The 5 biggest surprises of the 2020-2021 PGA Tour season

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July 28th, 2021

The 2020-2021 PGA Tour season has been nothing short of astounding, with unforeseen victories, super-low scores, a star-studded feud, and an unorthodox six majors on the calendar.

Let’s look back on the most unusual yet entertaining PGA season in recent memory and count down the five biggest surprises.  

5. The Open Championship produces record-low scores

The only major to get cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Open Championship returned in July to Royal St. George's, a venue that played much easier than anticipated.

Traditionally held at links courses susceptible to high wind speeds, the Open Championship enjoyed surprisingly excellent weather, which led to some incredibly low scores, particularly in the second round.

During that round, Louis Oosthuizen — who endured heartbreaking runner-up finishes in both the PGA Championship and U.S. Open in 2021 — carded the lowest 36-hole score in Open history, after he shot 11-under 65.

In an effort to stifle a continuous birdie-fest on the weekend, the R&A introduced tougher pin locations in the third round, which third-place Open finisher Jon Rahm described as, "some of the hardest pin locations, collectively, I've ever seen."

Despite the changes, Oosthuizen retained his lead at the conclusion of the third round, but he stumbled to a third-place tie on the final day, while Collin Morikawa stole the Open crown.

The 24-year-old Californian became the first men's golfer to win his debut at two separate major tournaments (the 2020 PGA Championship the other). 

Morikawa, who finished 15-under in the Open, also became the eighth golfer to win two major titles before age 25.

4. The hottest player on the PGA Tour isn't a member

Will Zalatoris' debut at the Open wasn't quite as smooth as Morikawa's, but his 2020-2021 season has been one for the ages.

Because of changes to PGA Tour membership rules during the pandemic, the 24-year-old doesn't own a PGA Tour card, yet he has consistently challenged the world's best golfers in just about every tournament he has entered.

Ranked 543rd in early 2020, Zalatoris is now the No. 30 player in the World Golf Ranking.

To start the season, he posted a sixth-place finish in September's U.S. Open at Winged Foot and finished runner-up in his first Masters appearance. He also placed eighth in his PGA Championship debut and has totaled seven top 10 finishes and 11 in the top 20 this season.

The only thing that eludes Zalatoris is a win, which would finally grant him PGA Tour membership and eligibility in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

3. The Bryson and Brooks feud

While Zalatoris is busy chasing after his PGA Tour card, two of the biggest names in golf are in the midst of an ongoing feud. 

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka and 2020 U.S. Open victor Bryson DeChambeau have been quarreling for some time now, but in 2021, their bad blood reached a boiling point.

A leaked video of a Koepka interview during the PGA Championship showed the golfer rolling his eyes as DeChambeau and his clanking metal cleats walked past, which caused Koepka to lose his train of thought.

The moment became instant meme fodder, which NFL quarterback Tom Brady particularly relished ahead of his match-play tournament with DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, and Aaron Rodgers.

Koepka further trolled his rival on social media, after DeChambeau shockingly split with his caddie the night before the opening round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Koepka also made sure to point out his fondness for his driver, after DeChambeau criticized his own equipment, following a poor outing in the opening round of the Open.

2. Stewart Cink and son storm PGA Tour

Before the 2020-2021 season, more than a decade had passed since Stewart Cink recorded a professional win, which he earned at the 2009 Open.

The 48-year-old was hardly on anyone's radar, but in the opening tournament on the calendar, the Safeway Open, he shot to the top of the leaderboard, with the help of his caddie and son, Reagan. 

Cink, a massive +20000 longshot, defeated Harry Higgs by two strokes to become the first champion of the PGA Tour season.

To eliminate any doubt that the Safeway Open was a fluke, Cink turned in a 12th-place finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship and fourth at the Bermuda Championship. Then, in April, he landed 12th at the Masters, just before a win at the RBC Heritage.

Cink became the first golfer to win twice on tour this season and now ranks 17th in the FedEx Cup standings, by far his best ranking in the last decade.

1. Mickelson's masterpiece at age 50

Cink's surprise pair of victories in his late 40s could only be outdone by one man — Phil Mickelson.

The 51-year-old six-time major winner had a rather hellish start to the 2020-2021 season, until out of nowhere, he pieced together a masterful showing at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

Entering as a +20000 choice to win the major, Mickelson ranked 115th in the world when he teed off in the opening round. Up until the PGA Championship, he had failed to record a top 20 finish all season and had not won a major since 2013.

Nonetheless, Mickelson cooked up some magic, with a raucous crowd cheering him on as he defied Father Time and his recent form.

With his win at Kiawah, "Lefty" became the oldest golfer (50) to win a major and the first player in PGA Tour history to win tournaments 30 years apart.