With the fall schedule now a thing of the past and the PGA Tour train set to return to the depot for the next fortnight, what better time to reflect on the opening weeks of the season. With a lack of time between last season and the current campaign, thanks to the initial COVID interruptions, it’s been a busier schedule than usual, so it’s unsurprising that the early-season events have been less than jam-packed with top-tier talent, though that’s not to say that quality has been lacking.
Who’s started hot?
So, who has made a pleasing start to the new campaign? The obvious starting place here is the winners of the opening nine events. Max Homa came out the starting gate quicker than anyone else, claiming the inaugural event, though he quickly went off the boil.
Sam Burns, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, and Sungjae Im, who already has three top-20 finishes to his name, all won during the early weeks of the campaign. Australian Lucas Herbert became a winner on the PGA Tour for the first time in October, winning the Bermuda Championship, while rising star Viktor Hovland, who is now up to ninth in the world rankings, picked up his third tour success, showing the Mexican crowd that he’s a player very much on the up.
Talor Gooch became the second first-time PGA Tour winner before the fall schedule ended, coming out on top in the RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort, a victory that lifted him up to 33rd in the world rankings. Naturally, the early-season winners have stood out, but there are plenty of players bubbling away under the surface, players who for one reason or another have given the impression that big performances are around the corner.
As touched on above, it’s easy to focus on the winners of the opening nine events, though some of the biggest eye-catchers are yet to get their noses in front. A handful of players have put in several top-class performances, recording some excellent numbers, so much so that their time should soon come. Let’s run the rule over these select few.
Following what was an excellent 2021 campaign, which saw the Australian pick up a third PGA Tour success, plus a host of top-ten finishes, Cameron Smith has made a pleasing start to the 2022 season. He’s yet to win, but Smithy has already stuck two top-tens in the book, finishing T9, T15, and T4 in his three events.
Playing some determined and eye-catching golf, the laid-back 28-year-old currently ranks as the third-best on tour in terms of scoring average, not to mention the seventh-best when it comes to strokes gained: approach. Having displayed some dialed-in approach play in each of the three events that he’s taken part in, Smith also delivered the goods on the green. The man known for his sharp putting has gained 0.959 strokes with the flatstick this season, meaning that he currently ranks 11th for strokes gained: putting.
Ranking ninth on tour right now for strokes gained: total, given his recent form, it would be a surprise if the Brisbane native didn’t continue to challenge at the head of the leaderboard once the action resumes.
Of those who’re yet to get their noses in front since the start of the new campaign, few players have performed as well or have been as consistent as Aaron Wise, who in five events is yet to finish lower than T26, posting finishes of T26, T8, T5, T15, and T26.
In a variety of conditions and on a few different types of courses, the 25-year-old, who is a one-time winner on the PGA Tour, has shown that he’s capable of mixing it on a regular basis at this level. Without smoking it in any particular area of the game, Wise has been very steady, as is shown by the fact that he’s currently the tenth-best on tour when it comes to strokes gained: tee-to-green. He’s also 11th for scoring average, and if he continues in the same vein, it probably won’t be long until he gets his name on another piece of silverware, so be wise and keep Wise in mind going forward.
The number one player on tour right now for scoring average, Matthew Wolff has started the new season in fine form, opening with a T17 at the Sanderson Farms, before finishing second in Vegas, which was followed by a T5 in Mexico and a respectable T11 in Houston.
One of the finest and most unique products to come off the seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of American golfing talent in recent times, Wolff is currently the best player on tour in terms of scoring, shooting an average of 68.84. He’s also the fourth-best player on the PGA Tour right now when it comes to strokes gained: total, picking up an impressive 2.18 per round on average. If such a number is maintained, then it really is only a matter of time before a second victory comes the way of the youngster, who despite turning pro in 2019, is ranked as high as 31 in the world rankings.
More of an unknown quantity than the likes of Smith or Wolff, Jim Knous has started to make a name for himself during the early weeks of the 2022 campaign. The man who currently ranks 694th in the world has made two out of two cuts this season, while his performance at the Fortinet Championship, where he finished in a tie for 11th certainly turned a few heads.
Following a couple of steady efforts, the 31-year-old finds himself in lofty positions in a couple of the stats leaderboards. Only seven players on tour have gained more strokes overall, while Knous, having gained 0.838 strokes and 1.09 strokes, has performed admirably in terms of both strokes gained: putting and strokes gained: tee-to-green, ranking 18th and 24th respectively.
It’s around the greens where the Colorado man has really come alive, though. Right now, Knous is the best player on the PGA Tour in terms of strokes gained: around-the-green, picking up an impressive 1.787 on average. He’s also the number one player when it comes to scrambling from the fringe.
Such form may be hard to continue for a man who is yet to win on the PGA Tour, but if he can keep things up, then don’t be surprised if he’s challenging hard in the not-so-distant future. Alternatively, with the numbers he’s produced already this season, Knous is someone to follow in the upcoming top 10/20 markets, that’s for sure.