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Since the “Tiger-Era” has come and gone, and briefly come back on several occasions, there have been a few openings for some of the younger guys on tour, and even some of the veterans who have not quite made the jump, to get their piece of the cake and post a win. Unlike Tiger, who in his career has won 79 PGA tournaments (14 of which were Major Championships) for an incredible win ratio. Most PGA tour professionals win around 1% of tournaments they enter, if not less. Tiger has been number one in the world, thanks to all these wins, for an astonishing 673 weeks in total.
Getting that first win under the belt early is what really matters for some of these young pros. Even for the older guys who are ready to make a Darren Clarke run for it and try to win their first major in their forties, the all important first win is the catalyst for change in their careers.
This list is a collection of first time winners from the 2013 PGA Tour Season and the start of the current season that has already seen some of the less experienced guys claim a win. Much like the Luke Donalds and Lee Westwoods of the game who have gone so far in their careers without a major championship, there are some guys on this list who have made a fantastic career so far on tour without getting that first win. Some guys find themselves comfortably in the top 20 of the FedEx cup points list or in the top 50 of the official World Golf Ranking and yet they have never lifted a trophy on the PGA Tour.
4 John Merrick – 2013 Northern Trust Open ($1.2 Million Dollars)
At the age of 31, Merrick was due his first win on the PGA Tour. After turning pro in 2004 and bagging a win on the Web.com tour, the next step was to take home his first slice of PGA tour glory, and it did not come easy. It took Merrick a four-day total of -11 to get into a playoff with Charlie Beljan, who he eventually outlasted to take home the big paycheck. The 2008 and 2009 seasons, despite not yielding a PGA tour victory, were a positive look to the future for Merrick as he performed well in several of the major championships. He finished T6 in the 2009 Masters and T10 in the 2009 PGA Championship. His best finish at the US Open came in 2008 when he also finished T6. So far in the 2014 season, Merrick has started out consistently with seven cuts made out of nine tournaments on the PGA tour (earnings just under 300k so far this year). Having finally tasted victory however, consistency may not be enough for the young Californian, as he could be one to watch creeping up the official world golf rankings and FedEx cup standings. He is currently ranked 102nd in the world.
3 Michael Thompson – 2013 Honda Classic ($1.1 Million Dollars)
Thompson is no rookie to the tour at age 28, having turned pro all the way back in 2008. He found that all important first win in 2013, when he finished -9 at the 2013 Honda Classic, beating Geoff Ogilvy by two strokes. He was, at the time of his victory, relatively unheard of compared to many of the names on the tour, except for his brief appearance and glimmer of excellence in the 2012 US Open when he was beaten only by Webb Simpson (who finished with a final score of +1 at the tough course typical of all US Open championships). His best year financially came in 2012 when he made just under $1.5 million dollars on the tour, and so far in 2014, he is off to a similarly consistent start as he has made five cuts in seven starts, to go along with two top-20 finishes for a total of just over $300,000 so far. Now that he has had his first victory, he is certainly one to watch on the tour. He is currently ranked 81st in the world, but with another win on tour this year and some more good performances in Major Championships, we can expect to see that ranking get better and better.
2 Ken Duke – 2013 Travelers Championship ($1.1 Million Dollars)
At 45 years old, Ken Duke is certainly the veteran of this list and also tops the list as the most interesting player for several reasons. Despite turning pro all the way back in 1994, when some of the other guys on this list were still in diapers, Duke has not played in more tournaments than the guys much younger than him due to his struggles with ongoing medical problems caused by his scoliosis. Having played in 61 PGA tour events, he has only entered 11 more than Michael Thompson, who holds the number 4 spot on our list, and he turned pro 14 years earlier (he did not play on the PGA however until ’96). Needless to say, it was an emotional victory for the PGA tour veteran in June of 2013 when he managed to edge Chris Stroud for the victory at the Travelers Championship. This was after both golfers finished with a score of -12 and went to a playoff. 2013 was a good year overall for Duke as he found another top ten finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finished the season earning just under $1.75 million dollars. His performance in Major Championships thus far has certainly not stood out (best finish was the 2008 PGA Championship when he finished T13), and this is a contributing factor to why he still finds himself ranked just 115th in the world, but his consistent play so far in 2014 with 8 cuts made in 9 starts is certainly keeping him on track to move in the right direction.
1 2.Billy Horschel – 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans ($1.2 Million Dollars)
After turning pro in 2009, the four year wait until the Zurich Classic in 2013 was certainly a shorter one than many of the other guys had to endure before they lifted their first trophy. Horschel finished out his week with an incredible score of -20, beating out D.A. Points by one stroke to take home the victory. 2013 was certainly the breakout year for the Jacksonville native, as he made an impressive 22 cuts in 26 tournaments with eight top ten finishes, one victory, and just over $3.5 Million in the bank for that year alone. Thanks to his fantastically consistent play last year, Horschel is the first guy on our list to be ranked inside the top 50 in the world as he sits at 43rd overall. His performance in Major Championships is likely the next thing he will want to improve, as he managed a 4th place finish in the 2013 US Open, but has not found any sort of form in the other majors, missing the cut in both the Open Championship and the PGA Championship in 2013 and not playing in the Masters.
1. Jordan Spieth – 2013 John Deere Classic ($828,000)
This is certainly not the only list in golf that Jordan Spieth will find himself topping thanks to his amazing play. Spieth won his first PGA tournament when he was still a teenager after beating out Canada’s David Hearn, and defending champion Zach Johnson in a playoff at the 2013 John Deere Classic to take home the big paycheck. Having played in fewer events than anyone on this list (38 in total), Spieth is the highest ranked player on the list as he sits just outside the top ten in 12th spot. Being born in 1993, Spieth had likely not even picked up his first golf club by the time Ken Duke was already a pro – he climbed the ranks fast as soon as he found his way on to the tour in 2012. The 2013 season was a phenomenal start for the Texan as he made 18 cuts in 23 starts and found himself in the top ten another eight times alongside his victory. He also managed to make the cut at the Open Championship at Muirfield on his first attempt and closed out his season after making just shy of $4 million dollars.
So far in 2014, he has made all but one cut (six out of seven tournaments) and has finished in the top ten three times already. The money he earned last year obviously didn’t quite cut it as he has already banked over $1.5 Million this year in winnings. Jordan Spieth is certainly one to watch out for at the top of the leaderboard in both regular PGA tournaments as well as the Major Championships this year. If he finishes the season outside the top ten, it would be a big surprise.