Weekly PGA Recap: To the Viktor go the Spoils

Weekly PGA Recap: To the Viktor go the Spoils

This article is part of our Weekly PGA Recap series.

Viktor Hovland winning the TOUR Championship and FedEx Cup in dominating fashion creates more questions than answers.

Hovland won for the second straight week, by five strokes over Mr. East Lake Xander Schauffele, to win the $18 million first prize and complete one of the most impressive two-week stretches in recent PGA Tour memory.

Officially, Hovland shot 27-under-par to Schauffele's 22-under using the Tour's Starting Strokes Format. But if you take away Hovland opening at 8-under and Schauffele at 3-under, they shot the same score -- 19-under-par. They were seven shots clear of Wyndham Clark, who finished third under either scenario.

Also officially, Hovland moves to No. 4 in the world rankings. The OWGR does not follow the Tour's leaderboard; it determines the winner by the low-72 score. In this case, Hovland and Schauffele are "co-winners."

Now for the can of worms opened up by Hovland's recent stretch:

  • Should he be the No. 1-ranked player in the world after this third premium win and two major top-10s this season and sixth victory in 98 career PGA Tour starts?
  • Should he be the Player of the Year, in what was believed to be a two-man race between Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler?
  • With three of the top four players in the world in Hovland, Rahm and Rory McIlroy, should Europe now actually be the favorite in the Ryder Cup slated for Italy in late September?

The answers here are: No, no and yes.

As good as Hovland was in his past 10 starts, with three wins and a runner-up at the PGA Championship in May, he's not the best player in the world. No. 4 seems a proper ranking behind Scheffler, McIlroy and Rahm.

And even though the Tour would love the FedExCup champion to be the Player of the Year -- and some players will vote that way -- Hovland is not deserving of POY. Rahm is still probably the favorite with a front-loaded four-win season that included the Masters.

As for the Ryder Cup, Europe arguably has the three best players in the competition right now, with Scheffler struggling mightily on the greens. They go eight deep with veterans and it may come down to the captain's picks. The U.S. will name theirs Tuesday and Europe will do so after this week's Omega European Masters.

To close the loop on Hovland, we knew last year he was a soon-to-be-top-5 player, even with all his short-game, putting and course-management woes. Rarely does a player turn such glaring weaknesses into strengths. More often, they simply become less of a weakness. We had all the evidence of Hovland's turnaround we needed at No. 14 on Sunday, after Schauffele had closed his six-stroke deficit at the start of the day to three, with Hovland staring at a 23-footer for par. It went in, the lead did not dip to a nail-biting two strokes, and that was all she wrote.

"Well, to sum it up just throughout the year," said Hovland, "I feel like obviously short game has improved massively, course management has been a big deal, I'm not short-siding myself as much as I used to, and just handling adversity a lot better because I believe in my game and if I hit one bad shot or make one mistake it's not the end of the world. I keep pressing on, I keep making birdies, and suddenly we're back in it again.

"Before, it felt like, man, I have to not give up any shots to shoot a good round of golf. Whereas now that's not true anymore. I can hit one bad and I can get up-and-down and move on and birdie the next three and then suddenly we're right there."

Yep, that pretty much sums it up for Hovland, who sounds wise beyond his years. He turns 26 next month, and if he helps lead Europe to a Ryder Cup win, his burgeoning legend will grow even more.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

With the season now over, here's a mini-synopsis of every golfer who played in the TOUR Championship, in order of finish.

2. Xander Schauffele
If only Schauffele could get into better position to start the TOUR Championship. Because over the years, he's played East Lake better than anyone else. He won three times last season -- one of them was the team event -- but none during the just-concluded campaign, so even with Sunday's result this season has to be considered somewhat of a disappointment. Schauffele did have a runner-up at the Wells Fargo and had 10 top-10s and 17 top-25s in 21 starts entering East Lake. He did not miss a cut. He will turn 30 before next season and is still sitting on zero majors. He's clearly one of the very best in the world, albeit with one big asterisk next to his name.
 
3. Wyndham Clark
When your two best clubs are driver and putter -- as they are with Clark -- it's only a matter of time. He won the Wells Fargo Championship in May, then a month later put on a master class en route to winning the U.S. Open. There's no reason to think Clark won't be even better in 2024 -- not saying multiple wins or another major, but someone who ranks top-50 in every strokes gained stat has plenty of upside.

4. Rory McIlroy
Two wins, two runners-up, 12 top-10s in 17 starts before East Lake. And with another top-10, McIlroy finished the season with 10 in a row, the first time he's ever done that in his career. And yet it doesn't feel like a great year for McIlroy -- because of the majors. For better or worse, that's how his success, or lack thereof, is judged. More than anyone else. One of the runners-up was at the U.S. Open. Will McIlroy win a major in 2024, a decade after his most recent? Sure, he could.

5. Patrick Cantlay
There's no question Cantlay is one of the best players on the world. He had nine top-10s and 15 top-25s in 20 starts before the TOUR Championship. But he didn't win anywhere, and he didn't contend in a major despite a top-10 and two other top-20s. So Cantlay himself would not consider 2022-23 a success. He had a good chance to win the FedEx St. Jude Championship but inexplicably found the water on the first playoff hole.

