These 10 big-time PGA Tour pros are chasing comeback seasons

Rickie Fowler is among those PGA Tour pros seeking a big-time 2022 major season.

Rickie Fowler is among those PGA Tour pros seeking a big-time 2022 major season.

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It’s Comeback Season on the PGA Tour.

At least, these guys hope so.

There’s no shortage of professional golfers endeavoring to improve their world ranking in 2022. In fact, other than Jon Rahm, your current belt-holder, I’d wager nearly every pro is looking to finish the year in a better position than they began. And if they’re going to do so, now is the time: Major season approacheth! The Players is just in our rearview and plenty else is sprawling out ahead. Time to get after it.

Some ground rules for this list: When I’m talking about a true “comeback” I’m thinking of a player with a high-profile peak — think top 10 in the world, at least — who has fallen significantly since but could still have some prime seasons left.

(Sidenote: We broke it down on this week’s episode of the Drop Zone, which you can find below or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify!)

To the list!

10. Francesco Molinari

Age: 39

Current World Ranking: 176

Peak World Ranking: 5

Career peak: This one is simple, if unfortunate: Francesco Molinari peaked on the 12th tee at the 2019 Masters. He was the defending Open Champion, he’d dominated the Ryder Cup, he’d even won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and now here he was, getting ready for a seven-hole coronation at Augusta. Something changed in that moment when his golf ball settled at the bottom of golf’s most famous creek.

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What’s missing: A little bit of everything. During that stretch of brilliance, we got used to Molinari being bulletproof; now he’s relatively ordinary across the board. The starkest statistical drop is in the effectiveness of his golf swing. He was second in strokes gained from tee to green in 2017-18, while his putting was surprisingly poor and ranked No. 182 on Tour. Now it’s his short game duct-taping together a lesser long game; Molinari is losing strokes to the field off the tee as well as approaching the green.

Comeback status: Middling. Molinari seems to be playing more (he barely played at all early in the pandemic) but hasn’t found himself in the thick of contention very often, logging three top-20s in 2021. His happy place seems to be the American Express, where he’s finished inside the top 10 each of the last two seasons.

9. Danny Willett

Age: 34

Current World Ranking: 155

Peak World Ranking: 9

Career peak: He won the Masters in 2016. That’s gonna be tough to top.

What’s missing: Contention on the PGA Tour, where he doesn’t have a top 20 finish in nearly a calendar year. His iron play has deserted him specifically; Willett has fallen to 149th or worse each of the last three seasons in strokes gained approaching the green — though in fairness that only considers his PGA Tour play.

Comeback status: Middling. I say that mostly because of one specific result: A victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links last fall. Willett has contended a handful of times on the DP World Tour, but that’s his only top-three finish worldwide since his last win, which came at the BMW PGA Championship in 2019. Willett’s Masters win remains his only Tour victory.

8. Martin Kaymer

Age: 37

Current World Ranking: 151

Peak World Ranking: 1

Career peak: This now seems like ancient history but Kaymer won the 2014 U.S. Open by eight shots. He had already won that year’s Players Championship and clearly possessed some it factor that allowed him to torpedo the best golfers in the world, when he was on.

What’s missing: PGA Tour status. Kaymer has retreated to playing a large majority of his golf on the DP World Tour, where he occasionally contends, but it’s tough to do more than slowly sink in the world rankings unless you’re regularly playing the PGA Tour or dominant elsewhere.

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Comeback status: Signs of life. That U.S. Open victory was still Kaymer’s most recent worldwide win, but he got close with two podium finishes last summer. Still, his last three PGA Tour starts (MC-MC-T48) are doing him no favors. We’d love to see Kaymer don a Ryder Cup uniform once more, and not just as assistant captain.

7. Rickie Fowler

Age: 33

Current World Ranking: 132

Peak World Ranking: 4

Career peak: In 2014, Fowler was a can’t-miss kid who finished inside the top 5 in all four majors.

What’s missing: It’s been three years since Fowler’s last victory, at the 2019 Waste Management, and he finished solo second at the 2018 Masters — but it’s been downhill since. What’s discouraging is that what’s holding him back the last couple seasons is the same thing that used to be his superpower: his putting. Fowler was a consistently top-tier putter, even leading the Tour in strokes gained putting in 2016-17. This season he’s 191st out of 213.

Comeback status: Stalled. Fowler seemed on the brink of something good when he finished T3 at the CJ Cup in the fall — but his best result since then has been T40. If you’re feeling optimistic you’d point to Fowler’s putting as an obvious growth point. Surely he’ll find something on the greens! And if he does, the rest of his game is plenty sharp to be a PGA Tour contender.

