Sunday's final round of the 2018 Shriners for Hospitals Children Open included the kind of big boy leaderboard we don't often see this time of the year. Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau were all on it, but eventually the now-No. 5-ranked DeChambeau stood atop the pile to grab his fifth PGA Tour win as a pro and his fourth of the 2018 calendar year.
Even more amazingly, DeChambeau has now won three of his last five and four of his last 12 PGA Tour events dating back to the Memorial in June, and he's finished in the top 20 in three others. His five-month heater has been astounding but maybe not as astounding as the new reality that only Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose stand between him and the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.
"You know, I thought I had it in me but I didn't know I could do it," DeChambeau said of this run from June-November. "There is obviously a lot of things that have to go right for you to win on the PGA Tour. It's very, very difficult.
"I learned the hard way my first year and a half on tour missing 14 cuts in a row, and I realized I had to change my game if I wanted to compete out here. Last year I saw some signs of something great, and I didn't know what it meant. Didn't know where it would lead me. It certainly led me I think in the right direction I think so far."
In 31 starts in the 2016-17 season (like, last year!), he missed 16 cuts and had a WD. In the 2018 calendar year, he has as many wins (4) as he does missed cuts and WDs combined. He's bagging monsters, too. The Memorial is serious stuff. So are two playoff events and a field in Vegas at TPC Summerlin that included Fowler, Cantlay, Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar. With the win DeChambeau has now won five times in his first 71 starts on the PGA Tour which is, gulp, more than the following players.
- Jordan Spieth: 76 events
- Justin Thomas: 90 events
- Dustin Johnson: 97 events
- Jason Day: 165 events
Of the top young players in the world, only Rory McIlroy got to five wins on the PGA Tour quicker than DeChambeau did. This isn't an anomaly, either. DeChambeau has the pedigree. He's one of only five golfers to score the U.S. Amateur-NCAA Championship double, and the others make up an eye-popping list -- Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore.
The stats back up his success -- he was No. 10 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green last season -- andin a way that makes you think he can actually sustain this success for a long period of time. In fact, his obsession might ultimately be the very thing that twists him into knots he can't extricate himself from. Think Padraig Harrington with a driver hat. Of course, if it turns out that he has Harrington's career, I'm sure he'd take it.
The three-time major-winning Irishman has a few trophies I'm sure DeChambeau covets. The next and most obvious leap for the No. 5 player in the world to make is to contend for and win a major (the four golfers ahead of him in the OWGR have a combined six). Interestingly, maybe his best chance to win one came when he was an amateur in 2016 and jockeyed for the 36-hole lead at the Masters. The world melted at the thought of an amateur (who was about to announce a monster Puma apparel and club deal the following week) taking home one of Bobby Jones' green jackets.
He faded to T21, but it was a thrilling four-day stretch. DeChambeau's best-ever finish at a major as a pro was in his first start at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He finished T15 there as D.J. took home his first one. DeChambeau hasn't finished in the top 20 at any of the seven majors he's played since then.
And while it seems obvious that he will contend for and possibly win a major championship, he would not be the first (nor the last) person we said that about who never followed through on the alluring talent.
Overall I'm not sure whether to buy or sell my Bryson stock. He is supremely talented and as good a ball-striker at that age as maybe anyone on the PGA Tour. But winning three times in five starts (and four times in 12 starts) is unsustainable, and the lack of major championship contention is a mild concern (not not winning but not really ever being in the mix). Still, he's moving in the right direction, and the pedigree is legitimate. Plus, I like that he failed a little between his amateur and pro career. I think that will benefit him.
"For me, I think I'm playing great golf right now," DeChambeau said on Sunday when asked about the hottest player in the world. "Certainly playing the best I've ever played in my life, and hopefully it continues upward."
Regardless, it's clear he's separated himself as somebody who we should (and will) talk about being a force in 2019. He's now in the conversation with the McIlroys, Spieths and Thomases every time he tees it up. Whether he's as good as them or can achieve as much as they have remains to be seen, but the fact that this is even a conversation at all is not a thing I considered viable this time 12 months ago.