Due to the COVID-19 pandemic halting part of the 2020 season, a nearly two-year journey culminates this weekend in Phoenix at the PGA Tour Champions’ Charles Schwab Cup Championship. This super-sized season wraps up with four golfers able to capture the series title: Bernhard Langer, who leads by around 337,000 points over Jim Furyk, and Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els are also in contention but likely need to win to have a chance.
Looking to play spoiler are four first-time players on the senior tour who have already won this season, including Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest player to win at major this year by taking home the PGA Championship title at age 50 and then won three of his first four PGA Tour Champions events. Darren Clarke, who is 10th in the standings, has won three times this season, Alex Cejka is 12th and has won two majors this year, and the fourth newcomer is Steven Alker, who is 22nd in the standings despite only competing in nine events after being eligible for the tour. He has eight top 10s in those nine events and won last week’s TimberTech Championship to earn a spot on the tour next year.
Also in the field are four prior winners of this event—defending champion Kevin Sutherland, Fred Couples, Paul Goydos, and Vijay Singh. Since the Charles Schwab Cup adopted a playoff format similar to the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup in 2016, Langer won twice (2016, 2018), while Sutherland won in 2017 and Scott McCarron won in 2019. Even though the event took place in 2020, no season-long champion was crowned, as the race for the Cup includes results from the past two seasons.
Langer has won the Schwab Cup a record five times since it was established in 2001. Also in the field this year is 2013 Cup winner Kenny Perry, who was the last golfer to qualify for the event at 36th in the standings.
Langer is in great position to take home the Cup again this year, as his win at the Dominion Energy Charity Classic two weeks ago in Virginia gave him double the points of the money he earned since it was a playoff event, putting him into the lead over Furyk. The winner of this tournament gets $440,000 in prize money, which is doubled since it’s a playoff event, so the winner can earn 880,000 points, which is enough for the four golfers listed above to end up in first place and claim the $1 million prize that comes with winning the Charles Schwab Cup.
The field consists of the top 36 in the standings, and another perk of being among that group is they all get a full exemption to play on the PGA Tour Champions next season.
This event dates back to 1990, when it was known as the Senior Tour Championship. The event has bounced around over the years but has been held in Arizona every year since 2014, and starting in 2017, it’s taken place at the Phoenix Country Club in Phoenix.
Since it is a limited field, this is a no-cut event, and besides the five majors on the tour, it is the only tournament to be contested over four rounds.
The Phoenix Country Club was established in 1900 and moved to its current location in 1921. It hosted the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open regularly from 1932 until 1986, when it was moved to its current home at TPC of Scottsdale. In 2002, the course was redesigned by Tom Lehman and John Fought, and it’s hosted this event since 2017.
The course itself measures 6,853 yards and is a par 71. Despite being in the desert, the course is all green but deepening bunkers were added in the 2002 redesign.
Vijay Singh holds the tournament record by shooting a 262 here in 2018. Last year’s event was just three rounds, but Sutherland and Paul Broadhurst went to a ninth playoff hole before Sutherland prevailed, and the final three holes had to be played on Monday after play was suspended on Sunday due to darkness.
(+300) is an overwhelming favorite to capture the title here in a state that holds great memories for him. He attended college at Arizona State and is a three-time winner of the Phoenix Open, having done so in three decades (1996, 2005, and 2013, when he tied the tournament record with a 28-under 256). Personally, Mickelson also met his wife, Amy, in Arizona and college coach-turned-business partner Steve Loy as well.
“This place will always be special to me for those two reasons,” Mickelson said earlier this week. “Coming back is always fun, and the people here have been so special and treated me so well, and have welcomes me, that it’s been a very special moment. Especially winning the Phoenix Open—that’s been really fun for me.”
Mickelson, who is the first active player on this tour to own a major championship, has meant extra attention to the PGA Tour Champions, much like Tiger Woods drew to the PGA Tour over the past 20-plus years.
“I heard somebody say that when Phil played in Jacksonville [and won the Constellation Furyk & Friends in October], that the TV ratings were better on our tour than the PGA Tour,” 2015 Cup champion Billy Andrade said. “We’re in a renaissance period on this tour. The guys who have turned 50 and have come out—your Ernie Els, Darren Clark, Jim Furyk—have embraced it.”
Langer, who has gathered plenty of attention himself while dominating this tour and becoming the oldest winner in its history at 64, added, “There’s more buzz, there’s more interest from the media, from spectators, sponsors—so, it’s good. It’s always good when you have the best players in the field.”
After joining the PGA Tour Champions in August of 2020, Mickelson won three of his first four events, including both in 2020 (the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National and the Dominion Energy Classic). After starting 2021 by finishing 20th at the Cologuard Classic, he won the Constellation Furyk and Friends in October before finishing 47th at the Dominion three weeks ago when he shot a 9 twice on hole No. 9. With a win here, Mickelson would join Jack Nicklaus as the only two players in the history of the senior tour to win four of their first six events.
Among the season-long championship contenders, Jim Furyk is the top favorite, teeing off at +700. Furyk’s competitive juices are at an all-time high, as he took Monday off and then spent Tuesday and Wednesday getting accustomed to the course before getting ready for his four-round trip around Phoenix Country Club. The math is easy for Furyk—the Charles Schwab Cup championship is his with a win, as the points for the victory would allow him to pass Langer in the standings even if Langer finishes runner-up. Furyk has won three times in this super season, including the U.S. Senior Open in July. He’s had a great run recently, finishing in the top eight in his last four events, including tying for second last week at the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida but had the lead after day two before shooting a 71 on Sunday.