T6. Tommy Fleetwood
Yes, he still hasn't won on the PGA Tour, but this was a great, great season for Fleetwood. Six times he finished in the top five. He just missed another here. He was top-10 at both Opens, top-20 at the PGA. He was top-15 on Tour in both Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and Putting. And fifth in SG: Total. Some guys in sports are just snake-bit, but it sure seems as if that elusive win is coming for Fleetwood.

T6. Collin Morikawa
The club control is as good as ever -- second in driving accuracy, second in SG: Approach. And even the flat stick is not horrible, with a ranking of 111th in SG: Putting. Yet it's been a down season for Morikawa, who hasn't won in more than two years, since the 2021 Open. He had fallen almost outside the top 25 in the world before rebounding to now sit 19th. He blew a big lead to Rahm at the Tournament of Champions in January and seemingly never recovered. He has been surpassed by fellow Class of 2019 star Hovland. It will be very interesting to see what Morikawa does in 2024.

T6. Scottie Scheffler
In some ways, it was one of the great seasons in recent PGA Tour memory, maybe ever. Scheffler's ball striking was historically good, gaining more strokes tee to green in the 20 years of tracking than anyone but Tiger Woods in 2006. And yet, even with an astounding 14 top-5s he won only twice and not since THE PLAYERS in March. And something is lacking. Mostly, the putter. It's hard to imagine what might have been if he hadn't been ranked 150th in SG: Putting.

T9. Sam Burns
Burns has won five times in his young career. His ceiling is so high. But what he needs at age 27 after 135-plus starts on the PGA Tour is a higher floor. Burns finished top-25 in fewer than half of his 25 starts before East Lake (12). Greater consistency generally comes by this age, but not yet for Burns. In DFS and betting, he's hard to rely on him like we can (somewhat) with other top guys.

T9. Keegan Bradley
Making a final push for a Ryder Cup captain's pick, Bradley was great through three rounds, then face-planted with a 3-over 73. In his age-37 season, Bradley won twice (ZOZO, Travelers) and was runner-up once (Farmers). And he was in the mix at East Lake for 54 holes. He had only two other top-10s all season, so his consistency could've been better. Especially when, as one of the game's great ball strikers, he ranked in 21st in SG: Putting. At this point in an athlete's career, you never know when it will tail off. Bradley could very well have another good season in 2024, though two wins seems unlikely.

T9. Matt Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick did win the RBC Heritage, and he was just runner-up last week at the BMW. But his season has not been as good as last year. Of course, he won the U.S. Open in 2022. But Fitzpatrick had only five top-10s in 2023 -- not good for a player ranked top-10 in the world. He ranked only 91st in SG: Approach and 123rd in greens in regulation. If that doesn't improve in 2024, that's a problem.

T9. Max Homa
Two wins and a runner-up is a career for 99 percent of pro golfers. Homa did it by February this season, winning the season-opening Fortinet Championship and the Farmers Insurance Open before finishing second at the Genesis Invitational. He picked up the pace again late in the season, notably notching his first top-10 in a major at the Open. With six career wins and now a Ryder Cup berth, the next step for Homa is winning a major. We think he can do it, but it's most important for him to think he can do it.

T9. Adam Schenk
After a 2021-22 season that included 16 missed cuts in 32 starts, perhaps there was no greater surprise qualifier for this year's TOUR Championship than Schenk. He still missed 12 cuts in the same number of starts. But he had six top-10s and came close to his maiden PGA Tour win with runners-up at the Valspar Championship and Charles Schwab Challenge. Schenk could've finished so much higher at East Lake, but he had two soul-crushing doubles on the back nine. He will be in all the majors next year, and he needs to improve there, having missed the cut in all three he played this year.

T14. Russell Henley
One of the great ball strikers who won at the beginning of the season and turned it on at the end, Henley got some fringe support for the Ryder Cup. He won't get picked, though. He won in Mayakoba way back in the fall and nearly took down the Wyndham Championship before posting top-10s at the first two playoff events. The Tour leader in driving accuracy and just outside the top 25 in SG: Approach and GIR, Henley will always go as far as his putter takes him. This year, with a ranking of 115th, it took him as far as East Lake.

T14. Sepp Straka
Straka won last year at the Honda Classic and continued to elevate his game this year, winning the John Deere Classic to go along with a runner-up at the Open and a top-10 at the PGA Championship. He will be on the European Ryder Cup team. If he could somehow improve his short game anywhere close to how Hovland has -- he was 153rd in SG: Around-the-Green -- the rest of his game is good enough to challenge for a top-15 spot in the world.

T16. Rickie Fowler
One of the best things that could've happened this season to the PGA Tour happened. Fowler became relevant again -- he became important again. He finished top-10 so many times, top-25 almost every week -- 17 out of 24 entering East Lake -- and he won the Rocket Mortgage Classic. There's no reason to think this season was an aberration, even though Fowler will turn 35 -- how unfathomable is that? -- before next season starts. 

