PGA Tour Money List preview: A look at key contenders for 2019-20 season

Check out our selections ahead of the new PGA Tour season

The new PGA Tour season begins on Thursday and Ben Coley is expecting fireworks from a pair of 20-somethings, as well as Rory McIlroy.

Recommended bets

5pts e.w. Rory McIlroy to win the Money List at 4/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4)

1pt e.w. Hideki Matsuyama to win the Money List at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4)

The Money List has lost some of its lustre due to the riches of the FedEx Cup, more so now that the TOUR Championship and its bonus pool are excluded from calculations.

However, it remains the most manageable of antepost markets when it comes to making accurate predictions, more so than individual majors or markets speculating as to how many titles a player will win.

With most firms now betting on it ahead of the start of the new PGA Tour season, here's a look at some of the key contenders.

Brooks Koepka

  • Previous best: 1st (2019)
  • PGA Tour wins: 7

After another extraordinary year, one in which he collected a fourth major title and a first WGC and with them the Money List, Brooks Koepka is favourite for a repeat. I'm just not entirely sure he should be. Koepka's success depends so much on what he does in the majors and I am among the shrinking group who believe that it's not likely to be sustained. I wouldn't go as far as to say a downturn is expected, but it's difficult to foresee improvement and he's now very much there to be shot at.

Picking apart next year's major venues and his perceived suitability to them feels a little silly - his success has been built on the adaptability of a very modern game - but they do give his closest rival a potential edge which also feels like it ought to be factored in. At prices ranging from 9/4 to a best of 3/1, he just looks short to me, though there are no real negatives with form figures of 23-8-5-1 demonstrating his relentless ascent to the very top of the sport.

Indeed, it's hard to make a case for Koepka being outside the top 10 and he could well make a flying start as he sets about defending his position atop the Official World Golf Rankings, which is under sufficient threat to keep him motivated until April and the beginning of major season. Expect more success and silverware - just don't rely on him at short prices in this market, as he looks vulnerable to all three of his closest rivals in the betting.

Brooks Koepka

Rory McIlroy

  • Previous best: 1st (2012, 2014)
  • PGA Tour wins: 17

It may be more than half a decade since Rory McIlroy won the PGA Tour Money List, but everything he did during the 2019 season suggests to me that he's ready to end the drought. More than that, he should be clear favourite and 4/1 with four places on offer looks like an each-way bet to nothing.

Koepka might have won the Money List and bagged another major, accolades McIlroy would swap all of his recent achievements for, but McIlroy was the best player on the circuit last season. He averaged over 2.5 strokes-gained per round, essentially meaning that he was better than the average player in the field by a wide margin. Data like this can be off-putting, so let's give it some context: McIlroy was 0.7 shots per round better than the second best player on the PGA Tour. There was no equivalent gap between any two adjacent players on a list of 188 measured. Strip out the gravitas of titles and focus on week-to-week performance and he was alone at the top.

Now, the Money List does not do that - the stronger the event, typically, the more money it is worth. To top it you need to win more than once and likely something big, particularly given the depth now evident in the sport: Koepka won it with a major and a WGC, Justin Thomas with a WGC in 2018 and a major in 2017, Dustin Johnson with a major and a WGC in 2016, and Jordan Spieth with two majors in 2015. Essentially, when betting on the Money List we're betting on who will perform best or at least close to it when it matters most.

That's why Koepka heads the betting, but I believe the more significant numbers in terms of forecasting what's to come are those which have McIlroy as the best player on the PGA Tour right now, rather than the numbers which tell us Koepka has been dominant in the high-value events which shape this competition. McIlroy's levels are so high that top-grade success awaits if he maintains them. I expect him to.

Dustin Johnson

  • Previous best: 1st (2016)
  • PGA Tour wins: 20

Given his haul of 20 PGA Tour wins, which includes at least one in every single season over the course of the last decade, it's a little surprising that Dustin Johnson has just one Money List title to his name. It came in 2016, the year of his major breakthrough, though he was fourth in 2010, fifth in 2011, fifth in 2015, third in 2017 and second in 2018.

That's a record of impressive consistency and there will be those willing to take a chance at a general 9/1, given that a peak form Johnson is still considered by many to be the most reliable winner in golf. Throw in the fact that he came closest to winning The Open at Sandwich, loves playing in California and ought to be fine at Winged Foot, and you've a compelling case for an undoubted danger man.

The trouble is, Johnson ended the 2019 season in dire form by his own high standards. He was stone last in the TOUR Championship, 57th in the BMW and 24th in The Northern Trust, his worst ever FedEx Cup Playoffs return, and since a near-miss in the PGA Championship in May hasn't finished any higher than 20th. Johnson hasn't been this bad for this long since the very beginning of 2012 and if the run continues, his three-year stay inside the world's top five will come to an end.

