Patrick Cantlay capped a dream season on Tuesday with the 2021 PGA Tour Player of the Year award. Cantlay got the nod from his peers -- the award is voted on by other PGA Tour players -- over Jon Rahm after winning four times, including narrowly over Rahm at the season-ending Tour Championship which delivered him the FedEx Cup.
Cantlay added the BMW Championship the week before the Tour Championship as well as the Memorial Tournament earlier in the summer and the Zozo Championship in fall 2020. It was, by far, the best season of his career as he accumulated four of his six career PGA Tour wins.
He also cleaned up in the advanced metrics department. Cantlay's numbers from start to finish were tremendous. He averaged 2.11 strokes gained per round, according to Data Golf. Anything above 2.0 is a pretty incredible year. Though he struggled a bit at the major championships, his PGA Tour record was spotless. He had 17 top-25 finishes on the season and seven top 10s. He also had a runner-up and third-place finish to go with those four wins.
"On behalf of the PGA Tour, I would like to congratulate Patrick Cantlay on being honored as the 2021 PGA Tour Player of the Year," said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. "Receiving this award through a member vote reflects the respect his peers have for Patrick. His play throughout 2020-21 was phenomenal, and in stepping up to win consecutive FedEx Cup Playoffs events and the FedEx Cup, Patrick was at his best when it mattered most in our season."
Cantlay joins a pretty stellar list of players who have won PGA Tour Player of the Year over the last decade.
- 2020: Dustin Johnson
- 2019: Rory McIlroy
- 2018: Brooks Koepka
- 2017: Justin Thomas
- 2016: Dustin Johnson
- 2015: Jordan Spieth
- 2014: Rory McIlroy
- 2013: Tiger Woods
- 2012: Rory McIlroy
- 2011: Luke Donald
Cantlay's triumph is not without controversy, though. It could be argued that Rahm had a better season overall, despite just one win, which came at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Rahm bested Cantlay's strokes-gained number of 2.11 by nearly a half stroke, which means he sat at 2.62 and was nearly two strokes better per tournament than Cantlay was throughout the year.
Also, Rahm was far better at the major championships. Rahm's worst finish at the six majors was a T23 at the 2020 U.S. Open. He added five top-eight finishes to that T23 and won the 2021 U.S. Open. Cantlay's best finish was a T15 and he missed the cut at two of the six majors this season.
And then there is the matter of both the Memorial and the Tour Championship. Rahm led the Memorial by six strokes after the third round before withdrawing because of a positive COVID-19 test. Cantlay went on to beat Collin Morikawa in a playoff the next day in the final round, which means one of his four wins almost certainly would have gone to Rahm if not for the positive test. Also, Cantlay started at 10 under at the Tour Championship because of the PGA Tour's staggered start. Rahm started at 6 under. If you look only at 72-hole scores, Rahm tied for first, and Cantlay finished T4.
So there are talking points on both sides, but ultimately it doesn't matter because Cantlay's peers voted him (and not Rahm) as Player of the Year (Rahm won the PGA of America Player of the Year, which is based on a points system). Cantlay is certainly worthy of the accolades that have come his way, and there's a sense that they will propel him to an even higher level of performance (especially at the majors) in 2022 and beyond.
Cantlay and Rahm will both play in next week's Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.