Top 20 PGA Tour stars to watch in 2017

Will 2017 offer more of the same?

Rory McIlroy - cropped

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy failed to win a major in 2016, extending a drought that once seemed inconceivable.

The past year on the PGA Tour was certainly one to remember. Tiger Woods returned, Dustin Johnson broke through for his first major — despite a controversial ruling — golf made its presence felt in the Olympics for the first time in over a century and the US finally hoisted the Ryder Cup again.

The spoils of 2016 left golf fans breathless as new challengers emerged and one of the game's greatest legends passed away. But golf's flame has never burned brighter, and 2017 promises to be just as impactful as its predecessor.

Will 2017 offer more of the same?

Here are the top 20 golfers to watch heading into the 2017 season:

20. Cody Gribble — The PGA Tour rookie made a quick impression with a win at the Sanderson Farms Championship and two other top-15 finishes during the fall. Before the breakthrough, he was best known for being a team-mate to Jordan Spieth at Texas. Now, the lefty, who is a master around the greens, is poised to make a massive jump up the world rankings in his debut season.

19. Andrew Johnston — 'Beef' swept the golf community by storm in 2016 with his cheery, amiable personality, quotable moments and his fine play. The jovial Englishman jumped from 220th to 86th in the world rankings with four top-five finishes and a win at the Spanish Open. Johnston played on the European Tour last year, but he fought through the Web.com Tour to earn a spot on the PGA Tour in 2017. Get ready for the party.

18. Daniel Berger — The 2015 rookie of the year got off to a slow start last season before winning the FedEx St Jude Classic, which was his first win on Tour. Berger then went into a bit of a funk before finishing tied for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November. Many were calling for Berger to be a Ryder Cup pick, but he's still too inconsistent at this point in his career. The talent is there, however, so he could break out and become a top-20 player in 2017.

17. Sergio Garcia — Garcia, easily one of the best players to have never won a major, has matured since his younger, more volatile years. The Spaniard had nine top 10s worldwide last year with a win at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but once again he came up short in golf's biggest events. The time has come, when Garcia's seasons will be considered a bust if he doesn't win a major. It's the only thing missing from his impressive resume.

16. Emiliano Grillo — Last season's rookie of the year was the model of consistency with 12 top-20 finishes in his last 16 starts, including a runner-up at the Barclays. The Argentinian doesn't hit it far, but he's a great iron player and makes putts in bunches. His accuracy off the tee and ability to work the ball both ways makes him dangerous on any course. He could become a star sooner rather than later.

15. Kevin Chappell — "Mr. Runner-up" has finished second-best six times on the PGA Tour, but has yet to earn his first victory. Chappell nearly got the job done at the Players Championship and the Tour Championship this season. Ultimately, he was unable to come through in the clutch. Chappell, who is one of the longest hitters on Tour, could have a Dustin Johnson-like season if he can improve on his driving accuracy (104) and greens in regulation (118).

14. Justin Thomas — A rough start to 2016 left many wondering if Spring Break 2K16 was going to be the highlight of his year. Thomas made sure that wouldn't be the case with a tied-third at the Players Championship and a win recently at the CIMB Classic, where he was defending his title. Blessed with the ability to pick up birdies in bunches and reach almost any par five in two shots, Thomas just needs to hone his craft a little more in 2017 to reach his full potential.

13. Bubba Watson — What to make of Bubba Watson? He won the Northern Trust Open, then finished runner-up at the WGC-Cadillac Championship the next week, but he struggled after that, picking up just one top 10 (the last event) on the PGA Tour the rest of the way. He was subsequently and controversially left off the Ryder Cup squad until serving as a vice captain. Watson needs to be more consistent this year if he's going to rejoin the game's elite.

12. Adam Scott — Many wondered how the Aussie would do with the new anchoring ban set in place. Scott answered the call with two wins and a runner-up finish in his first four starts of the year. Still one of, if not the best, ball-strikers on Tour, Scott can get away with any putting deficiencies he may have. Despite the promising signs, Scott did struggle in the majors. He will need to get that sorted out this year if he wants to regain the top spot in the world rankings.

