It’s Patrick Cantlay vs. Jon Rahm again, this time for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors
In the latter stages of the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup Playoffs this past Sunday, Patrick Cantlay and Jon Rahm went mano-a-mano to the very end.
With a brilliant birdie on the last, Cantlay won at East Lake Golf Club and was on the receiving end of $15 million.
Now the two seem pitted in another two-man race, this one to the Jack Nicklaus Award for PGA Tour Player of the Year (more specifically, Player of the Super Season). While cases could be made for Collin Morikawa (won British Open and World Golf Championships event) and Bryson DeChambeau (won U.S. Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational), it’s Cantlay vs. Rahm.
To some it’s not even close – Cantlay wins because he had four wins to Rahm’s one. To others, it’s not even close – Rahm wins because his victory came in the U.S. Open, he’s No. 1 in the world, his stats are eye-popping and there are two gigantic asterisks attached to his resume.
Their peers have a lot to chew on before casting their ballot.
My ballot would have an X in the Cantlay box.
Wins are the most important stat and Cantlay won four of the Super Season’s 50 events; there were 43 different winners and Cantlay was the only one to win more than two. Yes, none of the four was a major, and to many, majors carry much more weight. But Cantlay held off Rahm and Justin Thomas to win the Zozo Championship in the fall by one shot, defeated Morikawa on the first playoff hole to win the Memorial, outlasted DeChambeau in a six-hole playoff to win the BMW Championship, and held off Rahm to win he Tour Championship and FedEx Cup. And he went T11-W-W in the playoffs.
As for Rahm, he won the U.S. Open 15 days after testing positive for COVID-19. Which leads us to the first asterisk. Rahm led the Memorial by six shots through 54 holes before being told he tested positive for COVID-19. He likely would have won the Memorial – which would take one of Cantlay’s victories away – but likely doesn’t equal actual.
The other asterisk involved the Tour Championship. Because of the staggered scoring format used for the final event of the season, Cantlay started two clear of the field and four ahead of Rahm. Well, Rahm and Kevin Na each shot the lowest total – 266 – over the 72 holes (Cantlay shot 269). But Cantlay won by one shot over Rahm. Is that a win for Rahm? No. He even said so. And all the players would have played differently if they all started at even-par.
So, the W’s outweigh the *’s.
Now we get to the stats. Rahm led the Tour in several statistical categories, including scoring average (69.3), total driving, official money, top-10s (he had 15 and no one else had 10), birdie average, Strokes Gained: Tee-to Green, and Strokes Gained: Total. Cantlay led the Tour in one category – wins.
Rahm also finished in ties for 23rd, seventh, fifth, eighth and third and won the U.S. Open in the six major championships. He also tied for ninth in The Players. Cantlay finished in ties for 43rd, 17th, 23rd, 15th and missed two cuts in the six majors. He also didn’t make it to the weekend in The Players.
There are a lot of checkmarks for Rahm. But the biggest checkmark is for wins.
I would have voted for Tiger Woods in 2008 when he won five times in seven starts – he won the U.S. Open and two WGC titles and finished in the top 5 in the two events he didn’t win. But Padraig Harrington was the Player of the Year on the strength of his two wins – the PGA Championship and British Open. It should be noted that Woods said Harrington was the POTY because of the two majors.
I also would have voted for Woods in 2013 when he won five times, including The Players and two WGCs. But Adam Scott won the POTY honors as he won the Masters, a playoff event, and the Australian PGA and Masters (the fields weren’t exactly stacked Down Under).
And I would have voted for Rory McIlroy in 2019 when he won three times, including The Players and the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup. He did win POTY but many screamed foul because Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship and a WGC event.
Wins stand out, and four beats one all the time.
Cantlay it is.