Justin Thomas’ choice for PGA Tour Player of the Year is clear.
“Me,” he said overnight at East Lake Golf Club when asked who would get his vote.
The response might seem brash, but the 27-year-old has a point. He briefly reached No.1 in the world again this year after winning the WGC–FedEx St Jude Invitational and, more importantly, has more victories than anyone else – three – during the 2019-2020 tour campaign.
Of course, that could change.
The tour will conclude its most bizarre of seasons at this week’s Tour Championship, where whoever wins the tournament also will win the FedEx Cup and the $US15 million that goes with it.
Less clear, however, is who will take home Player of the Year honours. Five golfers – Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa and Brendon Todd – come into this week with two wins apiece this season.
“I think this week will help decide that,” Johnson, the current world No.1, said when asked the same question as Thomas. “I think right now it’s really close.”
He has a point, too. There’s an argument for each of these tour pros, and all wins don’t necessarily count the same to everyone. But if Johnson, Rahm, Simpson, Morikawa or Todd were to win this week that would almost certainly mean also being voted Player of the Year.
So who has the best chance? Let’s examine each of the candidates.
In addition to his victory in Memphis, Thomas, who won POY honors in 2017, also beat Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele in a playoff at a wind-swept Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in January and won the CJ Cup during the early portion of the schedule. He was a non-factor in the season’s only Major, T-37 at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, but he did have five other top 10s, including a playoff loss at the Workday Charity Open and a third-place finish in Phoenix.
How Johnson has only a two-stroke lead to start the Tour Championship after finishing first and second in the first two playoff events is a topic for another day, but those performances certainly strengthen his POY case. So does a win at the Travelers Championship and a runner-up at the PGA Championship, where he was the 54-hole leader, shot two-under 68 in the final round and got passed by Morikawa’s 64. Like Thomas, Johnson is also a former POY recipient (2016).
Like Johnson, Rahm has been No.1 in the world this year. His two victories were also both impressive: he beat Johnson in a playoff last week on a brutally difficult Olympia Fields and cruised to a three-stroke win at the Memorial. He also finished second at the Farmers Insurance Open and tied for third at the WGC–Mexico Championship. At the PGA, Rahm finished six behind Morikawa in a tie for 13th.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open and the RBC Heritage were Simpson’s two victories. He also finished second at the RSM Classic last November and had a pair of third-place finishes, at the Sony Open in Hawaii and Wyndham Championship, to go with three other top 10s. Simpson was never in contention at the PGA, however, finishing T-37.
The lone Major winner on the list (there could be only one this season), Morikawa also beat Thomas in a playoff at the Workday Charity Open, lost in a playoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge in the tour’s first event back and had two other top-10 finishes.
Last but certainly not least is the season’s best feel-good story. If this were the now-defunct Comeback Player of the Year award, Todd would have locked that up long ago. Alas, his two wins also came long ago in back-to-back starts in Bermuda and at the Mayakoba Golf Classic during the northern autumn. He followed those with a fourth-place at the RSM and led going into the final round of the Travelers in June before imploding with a final-round 75 to finish T-11. At the PGA, he tied for 17th and last week at the BMW finished T-8.