It’s looking like 1983 and 1991 on the PGA Tour.
Those were the only years in Tour history when no player won more than two tournaments. With one event remaining, nobody has won more than twice this year.
Two players have had a chance to change that in the last three weeks. But Nick Watney lost to Kevin Na down the stretch in Las Vegas and Webb Simpson fell in a playoff to Ben Crane on Sunday at the McGladrey Classic, squandering their opportunities for win No. 3.
Of the six players with two wins, only Simpson is in the field for this week’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Orlando. So whether there is a triple winner on Tour this year is all on his shoulders.
One thing parity has done is add some intrigue to the Fall Series and that old-fashioned measure of success, the money list. Simpson, who was second to Luke Donald in earnings after the FedExCup, added the McGladrey and Disney to his schedule in an effort to win the money title. Donald, in response, added Disney.
Simpson’s runner-up finish moved him ahead of Donald by $363,029. That leaves a tough task for Donald this week—only a first or second will do, and then it still depends on Simpson’s finish. Donald is playing some European Tour events this fall, and I’m not sure he would be teeing it up at Disney if not for the unique opportunity to lead both the European and PGA Tour money lists (he currently leads in Europe).
The two have moved to the forefront of the Player of the Year race, ranking 1-2 in both money and scoring average, in reverse order in scoring, with Donald having that one almost locked up. Simpson, while winning one more time on the PGA Tour (though Donald has a win in Europe in addition to one in the U.S.), has even come close to matching Donald’s extraordinary consistency. While Donald has 13 top-10s in 18 starts, Simpson has 11 top-10s and 20 top-25s in 25 starts.
I know, I know. Top-25 finishes, woo-hoo! But in a year when the major winners didn’t particularly shine elsewhere and nobody has won more than twice, you’ve got to look in the nooks and crannies for Player of the Year credentials. Position vacant isn’t an option, though perhaps it should be.
Simpson could have had a really big year, but his three runner-up finishes include two playoff losses, with a one-stroke penalty for his ball moving at address dropping him into a playoff at New Orleans against Bubba Watson and a missed putt from three-and-a-half feet ending his bid against Ben Crane at the McGladrey. (On the other hand, he won a playoff at the Deutsche Bank that he reached only because Chez Reavie missed the green with a wedge on the 72nd hole.) And a lackluster finish at the Tour Championship cost him the FedExCup.
Donald moved to No. 1 in the world with wins at the WGC-Match Play and European PGA Championship by May, but his summer was not as impactful as he would have wished. It would be nice if either he or Simpson can summon a win to end the season with a bang instead of a whimper.
The other thing to always keep an eye on at Disney is to see who makes the top 125 to retain full playing status for next year. There’s an interesting name at 121st on the money list—Tiger Woods.
Woods isn’t playing this week, and of course it doesn’t matter to him if he finishes in the top 125 or not since he’s already exempt in other categories. But it does matter to somebody else. If Woods misses the top 125, one more player gains an exemption who otherwise wouldn’t.
Last week players around the 125 mark who didn’t play or missed the cut dropped only two to five spots on the money list. That gives Woods a chance to finish in the top 125, but it’s more usual for a drop of five spots or so. With some players close behind Woods in earnings, it seems there’s a greater chance of him finishing outside the top 125 than inside it—he’s less than $15,000 ahead of 125th right now. A finish outside the top 125 would be a final indignity to Woods in a year when his comeback fizzled instead of taking off, partly due to injury.
Of course, the decline of Woods is the main reason we’re back to an age of parity—last year, Jim Furyk was the only player with three wins. The aging of Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson shouldn’t be overlooked as a factor. Those two each won three or more events in a year four times (and at least four three times each), even in the Woods Era.
Now we’re harkening back to the era of 1983 to 1992, a 10-year period when the leading winner on Tour won two events twice, three events five times, four events three times, and never more than four. At the time, we thought the increased depth on Tour was making it just too hard to dominate. Woods put the lie to that. And while he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player, Mickelson, Singh, and Nick Price also showed that compiling big win totals in one year is still possible. Will someone follow in their footsteps in the years immediately ahead, or are we in for a longer period of 1980s-like parity?