Weekly Recap: Ending With an Exclamation Point

Weekly Recap: Ending With an Exclamation Point

This article is part of our Weekly Recap series.

The transformation of Talor Gooch since the new PGA Tour season began has been nothing short of sensational. For Collin Morikawa, sensational has become the norm. They both won tournaments half a world apart on Sunday in the final big week of golf this year. 

Let's begin with Morikawa, especially because his big win in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai coincided Rory McIlroy's free fall on the back nine.

Morikawa became the first American to win the Race to Dubai with a come-from-behind three-stroke victory in the European Tour's season-ending tournament. McIlroy, who led for most of the tournament, was not even the runner-up. That honor instead was shared by Matt Fitzpatrick and Alexander Bjork

In reality, Morikawa's European Tour championship should come with an asterisk, as his Open Championship victory went a long way toward deciding things.

Perhaps more notably, Morikawa moved closer to overtaking Jon Rahm for No. 1 in the world rankings, and he actually can overtake him in two weeks – but only if he wins the Hero World Challenge and, even then, it would be only for one week before Rahm regained the top spot. All that comes via noted OWGR expert @VC606 on Twitter.

But there is no doubt who the best golfer in the calendar year of 2021 was – and no, it certainly wasn't Patrick Cantlay. Morikawa won a major and a WGC event before Sunday's big win, and he was finished runner-up twice. He

The transformation of Talor Gooch since the new PGA Tour season began has been nothing short of sensational. For Collin Morikawa, sensational has become the norm. They both won tournaments half a world apart on Sunday in the final big week of golf this year. 

Let's begin with Morikawa, especially because his big win in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai coincided Rory McIlroy's free fall on the back nine.

Morikawa became the first American to win the Race to Dubai with a come-from-behind three-stroke victory in the European Tour's season-ending tournament. McIlroy, who led for most of the tournament, was not even the runner-up. That honor instead was shared by Matt Fitzpatrick and Alexander Bjork

In reality, Morikawa's European Tour championship should come with an asterisk, as his Open Championship victory went a long way toward deciding things.

Perhaps more notably, Morikawa moved closer to overtaking Jon Rahm for No. 1 in the world rankings, and he actually can overtake him in two weeks – but only if he wins the Hero World Challenge and, even then, it would be only for one week before Rahm regained the top spot. All that comes via noted OWGR expert @VC606 on Twitter.

But there is no doubt who the best golfer in the calendar year of 2021 was – and no, it certainly wasn't Patrick Cantlay. Morikawa won a major and a WGC event before Sunday's big win, and he was finished runner-up twice. He easily accrued the most OWGR points during the year. Rahm is not playing the Hero event, which comes with guaranteed OWGR points, so there could be more than a one-week change early in 2022.

Morikawa began Sunday three strokes behind 54-hole leader McIlroy and was still several shots down on the back nine. He played the back in 5-under-par while McIlroy imploded with three bogeys in the final four holes to wind up in a tie for sixth. McIlroy was bidding to close the season sensationally, as a win Sunday would have followed his CJ Cup victory in October. 

He will get one more shot to win at the Hero World Challenge, but he may not be enough time to recover, as a torn shirt showed just how frustrated he was in the immediate aftermath of his implosion:

As it is, McIlroy has racked up the fourth-most world-rankings points in 2021, behind Morikawa, Rahm and Jordan Spieth. So we have to put things in perspective – in many ways this has been a very good year for McIlroy. But given the lofty expectations for the former world No. 1 and Sunday's horrid collapse, it surely doesn't feel that way right now.

Talor Gooch
Gooch won The RSM Classic by three strokes, making him the unquestioned MVP (MVG?) of the fall swing. It was Gooch's third top-5 and fifth top-11 in six starts on the young season. He had notched only one top-11 all year beforehand.

The victory came in the 29-year-old Oklahoma native's 104th PGA Tour start and – the past two months notwithstanding – also came out of nowhere. Until September, there was no indication Gooch was about to become 'good.'

Oh sure, he was a decent player, ranked around 75th in the world. But it's still a lot of work to go from there to a top-50 spot, much less the No. 33 position he sits in now.

To temper expectations, it's important to note that the fields in the fall aren't great, and the courses aren't as hard as many Gooch and everyone else will face beginning in late January. There have been quite a few guys who have been gangbusters in the fall, only to drop back into the pack once the big boys are done hibernating for the winter.

But no one can take this win away from Gooch, or the Masters berth and all the other enormous perks this win grants him.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

The RSM Classic

Mackenzie Hughes
Hughes didn't win, but his solo second was almost as huge, as it cemented a top-50 position come the end of the year. He is now 39th in the OWGR. Hughes was a the 2016 RSM champ, but he had done nothing in the four ensuing visits, missing three cuts. Still, he has the skill set to do well here, and it was just a matter of time. We all know that distance dominates on Tour these days, and Hughes is far from long. But he has one of the best short games in the world (wedge/putter) and he's showing there's still a place for that in today's game. Pick your spots with Hughes – short tracks, emphasis on scrambling. There are enough of those to, well, make him the 39th best golfer in the world.

