TOUR Championship – Round Two

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TOUR Championship - Round Two

Of the top five finishers in the 2016 FedEx Cup standings, only Dustin Johnson was able to repeat and finish inside the top five in 2017. Rory McIlroy fell from No. 1 to 58, with no wins and six top-10 showings in 14 events. Adam Scott fell even further, from No. 4 to 79.

That shows how fleeting success on the PGA Tour can be, even for the top players in the world. It also shows how difficult it is to identify a set, elite group entering the new season.

Things change quickly, as Xander Schauffele just proved by finishing third in the FedEx Cup standings and winning the Tour Championship in his rookie season.

The talent pool is deeper than it’s ever been, with five different players topping the Tour’s money list in each of the last five seasons. That’s a far cry from a recent 11-year stretch which featured just two different top dogs – Tiger Woods earned said honor eight times from 1999-2009 while Vijay Singh led the money list in 2003-04 and 2008. Woods also reached the top spot again by winning five times and earning $8.5 million in 2013.

Looking ahead to 2018, Justin Thomas will attempt to become the first to repeat as Player of the Year since Woods did so in 2006-07. But the competition is stiffer than ever.

Here’s a look at five Player of the Year candidates for the 2017-18 season.

(Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

5. Justin Thomas

Let’s start with the reigning champ. He already has a win in just three starts this season, beating Marc Leishman in a playoff in October at the CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES. Next month he’ll look to defend a pair of titles in Hawaii – Thomas began 2017 with wins at the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open, where he shot 59 in Round 1 and finished 27 under. There’s still room for improvement – Thomas finished 47th in strokes gained: putting a year ago and is still learning at age 24. There’s no reason to think he won’t be firmly in the Player of the Year hunt once again.

(Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

4. Dustin Johnson

The year of Dustin was abruptly cancelled in April when Johnson missed the Masters due to a back injury. That slip-and-fall derailed a run of three straight victories at the Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies match play. He might have edged Thomas for POY honors with a major victory, but he missed the cut at the U.S. Open and finished outside the top 10 at the British Open and the PGA Championship. The game really started to come around again at the end of the season, and he finished T-2 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in October after a surprising final-round 77. Still, there’s no reason to believe Johnson can’t have the same type of run this season and maybe bag another major to claim the throne.

(Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

3. Rickie Fowler

Still waiting for that first major, but Rickie has been on a roll for several months. He shot 61 to run away with the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas and has six top-5 finishes in his last 11 starts. He won once a year ago but said it was his best year on Tour from a statistical standpoint. And he has to be getting tired of congratulating good friends Thomas and Jordan Spieth after major victories of their own. Seems like every year is going to be the year for Fowler, but 2018 represents his last chance to win a major before age 30.

(Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports)

2. Jon Rahm

Now ranked No. 5 in the world, the 23-year-old Spaniard enters his second full season on Tour with big expectations. He set a high bar last year with wins at Torrey Pines and the Irish Open. He also finished on a tear with four consecutive top-10 finishes at the Northern Trust (T-3), Dell Technologies Championship (T-4), BMW Championship (T-5) and Tour Championship (T-7). Rahm is an emotional player and might need to reel it in just a tad to see better major results, a T-27 finish at the Masters representing his best finish. Rahm should seriously contend at majors at least once or twice a year from now on given his talent level.

(Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports)

1. Jordan Spieth

Tough to leave Rory McIlroy off this list, but the Northern Irishman was too inconsistent in health and form throughout 2017 to replace any of the aforementioned five. Spieth won his first Claret Jug with that epic showing at Royal Birkdale and can complete the career grand slam with a victory at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, site of the 2018 PGA Championship. Spieth added victories at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Travelers to reach 11 career wins at age 24. Let’s see if he can take the title back from his good friend, Justin.

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