Most prognosticators seem to think sleeper = anyone who’s not one of the top 20 or so golfers in an event. In an effort to not duplicate others’ “efforts” here are some true sleepers that even regular PGA Tour fans might not be familiar with, but who could emerge as contenders this weekend.
Francesco Molinari (Italy, age 31):
I’ll start with the most borderline of sleepers – Molinari is actually going off around 100/1 this week. Molinari represents a dying breed of European Tour golfers who don’t yet play regularly in the US (only three non-Major/WGCs in last two years), but he’s still among one of the 40 best players in the world. He was a staple at the top of my rankings through 2012, but last year was a down year compared to his normal standards. He’s back this year though, with high finishes at the European PGA Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational, and Players Championship adding up to a top 25 season by my numbers.
Molinari is basically as good as Harris English, Brandt Snedeker, or Gary Woodland, but is going off at worse odds than all three.
Joost Luiten (Netherlands, age 28):
Luiten is easily my favorite under the radar guy. He plays almost exclusively on the European Tour, racking up three wins so far in six and a half years on Tour. Last year was the first year he really emerged as a stud, winning twice and contending at the Race to Dubai Final, but more importantly reeling off a full-season of contending results. His aggregate performance was 33rd best in the world by my ratings. He’s been even better this year (4 top tens in Europe and high finishes at the WGC at Doral and the European PGA Championship); he’s up to 18th in the world by my numbers just this season.
He isn’t receiving attention, but he fits the profile of a very good player who could string four good rounds together and contend. I certainly rate his chances as superior to Victor Dubuisson, another younger Euro who has the high profile finish at the WGC Match Play, but has been worse than Luiten in 2014, 2013, and over 2010-2012, or Jonas Blixt, who has the PGA Tour card, wins, and Masters top five, but has been inconsistent and nowhere close to Luiten in terms of aggregate performance against the field. Luiten is going off at around 125/1, better odds than Dubuisson at 80/1 or Blixt at 90/1.
Justin Thomas (USA, age 21):
Thomas almost certainly won’t win this event, but of the guys in the field without a PGA or European Tour card he’s the most likely to win. Thomas starred at Alabama for two seasons where he was probably the best collegiate golfer (he finished #1 and #6 in the Sagarin ratings). He’s been playing on the Web.com Tour with a handful of PGA events so far this season, finishing top five in 3/9 events in the minors and scoring a top 10 at Torrey Pines. His performance so far as a pro already puts him solidly above PGA Tour average.
Despite his listed 5’10 145 lb frame, the best part of his game is his ability to bomb drives. He’s been among the leaders in distance on the Web.com Tour and his small sample of Trackman results reveal a guy who generates a ton of length and one of the highest ball flights on Tour. Based on his age, college performance, and play so far he looks like a very good player for the future, but for now he’s clearly the best golfer at Pinehurst without a spot on the major Tours.