As we head into the 2013 season, professional golf remains in a period of transition.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson appear to be headed toward the twilight of their careers, while young Rory McIlroy is looking to establish himself as the game’s next top dog.
But what about the others?
With Woods and Mickelson not winning nearly as often as they once did and McIlroy showing a tendency to reach both breathtakingly high peaks and low valleys during the course of a season, the majors will likely remain as open to first-time winners in 2013 as they have over the previous four years.
Here are five players who appear ready to bring home some major championship hardware in 2013:
Adam Scott’s career has so far not turned out the way many had expected when he won the Players Championship at the age of 24 and the Tour Championship at the age of 26.
Scott has won just four tournaments since his Tour Championship title in 2006 and went more than two years without winning a single event between 2008 and 2010.
Some say that Scott took his eye off the proverbial ball for a period of time in the late 2000s which affected his game. Others say that virtually all of Scott’s struggles can be traced to that pesky little menace that has destroyed the careers of more than few highly talented ball-strikers—the putter.
However, Scott seems to have turned things around in recent years.
Between 2008 and 2010, he ranked between 178th and 186th on tour in strokes gained putting. Then, in early 2011, he got his hands on a crutch, ahem, sorry, a broomstick putter which he anchors to his chest and has managed to move up 40 sports in the strokes-gained-putting rankings.
Scott is obviously still not one of the better putters on tour. But when you are as good of a ball-striker as Scott and manage to move up 40 spots in the tour’s main putting statistic, you are going to have at least some success, and Scott has.
Scott has finished in the top-10 in four majors over the past two years. Out of those four majors, Scott had a legitimate chance to win two of them.
Scott came up just short in the 2011 Masters and, of course, suffered one of the worst meltdowns in recent memory at the 2012 Open Championship when he bogeyed his last four holes to lose to Ernie Els by a single stroke at Royal Lytham & St. Annes
In addition to his near-misses at the majors, Scott also won the 2011 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Scott has been finding himself on the leaderboards of one big tournament after another over the past two years, and as talented as he is, one can only assume that it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through for his first major title.
Ian Poulter has been the American’s worst nightmare in the Ryder Cup.
Pfft, Poulter doesn’t feel pressure. He takes pressure, sharpens his teeth with at and spits it out in the form of one devastating made put after another.
The fact that Poulter has performed so well under intense pressure at the Ryder Cup makes it that much more surprising that he is still searching for his first major title.
Poulter has won 14 events worldwide but just two PGA Tour events since taking up membership in 2005.
However, Poluter’s wins have been coming more frequently in recent years (four wins, including two WGC titles in the past three years). Poulter also finished in the top 10 in three out of the four majors in 2012.
Combine that increased frequency with the confidence he has been gaining with each astonishing Ryder Cup performance, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another player in professional golf more ready to capture his first major title.
Why is Dustin Johnson on this list?
Well, mostly because he should have already won three major titles at the young age of 28.
Johnson held the 54-hole lead at the 2010 U.S. Open but suffered a horrific start to his final round which ultimately cost him the title.
Johnson then missed out on a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer at the 2010 PGA Championship due to a freak penalty he received for grounding his club in a bunker which appeared more like an area that had been trampled down by the gallery.
Johnson had another excellent opportunity to capture his first major at the 2011 Open Championship before shanking his second shot out of bounds on the par-five 14thduring the final round at Royal St. George’s. Johnson’s gaffe led to a double-bogey seven that resulted in yet another major championship slipping right through his hands.
Johnson is an extremely long hitter who always seems to find his way to the top of leaderboards at big-time tournaments. As each year goes by and Johnson continues to put himself in the mix on Sunday afternoon at the majors, most would assume that it’s only a matter of time before he finally picks one off.
After going winless in his first six years on the PGA Tour, Justin Rose has finally begun to reach his potential.
Rose has captured four PGA Tour titles over the past three years, including the 2012 BMW Championship (a FedEx Cup Playoff event) and the 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship.
In the past year alone, Rose has finished within the top 10 at two majors and within the top five at two WGCs (including his victory at Doral).
Many will say that Rose jumped the gun by turning pro immediately after his fourth-place finish at the 1998 Open Championship as an amateur, and they may be right. Perhaps Rose was not ready for professional golf back in 1998 and he went through what seemed like a 10-year learning curve before finally reaching the upper echelons of the game.
But it doesn’t matter how you get to the top as long as you get there. Rose’s game, attitude and confidence all point to a major championship victory in the near future for a player who many would have expected to have won multiple majors by this point in his career.
It’s difficult to tell at this point whether Jason Dufner is a true late bloomer or simply managed to get extremely hot for the duration of the 2012 season.
Having gone winless on the PGA Tour for his entire career, 35-year-old Dufner managed to win twice during the 2012 season.
Dufner began appearing on the radar screen of most golf fans during the 2011 PGA Championship, where he led for much of Sunday afternoon before faltering down the stretch and eventually losing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff.
The reason why Dufner is on this list is due to his confidence and ability to perform well under pressure, which is a must-have combination for any player with aspirations of winning a major.
Dufner made his first U.S. Ryder Cup team this past September and went 3-1-0, including capturing one of the few singles’ match victories for the American side on Sunday afternoon.
Dufner is playing extremely well and has shown an ability to remain cool under the game’s most intense pressure…and what makes Dufner a force to be reckoned with is that he now knows all of this.
It’s one thing to try to defeat a very talented golfer, but that task become a lot more difficult when you’re trying to defeat a talented golfer who knows that he’s talented and knows that he’s cool under pressure.
2012 may have been just a hot streak for Dufner or it may have been the awakening of a sleeping giant. We will know a lot more as the 2013 season progresses. But one thing is for sure, Dufner has shown that he has the talent and the nerve to win majors, and he could ride this current hot streak right into a major title in 2013…perhaps at Augusta.