News & Opinion

Purkey’s picks: 5 ‘buys’ and 5 ‘sells’

If you could own stock in professional golfers, everybody would be lined up right now to buy Tiger Woods, wouldn’t they? Especially those who gave up on him five years or so ago.

Here are some others in whom you might consider investing – and those you’d want to get out of while the getting is good:

Buying

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After a season in which he posted 11 top-10 results, Tony Finau appears poised to take the next step and win.

Tony Finau: Poised to be one of the game’s stars, Finau did everything but win last season. He had five top-5 finishes among 11 top 10s, including a fifth place at the U.S. Open and a T-9 at the British Open Championship. He was one of the lone bright spots for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, going 2-1, including thumping Tommy Fleetwood in the singles. Finau drives the ball forever – fourth in driving distance last season – and makes birdies in bunches. He has one PGA Tour victory; expect a lot more.

Tommy Fleetwood: Lingering in the shadows of the game’s top players for the past few years, Fleetwood emerged as a bona fide star after his performance in the Ryder Cup. Long thought by insiders as one of the game’s most underrated talents, Fleetwood registered his coming-out with a Sunday 63 at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills to finish second. Then, he became the biggest thorn in the U.S. side in Paris, teaming with Francesco Molinari to rack up four points. Could it be the hair?

Brooks Koepka: One U.S. Open could have been a fluke. Back-to-back Opens gets your attention. But winning the PGA Championship at Bellerive made Koepka a golf rock star. Now, with his victory last week in South Korea at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges, Koepka is the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. And it’s legitimate. Everyone will say that Woods is the favorite for April’s Masters, but Koepka is a better bet.

Joaquin Niemann: A former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, Niemann turned pro after winning the 2018 Latin America Amateur and making his Masters debut. In 12 PGA Tour events in 2018 – mostly on sponsor exemptions – Niemann, who is from Chile, had four top-10s and banked a little more than $1.2 million, gaining his Tour playing privileges for this season. And he’s only 19.

Xander Schauffele: We said before the Ryder Cup that Schauffele should have been a captain’s pick instead of Phil Mickelson. Wonder if Jim Furyk is thinking the same thing? Schauffele, who was rookie of the year in 2016-17 after winning the Tour Championship, certainly played better than Mickelson last season, especially in the big moments. Schauffele tied for second at the Players and the British Open, and he was T-6 at the U.S. Open. Bigger things are coming.

Selling

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Rickie Fowler, coming off of a winless season on the PGA Tour, has fallen far short of expectations.

Rickie Fowler: At age 29, Fowler is starting to look like an underachiever. He owns four PGA Tour victories, including the 2015 Players, but he didn’t win last season. Fowler has posted high major finishes – top-5s in all four majors in 2014, two of the four in 2017 and a runner-up in last year’s Masters – but he hasn’t had what it takes to get over the line. For someone who has such a universally-lauded putting stroke, he certainly hasn’t made many meaningful putts. He would seem to be way too popular to sell, but you can’t ignore the prospectus.

Matt Kuchar: Despite seven PGA Tour titles, Kucher leaves the impression that he could have done more. Last season, he was 169th in driving distance and hit fewer than two-thirds of his fairways. Short and crooked is no way to live on the PGA Tour. He missed the Tour Championship, and for the first time since 2008, he wasn’t on the Ryder Cup team. He’s on the north side of 40, hasn’t won since 2014 and doesn’t look like he’s going to change that any time soon.

Rory McIlroy: It’s awfully hard to bail out on someone who has the physical tools that McIlroy has. But it’s equally difficult to bet on someone who has been so disappointing. He went eye-to-eye with Patrick Reed in the final round of the Masters and blinked. He shot 80 in the first round of the U.S. Open. He had a real chance to win the British Open, and he had the opportunity to track down Tiger Woods in the Tour Championship but shot 74 on Sunday. McIlroy is only 29, but it feels like the sun’s going down on him.

Phil Mickelson: He says he will cut back his schedule this season. He says that he’s not going to play courses set up as brutally as Le Golf National for the Ryder Cup, where he was simply awful. Does that mean he won’t play the U.S. Open? He might make more money in his Tuesday gambling games than he does on Sundays. It’s sad to think of Mickelson as a ceremonial player but at age 48, he looks like he’s setting up what’s left of his Hall of Fame career.

Jordan Spieth: Spieth looks lost, and he is playing like it. He didn’t come close to winning last season. He has been having severe problems in two vital areas: driving and putting. Spieth hit only 61 percent of his fairways last season, and his putting, from which he has made his living, has been abysmal. He says it’s a setup issue. But the problem is that he keeps saying it. Putting problems cause an erosion of confidence through the bag, and that’s where Spieth appears to be.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf