Time to say farewell to 2021 and three days later bring on 2022
It always amazes me that there is no longer time to celebrate the old year, which finished just a week ago at East Lake Golf Club. Probably a lot of mixed emotions in 2021. Yes, golf and our country have made progress on combating COVID-19 and the season was uninterrupted. Still, COVID-19 is making an ugly mark on the country, but hopefully, that will subside soon.
Have to say that the 2021 season ended on a high note, with Patrick Cantlay having a great two weeks when it mattered the most. Cantlay entered the FedExCup playoffs 3rd in the standings and enjoyed winning the Zozo Championship and the Memorial. He didn’t play that bad at the first playoff events, finishing T-11th at the Northern Trust. But at Caves Valley the next week, he shot 66-63-64-66 and found himself tied with Bryson DeChambeau. On paper, the playoff looked like a David and Goliath showdown as DeChambeau was outdriving Cantlay by 40 yards all day. But in the end, Cantlay proved the point that a good putter will beat a long driver 99 out of 100 times when he rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force the playoff. He continued to make putt after putt. On the sixth playoff hole, Cantlay made a 17-foot birdie putt and won the tournament when DeChambeau couldn’t make his 10-footer for birdie.
The following week at East Lake, Cantlay showed how great of a player he was. He was given a two-shot lead on Tony Finau, a three-shot lead over DeChambeau, and a four-shot lead over Jon Rahm. Cantlay shot 11 under, 269, and only three others of the other 29 beat him, but Cantlay won by three shots over Jon Rahm and Kevin Na.
So the big question will be if players think that Cantlay’s four-win season is better than Rahm’s one-win season. The only significant difference is that Rahm won the U.S. Open, and in the other five majors of the 2021 season, he finished five of the six times in the top-ten, including a T-3rd at the British Open. Cantlay wasn’t as stellar in his six majors, making four cuts, but his best major finish was T-15th at Torrey Pines. Cantlay had seven top-ten finishes for the year, while Rahm finished in the top-ten in 15 of his 22 starts. In the PGA Player-of-the-Year point race, Rahm won that award and probably won the PGA Tour award, which is determined by a player vote.
Other good things about 2021
Because of the delays in the 2020 season, 50 events were played, the most of any PGA Tour season. The season saw 37 different winners as Patrick Cantlay (4), Collin Morikawa (2), Bryson DeChambeau (2), Harris English (2), Jason Kokrak (2) ad Stewart Cink (2) won multiple times. There were ten first time winners: Jason Kokrak (CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK), Carlos Ortiz (Vivint Houston Open), Joel Dahmen (Corales Puntacana Resort (2021), Sam Burns (Valspar Championship), K.H. Lee (AT&T Byron Nelson), Garrick Higgo (Palmetto Championship at Congaree), Cam Davis (Rocket Mortgage Classic), Seamus Power (Barbasol Championship), Erik van Rooyen (Barracuda Championship) and Abraham Ancer (WGC)-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
17 players in their 20s won 21 events, while 20 players in their 20s won 22 events. 5 players in their 40s won 6 events, and Phil Mickelson was 50 when he won the PGA Championship. The youngest winner on the PGA Tour was Garrick Higgo, who won the Palmetto Championship at the age of 22 years, one month and a day old.
For Fantasy golf players, we saw many new faces, with Garrick Higgo being the most unlikely player to win in 2021. Some marquee names that won for the first time included Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth, and Tony Finau. One person who continued his win streak was Dustin Johnson, who won the 2020 Masters, which was played in the 2021 season. So technically, he has won in 14 straight years, tying Tiger Woods, who won every year between 1996 and 2009. He is three years short of the career-best of 17 consecutive years by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Dustin Johnson’s play since winning the Masters in November was a bit shocking. In the 18 events Johnson played since winning the Masters, he was only in the running on Sunday once, at the Genesis Invitational, when he shot 72 and finished T-8th. In the 18 events, Johnson finished in the top ten six times, and his best finish was T-6th at the BMW Championship. Making it all strange was there weren’t any injuries or problems for Johnson. He just showed a severe lack of not only playing well and consistently. He finished 8th in the final FedExCup points list.
