents Cup.
Ancer is fresh off a very successful 2019 during which he tallied four top-10 finishes and a second-place finish at the Northern Trust playoff event in August. He’s already notched two more top-10 finishes in the new season and has the game to go extremely low at any time.
Ancer ranked 14th on tour last season with 41 rounds in the 60’s, six of which were 65 or lower. The only thing Ancer hasn’t done is learn how to win. That happens in 2020.
How can a major champion be on this list? Well, when it comes to Willett, the Englishman’s five-plus, part-time years on tour have been a tale of two careers. Willett captured the golf world’s attention in 2016 when he was the beneficiary of Jordan Spieth’s collapse at the Masters, putting on the green jacket for the first major title of his career. Following the victory at Augusta, Willett completely fell off the map.
Now, 32, Willett has overcome back, wrist and knee injuries, and he's made a swing-coach change to find his world-class form once again. After winning late in 2018 on the European Tour, Willett finished 12th at the U.S. Open and sixth at the Open Championship in 2019.
He then found his way into the winner’s circle once again at the BMW PGA at Wentworth this past September.
Now back inside the top 30 of the World Golf Rankings, expect to see more of Willett not only playing in the U.S. but contending on a regular basis in the year’s biggest events.
Technically a rookie in 2019-20, Hovland showed the type of consistent talent he can be on the PGA Tour. Hovland played in 10 events during the 2018-19 season, recording top-20 finishes in half of his starts, but it was his stretch toward the back end of the season that grabbed fans' attention.
From June through October, the 22-year old Norwegian, who played college golf at Oklahoma State, reeled off 19 consecutive rounds in the 60’s, breaking the Tour’s all-time mark of 17 set by Bob Estes in 2001.
Hovland secured his PGA Tour card for 2019-20 at the Korn Ferry Tour finals and has shown a different type of star power than fellow young guns Morikawa and Matthew Wolff. While those two both won quickly after coming out of college, Hovland showed the consistency that’s needed for sustained success on Tour. That consistency usually adds up to a victory sooner rather than later.
After finishing in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour money list, McNealy will get his first full shot at the PGA Tour. At 24, McNealy is an older rookie-type on tour. He was a decorated amateur at Stanford, winning a program-best 11 times, and his story of being the son of Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy is well-documented.
McNealy admits that when he turned pro back in 2017, he was not playing very good golf, so his adjustment to becoming a professional has been a bit slower than other former world No. 1 amateurs, but he certainly has the game to contend on tour. He made the cut in six of his eight starts during 2018-19, but his perspective and ability to see the big picture are what makes him a special talent.
“For me, it's less about how quickly I can win, but more how quickly can I get to playing my best golf and how long can I run that out for?" McNealy told SI.com. “I’m confident that when I hit one of those stretches where I can’t miss, I think I’ll be able to do some pretty fun things.”