6. Jason Day

Age: 34

Current World Ranking: 102

Peak World Ranking: 1

Career peak: When Jason Day won the 2016 Players Championship he was coming off one of the hottest streaks in modern PGA Tour history: Seven wins in 17 starts and the undisputed title of World No. 1 (which he would retain through year’s end).

What’s missing: Health and consistency. Day still shows occasional top form — he finished T3 at the Farmers in January — but he has missed significant time with injuries and his swing has struggled as a result. His iron play hasn’t been up to snuff since that 2016 season; he’s finished outside the top 130 on Tour every year since.

Comeback status: Uncertain. Day talks some weeks about returning to world No. 1. He’s also spoken extensively about the possibility of an early retirement. Clearly he still has plenty of game, particularly at places like Torrey Pines where he has a positive history. Can he recapture that magic in his mid-30s?

5. Gary Woodland

Age: 37

Current World Ranking: 93

Peak World Ranking: 12

Career peak: Winning the 2019 U.S. Open.

What’s missing: Good health. Woodland was battling a devastating back injury throughout 2020, which had a debilitating effect on his game.

Comeback status: Encouraging! He has two T5 finishes in his last four starts and has generally been an all-or-nothing player, missing the cut or finishing relatively high on the weekend. When Woodland is hot, he’s hot. Now it’s a matter of turning those hot weeks into wins and climbing back into the Tour’s elite ranks.

4. Justin Rose

Age: 41

Current World Ranking: 52

Peak World Ranking: 1

Career peak: His career highlight came when he won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion but his career peak came much more recently, when he ascended to world No. 1 in 2019.

What’s missing: Contention. Rose hasn’t fallen off a cliff, he just hasn’t sustained the excellence we’d come to expect from him. This was most obvious on the weekend at each of the last two Masters, where Rose was in contention through 36 holes but couldn’t sustain that play on Saturday and Sunday.

Comeback status: Trending up. After a poor 2020, in which he had more missed cuts than top 10s for the first time since 2009, Rose has been on a consistent if unspectacular run of form. Top 10s at Augusta and Kiawah last year plus a T6 at this year’s Farmers are encouraging signs that his game is still built to take on the game’s toughest tests.

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3. Tommy Fleetwood

Age: 31

Current World Ranking: 46

Peak World Ranking: 9

What’s missing: PGA Tour status. Fleetwood remains without a victory on U.S. soil and curiously lost his card last season.

Comeback status: Encouraging. Fleetwood’s fantastic short game has him currently inside the top 100 in FedEx Cup points and he’s playing enough events through exemptions plus world ranking that he should regain full status next season. Remarkably he has missed just one cut since the PGA Championship last May, which means we should all be bullish on Fleetwood going forward.

2. Adam Scott

Age: 41

Current World Ranking: 37

Peak World Ranking: 1

Career peak: His ascent to World No. 1 obviously merits mention, but when he won the 2013 Masters to climb to world No. 3 (when Tiger Woods still had a strangehold on No. 1) the golf world was on notice.

What’s missing: Normalcy. Few golfers were in better form than Scott right before the pandemic; he was coming off a win at the Genesis Invitational and had reached No. 6 in the world. After an unsteady return to golf, he struggled with a tricky travel schedule and didn’t seriously contend again until the 2021 Wyndham Championship.

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Comeback status: Very encouraging. Scott is known as a shaky putter, but the stats say that’s been a myth for years; he’s climbed from 165th on Tour in 2018 to 31st, 49th, 18th and 13th the last four seasons. Scott has the game to contend and he has been closer to doing so, notching three top 5s in his last 10 starts on Tour.

1. Webb Simpson

Age: 36

Current World Ranking: 36

Peak World Ranking: 4

Career peak: Tough to pinpoint. His biggest win came at the 2012 U.S. Open, which sent him to No. 5 in the world. But he also got into a serious groove from 2018-2021, finishing inside the top 10 seemingly every week and, in 2020, winning the Waste Management and the RBC Heritage just three starts apart.

What’s missing: Excellence? Because Simpson is not a long hitter, every other part of his game was elite for several years to keep him inside that top 10, on the Ryder Cup team and consistently deep in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. But Simpson has battled injury and been slightly off since his return.

Comeback status: Uncertain? Simpson has one top 10 in just seven starts this season. But he could also contend in this year’s majors and nobody would be surprised.

Comeback season rolls on.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.