Another player that struggled was Rory McIlroy. The one saving point to his season was winning at the Well Fargo, but in his 21 PGA Tour starts, he did win once and was in the top-five only four times. McIlroy, who was #1 in the Official World Golf rankings after the 2020 Travelers, is now 15th. Another player who has dropped down considerably is Webb Simpson, who was 4th in the world after the 2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude and today is 22nd.
Another disappointing year had to be Justin Thomas. He finished 4th after the November Masters and 3rd after the Sentry Tournament of Champions but only had one top-three finish, a win at the Players Championship. So just like with McIlroy, it was a disappointing year, but a win at the Players Championship took the overall sting of a terrible year. One other disappointing season had to be Brooks Koepka. On the surface, it didn’t look that bad. He won at Phoenix and was in the top ten eight times. He struggled with injuries, those continuing from 2020 and despite seeming getting better, after his T-6th at the British Open was T-54th in Memphis, T-21st at Northern Trust, T-22nd at BMW, and withdrew from the Tour Championship, making us think that his problems from 2020 haven’t gone away.
In my books, the comeback player of the year has to be Jordan Spieth. He ended 2020 82nd in the World Ranking and hadn’t won since the 2017 British Open. Rumors swirled around at Christmas time, with many feeling that it was time for Spieth to drop most of his inner circle and begin over again. But Spieth held his loyalties, keeping everyone. After missing the cut at the Farmers in San Diego, dropping to 92nd in the rankings. That would be his last missed cut of the year. In his following 18 events, he finished in the top ten, nine times which included winning the Valero Texas Open and being runner-up at the Charles Schwab Challenge and the British Open. So with that, we look forward to an even better year from Spieth.
A news cycle lasts for about seven days
in the real world, but the PGA Tour players have about five days to celebrate the old and get ready for the new. For 24 players, 2021 is not over because, in two weeks, the Ryder Cup will be played at Whistling Straits. This week the PGA Tour starts 2022 in Napa for the newly named Fortinet Open. Anyone who may wonder what “Fortinet” is, they develop and sells cybersecurity solutions based in Sunnyvale, California. They had revenue of $2.6 billion in 2020, so we can say they are a very successful company.
Nobody can complain about the location of the Fortinet Open. Played in Napa Valley at a great course Silverado, you would think that many players would attend. But this week is more about the new players joining the tour of the Korn Ferry Tour. Only three that played in East Lake are playing the Fortinet, Jon Rahm, Kevin Na, and Hideki Matsuyama. Of those in the top 50 of the world rankings, only nine are in Napa. Of the top-150 of last year’s FedExCup point list, only 56 are in the field. But this week is significant because we will have new blood playing in Napa for the first time in two years. Because of COVID-19 last year, the PGA Tour felt that there would not be enough events for those with PGA Tour cards. So they suspended the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and added 2021 to the 2020 Korn Ferry totals. What that did was no matter how you finished 2020 on the PGA Tour, you still retained your PGA Tour card for 2021. For those on the Korn Ferry Tour, that meant another year of playing on that tour before they could advance to the PGA Tour.
So what happened last month after the Wyndham Championship? Those who finished in the top-125 moved onto the FedExCup playoffs, while those between 126 and 200 had to endure the Korn Ferry Tour finals. For those on the Korn Ferry Tour, players who finished in the top-25 on the points list earned PGA Tour cards for 2022. At the same time, they could play in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals to gain a better priority slot. From the Korn Ferry Tour after the Pinnacle Bank Championship, those in the top-75 of the points list got to play in the three-event Korn Ferry Tour finals. After the three events are played, the 25 players with the most points get 25 additional spots on the PGA Tour, which means 50 players earn PGA Tour cards for 2022. That’s the good news. The bad news is the PGA Tour Priority Ranking is determined via an alternating structure (No. 1 on The 25, No. 1 on The Finals 25, No. 2 on The 25 … No. 50 on The 25, No. 50 on The Finals 25). When a field is made up for a PGA Tour event, there are different scenarios in which those in the top-125, winners of the last two years on the PGA Tour, plus other players who are having standing based on winning majors and other events make each week tough for all 50 players off the priority rankings to play on the PGA Tour. So if you aren’t in the top-10 to 20 on the Priority rankings, there won’t be any places left for you to play in the tournament, and that player only chance is the Monday qualifier that gives invites to the top-four players (usually 100 to 130 play in that event).
