Alternate PGA Tour scoring system shows who really won the 2023 season
This was the year the PGA Tour schedule changed. For the first time, top PGA Tour pros were to be mandated to show up the same 17 times to ensure the most competitive fields and guarantee the best possible product.
Granted, the mandate thing turned out to be a bit flimsy. And they’re changing the name of these things (they started as “elevated events,” then became “designated events” and are headed towards “signature events”) plus their format next year, too. But the whole point was for these ones to matter a little bit extra. So — how’d it go?
Because the model for these events borrowed from other sports, which prioritize season-long contests and appointment viewing, I figured it would only be right to use the scoring format from Formula 1’s Drivers Championship. (Consider this the Drivers, Irons, Chippers and Putters Championship.) That means finishing “in the points” requires a top 10 (slightly easier in F1’s 20-driver fields than, say, the 156-competitor Players Championship) with 25 points for a victory all the way down to a single point for finishing 10th.
What counts as a designated event? I used the four majors (4), the Players (5), the three invitationals (8), the Sentry (9), the WGC-Match Play (10), the four additional designated events (14) and the three playoff events (17) while disregarding starting strokes for the Tour Championship. That last bit is hardly perfect, but none of this is perfect; this isn’t comprehensive nor predictive. I’m sure I’ve also made multiple mistakes in recording this manually. Sorry in advance! But despite (or perhaps because of!) a lack of strokes-gained numbers I think this is a compelling snapshot of who actually logged top finishes in the game’s most competitive fields this year.
Let’s run through the top 15 players, who I’ve subdivided into six categories; then I’ll post the full list to show off every golfer who earned at least five points.
The Hot Starters
Brooks Koepka (15th, 44 points), Sam Burns (14th, 45 points), Kurt Kitayama (13th, 48 points), Matthew Fitzpatrick (12th, 53 points), Tyrrell Hatton (11th, 55 points)
This fivesome interestingly earned the large majority of its collective points by the conclusion of the PGA Championship. That includes Koepka, whose runner-up finish at the Masters and win at the PGA were an unmatched one-two punch this season. It also includes Kitayama, whose win at Bay Hill and T4 at the PGA were unfortunately ancient history by the time Ryder Cup teams were getting chosen. Burns and Fitzpatrick got boosts from strong one-offs in the FedEx Cup Playoffs but they, like their compatriots in this clump, hope their best golf is ahead.
The Major Champs
Brian Harman (10th, 59 points), Wyndham Clark (9th, 67 points)
It would be unfair to say that these two collected even the majority of their points from their major championship wins; those were worth just 25 each. But there’s no question that the respective U.S. Open and Open Championships for Clark and Harman took ’em over the top. The wins were also surprises; more surprising than, say, the Masters and PGA titles won by Rahm and Koepka. But both guys got very hot for a few weeks this summer — Harman finished runner-up at the Travelers and fifth at the BMW, while Clark also won at Quail Hollow and turned in the third-best score at the Tour Championship — and turned those hot streaks into maiden major titles plus more than enough points to auto-qualify for the Ryder Cup.
Max Homa (8th, 68 points), Jordan Spieth (7th, 69 points)
Both Homa and Spieth were higher on this list earlier in the year; at least one of them logged a top 10 in each of the first nine designated events. Each of ’em notched an emotional runner-up — Homa at Riviera and Spieth at Harbour Town — and each found something in the playoffs. Now, for Rome…
Xander Schauffele (6th, 73 points), Patrick Cantlay (5th, 84 points)
It remains remarkable just how often these two find themselves in close proximity. Not just in Tuesday practice rounds but on leaderboards, on money lists, in the world ranking. And while they got to fifth and sixth on this list in slightly different ways — Schauffele got a boost from finishing T1 in the Tour Championship’s stroke-play department — it’s only fitting that they finish the year in fifth and sixth in both the OWGR and this patented ranking.
Rory McIlroy (4th, 104 points), Jon Rahm (3rd, 113 points), Viktor Hovland (2nd, 117 points)
For the last few weeks Viktor Hovland has been far-and-away the best golfer on the planet. For the last few months Rory McIlroy has been the most well-rounded golfer on the planet. And when you look at the year in full, Jon Rahm has the most to show for his efforts — most notably a Masters title but also wins at Riviera and Kapalua. He and Hovland are the only two guys with three designated wins, while McIlroy is the top-ranked guy without a single one. They’re 2-3-4 in the world and they’re rightfully atop this list, too.
The Best Swinger
Scottie Scheffler (1st, 160 points)
Scottie Scheffler’s struggles with the putter have been well-documented. It’s probably impossible, though, to properly document just how well he hit the golf ball this year. In these 17 events he logged two wins, six podiums and nine top-fives. Nine! Bonkers. His 160 points is fully 43 ahead of Hovland’s season total. That’s a monument to his consistency.
You can see the complete list broken out by tournament below:
1st — 25 points
2nd — 18
3rd — 15
4th — 12
5th — 10
6th — 8
7th — 6
8th — 4
9th — 2
10th — 1
Bonus point: Awarded for lowest tournament score
Designated Events (in order): Sentry, WM Phoenix Open, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship, WGC-Match Play, Masters, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship, PGA Championship, Memorial Tournament, U.S. Open, Travelers, Open Championship, FedEx-St. Jude Championship, BMW Championship, Tour Championship
-Jon Rahm posted an incredible four “fastest laps,” recording the lowest single score at the Sentry, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Masters and the Open Championship. Only Viktor Hovland, Max Homa, Denny McCarthy and Rickie Fowler also had multiple low tournament rounds, with two each — though it’s worth noting Fowler’s came in back-to-back tournaments at the U.S. Open (62) and the Travelers Championship (60).
-If this was the only source material we had to select the U.S. Ryder Cup team, we’d unsurprisingly end up with a pretty similar list, with Scheffler, Cantlay, Schauffele, Spieth, Homa, Clark and Harman coming in as the top seven. But then we’d have Kurt Kitayama in the eighth spot before three more Ryder Cuppers (Burns, Koepka, Morikawa) come in. Rickie Fowler (15 points) and Justin Thomas (14 points) are well down the list, each outside the top 20 Americans. What does this mean? Partly it means this system is extremely flawed, and Fowler gets zero credit for his top-20 finishes that weren’t top 10s. But it’s also an interesting reminder how many different ways there are to chop up this discourse.
-This is hardly surprising, given it’s a limited field and the penultimate playoff event, but the BMW leaderboard was truly emblematic of the season as a whole.
-I’d like to see Tom Kim behind the wheel of an F1 car.