POY Honors Up For Grabs at the Tour Championship

Phil Mickelson is one of many who could stake a claim as Player of the Year with a win this week. Photo copyright USGA/John Mummert.

For the sake of clarity in the PGA Tour Player of the Year race, let’s hope that the Tour Championship is not won by Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Martin Laird, Retief Goosen, Kevin Na, K.J. Choi, Jeff Overton, Ryan Moore, Robert Allenby, Kevin Streelman, or Bo Van Pelt.

Those are the 12 players in the field of 30 who have not won a tournament in 2010. It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that any one of the other 18 would become Player of the Year with a victory in the Tour Championship, but it’s not far off. Certainly, any of those 18 would have a case.

Let’s start with the six players who have won two tournaments. (Nobody has won more than that, which is why the PGA Tour Player of the Year picture is so fuzzy. The fact that three of the four majors were won by non-members makes it even fuzzier.)

Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose, or Hunter Mahan would take it to three victories if they win in Atlanta this week. The first three would become a POY lock with a Tour Championship win. The latter three wouldn’t necessarily take the No. 1 spot on the money list with a win, but leading the Tour in wins would likely be persuasive against a weak field of candidates, especially if the victory gives them the FedExCup title.

If none of those six wins the Tour Championship, this will mark only the third season where no player won at least three events on the PGA Tour (the others were 1984 and 1991)—unless one of that sextet wins on the Fall Series, where none of them is likely to make many appearances.

There are 12 players in the Tour Championship field with one victory. Two of them, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar, would be POY locks if they make the Tour Championship their second win. Mickelson would be combining it with a major (the Masters), while Kuchar would earn the money title and likely the Vardon Trophy.

The other 10 with one victory are Charley Hoffman, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Ryan Palmer, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Tim Clark, Ben Crane, and Camilo Villegas. It may be tough to wrap your head around the notion of one of them as Player of the Year. But they would have won as many tournaments as anyone else, with one of them the season-ending biggie.

If one of those 10 wins, Dustin Johnson, Kuchar, and maybe Mickelson would remain the POY mix. Johnson has had the best season of those with two victories, ranking second on the money list, with the potential to pass Kuchar even without a win. But if Kuchar wins the money title, he’s got a shot, especially if he also takes the Vardon Trophy (he’s currently .01 strokes per round ahead of Steve Stricker). And Mickelson is the only one with a major in his pocket, hard as it is to imagine him being the POY with only one victory. Just to complete the possibilities, Ernie Els is the only two-win player besides Johnson who could move into the No. 1 spot on the money list with a runner-up finish; in that case, he might have a chance.

Now, what if one of the formerly winless 12 captured the Tour Championship? The only one I can see who would have a POY chance is Paul Casey, who would rank near the top on the money list and scoring average. More likely, it would come down to Dustin Johnson, Kuchar, and Mickelson. I would almost rather leave the POY title vacant in that case, and just say that there was no Player of the Year in this strange campaign. But forced to make a pick, I would go with Johnson.

I mostly haven’t factored in winning the FedExCup into these scenarios, because there are so many possibilities for who could win it—most likely to be either the winner of the tournament of Kuchar or Johnson, who are currently 1-2.

If somebody wins the FedExCup, but not the money title, it will be interesting to see which the players will factor more heavily in making their POY votes for the PGA Tour award or the writers for the GWAA award. The PGA of America uses a point system for its POY award, based on victories, majors, and ranking on the money list and adjusted scoring average. Currently, Stricker leads that one with 52 points, followed closely by Kuchar and Mickelson at 50.

In this cloudy year for supremacy on the PGA Tour—reminiscent of the parity of the pre-Tiger Woods years (the first Tiger mention in this blog entry!) of the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s—the Tour Championship could actually determine the top player. Then again, it’s such a cloudy year that events of the designed-to-be-an-afterthought Fall Series could actually factor in. The top players will mostly be sitting those tournaments out, but with a chance for Kuchar to claim a second win or somebody else a third, and the possibility of determining the money title and Vardon Trophy, the POY race might actually go past the wire.

Meanwhile, the worldwide Player of the Year might be none of the above. Germany’s Martin Kaymer made a nice case for that one by claiming his third European Tour win of 2010 last week, the PGA Championship he captured in Wisconsin counting as one of those.

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