- Farrell Evans, Golf
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Now that the PGA Tour season is officially over, it's time to start looking ahead to 2013. We know that Rory McIlroy and his nearest pursuer, Tiger Woods, will guide the early storylines as we near the first major of the year at the Masters.
But that's rarified air.
In late October, 25 players off the Web.com Tour earned their PGA Tour cards. These are the rank and file of the tour trying to build job security at the next level. Majors and World Golf Championship events are far off goals. Starting at the Sony Open, the first full-field event of 2013, it will be a slow climb to relevance for most of these players.
This year, two 2011 Web.com Tour graduates -- Ted Potter, Jr. and Jonas Blixt -- won on the regular tour. Both ranked in the top five on the Web.com Tour during their last year on that circuit. However they were just two of nine from their class to retain their cards for following year.
Here is a look at my fab five from 2012 Web.com Tour graduates. These players -- mostly unblemished from years of PGA Tour disappointments and bold enough to believe they can succeed on this stage -- have an excellent chance of breaking out of the pack to emerge as regular contenders in 2013.
Russell Henley: The 23-year-old former Georgia Bulldog will join former teammates Brian Harman and Harris English next year on the PGA Tour. It was a surprise last year when he didn't make it through Q-school after winning on the Web.com Tour as an amateur in 2011.
But Henley came out in 2012 and won twice on the developmental tour to easily earn his card. The Macon, Ga. native isn't anything special to look at. His swing isn't as stylish or graceful as English's or some of the other young players, but he is a relentless competitor.
Yet if he wants his game to translate well to the big tour, he better start his season out better than he did this year when he missed the cut in half of his first 12 events. If he plays that poorly, he will have a tough time just getting into tournaments.
Luke Guthrie: This 22-year-olf former Illinois star turned pro over the summer and proceeded to win twice on the Web.com Tour in just 10 events. His back-to-back wins in September came after four top-10s in his first five starts. The Quincy, Ill. native also had a tie for fifth at the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, where in the final round he shot a 7-under-par 64.
If Guthrie hadn't already upgraded from his mom's Hyundai Sonata, I'm sure he will after what promises to be a successful rookie season. I would be very surprised if he didn't win quickly and take his place as one of the best under-25 American players on tour.
Luke List: At the Q-School finals last year, the 27-year-old former U.S. Amateur runner-up looked like the Marlboro Man in a thick mustache. Since losing to Ryan Moore in that 2004 Amateur at Winged Foot and finishing the next year in a tie for 33rd at the Masters, we've been waiting for his game to match his beautiful golf swing.
On the Web.com Tour the last three years, List has become a popular player and the longest hitter on tour in 2012 (324.0 yards per drive.) In April, the former Vanderbilt star got his first pro win at the Web.com Tour's South Georgia Classic. For the year, he had six top-10s.
As he sees most of the tour courses for the first time in 2013, his good-natured personality and bombing drives should make him an attractive practice round companion and aggressive foe on Sunday afternoons.
Ben Kohles: This former University of Virginia star had the audacity to win his first two professional starts on back-to-back weeks at the Web.com Tour's events in Columbus, Ohio and Omaha, Neb. That was enough to earn his PGA Tour card. After that his results were mixed, but the 22-year-old Cary, NC native proved with the two wins that he knows how to win a golf tournament when he's hot. In Omaha, he shot a final round 8-under-par 62 to win by 3 shots.
Kohles was the first player in the Web.com Tour's history to win his first two events.
Casey Wittenberg: At 27, Wittenberg is the old man in golf years in my fab five off the Web.com Tour. It's true, though, that 2003 U.S. Amateur runner-up is a very mature pro. He was just 19 when he decided to leave Oklahoma State for the riches of tour life. After floundering for years, he finally got his PGA Tour card in 2009, but he didn't keep it. Back on the Web.com Tour he learned how to play. This year he had two wins out there and was the leading money winner.
It's nice to finally see the Tennessee native reach his potential. For some time it appeared as if he might be remembered as a cautionary tale for early burnout and outsized expectations for teenage prodigies. Now he has a chance to prove to everybody that he has developed into a grown man at the elite level of the game.
1dZach Jones, ESPN Stats & Information