PGA Tour trends and records: First-time winners, putting importance and players chasing new highs | Golf News

Cameron Smith reacts after holing the winning putt at the 18th in The Players Championship

Cameron Smith reacts after holing the winning putt at the 18th in The Players Championship

One of the best indications of the depth of the PGA Tour can usually be found in its number of first-time winners each season, with a high number helping to support the theory that any golfer can win on any given week.

The 2021-22 season is now on pace to challenge the season record for most first-time winners in a season, with JJ Spaun’s win at the Valero Texas Open not only booking him a last-minute invite to The Masters but also making him the ninth first-time winner in the first 24 tournaments this season.

It’s essentially the halfway mark of the season – starting with The Masters, there are 20 tournaments left in the regular season, plus another three in the season-ending FedExCup Playoffs.

We asked golf fans who they thought would be victorious at the 2022 Masters, which starts this Thursday live on Sky Sports.

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We asked golf fans who they thought would be victorious at the 2022 Masters, which starts this Thursday live on Sky Sports.

We asked golf fans who they thought would be victorious at the 2022 Masters, which starts this Thursday live on Sky Sports.

Spaun joins these previous first-time winners this season: Lucas Herbert (Butterfield Bermuda Championship), Talor Gooch (The RSM Classic), Luke List (Farmers Insurance Open), Tom Hoge (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am), Scottie Scheffler (Waste Management Phoenix Open), Sepp Straka (The Honda Classic), Ryan Brehm (Puerto Rico Open) and Chad Ramey (Corales Puntacana Championship).

“It’s a great feeling to be in the winner’s circle,” Spaun said after his win, “and now it’s like a game changer.”

With the next first-time winner, this season will tie last season’s total of 10, but that’s not the total to shoot for. The PGA Tour record is 18 first-time winners in one season, set in 2002.

It’s a bit surprising that the record happened in 2002, given that Tiger Woods was the dominant force, adding championship trophies in bulk. He won five times that season, including two majors. Meanwhile, fellow World Golf Hall of Famers Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els were also two-time winners that year.

Tiger Woods announces his intention to play at The Masters this week says he believes he can win at Augusta.

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Tiger Woods announces his intention to play at The Masters this week says he believes he can win at Augusta.

Tiger Woods announces his intention to play at The Masters this week says he believes he can win at Augusta.

But with the likes of Matt Kuchar, KJ Choi, Luke Donald and Charles Howell III notching their first career wins in 2002, it was a show of strength that has yet to be matched. And Choi was among first-time winners who added a second win that season, along with Jerry Kelly and Len Mattiace.

Will this current season match or exceed that 18 total? It will be difficult. Four majors have yet to be played, and first-timers breaking through on that pressure-packed stage is difficult. It only happened once in the last 10 years, when Danny Willett secured his first PGA Tour victory at the 2016 Masters.

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It’s even more difficult to break through in the FedExCup Playoffs. Of the 57 tournaments played in the history of the FedExCup, just one has been won by a first-time Tour winner – Camilo Villegas in the 2008 BMW Championship. Interestingly enough, Villegas followed that by winning the ensuing Playoffs event, the Tour Championship.

But perhaps this is the year of the first-timer, with Scheffler rising to world No 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings thanks to his two wins after his breakthrough victory in Phoenix. Of course, as he keeps winning tournaments, he reduces the odds of others breaking through – just as Tiger used to do (2002 excluded).

World No 1 Scottie Scheffler says the presence of Tiger Woods at Augusta is allowing him to 'fly under the radar' at The Masters.

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World No 1 Scottie Scheffler says the presence of Tiger Woods at Augusta is allowing him to ‘fly under the radar’ at The Masters.

World No 1 Scottie Scheffler says the presence of Tiger Woods at Augusta is allowing him to ‘fly under the radar’ at The Masters.

Oh, and as for the fewest number of first-time winners in a season? In the last 50 years, it came out in 1992 with just four breakthrough winners – Lee Janzen, Fred Funk, Mark Carnevale and Richard Zokol.

Stat check for Smith ahead of Augusta

Australia’s Cameron Smith is not going to win tournaments off the tee. It’s just not the strength of his game. He has never finished inside the top 100 players in any of the previous six seasons in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee, and he was 145th in that category entering The Masters.

Highlights of Cameron Smith's winning round as he claimed a thrilling one-shot victory at the Players Championship.

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Highlights of Cameron Smith’s winning round as he claimed a thrilling one-shot victory at the Players Championship.

Highlights of Cameron Smith’s winning round as he claimed a thrilling one-shot victory at the Players Championship.

No matter, as Smith has turned himself into one of the PGA Tour’s best putters, and that was on full display during the biggest win of his career, when he gained 2,880 strokes per round on the greens at TPC Sawgrass in winning The Players Championship.

Smith is ranked third in Strokes Gained: Putting this season. Last year, he ranked 10th. It’s been steady progress for the last several years with his putting. In the 2015-16 season, he ranked 108th in the category. The next two seasons, he ranked in the low 80s, then 59th in 2018-19, and 46th in 2019-20.

Meanwhile, he made significant improvements with his iron play. He ranks eighth in Strokes Gained: Approach The Green. He ranked 53rd in that category last season after spending the previous three seasons outside the top 100.

There's not long to go until the much-anticipated 2022 Masters gets underway from Augusta live on Sky Sports.

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There’s not long to go until the much-anticipated 2022 Masters gets underway from Augusta live on Sky Sports.

There’s not long to go until the much-anticipated 2022 Masters gets underway from Augusta live on Sky Sports.

Given his shot-making ability and putting prowess, it’s no surprise he won on the Stadium Course. And it’s impressive progress for the 28-year-old from Brisbane, who’s just now reaching the prime of his career.

Chasing Brooks … Mark Brooks, that is!

Mark Brooks holds the PGA Tour record with most career starts at 803. At the Valero Texas Open, Matt Kuchar made his 500th career start on Tour. At age 43, Kuchar probably won’t have enough opportunities to get close to Brooks’ record, but one of his peers might make a serious run at the record.

Charles Howell III recorded his 98th career top-ten finish in San Antonio in his 603rd start on the PGA TOUR. At age 42, Howell now needs 200 more Tour starts to tie Brooks for the record – essentially, 25 starts per season until age 50 when he can become eligible for PGA Tour Champions.

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Earlier this year, when Howell became the 69th player to reach 600 Tour starts, he was asked about Brooks’ number and whether he could reach it. He said he was not sureā€¦ but he is pretty confident about reaching 700.

“I’ll get there,” Howell said. “But the sad thing is that only puts me to what, 15 on the list? Yeah, I’ll get there. Yeah, it will take a little time, but I’ll get there. I can not believe I got to 600, but I have gray hair to prove every one of those starts. “

Will the run of first-time winners continue at The Masters? Watch the opening men’s major of the year throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage begins on Thursday with Featured Groups from 2pm on Sky Sports Golf.

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