By Flint Wheeler
A look back at what we’ll remember in pro golf from the opening stretch of 2017.
Best Player: Justin Thomas
Not only did Thomas win both events in Hawaii, but he also became just the seventh player to break 60 in US PGA Tour history and set the tour’s 72-hole scoring record in a seven-shot romp at the Sony Open. Combined with his victory at the CIMB Classic in October, Thomas already has three wins in the 2016-2017 season. It’s taken a couple years, but Thomas, 23, is finally being asked about something other than being Jordan Spieth’s good friend.
Best (International) Player: Hideki Matsuyama
Like Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama also has a seven-shot win this season. Although that came last October in the early portion of the schedule at the WGC-HSBC, his hot play carried over into 2017. He finished runner-up to Thomas at Kapalua and then defended his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Most Disappointing Comeback: Tiger Woods
Woods set an ambitious schedule of four events in five weeks starting with the Farmers Insurance Open. He wound up playing just three rounds. After missing the cut at Torrey Pines, Woods shot an opening 77 in Dubai before withdrawing with back spasms. He then pulled out of his next two events and didn’t even attend his scheduled press conference at Riviera because of his doctor’s recommendation. Not surprisingly, his odds of winning the Masters have been slashed from 20/1 to 100/1. And at this point, even that higher number seems ridiculous.
Best Short Game: Phil Mickelson
Where do we begin? Putting off the green on purpose at Torrey Pines to set up a birdie? Playing a perfect pitch shot off Riviera’s sixth green? Holing three chips/pitches in a NINE-hole stretch? At 46, Mickelson’s short game is as sharp as ever.
Best Performance By A Former No.1: Jordan Spieth
As good as Thomas and Matsuyama have played in 2017, Spieth has been the most consistent. And the 23-year-old reminded everyone he’s not done winning by cruising to victory at Pebble Beach. According to odds makers, he’s the clear favorite at the Masters, where he has a win and two runner-ups in three appearances.
Best Performance By A New No.1: Dustin Johnson
The Official World Golf Ranking can be difficult to understand, but in this case, it makes perfect sense. Dustin Johnson, the reigning US Tour Player of the Year, dominated the field at Riviera to take the top spot from Jason Day. DJ also tops this list in the “best week” category. Two days before his latest win, fiancée Paulina Gretzky announced she’s pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Biggest Breakout Star: Jon Rahm
With one (LONG) putt, Rahm announced himself as the US Tour’s next young star. Rahm drained a 60-footer on Torrey Pines’ 18th hole that capped a stunning back nine and guaranteed the former top-ranked amateur his first victory in the big leagues. He followed that up with a T-16 in Phoenix and a T-5 at Pebble, making Phil Mickelson’s claim that Rahm is already “one of the best players in the world” hard to dispute.
Worst Performance From Someone Who Is Supposed To Be A Breakout Star: Bryson DeChambeau
The former US Amateur champ’s switch to a side-saddle putting method drew a lot of attention, but so far, it hasn’t provided him with good results. DeChambeau began 2017 with a T-49 at the Sony Open and things have only gotten worse. He has three missed cuts and a WD since, while also learning that his putter was deemed non-conforming by the USGA. Of course, at just 23, he’s got a lot of time to tinker.
Best Cameo: Justin Timberlake
The superstar entertainer flashed an impressive golf game at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Making the cut with partner Justin Rose, Timberlake chipped in twice and just missed an ace on Pebble’s famed seventh hole. Timberlake and business partner Tiger Woods also invested in the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour. That deserves a standing ovation as well.
Best Trick Shot: Patrick Reed
Not only did Reed pull off the ol’ hit-it-to-yourself trick, he did it at the rowdiest spot in golf. Well, arguably the rowdiest. Maybe he’ll pull this out again at the next Ryder Cup. It’s just a pity he wasn’t in Perth (as promised) to replicate it.