Sebastian Munoz
After a so-so season, Munoz has opened well in 2021-22, adding a solo third at The RSM Classic to his T4 at the ZOZO. It just wasn't enough to get him into the top-50, as he stands 59th. He was also third at Colonial along with four other top-10s this year. But Munoz also missed a lot of cuts (13) and had many other bad weeks mixed in. Which is a lot like many golfers on Tour.

Cameron Smith
For the second week in a row, Smith was our pick to win. After tying for 15th last week, he tied for fourth in the RSM event. Close for us but not close enough. Smith has been around a long time already, and he's now 28, which means he could be entering prime years for a golfer. He didn't win in 2021, but he was runner-up at the BMW, 4th at Riviera, always does well at Augusta (T10) and missed only three cuts. Smith is 22nd in the world, one spot off his best, and it would not surprise to see him make a run at the top-10 in 2022.

Tom Hoge
Hoge had a great fall swing, making seven of eight cuts with three top-25s, highlighted by a T4 at the RSM. He's 27th in the FedEx standings and, while that's not important to us right now, it's everything for a golfer who is first and foremost looking to keep playing on Tour year after year. Before the fall swing, Hoge really struggled, missing a whopping 15 cuts in 2021. So don't be surprised if there's regression for him, even a lot, come 2022.

Seamus Power
Power's fall swing was not as good at Gooch's, or Sam Burns', but it was still outstanding. He also tied for fourth, his third top-12 and fourth top-25 of the young season. Combine that with his summertime win at the Barbasol Championship and Power is up to career high No. 70 in the OWGR – quite an impressive feat after starting the year in the 400s. Like others mentioned above, don't expect the same consistency after the New Year.

Tyler McCumber
McCumber's father is former PGA Tour pro Mark McCumber, who was on hand to see his son shoot 60(!) on Sunday to tie for fourth. That was his second best result on Tour, after a runner-up at Puntacana in 2020. It was only the young McCumber's third top-10 in 53 career starts. He's not that young, so this is likely an aberration more than the start of something. But it's still cool for him to move up almost 100 spots in the world rankings, to 287th.

Taylor Moore
Moore was our sleeper pick in the preseason RotoWire Draft Package. He tied for eighth, his best showing of the fall swing and third top-25, moving him to a career-best 117th in the OWGR. It's good he made some noise before the calendar flips to 2022, when life will get a whole lot tougher for the Korn Ferry grad.

Webb Simpson
There's no way Simpson would consider 2021 a good year. He was No. 6 in the world in January and No. 25 now. He didn't win. His best finish all year was T4 way back at the Sony. So this tie for eighth was likely very important for his confidence as the fall swing came to an end. Simpson has always managed to overcome being a shorter hitter, but he'll turn 37 during the season and you never know when slippage starts to become more permanent.
 
Aaron Rai
Here's a guy we write about every week. The Englishman had another great week, tying for 16th for his third straight top-20. It moved him back inside the top-100 in the world at 98th. Rai has shown he can compete with the top European Tour golfers; the jury is still out opposite PGA Tour players, but the past few weeks have offered hope.

Louis Oosthuizen
Oosthuizen withdrew from The RSM Classic after the first round, citing a back injury less than a month after turning 39. Gamers know Oosthuizen is no stranger to withdrawing, but they almost always have come before a tournament. He had not withdrawn mid-tournament since 2015. This would normally be time off the rest of the year, but there are a series of events in Oosthuizen's native South Africa beginning this week with the Joburg Open, so keep an eye on whether he plays because he often does.

Kevin Kisner
Kisner usually relies on a few tournaments every season to get the bulk of his points and cash. And one of them is the RSM, where he won in 2015, was runner-up a year ago and had three other top-10s in between. But he missed the cut this time around. Since winning the Wyndham – another one of Kisner's go-to tracks – he's missed three cuts in five starts and hasn't had a top-50. Kisner's game keeps hinting that he's about to fall from the top-50s in the world, beginning a fall from relevance. But then tournaments like the Wyndham happen. One of these days, tournaments like the Wyndham will no long happen for Kisner.

DP World Tour Championship, Dubai

Matt Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick wound up tied for second in Dubai, and that followed a win in his prior Euro start in Spain. But in between on the PGA Tour? A tie for 30th in the woeful Bermuda field and 64th at Mayakoba. It would be impossible to illustrate any better how Fitzpatrick hasn't fully acclimated to golf in the States.

Alexander Bjork
The Swede also tied for second, following up his top-five at the Andalucia Masters tournament Fitzpatrick won last month. Bjork is back to 135th in the world; he's been as high at 59th.

Nicolai Hojgaard
This would be the other Hojgaard of the 20-year-old Danish golfing Hojgaard twins. Rasmus is the more successful, with European Tour wins the past three years. He's ranked 97th in the world. But Nicolai is coming on, now ranked 109th after tying for fourth in Dubai, which followed a recent runner-up in Portugal, which followed a win in Italy over the summer. Nicolai began the year ranked in the 400s of the OWGR, and he's now at his career high.

Ian Poulter
Poulter managed to rally into a tie for sixth in Dubai and, in the process, get back into the top-50 in the world in what likely will be his final 2021 start. If he can stay there – and only those who master the intricacies of the world-rankings point system might know – he'll automatically be in his 17th Masters. We shall see, but Poulter almost always finds a way. Can he still do it less than two months before turning 46?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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