Is among three golfers at +1000 after winning the first leg of the playoffs at the Dominion Energy Classic. After a week off, he was the hometown favorite last week at the TimberTech in Boca, but he tied for 11th. Coming into this week with the points lead, he can win the season title with a strong finish as long as Furyk doesn’t win the tournament. Langer is going for his fifth series title since 2015, adding to his legacy on the tour.
“It’s not just a golf swing; it’s the mental side, it’s the putting, the chipping, the bunker game, withstanding pressures, enjoy still working at it when you think you maybe could be retired or should be retired at times,” the 64-year-old Langer said Wednesday., “It’s a big puzzle really and all pieces have to be together and working at a fairly high percentage to make this happen.”
While he has never won this event itself, he did finish in the top five here in each of the last two years. Expect him not to take many chances though if he doesn’t need to, which means he could play things safe for a top-five finish, unless Furyk is in the lead and he needs to chase him down.
Also at +1000, jumped ahead of Els into third place in the Cup standings by tying Furyk for second last week. He’s been runner up in four of his last six tournaments but hasn’t broken through for a win, which is what he will need here to win the season-long championship. He had a disappointing 47th place finish here last year but did play well to finish fourth on this course in 2019.
Was the winner at the TimberTech last week and is +1000 here to make it two in a row. Alker has been absolutely torrid since joining the tour in August, finishing in the top-nine in his first six events and continuing to qualify for future events based on his strong finishes. He ended up qualifying for the playoffs, and his fourth place at the Dominion got him into last week’s tournament, where he won. He now no longer has to worry about qualifying for events, given that he’s now exempt for the full season next year. As the hottest golfer on the tour, he has to be considered a favorite here this week.
The fourth Cup contender, is at +1600, and he has some value at that position. Els tied for fourth last week with rounds of 63 and 66 as part of his last four rounds, and he shot all three rounds under par here last year to finish tied for fifth in this event.
With a smaller field, there aren’t typical longshots, but there is a drop-off in the odds starting with Kevin Sutherland at +2500. Besides winning here last year, Sutherland also won in 2017, so he’s won two of the four times this event has been held at the Phoenix Country Club. He did, however, withdraw from the TimberTech last week prior to the final round, so any injury concerns could be a factor this week, especially since this is a four-round event.
Alex Cejka is also at +2500, and he’s won two majors this year, meaning he’s had success in four-round events. He also had a hot streak from August through October, finishing in the top seven in four of five events, but his results dipped a bit in the playoffs, coming in 16th at the Dominion Energy Charity Classic and dropped even further to 43rd at the TimberTech, but he did close with a 1-under 70 on Sunday, so perhaps he’s righted the ship heading into this week’s season finale.
Retief Goosen and Woody Austin are both +2800. Austin is coming off an eighth place finish at the TimberTech, and he’s finished third in each of the last two Charles Schwab Cup Championships. Goosen hasn’t had consistent results, but he has finished in the top-three in five tournaments this season, so he could end up being a contender anywhere.
Tim Petrovic and Fred Couples come in at +3000. Petrovic shot a 61 on Saturday in Boca last week but faltered down the stretch on Sunday, finishing tied for fourth, which he also did in the first playoff event in Virginia as well. While he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour Champions, Petrovic has finished in the top 10 in 21 out of his 100 starts on tour, so the percentages say he will break through one of these days.
Couples, at age 62, finished fifth here last year and has a pair of runner-up finishes this year along with a third at the Senior Players Championship, so four-round events aren’t a problem for the 1992 Masters winner and the 13-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions, but he hasn’t had a win since 2017.
This event has raised more than $5 million for area charities since 2003. Since 2013, the tournament has supported the First Tee of Phoenix, Junior Golf Association of Arizona, and the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Phoenix.
The First Tee impacts more than 150,000 youth each year through regular programs at 15 locations in the Phoenix area. Junior golfers from the program also play in the pro-am as a part of this event.
The Junior Golf Association of Arizona is a non-profit that helps youngsters develop golf skills along with life skills through competitive programs and tournaments. Two juniors from this program also play in the tournament’s pro-am.
And the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Phoenix is heralded as a safe and productive place for kids to be after school and during the summer, when parents may be working an unable to watch them. The club focuses on healthy lifestyles, academic success, and good character and leadership, serving more than 10,000 youth each year in the region.
Given the way he’s performed this year, coupled with the fact that he’s on home turf, it’s tough to bet against Mickelson, even with such low odds. Furyk is also a strong contender because he’s been knocking on the door of a win for so long, and his competitive fire could play into his favor this weekend. Alker could also post back-to-back wins.
Even if he plays well, it’s tough to see Langer winning because he may choose to play it safe and sit in the top five, as long as Furyk and Jimenez aren’t challenging for the win. Austin is a name further down the list to watch, as he’s been third here in each of the last two tournaments and is coming off an eighth place finish last week.
|GOLFER||ODDS TO WIN THE 2021 CHARLES SCHWAB CUP CHAMPIONSHIP|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez||+1000|
|Retief Goosen / Woody Austin||+2800|
|Tim Petrovic / Fred Couples||+3000|
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