Sentry Tournament, big champions in the field

This week, 39 players convene at the site that unmistakably signals the beginning of a new year. Keep your Times Square ball drop – Maui and the Sentry Tournament of Champions bring a warmer welcome to 2022, albeit with fewer party hats. Let’s look back at how some of the players in the field got into this winners-only tournament, and the statistical superlatives reached along the way.

Sentry Tournament of Champions, players

Harris English kicked off 2021 with a win that defied Maui convention in a couple of ways. The victory was the first in seven years for English, marking the first time a player snapped an extended win drought at the Tournament of Champions. Players who finished in the top 30 of the previous season’s FedExCup standings were permitted entry into the field, as well as everyone who won a tournament. Secondly, English won with his putter in a ball-striker’s paradise. He ranked 13th in the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, the lowest of any Maui winner since Daniel Chopra in 2008, but led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Reed’s five-shot margin of victory at Torrey Pines was the largest by anyone since Tiger Woods won by eight in 2008. Reed’s scrambling lived up to its lofty reputation that week, as he won despite missing 28 greens in regulation across four rounds. It was the most missed G.I.R. by a Farmers Insurance Open champion since John Daly missed 29 in 2004.

Morikawa gained a whopping 9.57 strokes on approach shots in his win at The Concession, the most by any winner all season on TOUR for 72 holes. With his victory, Morikawa joined Tiger Woods as the only players to win a major championship and World Golf Championship before age 25.

While the visual of Bryson smashing 370-plus yard-drives at the 6th hole is indelibly seared into our collective memory, the substance of his play at Bay Hill should not be overlooked. DeChambeau made just one bogey in the final round on a day when the field averaged nearly 75.5. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 PGA TOUR season, there have been four wins by players who led the field that week in driving distance. DeChambeau has two of those (2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic, 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational).

Jones delivered one of the most unexpected dominant performances in years at The Honda Classic. His opening 61 would prove to be the lowest first round score by a winner in the entire 2020-21 season. His five-shot margin of victory made him the first player age 40 or older to win a PGA TOUR event by five or more strokes since Ryan Armour at the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship.

In the celebratory aftermath of Matsuyama’s historic Masters victory last April, it’s easy to forget just how long it had been since he had won. Matsuyama snapped a streak of 1,344 days without a professional win worldwide, the longest streak broken by a Masters victory since Larry Mize in 1987 (1,386 days; 1983 Memphis Classic).

The renaissance 2020-21 season of Stewart Cink reached its crescendo with an impressive four-shot victory at the RBC Heritage in April. Cink held the outright lead after 36, 54 and 72 holes, becoming the oldest player (age 47) to do that on TOUR since Peter Jacobsen at the 2003 Travelers Championship.

You know Mickelson became the oldest-ever major champion by winning the PGA at Kiawah Island, but here’s another monument to his longevity: With the win, he became the first player in TOUR history to win tournaments 30 years apart. His first victory was the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, which is still the last TOUR title won by an amateur.

Kokrak entered the final round at Colonial one behind Jordan Spieth, but won, kicking off one of the most remarkable streaks in all of sports in 2021. For 14 consecutive TOUR events, no 54-hole leader or co-leader went on to win. It marked the longest streak of final-round come-from-behind victories on TOUR in the last three decades. No 54-hole leader would win until Patrick Cantlay did it at the BMW Championship in August.

U.S. Open: Jon Rahm
Rahm delivered in the clutch to get his first major championship, becoming the first U.S. Open winner to birdie the last two holes of regulation since Tom Watson in 1982. Rahm was the first to birdie the last two holes to win any major championship since Mark O’Meara at the 1998 Masters. With Rahm’s win, it marked back-to-back major titles for former Arizona State Sun Devils (Mickelson, PGA), the first school to be able to make that claim since the University of Houston at the 1995 PGA (Steve Elkington) and 1996 Masters (Nick Faldo).

Travelers Championship: Harris English
English needed eight playoff holes to defeat Kramer Hickok, tying the second-longest sudden-death playoff in the history of the PGA TOUR. The only playoff to go longer than eight holes was the 1949 Motor City Open, in which Lloyd Mangrum and Cary Middlecoff played 11 extra holes before they were declared co-winners by mutual agreement once it became too dark to proceed any further.

The Open Championship: Collin Morikawa
With his win at The Open, Morikawa became the first player to win two majors in eight or fewer career major starts since Bobby Jones at the 1926 U.S. Open. Morikawa joined Jones and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to come from behind in the final round of two major wins before his 25th birthday. And he locked up his unique bit of season-long history: For the first time in the modern era, not a single major winner was in his 30s or 40s (three winners in their 20s, and Phil Mickelson, age 50).

Wyndham Championship: Kevin Kisner
Just weeks after the marathon playoff in Connecticut, another sudden-death record was tied in North Carolina. Kevin Kisner came out on top of a six-man playoff at the Wyndham Championship, tying the largest sudden-death playoff in TOUR history. Remarkably, it was the first playoff win for Kisner on the PGA TOUR – he had been riding an 0-for-5 streak before the Wyndham victory.

THE NORTHERN TRUST: Tony Finau
After 1,976 days and 142 TOUR starts, Finau finally broke through for his second TOUR title at the weather-delayed NORTHERN TRUST. Finau was incredibly clutch down the stretch with his putter, gaining nearly 2 full strokes on the field in the greens over his last eight holes of regulation. Finau was 6-for-6 on putts between 4 and 8 feet in the final round, and a perfect 16-for-16 from 10 feet and in.

BMW Championship: Patrick Cantlay
Cantlay assembled an incomprehensible putting performance to beat Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship. Cantlay’s +14.58 Strokes Gained: Putting and 21 putts made of 10 feet or longer both set ShotLink-era records. Cantlay needed every one of those putts, too – DeChambeau’s regulation 72-hole score of 27 under is the best in TOUR history by a player who didn’t win.

Sanderson Farms Championship: Sam Burns
With a pair of wins in 2021, perhaps no player is more poised than Burns to launch himself into golf’s superstar stratosphere. The LSU product finished the 2020-21 season ranked 5th on TOUR in birdie average, and 14th in Strokes Gained: Total. And this week he’s in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his young career. A year ago at this time, he was outside the top 150.

World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba: Viktor Hovland
The 24-year-old Hovland made only two bogeys over his last 45 holes to cruise to a four-shot victory in Mexico. He was the first player to successfully defend on TOUR since Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship.

The RSM Classic: Talor Gooch
In the final official event of 2021, Gooch fired a closing 64 to win The RSM Classic by three shots over Mackenzie Hughes. Gooch became the first player to shoot 64 or better in the final round of his first TOUR victory since Joaquin Niemann at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in 2019. Gooch closed 2021 with five top-15 finishes in his last six starts and currently leads the FedExCup standings.

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