PGA TOUR stats of the year for 2021
December 14, 2021
By Justin Ray , Twenty First Group for PGATOUR.COM
- December 14, 2021
- Cantlay made 21 putts of 10 feet or longer in regulation at the BMW Championship. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
This year, the PGA TOUR delivered a bevvy of historic performances and remarkable finishes. This marked the first time in 14 years that THE PLAYERS Championship and all four majors were each decided by two strokes or fewer. Seemingly every week, the record book got a new addition – whether by tying the longest sudden-death PGA TOUR playoff since 1949 (Travelers Championship, eight holes) or through incredible on-course performances.
Here are the best statistics of 2021 on the PGA TOUR:
Let’s start with one of the best duels of the year in all of sport: Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau needing six playoff holes to decide a winner at the BMW Championship. Cantlay nailed a 21-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to force the playoff, meaning at 27-under, whoever didn’t win would set the PGA TOUR record for lowest 72-hole score to par by a player who didn’t win the tournament. DeChambeau ultimately claimed that distinction.
Cantlay’s putting performance at the BMW was historically great. He made 21 putts of 10 feet or longer in regulation, by far the most for any player in a single tournament since ShotLink began tracking such things more than 15 years ago. His +14.58 Strokes Gained: Putting for the week also set a ShotLink-era record. On his way to winning the FedExCup, Cantlay added four more rounds in the 60s at East Lake, giving him 15 straight sub-70 rounds to finish the 2020-21 season. The last player with a longer streak to end a year was Charles Howell III in 2002 (16 straight).
Closing out a victory on the PGA TOUR is no easy task: over the last 10 years, only 34.2% of players to hold a 54-hole lead or co-lead have gone on to win.
But for 14 consecutive PGA TOUR events this summer, closing with the 54-hole lead went from difficult to impossible. From the Charles Schwab Challenge (won by Jason Kokrak, who entered the final round one shot back) through THE NORTHERN TRUST (won by Tony Finau, who entered the day two off the lead) not a single PGA TOUR event was won by a player who held the 54-hole lead or co-lead. The run of 14 such winners in a row was the longest such streak on TOUR in the last 30 seasons.
Sitting eight back of Lee Westwood on Friday evening at THE PLAYERS Championship, Justin Thomas knew he needed an historic closing 36 holes to get into contention. That’s exactly what he did. Thomas shot 12 under on the weekend, tying the lowest closing 36-hole score in PLAYERS history. Thomas was a ball-striking savant all weekend: his +11.2 Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green are the most by any player over the closing 36 holes at TPC Sawgrass since tracking began in 2004.
At age 27, Thomas became the second player to have double-digit PGA TOUR wins, a major and a PLAYERS title before age 28, joining – who else – Tiger Woods.
Sungjae Im, who played 17 more rounds than any other player in the 2021 PGA TOUR season, set the single-season record for most birdies-or-better, with 513. The previous mark was held by Steve Flesch, who made 509 in the 2000 campaign.
While Im’s record is perfectly legitimate, perhaps even more remarkable is that he did this while ranking 29th for the season in par-breaker percentage (23.4%). Im played 42 more rounds than the leader in par-breaker percentage in 2021, Bryson DeChambeau (26.3%). His historic birdie-making sum is a brilliant testament to his rigorous playing schedule and consistently solid results.
Perhaps no player permeated major championship storylines more often in 2021 than a man who never actually found the winner’s circle. Louis Oosthuizen led or co-led following six major championship rounds in 2021. Since the PGA Championship switched to stroke play in 1958, Oosthuizen is the only player to hold the lead or co-lead that many times after major rounds and not win a major that season. Since the first Masters Tournament was held in 1934, only four men have had a major championship season with three top-3 finishes but no wins: Jack Nicklaus (1964 and 1977), Ernie Els (2000), Rickie Fowler (2014) and Oosthuizen.
Contrasting the majorly-forlorn South African is the incredible ascension of Collin Morikawa, who won his second major championship at The Open this summer. His two victories have come in just eight career majors, the fewest of any player since the first Masters in 1934. Only two men in the last century won their second professional major in fewer starts Walter Hagen (sixth start, 1919 U.S. Open) and Gene Sarazen (fourth start, 1922 PGA).
There are only three instances since 2000 where a player won a major championship with a bogey-free 66 or lower in the final round. Rory McIlroy had one of them, at the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. After this summer at Royal St George’s, Morikawa has the other two (64 at the 2020 PGA, 66 at the 2021 Open).
Only one player gained more than 2 strokes per round over the field on the PGA TOUR in 2021: U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm. For the calendar year, Rahm ranked either first or second on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (tee & approach shots). Couple that with a top-20 performance on and around the greens (18th in Strokes Gained: Short Game per round), and Rahm developed himself into arguably the most complete player in the game as he ascended to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
In the 2021 season, Rahm became the fourth player since 1980 to have 15 or more top-10 finishes in a season with 22 starts or fewer. The others to do it are Tiger Woods (twice, 1999 and 2000), Tom Watson (1980) and Dustin Johnson (2015-16).
Rory McIlroy claimed his 20th career PGA TOUR title at THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT, making him the second-youngest player (age 32) born outside the United States to achieve the milestone. Harry Cooper, born in England in 1904, is credited with his 20th PGA TOUR title at age 31. Since 1960, McIlroy is one of just seven players to reach 20 official PGA TOUR titles before age 33, along with Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
With an average Official World Golf Ranking of just under 32, the fall collection of PGA TOUR winners in 2021 was, statistically, the best we have ever seen. For comparison, the average World Ranking of winners in the fall of 2020 was 169.8. Every winner in the fall portion of the 2021 schedule was ranked in the top-60 at the time of his victory. Only one other fall stretch can lay claim to even having an average ranking of its winners better than 60 (2013, 53.2).
The golf world probably needs additional time to gain proper perspective of Phil Mickelson’s historic PGA Championship victory in May at Kiawah Island. Of the 458 events deemed major championships, stretching across more than 160 years, Mickelson is the oldest player to win one of the game’s four most storied events. To say Mickelson caught lightning in a bottle is an understatement: as of Thursday, Mickelson will have one top-10 finish on the PGA TOUR in the last 500 days. It will be a win at a major championship.
Mickelson’s PGA Championship win made him the first player in PGA TOUR history to have victories more than 30 years apart. His first win came at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, 30 years, 4 months and 10 days before his triumph at the 2021 PGA.
The winners of the four men’s major championships in 2021 were 24, 26, 29 and 50. Since the first Masters was held in 1934, it’s the only time that there has been a year where all four majors were held and none of the winners were in their 30s or 40s.