The Changing of the Guard on the PGA Tour
ANY idea what Henrik Stenson, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Charl Schwartzel, Jim Furyk, Patton Kizzire, Kevin Chappell and Sergio Garcia have in common?
Unbelievably, they have all failed to make the field of 125 for the Northern Trust Open, the first of the three FedEx Cup Playoff events. And they are not alone - Martin Laird, Russell Knox, Jason Dufner, Branden Grace, Seamus Power, Aaaron Baddeley, Aaron Wise, Danny Willett, Matt Wallace and Jhonattan Vegas all failed to make it too.
Many will point to the shutdown as the reason for their failure to make it but it has been the same for everybody. There is little doubt that we are witnessing a change of the guard on the PGA Tour. Collin Morikawa won the US PGA Championship and is golf’s hottest property right now. Look through the top 60 in the standings and yes, you will still see plenty of familiar names, but there is a whole raft of new talent now looking to dominate the game - Matthew Wolff, Cameron Champ, Viktor Hovland, Lanto Griffin, Abraham Ancer, Sebastian Munoz, Scottie Scheffler, Tom Hoge and Max Homa.
We have also witnessed a welcome to return to form by Daniel Berger.
Garcia’s failure to make the playoffs should surprise nobody. He has been struggling to rediscover his best form for some time. In 12 starts on the PGA Tour during the truncated 2019-20 season, Garcia had a solitary top 10 finish at the RBC Heritage. He missed two cuts and, apart from Harbour Town, failed to record a single top-30 finish.
Stenson's only appearance after the shutdown came at the PGA Championship at Harding Park, where he missed the cut. He only played in five events, which meant he was never likely to make it to the playoffs.
Kizzire has often looked like he could become a world-class player but his form in 2019-20 has been bitterly disappointing - 11 missed cuts is a desperately poor return for a man who possesses such natural talent.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the play of Rafa Cabrera Bello. Widely regarded as one of the best ball strikers in the business, the Spaniard made 16 starts, missed six cuts and recorded a best finish of tied 16th at the WGC Mexico Championship. Willett and Wallace will both be bitterly disappointed at their failure to make an impression given that they have both played some superb golf in Europe.
At the other end, Morikawa and Hovland have been revelations.
Morikawa has more victories to his name than missed cuts. He has won three times, including twice this season, and has thus far missed out on the weekend only once. Just stop and think about that for a moment. It is an incredible achievement.
Apart from the US PGA, he won the Workday Charity Open, beating Justin Thomas in a sensational playoff. He finished second at the Charles Schwab Challenge, losing to Berger in a playoff. There have also been a further three top-10 finishes. Morikawa is just 23 years of age. Refreshingly, he does not hit the ball 350 yards. He hits is plenty far enough, but puts a premium on accuracy - and he is a fantastic iron player.
It is only because of Morikawa’s incredible play that Hovland has tended to be overlooked. But he, too, also has a win to his credit. He has made 17 starts on the PGA Tour in 2019-20, winning the Puerto Rico Open and chased down Morikawa and Thomas at the Workday Charity Open and has enjoyed seven top-25 finishes. Hovland is the real deal.
Ancer is still looking for his first win, but it can’t be far away. The 29-year-old Mexican is a late developer but has become one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour. He goes to the Northern Trust in 13th place in the FedEx Cup standings - that is some achievement for a player without a victory to his name. Ancer missed his first two cuts, but then flicked a switch, finishing second at the American Express and RBC Heritage and fourth at the WGC-HSBC Champions, pocketing nearly $3m in prize money. And remember that this is a shortened season.
And all of the above is without taking into account Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed and Brendon Todd. Throw Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods into the mix and the inescapable conclusion is that, despite the pandemic, despite the shortened season, professional golf is in a good place.
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