Halfway through the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, it's time to hand out some (imaginary) hardware.
Just a week removed from the first major of the year, golfers have already competed for 22 weeks out of the 44 on the Tour schedule, producing a cornucopia of winners, storylines, and more.
Golf is the most unpredictable of games - the exact same course at the exact same time could be played totally differently just 24 hours later - and that unpredictability has been at the forefront this season.
With three majors still to come, we’ve already seen some great finishes, surprise victors, and big-time performances.
Here are nine awards recognizing the remarkable showings from the front nine of the PGA Tour season.
Thomas carried his momentum from last season into 2017-18, notching a victory at his second event (The CJ Cup) thanks to a tournament-opening 63. He captured the Honda Classic in February for his second win of the year before losing in a playoff to Phil Mickelson the following week at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Thomas hasn’t missed a cut this year (and his worst finish is a T22), he leads the FedEx Cup standings, and he's already earned more than $5.2 million. Not bad.
Talk about starting your PGA Tour career with a bang. In just his fourth start as a full-fledged Tour member, Cook shot rounds of 66-62-66-67 to capture the RSM Classic by four shots. He sits 22nd in the FedEx Cup standings with six top-25 finishes, leads the rookie rankings, and is the only official PGA Tour rookie to notch a win (Satoshi Kodaira, who won the RBC Heritage on Sunday, is not yet an official member).
Were you expecting someone else? Woods returned to play the Hero World Challenge in December to much fanfare, then made his PGA Tour debut at the Farmer’s Insurance Open in January, tying for 23rd. He missed the cut at his next event, but finished 12-T2-T5 in the following three starts. Considering Woods is just over a year removed from major spinal fusion surgery, that's an impressive run. He has committed to the U.S. Open in June and will likely play at least twice more before then. Tiger Woods is officially back playing golf, and it’s great to see.
The easy-going Alabama native has proven he’s got game - in 2015, he won twice on the Web.com Tour among 12 top-10 finishes en route to finishing first on the money list and earning Player of the Year honors - but he'd been tepid on the PGA Tour until last fall. Kizzire broke through with a win at the OHL Classic and followed that up with a victory at the Sony Open. He’s second in the FedEx Cup standings and has jumped almost 70 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking over the past 12 months.
As Thomas looked for his second win in a row, ageless wonder Mickelson spoiled the party. Thomas dunked his approach shot from the fairway on the 72nd hole, but Mickelson played well enough to force a playoff with Thomas, 23 years his junior. Thomas couldn’t get up-and-down to tie the 47-year-old and Mickelson nabbed his first victory in five years, becoming the oldest winner of a World Golf Championship event.
The last 18 months have been a wild ride for Ian Poulter. The Englishman struggled, falling to 207th in the world and almost losing his PGA Tour card - saved only by an oversight in the calculation of FedEx Cup points he'd earned a year ago. He's rebounded in a big way in 2018, however, and provided the best finish we've seen this season at the Houston Open.
Poulter opened the tournament with a 73 and admitted he had his bags packed Friday, ready to head home. He then made 21 birdies from Friday onward and beat young American Beau Hossler in a playoff for his first victory since 2010. A week prior, Poulter had been incorrectly told that a certain result at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play would get him into the Masters. He went out and won in Houston to earn a spot in the Masters anyway thanks to the biggest comeback on the PGA Tour in 35 years.
It was perhaps a tad hyperbolic for analyst Brandel Chamblee to call Johnson's near-ace on the 433-yard 12th hole at the Tournament of Champions the greatest shot of all time - but there's no doubt it was a stunner. Johnson knocked his drive within inches of a hole-in-one on a par 4. He went on to win the tournament by eight shots.
Potter wasn’t supposed to be holding the trophy after the final 18 holes of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But in golf, anything can happen, and it usually does. Potter was just one year removed from having to re-qualify for the PGA Tour via the Web.com Tour, and after he was paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for Sunday, most people thought it was a foregone conclusion that Johnson would win the tournament for a third time.
Instead, Potter shot a 3-under-par 69 to Johnson’s even-par 72 for his second PGA Tour win. Other chasers included Mickelson and former world no. 1 Jason Day.
Spieth earns this award not because he tumbled down the leaderboard or had a massive Sunday collapse, but because he lost so gloriously at Augusta National with an 8-under-par 64 in the final round. He tied the lead after draining a 33-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th hole and getting to 14-under, then bogeyed the 72nd hole after clipping a tree branch with his tee shot to drop out of contention. Spieth mounted a Sunday charge unlike any ever seen at Augusta National, and proved once again to never bet against him at the Masters. He lost, but what a loss it was.
Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He's also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)