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Tee to Green: Early season evaluations

2:48 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There's still snow on the ground in the Northeast, but the golf season is starting to heat up. Here's a rundown of the most impressive, disappointing and surprising golfers of the young campaign.

THE BEST

BRANDT SNEDEKER - This one's a no-brainer. Last year's FedEx Cup champion picked up right where he left off. He followed consecutive runner-up finishes to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson with a win last week at Pebble Beach and rose to No. 4 in the world as a result (a career best). Throw in a tie for third at the season-opening Tournament of Champions and Snedeker has clearly been the most consistent golfer in the game.

Arguably the best putter on the PGA Tour, Snedeker ranks on the top 30 on the season in Strokes Gained, Putting Average, and Overall Putting.

He's not in the field this week at the Northern Trust Open and he recently withdrew from next week's WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship due to sore ribs, so we'll likely have to wait until March to see if Snedeker can continue his scintillating start.

PHIL MICKELSON - One extraordinary win has Phil amongst the early-season best. That victory came at the Phoenix Open, where the lefty came within millimeters of a first-round 59 and never relented. He tied the tournament's 54-hole scoring mark a day later and eventually finished at 28-under 256, which tied for the second-lowest score in a 72-hole PGA Tour event.

Mickelson hasn't finished higher than 37th in his three other tournaments this season, but he is ranked third in the FedEx Cup standings, and that lone win at raucous TPC Scottsdale was impressive enough in its own right.

TIGER WOODS - One PGA Tour start and one win for Tiger this season; not a bad clip. The world No. 2 earned a 4-stroke victory in late January at the Farmers Insurance Open (his 75th win on the PGA Tour). Although he didn't finish strong (four dropped shots in his last six holes), Woods ranked first in Total Driving for the tournament -- a disconcerting sign for the rest of the world.

Tiger's only other start this year came in Europe, where he missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in his season debut. He recently committed to the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship, The Honda Classic and the WGC - Cadillac Championship. Those three events run in succession starting next week, so another early-season win could be in the cards.

HONORABLE MENTION

CHARL SCHWARTZEL - Schwartzel is making his PGA Tour season debut this week at the Northern Trust Open, but he has already produced overseas. The 2011 Masters champion has played in two European Tour events thus far and has posted a victory (at the Alfred Dunhill Championship) and a second-place finish (at last week's Joburg Open).

DUSTIN JOHNSON - Johnson won the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions before withdrawing from the Sony Open in Hawaii the following week due to flu-like symptoms.

He hasn't produced in his other two starts, with a tie for 51st at the Farmers Insurance Open and a cut at Pebble Beach, but being linked to Paulina Gretzky doesn't hurt your chances of making this list.

SURPRISES

RUSSELL HENLEY - To call the PGA Tour rookie's debut a surprise would be an understatement.

Henley, a Web.com Tour graduate, blitzed the field at the Sony Open in Hawaii. The 23-year-old, who was making his third career PGA Tour start and first as a tour member, set the tournament's 36, 54 and 72-hole scoring marks en route to a 3-stroke win.

A week later at the Humana Challenge, Henley found himself one shot off the lead after an opening-round 64. He eventually came back to earth, finishing tied for 56th at that event and tied for 67 at the Phoenix Open, but expect to hear Henley's name again in the near future.

JAMES HAHN - Another rookie, Hahn has made the cut in all five of his starts this season while producing two top-10 finishes.

He tied for fourth at the Humana Challenge, but his best showing came last week at Pebble Beach, where the 31-year-old shared the lead with Snedeker entering Sunday before eventually settling for a third-place tie.

Add to that his ridiculous 'Gangnam Style' dance at the 16th at TPC Scottsdale and Hahn has certainly made a name for himself in the early going.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

VIJAY SINGH - The World Golf Hall of Famer's best finish this year is a tie for 20th at the Sony Open. And while his play has been lackluster, it's his actions off the course that have generated negative attention.

Singh, of course, recently admitted in a Sports Illustrated report that he has used deer-antler spray -- a product which contains the PGA Tour-banned substance IGF-1. The soon-to-be 50-year-old has been understandably mum since the story broke, but the damage has been done and controversy is sure to follow him throughout the season.

RORY MCILROY - It's tough to lump the world No. 1 into this category considering he has just one start (on the European Tour) but, like Tiger, McIlroy missed the cut in that start at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Include the fact that he carded consecutive 75s at the event with his new Nike clubs, and that he abandoned his Nike Method 006 Prototype putter during the second round, and Rory has something to prove.

He makes his PGA Tour debut at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.

DEBUTING THIS WEEK

World No. 3 LUKE DONALD, ADAM SCOTT and GRAEME MCDOWELL are making their PGA Tour season debuts at the Northern Trust Open.

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