So, unfortunately, having a PGA Tour card doesn’t mean you get to play each week on the PGA Tour. For this week, only 56 of the top-125 of the FedExCup rankings are playing. So that allows those in the top-50 of the Korn Ferry Priority rank to play in the Fortinet. Of the 50, 48 will play (not playing are Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Matthias Schwab). There was so much room in the field that 14 Korn Ferry Tour players are at Napa this week.
So we get to see the new class of Korn Ferry Players this week.
Yes, it does have a few of them we already knew. Will Zalatoris did extraordinary things when he got special membership on the PGA Tour. He wasn’t a PGA Tour member despite finishing with 8 top-ten finishes, including a 2nd at the 2021 Masters, T-6th at the 2020 U.S. Open, and T-8th at the PGA Championship. That is why he wasn’t allowed to play in the FedExCup playoffs even though he had just over 1,143 points, a figure that would have placed him 32nd in the rankings. The same with Mito Pereira, who earned a ticket to the PGA Tour because he won three Korn Ferry Tour events. They will be players to watch in 2022, don’t be surprised to see any of them winning.
Some others to watch, Chad Ramey, who had seven top-ten finishes in those last 26 events, including winning the Live and Work in Maine. Also, like Taylor Moore, who in his final 18 events, made 16 cuts and in those events finished 12 times in the top-ten. Joseph Bramlett has played and had no success on the PGA Tour but showed some spark at the Korn Ferry Tour Champions winning it, he could do well. A player to watch this year is David Lipsky, who also has his European Tour card. He has a lot of experience of playing around the world. He won the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Championship and the 2014 European Masters, so he knows how to win at significant events. Also, watch Brandon Wu, a Stanford grad helping that team to an NCAA Championship. He came on to the scene winning the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Championship. If there were no delay due to COVID-19, he would have played on the PGA Tour in 2020. Another player with a lot of experience is Peter Uihlein. He has a lot of experience on the PGA Tour and in Europe. On the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021, he won the MGM Resorts and was runner0up twice. He has the potential, he has to figure out how to use it. Stephan Jaeger is also a player to watch. I liked him at the Fortinet Open because he finished his Korn Ferry tour with a T-4th at Pinnacle Bank and Albertsons Boise Open and T-2nd at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He also got messed up with the delay, he was having a great year in 2020 and would have made it. Greyson Sigg is another to watch this week at Fortinet. He won twice in his last 13 events. Of all the graduates, the best is probably Lucas Herbert. He has played all around the world, his main tour has been the European Tour. In 2020 he won the Dubai Desert Classic and, over the summer, won the Irish Open. He is ranked 51st in the Official World Golf Rankings, the highest of anyone off the Korn Ferry Finals. If he gets off to a half-decent start and maintains his high ranking, he will be able to play in some of the majors and special invitationals, including the WGC-Dell Match Play.
Sorry no Stewart Cink this year
The biggest surprise in 2021 had to be Stewart Cink. At 48, you thought he was getting ready for the Champions tour after playing. Many will forget that he was the one to deprive Tom Watson of winning the 2009 British Open at 59, meeting Watson in a playoff. Playing in his 25th season on the PGA Tour, he came to Napa with a secret weapon, his son Reagan decided to spend some time with Dad and caddy for him. It produced a magical season for Stewart. He not only won the Safeway Open but also won the RBC Heritage. He returned to the Tour Championship and finished 26th in the FedEx Cup standings, and had the second-best season of his career (2004 was exceptional, two wins $4.5 million in earnings). But Reagan was supposed to be a one-off show. He was to caddy for dad in Napa, have a lovely week in a great spot. The one-time event turned into a full-time job. He caddied for Dad most of the year. During that time, he got married and as a Georgia Tech graduate, he was looking forward to a normal job and everyday life with his wife. Cink finished the year with a T-26th finish at the Tour Championship and said he was taking some time off. First is his other son’s Conner wedding this week, and after that, he needs a bit of rest and time to figure out who his next caddie will be. Despite wanting another life, Reagan may change his mind and work for Dad. Who knows, maybe his other son Conner could caddie. But as of right now, he is only 18 months away from the Champions Tour, and since his game is excellent, he is healthy, and he still enjoys the rigors of traveling the country, the future looks bright for Cink. As for betting him in future DraftKings games for the year, he has been a low-cost alternative that makes cuts and earns many DraftKings points.