PGA Tour winners and losers: Jon Rahm dominates, Jordan Spieth stumbles during golf’s Hawaii swing

Another island swing is over for the PGA Tour, and an eventful two weeks in Hawaii produced some interesting storylines for the rest of the spring. Two drastically different events emerged as the fortnight wore on, and not all winners were created equal at Kapalua and Waialae.In the first week, Jon Rahm ran down Collin Morikawa at the Tournament of Champions. In the second week, Hayden Buckley tried to sneak past Si Woo Kim for his first career win at the very end of the Sony Open. (Spoiler: He did not succeed.) A lot happened outside of those two finishes, though, and I want to look at a few of the winners and losers (relatively speaking, as always) from two weeks in Hawaii. Let’s dig in.Jordan SpiethIt was an interesting two weeks for the Golden Child. Following a so-so Tournament of Champions in which he (by his own admission) didn’t play his smartest golf but still finished T13, he busted out to the lead after Round 1 at the Sony … only to lose strokes in every category on Friday for the third-worst round of anybody in the field. He went from first-round leader to missed cut on Friday evening. Spieth did give some tremendous quotes, though. He revealed the he and his wife purchased an RV to travel to events and gave some, ahem, “colorful” commentary on the state of his game from previous years. Despite the horrible second round at Waialae, I think (perhaps strangely) Spieth leaves Hawaii with a little more swagger than he arrived with. Verdict: Loser

Hayden BuckleyHe was the first loser on Sunday when he missed an 11-foot putt that would have sent the event into a playoff with Kim. However, the runner-up finish was the best of his career on the PGA Tour and one of two top fives in his last four starts in the big leagues. I don’t know that Buckley is ever going to be a top-10 player in the world, but Joseph LaMagna recently outlined why he’s likely going to be a force for a long time. Here’s another thing I found interesting: Over the last 12 months, Buckley is the only player inside the top 15 most accurate drivers in the world who is also above average when it comes to length off the tee (which feeds into LaMagna’s point below). Verdict: Winner
Collin MorikawaI’m not sure what to do with Morikawa here. Some of the shine from his early career has worn off; he has experienced what it’s like to not win every single time he’s in contention (which is nearly what happened during his first two years on the PGA Tour). So while I think there’s some scar tissue there and some questions in his own head that didn’t exist before, I also believe that he’s smart and diligent enough to adapt over time. And if we believe that taking lumps is inevitable, I suppose taking them earlier in the season rather than at major championships — not to mention Morikawa is still early in his career — is the best route. So while I think some of the invincibility he had previously is never coming back, I lean toward him leaving Hawaii as a winner because that blown lead at the Tournament of Champions will likely accelerate his adaptability as a high-level pro who has taken some hits. Verdict: WinnerXander SchauffeleThe No. 6 player in the world pulled out of the Tournament of Champions early with a bad back but entered The American Express this week. I don’t think I can consider him a winner because he didn’t complete in an event, but it is nice to see him back so quickly after some real concerns regarding his health. Verdict: Loser

Tom KimI feel conflicted about Kim as well. On one hand, he’s severely overrated right now. Statistically, he is not a top-14 player in the world like the Official World Golf Rankings would suggest. However, his personality and star power are so electric and ubiquitously on display — asking the cameras if they caught him holing out at Kapalua being example No. 583 of this — that I find myself constantly drawn to him and his game. His island swing reflects this, too. He finished T5 at the Tournament of Champions and missed the cut at the Sony Open. Verdict: Both Jon RahmIs this the six-win season I’ve been anticipating for the last four years? His victory at the Tournament of Champions brought to mind what Rory McIlroy said at the end of 2022 at the DP World Tour Championship when he won the season-long race in Dubai but Rahm won the actual golf tournament. Though McIlroy was (and still is) ranked No. 1 in the world, he felt Rahm was right there with him. Those two are far and away the two best players in the world right now, and it’s not even close. Over the last three months, McIlroy is gaining 3.7 strokes per round while Rahm is gaining 3.4. Nobody else is gaining over 2.6. Verdict: WinnerPGA TourThe first two events of the year were emblematic of what I believe will happen with the PGA’s new elevated events schedule. The top 20 players on the PIP have committed to playing the same 17 events (including four majors) in a year. As such, you’ll get a star-studded showdown between two top-10 players followed by an interesting but lightweight battle between younger players or journeymen. This is not how every tournament will play out, of course, and much of this was already taking place with more structure. This is not a bad thing for the PGA Tour, but I think it could become a bad thing if it doesn’t change its FedEx Cup points allocation — for example: Rahm got 550 for winning, Kim got 500 — or the way it markets its top events. Why wasn’t I beaten over the head with ads and marketing about an elevated Kapalua tournament? 

There seems to be an unwillingness by everyone to acknowledge that there is a real dichotomy on the Tour now, and the sooner everyone leans into it (media, fans, players, broadcasts, the PGA Tour) the better the overall product will be.  I don’t think the Tour won or lost here — both events looked mostly the same — but I do hope it does a better job of highlighting the disparity between elevated and non-elevated events. Verdict: TBD

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