5 players who might benefit from the new, delayed PGA Tour schedule
Some promising news finally arrived this week, when all relevant governing bodies released a joint statement outlining an adjusted PGA Tour schedule for the rest of the year. Optimistic, sure. Some might even say naïve, given the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, with the absence of anything else to go off, we shall proceed as though the PGA Tour will return as early as mid-May, that there will be a PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in August, that Winged Foot still hold the U.S. Open, only in September, and that a leafy Augusta National will host the Masters in November.
With that in mind, and for the sake of our ambitious hopes for the future, we can turn our attention to a more X’s and O’s breakdown of the competitive game. Of course, no one is better off having had a chunk of the PGA Tour season erased. But some players might fare better than others when play does resume, whenever that is. Here’s our best guess as to which guys might benefit (in relative terms) from the stoppage.
Woods’ last start came at the Genesis Invitational, where he shot 76-77 over the weekend to finish last among players who made the cut at Riviera. He then opted to sit out the WGC-Mexico Championship, the Honda Classic, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and, most concerning, the Players Championship to rest a sore back. His agent Mark Steinberg was resolute in suggesting it was nothing to worry about going forward, but that didn’t do much to quell the fears of Tiger fans. The concern, in addition to his long-term health, was that he wouldn’t get enough tournament rounds in before Augusta to be fully prepared to defend his title. Things weren’t exactly trending upward.
Now, Woods gets at least three months to rest his back without missing any tournaments. That’s essentially a full offseason. It’s something of a full reset; assuming he can get his body into tournament-winning shape and has a clean bill of health when play resumes, he can now pick and choose what events to play in order to peak for the majors. Which, of course, is the overwhelming focus for Woods at this point in his career. That wasn’t the case before—his body prevented him from playing the Florida swing, always a crucial testing ground for the shots he likes to groove before driving up Magnolia Lane.
Let’s also remember the last time Woods played a tournament after multiple months off—it was the Zozo Championship in Japan, two-plus months after he had knee surgery following a forgettable FedEx Cup playoff campaign. He won that tournament.
Thomas had missed the cut in two of his last four starts prior to the stoppage. But he also has a win, a T-3 and a T-6 in his last five starts, so those curious stumbles aren’t the reason he’s on this list. Simply put, Thomas plays his best golf in the late summer/early fall months. Eight of his 12 PGA Tour wins have come in the months between August and November, including his lone major championship at the 2017 PGA Championship.
Of course, Thomas’ success in those months is likely connected to having been able to find a rhythm in the throes of his season rather than anything related to course or weather conditions in the fall—though he did grow up in Louisville and play his college golf at Alabama, so he’s certainly comfortable playing with a lil’ sweat on the grips. And we know Thomas has been keeping in shape, even if Rory McIlroy has been dusting him on the Peloton.
Koepka’s form since returning from knee surgery has been less-than-stellar. The man himself has been his harshest critic, describing his recent play as “sh*t.” (Tell us how you really fell, Brooks!) His three starts on the PGA Tour since October have resulted in a T-43 at the Genesis Invitational, a missed cut at the Honda Classic and a T-47 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He’s fall from No. 1 in the World Ranking to No. 3, and the gap between him and the top two players—Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm—was widening.
The perception around Koepka is that he can flip the switch for the majors and contend out of nowhere, but that’s not an entirely accurate representation—he finished second two starts before winning the 2018 U.S. Open, fifth the week before winning the 2018 PGA and fourth the week before winning the 2019 PGA. He needs some level of form coming into the majors if he’s to contend, and now he gets time to keep working his knee before ramping it up again in the summer. You have to think he will factor into that PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, where he’ll be the two-time defending champ.
Lefty has two third-place finishes on the year, in Saudi Arabia and at Pebble Beach, but he’s missed the cut in the four other tournaments he’s played in 2020. He’d never admit it, but you wonder whether playing such a jam-packed, jet-setting schedule—Mickelson played back-to-back-to-back weeks in California, Saudi Arabia and then back in California—wears on a 49-year-old body. Mickelson’s 2018 and 2019 seasons had similar rhythms: he started out strong only to fade considerably as the year wore on. Perhaps this break will re-energize him and jolt his game back into good enough shape to stop missing two-thirds of his cuts. Plus, he still isn’t in the field U.S. Open, so now he’ll have some time to try to do that, depending on how the USGA might adjust the qualifying process.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Spieth is slumping. Heck, perhaps slump is no longer an appropriate word, given he hasn’t played like a top player in the world in quite some time, and he’s currently ranked No. 56. It hasn’t been horrible—he missed just three of 25 cuts in 2019—but his winless streak is nearing three years. He’s maintained steadfast optimism throughout, frequently insisting that he and his instructor, Cameron McCormick, are close to figuring things out.
Sometimes, when you’re struggling like that, the best thing to do is step away from golf entirely for some-odd period of time. Spieth has taken some chunks of time off before, but perhaps this time away can do the trick. We’re hopeful, because golf is a much better place when Jordan Spieth is in the mix.