Winners And Losers From The PGA Tour Season
AS the dust settles on the Tour Championship and the end of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season, it is worth reflecting on the winners and losers in this week's View From The Fairway.
And the good news is that there are plenty of Europeans who can be awarded A+ after their efforts this season.
Viktor Hovland truly came of age by winning the BMW Championship and then continuing his astonishing form at the Tour Championship to end the year as FedEx Cup winner. It is not so terribly long ago that many pundits were questioning his ability on and around the greens. Hovland was the first to admit that it was area of his game that he had to improve and boy has ever taken it to the next level.
He is now one of the best wedge players in the game and he putted brilliantly all year long. He will know that the next step in a major. And he came close in 2023, finishing second at the US PGA and no worse than 19th in the other three. And the most impressive stat of all in that he teed it up 23 times and did not miss a single cut. Not even Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy can come close.
Hovland won three times, finished runner-up once and had nine top 10s and 18 top-25 finishes. Those are truly remarkable statistics.
Rahm started the season like an express train, winning the Tournament of Champions and the American Express in successive weeks. He should have made it three in a row at the Farmers Insurance Open but finished with a 74. He then finished third at the Phoenix Open before winning again at the Genesis. He withdrew after the first round of The Players but then bounced back by winning The Masters, for his second major title. He went off the boil until a third round of 63 at The Open, where he eventually finished joint runner-up.
Scottie Scheffler ended the regular season as world number one. Like Hovland, he made 23 cuts from 23 starts and there was a remarkable run from November 2022 until The Open in July 2023 where he never once finished worse than 12th. There were also two wins, two second places, five thirds and SEVENTEEN top 10s. And he did most of this with a cold putter. It is a fact that if Scheffler turns up at a tournament with his putting boots on nobody else need bother showing up. His ball striking has been incredible. He leads the way in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approach to the green and strokes gained tee to green. The man is a machine.
If there was a disappointment it was that he didn’t add to his major tally but he was tied second at the US PGA and third at the US Open. It is surely only a matter of time.
You talk about McIroy and you immediately point to the fact that he has gone through yet another season without adding to his tally of four majors. It is now nine years and counting. It is all too easy to be critical of the Northern Irishman, who is still regarded by most as the most naturally gifted golfer on the planet - myself included.
He began the season with a victory at the CJ Cup and also won the Scottish Open the week before the Open Championship. He went into The Masters in April with high hopes of finally completing the career grand slam but then missed the cut. He then withdrew from the RBC Heritage, admitting that he felt as flat as a pancake. He didn’t have his A-game at the US PGA but, remarkably, still managed to finish in a tie for seventh.
And then came the US Open. He played superbly and it looked like the drought was finally about to end but he came up one stroke short as Wyndham Clark denied him. And then he finished in a tie for sixth at The Open.
McIlroy finished the season with 10 successive top-10 finishes, the first time he has ever achieved that. So yes, he finished the season as one of the winners.
And the same applies to Clark and to Brian Harman, who produced a putting masterclass on his way to destroying a world-class field at The Open Championship.
Tommy Fleetwood also enjoyed a hugely consistent season. He is still looking for his breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour but came within a whisker achieving it at the Canadian Open, where he lost in a playoff.
The comeback story of the year was written by Rickie Fowler. His game had fallen off a cliff but there were some encouraging signs towards the end of 2022 that he had turned a corner. And he finally bounced back by winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July. He is one of the most popular players amongst his peers and it is great to see him with a spring in his step once again.
And speaking of comebacks, what about Lucas Glover? He had always been a beautiful ball striker but his putting stroke deserted him. He tried everything but nothing worked until he picked up a long putter at the start of the summer. Suddenly, he was a man reborn.
And it all came together at the Wyndham Championship at the beginning of August. He needed a win to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs and achieved that in style. And then he only went and won again the following week at the FedEx St Jude. He can count himself unlucky to have been overlooked for a Ryder Cup wild card.
What about those who would rather forget the 2022-23 season?
Top of that list must be Justin Thomas. He came into the year with high hopes after winning the US PGA in 2022. He struggled all year and finished the season in 71st place in the FedEx Cup standings, which meant that he missed out on the playoffs for the first time in his career. He currently looks a shadow of the man who rose to number one in the world.
Other “losers” include Collin Morikawa, still looking for his first win since claiming the Claret Jug in 2021, Jordan Spieth, who endured another winless season and Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, who are both flattered by their world rankings.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of 2023, however, was Cameron Young. In 2022 he was sensational, with a bucketload of runner-up finishes, including at The Open. We all thought he was a certainty to win for the first time in 2023 but it did not happen. He also looked like a shoo-in for the Ryder Cup. That didn’t happen either.
You also have to feel for Will Zalatoris. He played some magnificent golf in 2022 but has spent most of this year recovering from back surgery which he hopes will save his young career. I am a big fan of Zalatoris and wish him well.
There are plenty of others who will be looking to press the reset button. Webb Simpson finished 128th in the money list, Cameron Champ was 142nd, Francesco Molinari 150th, Russell Knox 152nd, Ryan Moore 153rd.
But the great thing about this game of ours is that there is always tomorrow. And speaking of which, keep an eye on Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg - he could be the next European superstar!
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