Our 'definitive' ranking of every PGA Tour event of 2019 (so far)
It would be mighty convenient for me, the golf content maker, to tell you that we are officially halfway done with the season. “Halfway” is a good time to rank things, whether it’s tournaments or music albums or movies or even the months themselves (January was the best month so far). However, that is not the case. Even though it’s still May, we are well past the halfway point of the 2018-’19 wraparound season, which comes disorientingly sometime around the Players in March. Even if we only consider tournaments in the calendar year 2019, ending with the Tour Championship, “halfway” came in late April. But perception is reality, and the fact is that we have two majors and one minor-major (the Players) behind us, two majors and one minor-major (Tour Championship) ahead, so it feels like halfway.
That’s good enough for me. Let’s take a look back on the season so far and rank every single tournament based on vague but inarguable criteria, from who won to how they won it to whether anything else interesting happened. By every tournament, I mean:
A. Every golf tournament in 2019 that
B. Happened on the PGA Tour or
C. Was a major or WGC
That gives us 23 events. Let’s do this!
23. WGC-Mexico (Dustin Johnson): That’s right, baby, I’m coming out hot. Dustin Johnson winning another WGC? Boring. He’s won six of these events, which is second all-time to a golfer named Tiger Woods (a massive 18), and he’s the only person besides Woods to have won the WGC career slam, which he completed in 2017. But you know what? At this point, more WGC wins are just a reminder of how he’s underachieved in majors, and this year gives us another perfect example. When we think back on D.J.’s 2019, what we’ll remember (as of now) is how he wilted the minute he had a chance at the PGA. It’s probably unfair, but his amazing 6-for-39 record at the WGCs only highlights his 1-for-40 mark at the majors.
22. Puerto Rico Open (Martin Trainer): An alternate event, a winner you won’t remember 30 seconds after reading this paragraph, and a not-very-dramatic finish. These are all the ingredients for a classic … (falls asleep)
21. RBC Heritage (C.T. Pan): Harbour Town is a gorgeous course, and covering the Heritage is great because of the laid-back vibe. But it has always occupied a tough spot in the schedule after the Masters, and that’s especially true now with the jam-packed schedule. Barring a very memorable champion or a great finish, it won’t stick in the brain very long, and C.T. Pan winning courtesy of D.J. shooting 77 doesn’t add any additional stickiness.
20. Valspar Championship (Paul Casey): This was a Sunday on which nobody really did anything, including Casey himself, who won despite a three-putt on the 17th. Casey is anything but dull, but this was maybe the dullest final round all season.
19. Genesis Open (J.B. Holmes): Hard to imagine Riviera being this low, and I happen to really like J.B. Holmes, but all anybody could talk about after this year’s Genesis was the eventual champ’s lethargic pace.
18. Zurich Classic (Jon Rahm/Ryan Palmer): As a huge fan of new and weird formats, I hate to say this, but the Zurich isn’t quite catching on the way it should. I think it will, and they need to keep trying novel ideas, like walk-up music, but we haven’t yet had that signature “put-it-on-the-map” moment in the three years of the pairs format.
17. Sentry Tournament of Champions (Xander Schauffele): Xander is fascinating, but it always feels like the ToC is the lost event of the year. Either we’re not ready for it, or it’s just one too many novelty events. They should make it match play. (Note: This is my solution to everything.)
16. AT&T Byron Nelson (Sung Kang): (shrugs)
15. Valero Texas Open (Corey Conners): All eyes are on the Masters when the Valero comes, but the one intriguing storyline that can happen did happen this year—someone winning to earn a last-chance spot at Augusta. Conners did it in style, shooting a final-round 66, and though the rest of the tournament wasn’t super dramatic, that’s good enough for top 15.
14. Farmers Insurance Open (Justin Rose): Rose got to No. 1 with this win, and out-dueled Jon Rahm and Adam Scott. Sure. Fine.
13. Charles Schwab Challenge (Kevin Na): I think it’s time to re-think Kevin Na. He takes (or took) a lot of grief for his yippish tendencies and slow play, but I think we should be focusing on how unique he is—a guy who spent a long time without an agent, who walked from Titleist in the middle of the season last year and who was cool enough to give his caddie a car. He’s kind of inscrutable! Plus, as a father of a young daughter, I very much stand behind this tweet.
12. Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship (Graeme McDowell): Literally the only guy who could have won this tournament and pushed it somewhere higher than like, No. 22. And literally the only tournament that could have pushed it lower than like, No. 4.
11. Wells Fargo Championship (Max Homa): This mostly goes so high because anything that gets Max Homa in the public eye is by definition a good outcome. He is America’s answer to Eddie Pepperell—a legitimately funny person who has a great social-media presence. He definitely has one of the best senses of humor in the game, and we need way more of Max Homa. This guarantees we’ll get it, at least for a while.
10. PGA Championship (Brooks Koepka): What was good about the PGA Championship is that it stands Koepka up as the greatest player in the sport at a time when he’s becoming—against expectations—one of its most interesting characters. What was bad about the PGA Championship was that it was a tease … we wanted Tiger to compete, and he didn’t. We wanted a tight leader board, and we didn’t get it. Once Koepka dominated through three rounds, we wanted him to just torch the field and flex his muscles, and instead he stumbled. When he stumbled, we wanted a tight finish again, and then D.J. blinked, and blinked, and blinked. There wasn’t much satisfaction to be found at Bethpage.
9. Desert Classic (Adam Long): If you’re going to be an obscure winner at a non-major, this is how you have to win:
8. Honda Classic (Keith Mitchell): I repeat … if you’re going to be an obscure winner at a non-major, this is how you have to win:
With Mitchell, we even got some blatant disrespect from the local paper, who literally ran the headline “No Name Champion” to add some post-tournament drama … this after the announcers also got his name wrong.
7. Waste Management Phoenix Open (Rickie Fowler): I liked this because it was a perfect confluence of venue and finish. Phoenix is wild, chaotic and very sloppy, and that’s just how the end of the tournament played out. Fowler, who has been cursed in Phoenix prior to 2019, somehow won despite making a triple bogey on the back nine and shooting 74. That was due in part to a strong finish, and in part to Branden Grace’s shaky finish, but in my opinion, nobody should win at Phoenix without a metaphorically drunken finale.
6. WGC-Dell Match Play (Kevin Kisner): Have I mentioned that I love match play? Or that I love the WGC-Match Play specifically? It is near and dear to my heart, and I thought this year’s installment was fun for a couple reasons. First, Tiger made it to the quarters, beating Rory in a dream match along the way. Second, as a Ryder Cup fanatic, I really, really think people (read: captains and their vices) should pay attention to this stuff and remember it for captain’s picks, because match play excellence is a unique skill. To put it bluntly: PICK KEVIN KISNER. HE’S REALLY, REALLY GOOD AT MATCH PLAY. (At least pick him for the Presidents Cup and let him show you what he can do. Right??)
5. Arnold Palmer Invitational (Francesco Molinari): Just the greatest winning final round of the year by a winner, culminating in this monster:
I don’t need an excuse to sing the “Moli, Moli, Moli, Moli, Moli!” song from the Ryder Cup, but if I did, this would be a good one.
4. AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (Phil Mickelson): Most years, this combination of venue and champion, both legendary, would be enough to make it the most compelling non-major of the season. Most years …
3. Sony Open (Matt Kuchar): Not only is Kuchar always an interesting champion, and not only was this the first full-tournament field of 2019, but the caddie-tipping controversy from his win at the Mayakoba came out that weekend thanks to a tweet from Tom Gillis, and it would dominate discussion in the golf world for the next month, until Kuchar issued his apology. He was asked about it for the first time at the Sony, and depending on how much you knew that Sunday, his win there was either the last win of his pre-TipGate career, or the first of his post-TipGate career. In any case, we were watching the perception of one of the game’s most popular figures change in real time, knowing it would never be the same, and it was fascinating.
2. The Masters (Tiger Woods): You know I’m just doing this to make you mad, right? Don’t take the bait.
1. The Players (Rory McIlroy): So incredible to see a former champion who has been through hell come back and win one of the biggest tournaments of the year after we all thought he’d lost his mojo. Truly legendary.