T16. Tyrrell Hatton
Hatton had one of the great non-winning seasons of anybody. No matter how that sounds, that's a compliment. He had four top-5s, including a runner-up to Scheffler at THE PLAYERS Championship. He missed only one cut all season. Hatton finished top-25 in every SG stat but Around-the-Green. He is a complete player, one who could easily win in 2024.

T18. Lucas Glover
Glover was terrible for much of the season. He didn't qualify for any major -- and they let almost anyone in the PGA Championship. Then he made a now-famous putting change and won twice in a row at the Wyndham and FedEx St. Jude Championships. At 43 years old and having putted poorly forever except for the past couple of months, we can expect better play from Glover in 2024, though not at the level we saw recently. It is not sustainable and already wasn't at the BMW and TOUR Championship.

T18. Jon Rahm
Four wins. One of them a major. This has to be your Player of the Year, right? Well, maybe. Look, it was another great year on the whole for Rahm, but he wasn't as consistent as Scheffler and did little after winning the Masters -- his final victory of the year -- in April. It sounds nit-picky, but when you are a top-5 player in the world you're held to a higher standard.

T20 Tony Finau
Finau was one of the big disappointments of the season. And that's hard to do when you won twice. But he had only three other top-10s all season, did not have a top-25 in any major, did not do much of anything after the second win at the Mexico Open in late April and almost surely won't be on the Ryder Cup team. It's hard to pinpoint what went wrong because he was still top-10 in SG: Approach and 116th in Putting, which is not terrible for him.

T20. Si Woo Kim
Kim has been around forever and he's still only 28 and will be for most of next season. He's clearly maturing, clearly getting better. He won the Sony Open, was runner-up at the Byron Nelson and made it to East Lake. He made a second caddie change in two years. Maybe the level of maturity can be illustrated in his number of missed cuts -- just four in all of 2022, just four so far in 2023. That number was never fewer than seven in years past and was as high as 14 as recently as 2019.

T20. Tom Kim
No matter what, it was going to be hard for Kim to match last season's incredible debut. He did go out and win the Shriners in the fall, but he endured a long stretch of subpar play, going from The American Express in January to the U.S. Open in June without a top-10. He finished out the season much stronger. Kim is not a long hitter, so he will need to improve closer to the green. He ranked 79th in SG: Around-the-Green and 86th in SG: Putting. He's still only 21.

23. Brian Harman
If you win your first major at age 36, everything else in the season is gravy. Harman did have pockets of poor play early on, but he started to uptick in the spring before winning the Open Championship. As long as he maintains that fight and his putter remains true, he should have another good season in 2024. But let's not count on another major, and maybe not even a win.

24. Sungjae Im
Im is still only 25. He's played five full seasons on Tour. He's won twice in his career. He made great strides after a midseason slump to get himself into the TOUR Championship. But there is clearly something lacking. He's still never cracked the top 15 in the world rankings -- ever. His high is 16th. No matter how flawed you think the OWGR system is, you can't be considered a great player with that void on your resume.

25. Nick Taylor
At age 35, Taylor won for the third time. It was easily the biggest win of his career, as he became the first Canadian in 69 years to win his national championship. He also finished runner-up in Phoenix. He entered the top 50 of the OWGR. And he made the TOUR Championship. It seems he's found a new gear in his career in his mid-30s, but it would be easy see some regression in 2024.

26. Corey Conners
Conners won for the second time on Tour at the Valero Texas Open. He made it to the TOUR Championship again. He entered East Like top-16 on Tour in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Approach and Tee-to-Green. But he's outside the top 100 in Around-the-Green and Putting, and that's why his ceiling isn't super high. Conners' best world ranking has been 25th.

27. Jordan Spieth
The good news is, Spieth put himself in position to win on Sunday a number of times this season. The bad news is, he was unable to close out any of them. He's still No. 12 in the world and still capable of some Spiethian moments, but he's clearly not in the top echelon of players these days. But because he is so beloved, his prices tend to be inflated because people want to bet on the enormously likable Golden Boy. 
 
28. Jason Day
It's hard to find fault with a season that saw Day come back from near oblivion. He won for the first time in five years at the Byron Nelson and reclaimed a top-25 spot in the world. In his seven tournaments between the Nelson and East Lake, he finished top-40 just once. Granted, it was a shared runner-up at the Open Championship, but Day's game fell off dramatically. It's something to watch early in 2024.

T29. Emiliano Grillo
Grillo made the TOUR Championship for the first time since his 2015-16 rookie season. Something changed this past April, when he started putting better, resulting in a string of high finishes highlighted by his win at the Charles Schwab Challenge. He ranked 75th in putting for the season -- and even much higher if you lop off the first half of the year -- after being 192nd in 2019-20. Next year, it's just a question of whether he can keep it up on the greens, because his ball striking is great.

T29. Taylor Moore
Moore made incredible strides in his second season on Tour, highlighted by his Valspar Championship win in March. His career, at least for the next two years, is set. What he needs now is more consistency. He missed 10 cuts this season, same as last, and that's way more than the top players.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for nine years. Len is a three-time winner of the FSWA DFS Writer of the Year Award (2020, '22 and '23) and a five-time nominee (2019-23). He is also a writer and editor for MLB Advanced Media.
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