Tour Insider: 13 players to watch 2013

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UCLA standout Patrick Cantlay finished 79th on the Tour money list last year.
January 17, 2013
Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor

The graduating class of 2012 has moved on. Heck, it only took one start for Russell Henley to lock up his PGA TOUR card for an additional two years.

For the rest of the Tour, the cycle renews as players set their goals on becoming part of 2013’s graduating class. And this time, there are two portals by which players can earn a promotion for 2013-14.

PGA TOUR cards still will be handed out to the top 25 in earnings after the 21-event regular season. And for those ranked Nos. 26-75, cards still await in the four-week Finals against players ranked Nos. 126-200 in FedExCup points.

With the season opener in Panama still five weeks away, here’s a list of 13 players to watch in 2013 – a mix of players who just missed cards last year, select new faces and a few comeback stories.

Certainly, this list could become obsolete by summer as top collegians turn pro and try their hand. Three of last year’s graduates, in fact, held no Tour status when the season began. Still, it's a starting point.

Patrick Cantlay. When the UCLA standout turned pro last summer, many thought he’d be the next to play his way to a PGA TOUR card via sponsor exemptions. Not so fast, as he posted no finish higher than 31st. A magical 2011 saw him post four top-25s in five PGA TOUR starts, including low amateur at the U.S. Open, and take runner-up at the U.S. Amateur. 

Camilo Benedetti. The Colombian pro appeared on track for his first PGA TOUR card after five top-10s in his first 16 starts last year, through a tie for 4th at the Price Cutter Charity Championship in mid-August. He didn’t make another cut until October. Benedetti was the No. 25 bubble boy at TPC Craig Ranch last year, but a tie for 19th left him on the outside by $940.

Hudson Swafford. Another tale of woe from last year’s Tour Championship, where Swafford came to TPC Craig Ranch at No. 23 and left at No. 27. A former University of Georgia teammate of Henley and Harris English, Swafford won last year’s Stadion Classic on UGA’s home course with a closing 62. But he had just one other top-10 finish, coming in Wichita.

Adam Hadwin. It took literally the final stroke of the Tour season to prevent the Canadian pro from getting a promotion – and it wasn’t even Hadwin’s. A James Hahn birdie at the 72nd hole claimed solo second at TPC Craig Ranch, while dropping Hadwin to a tie for third. The difference in earnings was enough to send Hadwin from a projected 25th to No. 30. 

Danny Lee. The former U.S. Amateur champion struggled in his first taste of the PGA TOUR,  placing 164th on the money list with not even one top-15 finish. But the step back should only be temporary for the Korean-born New Zealander. Not only did his 2008 U.S. Amateur crown make him the event’s youngest champion, he won a European Tour event as an amateur.

Jamie Lovemark. Just 2 ½ years after becoming the youngest to claim the Tour’s earnings title, Lovemark is looking for a mulligan after back surgery derailed his rookie season on the big stage. After losing his PGA TOUR card at midyear, Lovemark notched three top-15s in 12 Tour starts. Clubhead speed of 124.47 mph was second only to Bubba Watson.

Joseph Bramlett. Seven top-25 finishes last year left Bramlett on the verge of a PGA TOUR return, until a disappointing week at TPC Craig Ranch left him on the outside. The Stanford graduate made headlines by earning his PGA TOUR card at the 2010 qualifying finals, becoming the first player of African-American descent to survive q-school in 25 years.

Michael Putnam. Struggles at closing time kept Putnam from promotion – blowing a four-shot lead at the Utah Championship and a two-shot advantage in Boise. He wound up with runner-up finishes on both occasions. Though the results moved Putnam within sniffing distance of The 25, Putnam never spent a day inside that cut line – his highest rise was 26th. 

Sam Saunders. Arnold Palmer’s grandson continued his steady rise in 2012, with three top-10 finishes that included a tie for second at the Utah Championship. He also tied for 13th at the Tour Championship, allowing him crack the top 50 in earnings in his first full season on Tour. Grandpa remains the only swing coach he’s ever had.

Paul Claxton. The Georgia native has been part of the Tour for all but four seasons since 1995 – a span that encompasses 393 starts, 116 top-25 finishes and two wins. Claxton was in the hunt for another promotion last year, standing 19th on the money list before a stretch of six consecutive missed cuts before heading to the Tour Championship.

Cliff Kresge. The 2012 season was a tale of two halves for the Orlando pro, who missed 10 of his first 14 cuts and collected just $14,100 before catching fire in late August. Five top-20 finishes, highlighted by a runner-up tie at the Mylan Classic, earned him a berth in the Tour Championship, where a tie for sixth lifted him to No. 31 on the money list.

Peter Lonard. It’s been an arduous road back for the 45-year-old Aussie, once a Hilton Head champion but sidelined for nearly two years after knee and hip surgeries in 2010. Lonard was in early contention at last month’s Australian Open before fading with a 78-79 weekend. Likewise, he had three top-15s in his first six Tour starts last year before cooling off.

Carl Paulson. Completely idled by back woes from 2005 to late 2010, the Orlando pro has made 28 starts between the PGA TOUR and Tour in the past two years on his journey back. He used up the last of his major medical exemption last year, but still has Tour membership to lean on. The 42-year-old pro owns two wins on the circuit – both in 1999.