At an event exclusively for golfers who have won on the PGA Tour over the last 12 months, Harris English broke an eight-year winless drought on Sunday at the Tournament of Champions.
If that’s confusing, it should be. The 42-golfer field included both winners from 2020 as well as everyone who finished in the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings (where English finished 12th). He’s been a top-10 (or so) golfer in the world throughout the last year, even if it took until 2021 for him to get the win to prove it.
It was a bit bumpy coming home on Sunday. Following a 21-under showing over the first three days, English played the first 11 holes on Sunday in even par and gave up his co-lead after three rounds. It took a Herculean finish that included five birdies (and the shot of the tournament) in the last eight holes for him to chase down Joaquin Niemann and get into a playoff.
That shot of the week came on No. 18 in regulation when English flushed one from 271 yards to 10 feet for eagle and the win. He missed the eagle putt and settled for birdie and the playoff, where another birdie on No. 18 — this one less conspicuous than the last — secured his first win since November 2013.
“It’s incredible,” he said through tears after the victory. “A lot of hard work over the years. You never think you’re going to get here again. … It’s hard to win out here. I had a really good chance this week and felt good about my game. I just had to get it done.”
English’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster. He was a tremendous amateur, and then won twice back in 2013 on the PGA Tour while climbing as high as No. 38 in the world. From there, it was a slow fall until now that saw him outside the top 180 in the world at the end of 2017, 2018 and 2019. But his 2020 was tremendous, and he, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy were the three best players in the world who didn’t win.
Now, though, English snags the first victory of 2021 and earned a trip back to Kapalua for the 2022 Tournament of Champions the old-fashioned way. Grade: A+
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Let’s take a look now at how some others in the field finished and hand out some grades.
Joaquin Niemann (2nd): He’s younger than Collin Morikawa, Sungjae Im and Viktor Hovland and only eight months older than Matthew Wolff. He was unreal over the weekend, and played his last 22 holes in 11 under (with a bogey). The trajectory of both his drives and his career is obviously exciting, and we may have arrived at the intersection of him winning multiple times on the PGA Tour and folks finally realizing how young and how great he is. Grade: A+
Xander Schauffele (T5): He did what he does at this course and logged a backdoor top-five finish with a 66 on Sunday. Coming into this week, Schauffele was the third-best golfer of the last decade at the Plantation Course at Kapalua, and he played well again with a pair of 66s two of the four days. However, I’d like to see him close from out in front instead of trying to sneak through the back door for all of these wins. He’s a pretty good final-round player, but not a top-10 guy in the world at putting himself in the proper position going into the final round. Grade: A
Bryson DeChambeau (T7): The leverage of DeChambeau’s new power is that he can finish top 10 in an event in which he was -1 strokes gained combined in every category except for off the tee. That just should not happen, but it did. And while it might be slightly harder for him to gain strokes on everything past his tee shot, he needs only to be average in those areas to win golf tournaments. That’s a terrifying proposition.
“I learned a lot about my game with the new speed,” said DeChambeau after (narrowly) leading the field in driving distance. “My putting was rusty this week, unfortunately.”
When it’s not, he’s going to win a lot. Grade: A
Collin Morikawa (T7): Loved what I saw from Morikawa this week. I was mildly concerned about him coming into this year with all the speed wars going on. That’s not his world, so it creates opportunity for him to irresponsibly chase it or to get lapped by guys who are much longer than him. Instead, he did what he does as well as (probably better than) anyone else in the world and was flawless on his approach shots for the first three days before finally fading a bit on Sunday. Still, it was a nice start to what should be a monster year for Morikawa. Grade: A-
Dustin Johnson (T11): D.J. dug too big of a hole when he lost over a stroke on the first day when everybody was posting great numbers. The next three days were lights out, though, and his swing looked great. One thing D.J. did on Sunday when the wind was up that I haven’t seen a ton from him is a little choked-down, low bullet shot from the fairway. It might be a shot he already had in his arsenal, but if he’s adding to it, this week was a nice harbinger that’s going to continue to be problematic for the rest of the golf world. Grade: A
Hideki Matsuyama (T41): Had to include one bad week in here even though the scoring across the board was good. Matsuyama lost — close your eyes and look away if you don’t want to see it — almost 10 strokes putting this week and finished tied for last. Grade: D-