PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Insider: Handicapping Rookie of Year race
June 02, 2021
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- June 02, 2021
- Alex Cejka has won two majors so far this season. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
In just five events Alex Cejka has taken the race for Rookie of the Year on PGA TOUR Champions and turned it on its ear.
It already was going to be among the most interesting ever, with such past major champions as Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Mike Weir set to battle it out. Then, because of the coronavirus pandemic, it became an elongated super season that would encompass 2020 and 2021.
Enter Cejka, who turned 50 on Dec. 2. The Czech-born player who grew up in Germany has taken the Champions Tour by storm, winning the first two majors in 2021. On Sunday he wrapped up No. 2, with a four-shot thumping of his closest pursuer at the Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa.
In his five starts Cejka has two wins and a tie for second that easily could have been a third victory. But he is just one of four rookies who’ve won twice in the 2020-21 season, along with Els, Mickelson and Furyk. Four more rookies have wins: Weir, Brett Quigley, Dicky Pride and Shane Bertsch.
Then there is Robert Karlsson. The Swede has yet to break through, but he’s second among the rookies in the Schwab Cup rankings, ahead of all but Els. It speaks to his consistent play; he has 10 top 10s, second only to Els’ 11.
Els probably is the leader in the ROY race right now. He has the two wins and is the leading rookie on the Schwab Cup list (second overall). But, Els has only three top 10s in his last 10 starts. In fact, since the calendar turned to 2021 he has only one top 10 in seven starts.
If you’re in the “what have you done for me lately?” camp, Cejka is the frontrunner. The confidence with which he closed on Sunday at Southern Hills suggests he’s not done winning.
There are 18 events remaining on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule, including three more majors and the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs. That’s a lot of golf. There’s still time for Furyk to get hot. Weir has two solo seconds; if he had converted either he’d be right there, too. And any of the guys with one victory could get to two. Will the ROY be the first to three wins?
Mickelson probably is out of the running. With his win at the 103rd PGA Championship, it’s unlikely he’ll play on PGA TOUR Champions again anytime soon.
It should be riveting to watch. Let’s handicap the ROY race for the rest of the 2020-21 super season:
Alex Cejka, 3-2: He has the two majors, and he’s trending up. Only two players in Champions Tour history won a pair of majors in less than Cejka’s five starts. Their names are Palmer and Nicklaus. A third major and this race is over.
Ernie Els, 3-1: The South African isn’t trending in the right direction thus far this year, but he can find it in a flash. A third victory would put him in position – even better if No. 3 were a major.
Jim Furyk, 6-1: He has to be listed as the third favorite because of the possibility he’s the first among the rookies to win No. 3. He broke from the gates by winning his first two starts on PGA TOUR Champions. It’s not like he has played badly since: Furyk has been in the top 20 in all nine of his starts since his second victory. But, only one was better than a T9 (T2 at the TimberTech Championship in November). Plus, he is prepping for the maiden voyage of an event with his name on it, the Constellation FURYK AND FRIENDS in October in Jacksonville.
Mike Weir, 18-1: The Canadian fought through some back issues to post a T5 at the Senior PGA Championship, an event he led by four strokes at the midway point. He clearly got a boost of confidence after breaking through for his first victory at the Insperity; if he gets to his second victory before anyone in front of him gets to three, look out.
The field, 54-1: Quigley? Pride? Karlsson? Bertsch? Each would have to close the season very strongly.