Are these issues factored into 9/1? Just about - especially given that while the season is about to begin, the Money List will be won from February to September 2020 and not by whatever happens from now until then. Backers of Johnson can still hope for something from the WGC-HSBC Champions, an event he's won before, but ultimately whatever happens there he has time to get things right.

Justin Thomas

  • Previous best: 1st (2017, 2018)
  • PGA Tour wins: 10

An early-season wrist injury denied Justin Thomas the chance to land a hat-trick of Money List titles, with his absence from the field for the PGA Championship effectively ending his defence. It's a testament to his quality and consistency, then, that he still managed to climb to eighth thanks to victory in the BMW Championship which sent him to East Lake as the man to catch in the FedEx Cup.

It wasn't entirely surprising to see Thomas struggle a little in the TOUR Championship, being the first player to have to adapt to a uniquely peculiar set of circumstances having been handed a lead with which to begin the event. So while he was some way short of ticking every box on his iPhone-written list of goals for the season, it's ultimately one he should take positives from and, like McIlroy, it sets him up nicely for 2020.

Thomas admits to being frustrated with his performances in majors since winning the PGA Championship in 2017, but I wouldn't be quite so critical. He's been 17th and 12th at Augusta despite holing nothing, and I remain a firm believer that he'll arrive at Augusta as a key contender whenever he's fit and healthy, even if he does prefer a fade to the draw which many consider key to Masters success. He's already played in a final group at the US Open and has won the PGA, and his Open Championship form improved with 11th at Portrush after he'd wisely warmed up in Scotland.

Expect another excellent year from one of the most likeable players in the sport and if he can just improve a little in the majors, he'll be right there in the conversation for the Money List once more.

Justin Thomas celebrates at Medinah

Jon Rahm

  • Previous best: 5th (2017)
  • PGA Tour wins: 3

It will surprise many to learn that Jon Rahm's most successful season on the PGA Tour when it comes to money earned came in 2017, his rookie campaign and one he began without a professional title to his name. The Spaniard took fifth place despite struggling in the majors and it's a little disappointing that he's regressed with earnings of less than $5million in each of the last two seasons.

To get competitive here, Rahm will need to break through at the highest level but also to convert consistency into more silverware across the board. It's a harsh assessment of a player who isn't yet 25 and has won eight times since turning professional less than four years ago, but the PGA Tour is a tough school and at the very highest level, he's struggled a little to produce his devastating best.

Look at Rahm's wins and you'll see that while he's a threat whenever returning to Europe, where he has four victories in just 10 non-major/WGC starts, his notable successes across the Atlantic have been at a relatively low level. Yes, the Farmers Insurance Open is an iconic PGA Tour event, but it's also an early-season, two-course, stock tournament, while the CareerBuilder Challenge is a desert shootout devoid of the world's very best players.

Rahm beat those members of the elite in the unofficial Hero World Challenge and I've no doubt he'll beat them all in a World Golf Championship or indeed a major at some stage. If that is in 2020 then he'll achieve a personal best Money List finish, but there are sufficient concerns to look beyond the 12/1 available.

Patrick Cantlay

  • Previous best: 4th (2019)
  • PGA Tour wins: 2
  • Sky Bet specials: without big four at 6/1, without McIlroy/Koepka at 9/1

Patrick Cantlay is the player who finished a distant second behind Rory McIlroy in the 2019 strokes-gained stats, and he looks much better value than Rahm when it comes to penetrating the top of this market.

Once upon a time, Cantlay's remarkable consistency would have made him an obvious Money List winner - think Luke Donald or Matt Kuchar - but these days it seems clear that two or three titles will be required and that would be the slight concern given that he only has two on his CV.

However, his performances in winning the Memorial Tournament and in taking Justin Thomas the distance at Medinah suggest that the floodgates may well open for one of the most complete and reliable players in the sport, one who remains unexposed in majors where he's missed just one cut in 12, and he has all the skills required to reach the very top of the sport.

Being from California helps a little when it comes to next year's majors, too, with Cantlay sure to have earmarked Harding Park as an ideal place to break through at the highest level. His improvements on and around the greens will help at Winged Foot, and Open Championship form of T12-T41 represents a solid enough start for a player who is making up for time lost to injuries which might have ended his career.

Cantlay is on the radar for the WGC-HSBC Champions, too, and having only narrowly been touched off for third place in 2019 is expected to take his place inside the top five - where he'll likely spend much of the next decade and more. Sky Bet offer 6/1 that he wins the Money List without Thomas, Johnson, Koepka and McIlroy, and I think there's every chance he does just that while beating a couple of them for good measure.

Xander Schauffele

  • Previous best: 6th (2019)
  • PGA Tour wins: 4

It's easy to compare Xander Schauffele and Cantlay, as quiet, impressive Californians who do everything right, hitting the ball far and straight without being quite as powerful as the likes of Koepka and Johnson, and excelling in all departments after the tee shot.

