Each season has its handful of players who take a big leap in the PGA TOUR’s meritocracy. Billy Horschel was one such example in 2013. The University of Florida product hadd attended Q-School in all four of his previous pro seasons, but won his first TOUR title last season and contended at the U.S. Open. He not only made his FedExCup Playoffs debut this year, but advanced to the grand finale, the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
Who can have a similar breakout season in 2013-14? Each of our panelists picked a player who they thought would win his first PGA TOUR title this season and qualify for his first TOUR Championship:
Mike McAllister, Managing Editor: Matt Jones. The Aussie had four top-10s in his last seven starts of the season and came close to reaching the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. He takes the next step this season. Jones, 33, finished 32nd in the FedExCup in his first Playoffs appearance since 2010.
Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents: Daniel Summerhays. He's imporved dramatically in each of his three years on TOUR and advanced to the third round of the FedExCup Playoffs this season. He's got eight top-10s in his last 52 starts, including a playoff loss at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Brian Wacker, Site Columnist: Hideki Matsuyama. He was a stud in his first Presidents Cup and is already off to a Jordan Spieth-type start with six top 25s in seven starts last season the PGA TOUR. Two of those were top 10s at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. He should continue that trend as a full-time member this season and I think he wins and goes on to be named Rookie of the Year.
Rob Bolton, Fantasy Columnist: Cameron Tringale. The Georgia Tech product is 26 years of age but already entering his fifth season on the PGA TOUR. He continues to scratch the surface of the potential that his pedigree projected. Because he’s yet to deliver on it and should have the majority of the learning curve in the rearview mirror, he’s a perfect candidate for Breakout Player of the Year.
John Swantek, Host, On The Tee: Jimmy Walker. He’s steadily improved in the FedExCup in each of the past three seasons and is on the short list of "best players without a win.” That will change this year and it could happen early. He's typically a fast starter, and has a strong record in both the fall events and on the West Coast. He finished 10th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last year and fourth in the Frys.com Open. He also had two top-5s in California earlier this year. A quick start could help him clinch his first TOUR Championship appearance.
Amanda Balionis, Host, PGA TOUR Today: Michael Putnam. The Web.com Tour's Regular Season money leader is making his fourth appearance on the PGA TOUR, but this time around, everything is different. Putnam is healthy, and more importantly really confident in his game. He put himself in contention virtually every week on the Web.com Tour and he is ready to have a breakout season on the PGA TOUR.
Chris Dunham, Site Producer: Morgan Hoffmann. I picked Hoffmann to win Rookie of the Year before last season (Jordan Spieth wasn't on TOUR at that point) and he showed flashes of brilliance. Finished 13th in birdie average and had seven top-25s as a rookie in 2013.
Bryan Mullen, Site Producer: Kevin Chappell. The UCLA product and former NCAA champion finished 45th in this year’s FedExCup. Chappell can be a bit streaky, but he contends when he’s on. He has eight top-10s, including four top-3 finishes, in 86 career starts. He has a knack for finding himself on the leaderboard in some of golf's biggest events. He finished second at the Memorial presented by Nationwide Insurance this year, and was one shot off the lead through 54 holes at The Barclays after his third-round 62. He also finished third and 10th at the 2011 and 2012 U.S. Opens, respectively.
John Schwarb, Site Producer: Kevin Stadler. I'm bullish on the Baby Walrus, who nearly made the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola this year. The University of Southern California alum always plays well out there so look for him to break out early. There's an extra carrot for him to win or make the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. He could join his father, Craig, at the Masters; Craig Stadler won at Augusta National in 1982. That would be quite the pairing for the Par-3 Contest.
Bill Cooney, Site Producer: John Peterson. The Web.com Tour grad has serious game and is ready for a big season after a few cameo appearances the last two years on the PGA TOUR. Had six top-10s on Web.com Tour, and 13 top-25s in 18 Web.com Tour starts. He's also made 11 of 15 cuts on the PGA TOUR.
Anne Detlefsen, Site Producer: Jamie Lovemark. He returned to form on the Web.com Tour this season with a win at the Midwest Classic. He's finally healthy and has something to prove after a back injury led to a disappointing rookie year in 2011.
Sean Martin, Events Editor: Bud Cauley. Cauley slipped up last season – finishing 131st in the FedExCup – but he regained his TOUR card at the Web.com Tour Finals. Perhaps having to regain his card at th Web.com Tour Finals was just the kick in the pants that he needed after such an easy transition to the pro game. Cauley has shown he has the talent, playing on the Walker Cup in 2009, earning his TOUR card without attending Q-School and finishing 38th in the FedExCup in his first full TOUR season (2012).