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In another sign of the growing importance of the FedExCup among players, the PGA Tour membership voted Patrick Cantlay the circuit’s Player of the Year.
Cantlay led the Tour with four victories and was dominant in the playoffs with triumphs at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship to secure the FedExCup, but there was not a sense he was the runaway favorite to claim the Jack Nicklaus Award.
At East Lake, many players contended that Jon Rahm was the player of the year despite having won just once during the 2020-21 season. The Spaniard was dominant in the majors with a victory at the U.S. Open in June and top-10 finishes in all four majors contested this year.
Rahm also would have finished tied for first at the Tour Championship, alongside Kevin Na, if not for the strokes-based scoring system used at the finale that gave Cantlay a 10-under head start for the week.
Rahm likely would have also won the Memorial, which Cantlay won, but he was forced to withdraw with a six-stroke lead through 54 holes after testing positive for COVID-19.
Although it’s assumed that the voting was close between Cantlay and Rahm, the Tour doesn’t release vote totals.
The Tour’s membership made a similar statement vote in 2019 when Rory McIlroy was named the Player of Year despite Brooks Koepka’s brilliant play in the majors that included a victory (PGA Championship) and top-4 finishes in the other three Grand Slam stops. Both McIlroy and Koepka finished the ’19 season with three victories, but McIlroy’s wins at The Players and Tour Championship appeared to sway the voting in his favor.
That’s not to say Cantlay’s season wasn’t impressive or worthy of POY consideration. In his four victories, he outdueled a player (Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas) who either won a major or The Players in 2020-21. He was also the only player to finish inside the top 30 in all four major strokes gained categories (off the tee, approach the green, around the green and putting) and finished the season with 17 top-25 finishes in 24 starts.
“The fact that it’s voted on by my fellow PGA Tour players, I think that means a lot to me,” Cantlay said. “[The Jack Nicklaus Award] wasn’t something that I necessarily thought was on the radar middle of the year, but then I closed really well and played a lot of really nice golf towards the end.”