Some would argue that Schauffele is the superior player owing to his superior strike-rate and performances in majors, in which he has five top-six finishes in just 11 appearances and has missed just one cut. Again, this ties him together with Cantlay and there can't be a great deal between them, but I agree with the order of the market.

Schauffele is nevertheless interesting at a best of 22/1. As well as those major performances from courses as contrasting as Carnoustie and Augusta, he's won a World Golf Championship and been second in the PLAYERS. Granted, his WGC-HSBC Champions win is his sole top-10 finish in those events, but he looks an ideal type for Southwind and looks to be getting to grips with Mexico, while there's no reason he can't crack the Match Play at some stage.

Again, playing the PGA Championship at Harding Park goes down as a positive - he was an excellent third on home soil at Pebble Beach last season - and Schauffele can get off to a bright start in the Money List with a stout defence of his title in China come November. All that being said, he's got to keep on improving if he's to crack the top four or five for the first time.

Justin Rose

  • Previous best: 3rd (2018)
  • PGA Tour wins: 10

As a former world number one, major champion, Olympic gold medallist and FedEx Cup and WGC winner, there's not much Justin Rose hasn't achieved in golf, though in truth he's never looked like winning the Money List.

Perhaps 2018 best sums things up. Rose started with victory in the WGC-HSBC Champions, won at Colonial and captured the FedEx Cup owing to a superbly consistent campaign which extended right through the Playoffs, but he was behind namesake Thomas for much of the campaign and settled for third - his personal best.

Switching from Taylor Made to Honma at the start of the 2019 season cost him his trademark consistency - it's to his immense credit that he still picked up a title at Torrey Pines - and Rose was largely quiet in the majors, disappointing when presented with a golden opportunity to win the US Open and performing below expectations elsewhere.

With his 40th birthday on the horizon, we know by now exactly what to expect from the Englishman. He'll be a constant presence on leaderboards, but the spread of wins would be set fairly low versus those around him in the market and while the place part of the 33/1 makes some appeal, he's closer to a 100/1 chance win-only.

Justin Rose in action at Torrey Pines

Jordan Spieth

  • Previous best: 1st (2015)
  • PGA Tour wins: 11

Now to the two players with the greatest potential to make a mockery of their odds, starting with Jordan Spieth.

Winner of the Money List by almost $3million in 2015, Spieth's $12million haul was and remains the highest in PGA Tour history - in fact he's the only man ever to have reached eight figures.

Clearly, increased purse sizes have as much to do with that as anything, but Spieth still owns the best single season in recent memory and the three-time major champion may yet have his best years ahead.

If he's to get back on track having failed to reach East Lake in 2019, Spieth clearly needs to find a way to get the ball in play off the tee. On the three occasions he did so over the closing six months of the campaign, he finished third, eighth and seventh: Spieth only needs to drive the ball to a solid level to allow the other parts of his game to sing.

With time to find the remedy and a pedigree which nobody in this price range can match, there are far worse speculative bets. And there's also precedent: after McIlroy finished 41st in the Money List in 2013, just 10 places higher than Spieth in 2019, he came out the following year and dominated the summer to return to the top of the game.

Spieth's route back to the top is a little longer, but he is a superstar and he's capable of completing the journey whether next year or a little further along the line.

Hideki Matsuyama

  • Previous best: 4th (2017)
  • PGA Tour wins: 5
  • Sky Bet specials: 2+ wins during season at 4/1, without big four at 18/1, without McIlroy/Koepka at 25/1

And finally, Hideki Matsuyama is in a similar bracket to Spieth albeit with a somewhat different profile in the here and now.

Matsuyama was fourth in this market in 2017, the season in which he won two World Golf Championship titles by a combined 12 shots to demonstrate that when the putter fires, he can ransack any field in the sport. His final tally for the year was $8,732,193, which is enough to have a good chance of winning in most years and put him more than $2million clear of fourth.

Since spurning a golden opportunity to become the first man from Japan to win a major a week after that Firestone romp, Matsuyama has gone without silverware - but the evidence of the final few weeks of the 2019 campaign is that he's not far away from ending the drought.

When Matsuyama does win, chances are he'll do so again soon after. That's what happened in 2016, when having ended the previous season strongly he closed out the year with form figures of 1-2-1-1-1, and with the PGA Tour heading to Japan for the first time ever in the coming months, and a Presidents Cup to get ready for soon after, he's going to be motivated to find a return to that world-beating level.

It's not difficult to envisage a scenario in which Matsuyama clicks before the year is out, plays well in the Presidents Cup and comes out firing in 2020. As a proven major performer with those two World Golf Championship titles to his name, that would make him an each-way player and he's preferred to Spieth all things considered, with Sky Bet's 25/1 without the big two well worth considering alongside the standout 66/1 in the standard market.

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