Welcome to one of my favorite annual columns -- predictions not for which players will win specific events, but which ones will make The Leap.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, this is an examination of players who should boost themselves into the next echelon on their given tour. Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth winning a major? They've already done that, so it's not a leap. The first name on this list? That would be a leap of major proportions.
Let's get right to it, with 10 players covering four different circuits, each of whom is primed to reach that next level this year.
The Leap: Major champion
Following a year that gave us four first-time major champions, it's hard to believe we won't see at least one player win some initial major hardware this year, as well. Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka were each on the short list to make this leap, but instead, the choice is Captain America himself, the man who played the part of world beater during the Ryder Cup. Reed isn't just talented, he's a fiery competitor who seems to play his best golf when the pressure is highest. It's only a matter of time until that translates into major championship success. While the 26-year-old has never placed in the top 10 at a major, he has been 30th or better in six of the past eight, showing he's ready to make that next step in his career progression.
The Leap: Top-25 on OWGR
The long-hitting Finau could make a few different leaps this year, but let's focus on the world ranking number. He'll enter the year at No. 88, which is exactly where he started last year. His first PGA Tour victory (at the Puerto Rico Open) wasn't joined by another top-10 finish for the entire calendar year, though he did have 10 top-25 finishes last season. That shows a measure of consistency, which suggests he might be able to sustain improved performances for long periods of time in the upcoming year.
The Leap: Top-50 on OWGR
Even though he's only 137th in the world right now, top-50 might be a conservative prediction. The Spaniard from Arizona State has all the tools, as evidenced by his first half-season as a professional. In 11 starts, he claimed seven top-25 results, including a second-place finish at the RBC Canadian Open and third at the Quicken Loans National. Rahm sets himself apart with his driving prowess -- he found more than 61 percent of fairways while averaging more than 306 yards per drive -- which means any above-average putting week could get him into contention. We might still be a few years away from calling him a superstar, but Rahm certainly holds that kind of potential.
The Leap: Presidents Cup team member
Ten years ago, the United States Presidents Cup team included the likes of Woody Austin and Scott Verplank. No offense to either of them, but the red, white and blue roster has become much more difficult to make in recent years. Woodland is a guy who has always looked the part of superstar, but never quite showed it with his results. Much of that is due to putting struggles, but it's well within reason to believe he can turn that around in brief spurts -- enough to win a third PGA Tour event, contend in a few others and get himself onto a team that might just be tougher than ever to make.
The Leap: Tour Championship competitor
There aren't many better statistical measurements of the best players than the annual all-around category, which combines rankings from other major categories. Case in point: Last season, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy tied for first in this statistic; Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Justin Rose were in the top 10. The only one in that upper tier who hasn't won is Swafford, who ranked 10th last season. That probably changes this year, but the numbers prove Swafford is consistent. Expect to see a bunch of strong finishes that lead to a berth in the season finale. And that's no small feat -- it comes with an invitation to each of the following year's first three majors.
The Leap: PGA Tour champion
Last season, one year removed from losing his PGA Tour card, Castro finished 22nd on the final FedEx Cup points list, claiming second- and third-place finishes and more than $2.5 million. At 31, he's now ready to make the leap to the winner's circle. It almost happened at last year's Wells Fargo Championship, where he lost in a playoff to James Hahn. For Castro, that experience should be considered way more positive than negative. Expect the win to come on a classic course, too, as some of his best performances have occurred at venues such as Quail Hollow, Congressional and Crooked Stick.
The Leap: No. 1 in Rolex Ranking
At this time last year, Jutanugarn was the world's 63rd-ranked player, well below the pace of Lydia Ko and Inbee Park, who were battling for that top spot. While Ko was able to maintain that number for the entire year, it was Jutanugarn -- not Park or any other heralded player -- who put the most heat on the 19-year-old New Zealander. Jutanugarn, playing most of the year as a 20-year-old (she recently turned 21), won five LPGA titles, including the Women's British Open for her first career major. Making the leap from No. 2 to No. 1 doesn't sound like much of a big step, but considering Ko's apparent stranglehold on the position not that long ago, it will be a momentous occasion when it happens -- and one which proves the statistical volatility at this highest level.
The Leap: Major champion
No, Piller hasn't won an LPGA title yet, but she could pass through that checkpoint at one of the year's biggest events. In the past nine majors, she has four top-10s and hasn't missed a cut; extend that to the past four years, and she's 18-for-20 in making cuts at these five events. If there's one that suits her game more than the others, it might be the early-season ANA Inspiration, where she has finished T-6, T-11, T-20 in her three most recent starts.
The Leap: European Tour multiple champion
For close followers of the Euro circuit, it's hard to believe Fleetwood owns just one career victory (at the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship). Why? Well, check out his past 10 results as evidence: 3, 9, 14, 22, 37, 4, 15, 13, 7, 10. At some point, those impressive results are going to be parlayed into more wins. The leap here is that the 25-year-old will claim two or three Euro Tour titles in the coming campaign, making him this year's version of Alex Noren, who won four times in 2016.
The Leap: Major champion
He has been better than you've probably realized for longer than you've probably realized. Kelly has been in the top 125 of the money/points list every year since 1996, compiling 91 top-10s during that time -- including a runner-up at last year's Travelers Championship. He's 50 now, which should spell bad news for every other senior-eligible player, even though he still has PGA Tour status for the 2016-17 season. Even though Kelly totaled just a pair of top-10s in majors during his career -- at the 2007 Masters and U.S. Open -- he's primed to win one of the five on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, as long as he chooses to leave the flatbellies for a few weeks and give it a go.