Q-school grads to watch in 2014

For the first time in the nearly 50-year history of Q-school, no player who finished the six-round, 108-hole marathon at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., on Tuesday was able to celebrate attaining a PGA Tour card.

Instead, players learned which exemption category they landed in for the start of the Web.com Tour season that begins in Panama in late February. Most of them have earned the right to fight to get into events after each periodic reshuffle.

The tour has ruined the allure of Q-school by not making it a direct route to the big tour. Yet there are good reasons for the changes. Over the years, Web.com Tour graduates have fared better on the regular tour than players who came directly out of Q-school. It's hard to dispute the value of the Web.com Tour as great preparation for the regular tour, but few players wanted to see a complete overhaul of Q-school.

Let's hope the tour will reconsider its decision to eliminate Q-school as a place where dreams are fulfilled. But until that time comes, fans will likely have to look first to the Web.com Tour for that next great young PGA Tour star.

Which players from the 2013 Q-school will benefit most from the time on the Web.com Tour and be prepared to potentially make an immediate impact next fall on the regular tour? Here are five notable top finishers from the tournament to watch over the next year:

Max Homa
The 23-year-old shot 66 in the final round of Q-school to finish in a tie for sixth in his first appearance in the tournament.

As a senior at Cal in 2013, the Valencia, Calif., native won the NCAA individual championship and helped his team to 11 victories. Physically, he's ready for the big tour, but during the coming year on the Web.com Tour, he will develop into a professional, learn how to make cuts and win without the pressure of going through these growing pains on the main tour.

Sam Saunders
Arnold Palmer's 26-year-old grandson has substantial experience on both the regular tour and the Web.com Tour. This will be his third year on the developmental circuit. It's unfortunate for fans of Arnie that the grandson's tie for 11th at PGA West didn't vault him to the big tour, but another year of competition in the minor leagues will not harm his bright future.

Blayne Barber
The 23-year-old former Auburn Tiger famously disqualified himself after the first stage of the 2012 Q-school almost a week after determining he had signed an incorrect scorecard.

Since then, he has played in three PGA Tour events with his best finish coming at the Puerto Rico Open, where he was 24th in March. On the Web.com Tour, Barber had a tie for second at the News Sentinel Open in August, his best finish in six starts on that tour.

In 2013, Barber was the NGA Tour Rookie of the Year with two wins and two other top-five finishes. He's full of integrity and heart, virtues he can nurture on the hypercompetitive Web.com Tour.

Zack Fischer
As the Q-school medalist, the 24-year-old Texarkana, Texas, native is exempt into every 2014 Web.com Tour event. So the Texas-Arlington graduate doesn't have to worry about reshuffles. He can plan his schedule and focus entirely on playing good golf. Most of his peers don't have this level of comfort.

Tony Finau
The 24-year-old Salt Lake City native shot in the 60s in all six rounds at PGA West to finish in a tie for third at Q-school.

Since turning pro at 17 in 2007, the "Big Break Disney" alum has played several mini-tours, including the Gateway Tour, the NGA Tour and the Canadian Tour, where he finished 29th on the 2013 Order of Merit. A long hitter who plays with flair, Finau has PGA Tour-caliber game but needs the seasoning that will come from a year on the Web.com Tour.

I will be surprised if he does not earn his PGA Tour card by next fall through his performance on the developmental tour.