11. Henrik Stenson — The stoic Swede turned in a career year at the tender age of 40. Stenson won his first major in an epic clash against Phil Mickelson, and he won silver at the Olympics. Stenson may be the best iron player in the game. He hits down on the ball like an anvil, pinching the ball near his intended destination. Stenson's putting held up last year, too, which bodes well for this career longevity.

10. Brooks Koepka — Sometime soon, Koepka is going to be uttered in the same breath as the likes of Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson as one of the best Americans in the game. The 26-year-old finished the year with a runner-up at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and a win at the Dunlop Phoenix Open. A masher off the tee, Koepka is also an underrated putter. The only thing holding him back is his tendency to come up short when in contention to win.

9. Phil Mickelson — The ageless wonder has undergone two hernia surgeries this year, so it remains to be seen when he will be healthy enough to play. Despite being 46, Mickelson contended in majors, helped the US win the Ryder Cup and fearlessly prowled the fairways like he was a PGA Tour rookie. Mickelson's putting has actually improved in recent years, which has allowed him to get away with his diminishing driving accuracy. His performance this year will depend on his health.

8. Rickie Fowler — Quickly becoming the PGA Tour's most mercurial star, Fowler struggled mightily after blowing up on Sunday to lose the Wells Fargo Championship. The orange-clad star bounced back with some solid performances in late season, and he played an integral part in helping the US win the Ryder Cup. Fowler needs to be more consistent. Now 28, he's entering his prime. It's time to start collecting majors.

7. Patrick Reed — Once known as a cold, isolated figure in college and on Tour, Reed had developed into an amiable character who showcased his talent and passion in a dominant display during the Ryder Cup. Reed has five PGA Tour wins since 2013, including a play-off event last year. Though he isn't the longest hitter, the most accurate iron player, best wedge player or the most dangerous putter, he's solid in all aspects of the game with no clear weakness. Winning a major is his next step.

6. Jordan Spieth — All of the magic dust spread around Spieth throughout 2015 turned to coal last year. The two-time major winner stripped the "we" mentality he shared with his caddie, Michael Grellar, and instead bickered and whined his way around the course. Golf is a tough, fickle game, and Spieth still won two events. He remains one of the best players in the world, but he needs to regain the mental edge and toughness he displayed two seasons ago.

5. Jason Day — The world's No. 1-ranked golfer has been out since the play-offs with a bad back. Arguably the most consistent player when healthy, Day will have to prove he can regain his top form because a lot has happened since he was forced out of action. For all of his sparkling performances, Day still only has one major win on his resume. Still young, he has plenty of time to win more. Health — vertigo and back — are his only question marks entering the new year.

4. Dustin Johnson — After finishing 2016 with 13 top 10s and three wins, including his first career major championship at Oakmont for the US Open, Johnson heads into 2017 as one of the most dangerous players in the game. He's added a consistent putting stroke to his dynamic long game, making him a threat on any course. Johnson is a perfect example of one of today's stars unfazed by Tiger Woods. No one intimidates him, and few things keep him down for long.

3. Hideki Matsuyama — Golf fans dedicated enough to continue following the sport after the FedEx Cup play-offs got to witness Matsuyama's rise. The 24-year-old Japanese prodigy has won four of his last five tournaments including a WGC event in China and the Hero World Challenge. He also finished runner-up at the CIMB Classic, rounding out the most dominant stretch of the year. Expect him to win his first major this year.

2. Tiger Woods — No, Woods will not be the second-best player on Tour in 2017. Heck, he may only play in 10 tournaments or less. But few will carry as much anticipation and drama when they stick their tee into the ground on the first tee box. Having Woods back in the fold is good for the game and almost nostalgic for long-time golf fans. Somewhere in between 2013 (five wins) and 2014 would be acceptable to us.

1. Rory McIlroy — McIlroy failed to win a major in 2016, extending a drought that once seemed inconceivable. Putting woes plagued McIlroy throughout the summer, which hurt him at some of the game's biggest events. Like any great player, he figured out his issues and won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. He continued his fine form into the late season and now looks poised to reclaim his spot on top of the world rankings and as a threat to win multiple majors every year.