Friday evening at THE PLAYERS Championship, Justin Thomas was a tournament afterthought. Eight shots behind Lee Westwood, Thomas would need a truly remarkable performance to get into contention on the weekend and possibly win against the toughest field in all of golf. That’s exactly what he did.
Thomas was 12-under on the weekend, tying the lowest closing 36-hole score in the history of THE PLAYERS (Fred Couples and Rocco Mediate each shot -12 on the weekend in 1996). His ball-striking numbers were through the roof: Thomas gained 11.2 strokes tee-to-green over the last 36 holes, the most by any player in a single weekend since tracking began in 2004. His 17 greens in regulation in the final round were the most by any player in the final round of a Players Championship win since Hal Sutton in 2000.
With the win, Thomas joined Tiger Woods as the only players with a PLAYERS, major championship and double-digit PGA TOUR victories before age 28.
5. Phil Mickelson becomes oldest major champion in golf history (age 50)
In May, a new generation of golf fans got familiar with the name Julius Boros – the man who previously held the title of ‘oldest player to win a major.’ Boros was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship at Pecan Valley. Less than a month shy of his 51st birthday, Phil Mickelson took that title with a timeless victory at Kiawah Island.
Mickelson was spectacular from a ball striking perspective, leading the tournament in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He gained more than 2 full strokes per round with his approach play, and tied for the best par 5 scoring average in the field. Mickelson truly captured lightning in a bottle that week: it was his only top-10 finish of the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season.
6. Playoffs: Longest and Largest
The quantity of playoffs on the PGA TOUR this season – 14 – is not particularly historic. Ten years ago, the 2011 season yielded 18 playoffs, most ever in a single season. In 2015, we nearly eclipsed that total, with 17 playoffs.
The size and length of the playoffs we did see, though, were another story. At the Wyndham Championship, six players were tied through 72 holes, tying the largest sudden-death playoff in PGA TOUR history (done twice previously). At the Travelers Championship, Harris English and Kramer Hickok needed 8 extra holes to decide a winner. Only one sudden-death playoff, the 1949 Motor City Open, has ever lasted longer in PGA TOUR history. In that instance, Cary Middlecoff and Lloyd Mangrum were declared co-winners by after 11 holes due to darkness.
Three other playoffs this season went at least 5 holes: the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Barbasol Championship and BMW Championship. It made for a summer full of sunset-backed drama and Sunday evening flight itinerary changes.
7. Collin Morikawa wins 2nd major in 8th career start
Collin Morikawa’s brilliant performance at Royal St George’s was worthy of inclusion in this series of notes on its own. He didn’t miss many greens in regulation (he hit 75% for the week), but when he did, he scrambled efficiently (78%, T-3rd in the field). Morikawa needed less than 28 putts per round for the week, tied for fewest of anyone. There are only three instances since 2000 where a player shot a bogey-free final round of 66 or lower to win a major championship. Rory McIlroy has one of them (2012 PGA at Kiawah Island) – Morikawa has the other two, at the 2020 PGA Championship and 2021 Open.
It’s the pace at which Morikawa claimed his first two major wins, though, that puts him in an unprecedented place in men’s golf history. Morikawa has won two major championships in just eight career starts, the fewest of any player since the Masters was first held in 1934. Only two players in the last century won their 2nd professional major in fewer starts: Walter Hagen (6th start, 1919 U.S. Open) and Gene Sarazen (4th start, 1922 PGA).
8. Fourteen consecutive PGA TOUR winners trailed entering the final round
Closing out a PGA TOUR victory is difficult any given week. Over the last 15 seasons, players with the 54-hole lead or co-lead have gone on to win the tournament just 34.6% of the time. Players with a 1-shot lead have a win percentage just over 30%. Even a lead as big as 4 strokes isn’t completely safe – more than 22% of those tournaments end up won by a someone trailing through 54 holes.
For 14 consecutive PGA TOUR events this summer, closing with the 54-hole lead was impossible.
From the Charles Schwab Challenge (won by Jason Kokrak, who entered the final round 1 shot back) through THE NORTHERN TRUST (won by Tony Finau, who entered the day 2 off the lead) not a single PGA TOUR event was won by a player who held the 54-hole lead or co-lead. The run of 14 consecutive comeback wins on the TOUR was the longest such streak in at least the last 30 seasons.
The leaders didn’t always simply fall flat on those particular Sundays (or Mondays). Usually, they were just caught by a particularly hot chaser. Excluding the Memorial (Jon Rahm was the 54-hole leader before his WD) and the Barracuda Championship (modified Stableford Scoring), there were 19 players during that run who held the 54-hole lead or co-lead. Their scoring average in those final rounds was 71.4. Those who won in that stretch had a final round scoring average of 66.7.
9. Patrick Cantlay sets Strokes Gained: Putting record at BMW Championship (+14.58)