The 28-event PGA Tour Champions schedule crosses the finish line this week in Phoenix.
But there will be no repeat champions at Phoenix Country Club in 2022.
Just like the PGA Tour, the Champions circuit has a three-event playoff to determine its season champion.
Unlike the PGA Tour, where the winner of the finale at the Tour Championship also stakes claim to the season title, the PGA Tour Champions finale generally produces two winners. In 2021, Phil Mickelson won the 72-hole tournament, while Bernhard Langer earned his sixth Charles Schwab Cup series title.
In 2022, there will be no title defenses. Fan favorite Mickelson won’t be back to the tournament and Langer is too far back in the points to win the series title.
Nonetheless, the stage is set for an exciting week at Phoenix Country Club. Here are five things to watch for this week.
Champions wins mark in Langer's sights
Bernhard Langer holds up a large check on the 18th green after winning the 2022 TimberTech Championship at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo: Raj Mehta/Getty Images)
The next time Bernhard Langer poses with a trophy and an oversized check, it’ll be to celebrate his record-tying 45th win on the PGA Tour Champions.
Langer won the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida, last Sunday for his 44th victory on the senior circuit, one back of Hale Irwin, who’s held the mark for 15 seasons.
Irwin won his final Champions tournament about 10 months before Langer won his first in 2007.
Langer moved up to fifth in the Schwab point standings after his TimberTech win and while he’s too far back to win the series title, he’s in line to post a record-tying win.
Alker in command for first series title
Steven Alker shakes hands with Jerry Kelly after their first round at the 2022 TimberTech Championship at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo: Raj Mehta/Getty Images)
Steve Alker almost took the drama out of the Schwab final before the tour even got to Phoenix.
Heading into the TimberTech, Alker, who is tied with Steve Stricker for the most wins in 2022 with four, had a sizeable lead on Padraig Harrington, No. 2 in the points.
Alker could have become the third player to clinch the Cup before the finale but a tie for sixth kept that from happening. Nonetheless, Alker is in the driver’s seat to claim his first series title.
He has 3,753,435 points, more than 600,000 ahead of Harrington.
Harrington hunting series title in his try
Padraig Harrington celebrates after making a bunker shot for eagle on the 18th hole during the second round of the 2022 TimberTech Championship at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo: Raj Mehta/Getty Images)
Harrington, who used a hole-out eagle on the 18th hole during the second round to forge a solo fourth-place finish at the TimberTech, is the only other golfer with a shot at catching Alker.
Harrington had two eagles in the round and needed them both to overcome an 8 on his first hole during the round.
He played through some pain at the TimberTech.
“I pulled a muscle in my neck before I went out,” he said of Saturday’s round. “So I was in a lot of trouble out there, couldn’t really complete my backswing. You know, I wouldn’t say I was in a lot of pain, but it was a lot of discomfort that made it awkward and difficult.”
Harrington said he’s battled a balky back over the years but also mentioned another flare up on the course.
“I just pulled a muscle hitting a 5-iron on the range,” he said.
Harrington, who had back-to-back 67s on the weekend, is playing his first full season on the Champions circuit and won three times in 2022, including a major at the U.S. Senior Open.
He turned 50 in August of 2021 but only played two events last year.
Bubble boys: Two move in, two drop out
Kevin Sutherland reacts to sinking his putt on the 18th hole to send him into a playoff during the final round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at the Phoenix Country Club on November 8, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
The playoffs started with 72 players, then went to 54 last week but only the top 36 advance to the 72-hole final in Phoenix.
Two golfers played their way into the field, including Kevin Sutherland, who won the Schwab cup finale in 2020 after surviving a nine-hole playoff that extended into Monday.
John Huston, who was No. 32 heading into the TimberTech, finished tied for the eighth, which boosted him to the 36th and final spot for the Schwab finale. Needless to say, Huston picked a good week to post just his third top-10 in 14 outings in 2022.
So who got bumped? Mike Weir was in the 46th spot but slipped to 41st, while Woody Austin dropped from 34th to 45th.
If you were wondering about Fred Couples, he won the regular-season finale three weeks ago for his first win in five years but shortly after announced he was shutting it down for the year.
So what about Lefty?
Phil Mickelson reacts after making his putt on the 18th hole to clinch the 2021 Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club. (Photo: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports)
Phil Mickelson, long a fan favorite in Arizona golf circles—and the all-time money winner at the PGA Tour’s WM Phoenix Open—brought his fanbase to Phoenix Country Club a year ago in his debut in the tournament and sent them all home with smiles after winning.
Mickelson won for the fourth time in his first six Champions events after shooting a final-round 65. He joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win four of their first six starts on the Champions tour.
In the 12 months since then, Mickelson’s life and the golf world was turned on its side with the launch of the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series. In the fallout, Mickelson, who was one the biggest names to make the jump, was suspended by the PGA Tour and is not eligible to return to defend his title.