ATLANTA (AP) — A season like no other in PGA Tour history ended with a one-of-a-kind feat. Over the final two weeks, Patrick Cantlay won the FedEx Cup by beating the U.S. Open champions.
Both of them.
This was called a “super season” because the shifting schedule brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the U.S. Open and Masters deeper into 2020, after the new PGA Tour season had already started. That meant six majors in one season.
By the numbers alone, the 50 tournaments were two more than the previous virus-free season, three fewer than next season by attrition.
It leads to a super hard decision for players voting on PGA Tour player of the year.
Majors typically are the standard of a great year. Three major champions of this super season are not even on the ballot — Masters champions Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama, and PGA champion Phil Mickelson — because that’s the only PGA Tour event they won.
That leaves Cantlay and the two U.S. Open champions he beat, Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm, along with British Open champion Collin Morikawa and Harris English.
The PGA Tour will reveal the winner, not the margin. Also unknown is what percentage of PGA Tour members even vote.
Long ago, there was a curious choice for rookie of the year with the vote going to Rickie Fowler over Rory McIlroy. Neither reached the Tour Championship, but McIlroy won a tournament. Johnson was asked what he thought and replied: “That’s a tough one. I’m not sure who I’m going to vote for.” This was a day after the result was announced.
So there’s that, and he’s certainly not alone.
Sometimes the vote is easy, such as Johnson last season when he won three times, captured the FedEx Cup and was runner-up in the only major played.
And there are times when the result could be viewed as a referendum on what’s important to the players who vote.
Two years ago, Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship among his three victories, was runner-up in two majors and tied for fourth in the other. He led the money list over McIlroy by nearly $2 million. McIlroy won The Players Championship and the FedEx Cup among his three wins, though he was far more consistent. McIlroy won.
This one offers a different set of dynamics.
Without a dominant season in the majors, Cantlay would be viewed as a front-runner if it’s about winning and the FedEx Cup. His four victories are twice as many as anyone else, and they all came against some of the strongest fields — the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, Memorial, BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.
For such a strong and consistent year, however, his record in the majors was glaring. Cantlay missed the cut in the Masters (April) and British Open, and his best finish was a tie for 15th in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
“Golf places a lot of emphasis on the majors, and so we’ll see,” Cantlay said. “Whoever wins, we’ll find out the answer to that in a little bit. We’ll see how much those majors really mean. So it’s not up to me.”
Morikawa’s two wins — the British Open and a World Golf Championship — were big, but he had only six other top-10 finishes.
As for Rahm, that gets a little complicated.
He is the only player on the ballot with one official victory, but it was a big one. Along with his U.S. Open title, he was the only player to finish in the top 10 at all four majors. He won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average. He reached No. 1 in the world and likely will stay there the rest of the year.
Rahm was second in the FedEx Cup, finishing one shot behind Cantlay in a terrific duel, and after starting the Tour Championship four shots behind based on his FedEx Cup position.
Rahm hasn’t finished out of the top 10 since the middle of May.
Not to be overlooked was his record-tying six-shot lead at the Memorial through 54 holes, a tournament that was his to win until he could no longer play. He had to withdraw immediately after the third round because of a positive COVID-19 test.
“I wish we could figure out how to give Jon three-fourths of the trophy,” tournament host Jack Nicklaus said the next day.
The trophy at stake is the Jack Nicklaus Award.
Cantlay was still soaking in his FedEx Cup title, the biggest of his career thus far, and had not given all this as much thought as he usually does.
“I’m not sure how you count the Memorial Tournament. He played amazing golf there,” Cantlay said. “Fortunately, it’s not up to me. I don’t have to be the arbiter. I think this year was interesting because there wasn’t necessarily a clear-cut person.”
That much is evident in the official money list, which the PGA Tour no longer recognizes. Rahm finished first at $7,705,933, just $67,128 more than Cantlay (the $15 million bonus Cantlay won from the FedEx Cup doesn’t count). DeChambeau and Morikawa also topped $7 million.
So it was really was a great season for many, and a super season for all.