PGA TOUR winners in 2022 outlasted their own missteps
Tom Kim, Rory McIlroy, Will Zalatoris and now Adam Svensson overcame slow starts, calamity and heartache, in some cases reinventing themselves
November 21, 2022
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
- Tom Kim and Rory McIlroy both overcame poor starts to win on TOUR this year. (Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
The late development beat the early call, 9 and 8, this year.
But that wasn’t the whole story in 2022, because while the late development had a nice year, the long climb back – think Rich Strike winning the Kentucky Derby – had a better one.
We begin in the fall, because, well, recency bias.
Adam Svensson was T108 after a first-round 73 at The RSM Classic, the final official PGA TOUR event of 2022, but closed with 64-62-64 to win by two. It was the highest first round by a winner all year, and the highest since Jon Rahm (75) at the 2020 BMW Championship.
Adam Svensson's winning highlights from The RSM Classic
Should we have been surprised? Perhaps not.
At the Farmers Insurance Open in January, Luke List started the final round five back, shot 66, waited two hours to see if it was enough, then beat Will Zalatoris with a tap-in birdie on the first playoff hole, the par-5 18th. It was his first win in his 207th PGA TOUR start.
“You wonder if it’s going to be your turn,” List said.
Tom Hoge got his first win at the following week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, in his 203rd start. Said Hoge, “It’s been so long since I won anything that I forgot how to celebrate.”
Justin Thomas started Sunday seven shots back but won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, beating Zalatoris – him again! – in a playoff after Mito Pereira doubled 18. It was the biggest comeback in a major since Paul Lawrie overcame a 10-shot deficit at the 1999 Open Championship. “It’s funny,” Thomas said, “I was asked earlier in the week what lead is safe, and I said, ‘No lead.’”
Sam Burns won the Charles Schwab Challenge, also from seven back, a week later, beating good friend Scottie Scheffler in a playoff.
Xander Schauffele shot an opening-round 72 at the Genesis Scottish Open in July. He made up 11 shots over the next 54 holes, winning despite teeing it up in the tougher side of the draw for the first two rounds.
“If you're trying to win when you're on the bad side,” he said, “you just have to be better.”
And then things got weird.
Tom Kim’s winning highlights from Wyndham Championship
Tom Kim quadruple-bogeyed the first hole Thursday and won the Wyndham Championship by five shots Sunday, ending the regular season while beginning the era of Thomas the Tank Engine. His 25 birdies and one eagle for the week, and his final-round 61, announced the arrival of a new PGA TOUR superstar.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” he said. “I mean, I’ve never won a golf tournament starting with a quad.” No one else in PGA TOUR history had, either, since records have been kept.
If Kim’s bounce-back was outlandish, Rory McIlroy upped the ante.
After missing the Valero Texas Open cut, McIlroy fell to No. 27 in the FedExCup. He reset to finish second at the Masters the following week, and a long-delayed, successful title defense at the RBC Canadian Open, which hadn’t been played since 2019, further reinvigorated him. A final-round 62 allowed him to hold off Thomas and Tony Finau in a star-studded Sunday showdown.
All of which set up the zaniest comeback of the year.
With the Starting Strokes format at the TOUR Championship, McIlroy began six behind Scheffler. McIlroy pumped his opening drive out of bounds, started with a triple-bogey and bogey and promptly dropped 10 back of the reigning Masters champion. From there, all McIlroy did was make 23 birdies, two eagles, and history, edging Scheffler by one for an unprecedented third FedExCup title. McIlroy’s Sunday 66 allowed him to make up a six-shot deficit over the final 18 holes.
Rory McIlroy wins TOUR Championship and FedExCup
“I’m going to remember this week mostly for that,” McIlroy said. “Your mind can go one of two ways when you start like that, and automatically I thought about Tom Kim at Greensboro and the fact that he won after starting with a quad. I could have easily thought the other way and thought, I've got no chance now; what am I doing here?”
(Speaking of strong finishes, McIlroy ended the year as golf’s undisputed No. 1. He regained the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking with his victory in THE CJ CUP in South Carolina and then added the DP World Tour’s season-long points title to his FedExCup.)
If Kim inspired McIlroy, then perhaps McIlroy inspired Fred Couples.
In the fall, proving that the never-say-die trend was viable on PGA TOUR Champions, too, Couples, 63, double-bogeyed his very first hole of the SAS Championship. Two days later, he birdied 12 of his last 14 holes, including the last seven, to card a final-round 60 and win for the first time in five years. He also beat his age by three.
“The guy’s just a freak,” said his fill-in caddie, Griffin Flesch.
It was Zalatoris, though, who built the coolest monument to patience, resilience, and hard work. He had lost playoffs at the Farmers and PGA. He had faced a 15-footer at the last to force a playoff at the U.S. Open but missed. He parted with his longtime caddie, also a good friend, and hired Joel Stock, Ben Crane’s old sidekick. Zalatoris’ year was so full of heartache it was starting to sound like a country and western song.
Everything came together for him, though, at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in August. After burying exactly the type of do-or-die putt he’d previously missed – twice, as fate would have it, once in regulation and once in the playoff, both at the 18th hole – Zalatoris outlasted Sepp Straka with a bogey on the third extra hole in Memphis. The tears flowed.
“It’s kind of hard to say ‘about time’ when it’s your second year on TOUR,” Zalatoris said, “but about time.”
And that was just it, not just for him but also the others who outworked and outlasted their own missteps – the awful starts, tough finishes, long waits, or some combination of the three. “Time is on my side,” the Rolling Stones sang. Zalatoris and company lived that lyric in 2022.
Will Zalatoris breaks through for first win after close calls