As the year winds down, it's an opportunity to reflect on what was a truly spectacular golf season. Better major finishes than normal unfold, and better major champions than can reasonably be expected emerge. And a whole slew of ridiculous tournaments, endings and outcomes that were completely beyond belie headline.
Today is an attempt to sort out the five best tournaments of 2021. We've already looked at the, but now it's time to take a gander at the tournaments and -- unlike the players, which were not listed in any particular order -- rank them from 1-5. The easy (and perhaps lazy?) move here is to just throw the four majors and an additional tournament (the Players Championship, a playoff event or the Olympics) down and call it a day. But I think there's an opportunity to go a little beyond the importance of the four biggest events of the year.
To do this, we have to grade on a scale. The Masters is always going to be more important than, say, the Travelers Championship, but given the stakes, the field and the finish, the Travelers might actually be a better event relative to other Travelers events over the past several decades. So tournaments in here will mostly be held against their past iterations as we try and figure out what the five best of 2021 were. As for No. 1? Well, it's not even close.
1. PGA Championship (Winner: Phil Mickelson)
This felt like two separate tournaments -- the first two days and the last two days -- that both could have reasonably been included in the top five. The conglomeration of all four of those days together makes this a clear No. 1 pick. This ridiculous tournament included the oldest major champion ever playing a venue that three-time major winner Padraig Harrington called "probably the best major setup I've ever seen. It may have been equaled in the past but couldn't have been better." That, in and of itself, made it the most epic event of the year. But what really made it tick was the quality of antihero involved (presuming Mickelson is your hero in this story). For the first time in four decades, two golfers with four or more major wins played in the final pairing on a Sunday, and one of the golfers just in front of them is perhaps the most famous perennial runner-up in major history. Mash all that together with intriguing storylines from Jordan Spieth (couldn't putt), Rory McIlroy (another slow start), Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm (top 10) and a menacing, unrelenting golf course, and you get the unquestioned best golf tournament of the calendar year.
2. BMW Championship (Patrick Cantlay)
Everyone will remember the wild six-hole playoff between Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, but the entire tournament was a rollercoaster. DeChambeau nearly shot 59 early in the week, there was some tension between those two late in the week, Rory McIlroy got involved at the top of the leaderboard at one point, Rahm probably should have won and DeChambeau did that weird and hilarious half-step fist pump thing after a late birdie and all of this before the week ended in total chaos with DeChambeau screaming at a fan. This tournament also included (easily?) the best non-major finish of the year as Cantlay put on the greatest putting performance (literally) of the strokes gained era (since 2004) and buried a couple of daggers late on DeChambeau.
3. Open Championship (Collin Morikawa)
Links golf for a major trophy was terribly missed over the two years in which it was not played. From Shane Lowry's win at Royal Portrush in 2019 to Collin Morikawa drinking from his second major trophy in 2021 at Royal St. George's, we went nearly 800 days without an Open Championship shot. Because this golf is the most creative and interesting version of the sport, and because we got Oosthuizen (again), Rahm (again) and Jordan Spieth taking rips at Morikawa all weekend on an incredibly intriguing golf course as Morikawa put away each contender with dart after dart, this one found its way into the top three. Characters matter in stories, and this one had some great ones all at fascinating spots in their careers. Pour in a little of the annual magic of an Open week, and this event rocked even if it lacked a super signature moment like the next one.
4. U.S. Open (Jon Rahm)
The ending to this tournament -- Rahm rocking Oosthuizen to sleep with a one-two combination from the inner core of his soul -- was one of the great major endings of all time. It belied the reality that the rest of the week was ... fine. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as electric from the start as the PGA Championship or Open Championship. The players involved on Sunday -- McIlroy, DeChambeau, Morikawa, Koepka and Harris English along with Rahm and Oosthuizen -- breathed life into the event. Rahm, however, put it in the pantheon with all the gusto that has marked his career to this point (and is, in fact, part of the reason he's a generational great). If the first two or three days had been a bit better, this one would have challenged Mickelson's PGA at No. 1.
5. Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bryson DeChambeau)
A completely preposterous event. It housed the indelible image of the first quarter of the year -- DeChambeau obliterating a ball into the horizon and then pointing after it, all while wearing his paperboy hat and a shirt with tiny little Arnold Palmers (the drink) stitched all over it. This following a year, or more, of chasing distance and trying to become the longest driver of the ball in the history of the game. He nearly drove the green again on the 5th hole on Sunday and Spieth, playing ahead of him and trying to win for the first time in nearly four years, turned around to watch the show. This wasn't the only thing that happened that week. McIlroy was again involved, Lee Westwood nearly clipped DeChambeau in the end before the latter buried a putt on 18 and screamed as loud as any human has ever screamed about a putt and Spieth made an ace -- but it was the lasting image at a tournament that in a lot of ways marked a year that nobody in golf will ever forget.
Honorable mention: Masters (Hideki Matsuyama), Genesis Invitational (Max Homa), Phoenix Open (Brooks Koepka), Farmers Insurance Open (Patrick Reed), Players Championship (Justin Thomas), Travelers Championship (Harris English). Note: Ryder Cup not considered for this list.