There was Justin Thomas’ historic 36-hole close at the Players Championship in March. And the epic duel between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship in August.
And of course, Phil Mickelson’s unlikely PGA Championship victory at Kiawah Island in between that made him the oldest player to win a major. With that win in May, the 50-year-old lefty also became the first player in PGA Tour history to have victories more than 30 years apart.
In the world of golf, 2021 was a memorable year for many reasons. Below, we’ve found the single rounds that shouldn’t be forgotten – the best of the year, according to our FRACAS model.
Rounds are measured based on strokes gained relative to field average and adjusted for strength of field for that round. A golfer who shoots 5-under par when the field averages is 2-over par gains seven strokes on the field. If the field strength for that round is one stroke better than PGA average, then the total strokes gained for that round moves up to eight strokes.
FRACAS has included scores from the PGA, DP World, Korn Ferry, Challenge, Sunshine, Japan Golf and Forme Tours, as well as PGA Tour Latinoamerica, into its strokes gained per round calculation.
And here are the model’s best of the year:
1. Bryson DeChambeau
Strokes Gained: 11.29
Tournament: BMW Championship
In the best single round performance of 2021, DeChambeau shot a bogey-free round of 12-under, highlighted by a pair of eagles. Playing against one of the strongest field strengths of the year (plus-1.38 strokes over PGA average) DeChambeau gained 9.91 strokes against the field. He would end up second in the tournament, losing to Patrick Cantlay in the sixth hole of a playoff.
2. Justin Rose
Strokes Gained: 10.67
Tournament: The Masters
Conditions were tough during the first round of the Masters, with a field scoring average of more than 2.5 strokes over par. Rose opened with a 7-under 65, shooting 9-under on his last 11 holes and finishing four strokes better than any other golfer. Rose would shoot 2-over par the remainder of the tournament to finish in the top five, but his opening round takes the gold for best round of a major in 2021.
3. Matt Jones
Strokes Gained: 10.65
Tournament: The Honda Classic
Known as one of the fastest players on tour, Jones had one of the fastest starts of 2021. A brilliant start to his fourth career victory, Jones outpaced an average field (plus-0.140 strokes over PGA average) by 10.5 strokes. Jones’ round featured zero bogeys and nine birdies.
4. Jon Rahm
Strokes Gained: 10.44
Tournament: The Memorial
A round that will be remembered more for what happened at the end of it, Rahm shot 8-under par and finished his third round with a commanding lead before being forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. Rahm’s round was almost 9.5 strokes better than a field that was already over a stroke better than PGA average.
5. Alejandro Del Rey
Strokes Gained: 10.12
Tournament: Swiss Challenge
You may be asking yourself who the heck is Alejandro Del Rey and what is the Challenge Tour. The Challenge Tour is to the DP World Tour as the Korn Ferry Tour is to the PGA Tour. So why does Del Rey show up on this list when he was playing against a field 1.423 strokes worse than PGA average? Because Alejandro Del Rey shot a 58 on a par 72. The 23-year-old Spaniard made eight birdies and three eagles without carding any bogeys. It takes something truly special to make this list from the Challenge Tour, and Del Rey provided just that.
6. Patrick Cantlay
Strokes Gained: 10.07
Tournament: The American Express
Cantlay made the cut at PGA West on the number, but his weekend featured a third-round 65 and then a tantalizing fourth-round 61. He provided all day pressure for eventual winner Si Woo Kim as the clubhouse leader, entertaining early round viewers with 11 birdies and no bogeys. After the round Cantlay told reporters: “I did everything I could, he just played unbelievable too”.
7. Viktor Hovland
Strokes Gained: 9.86
Tournament: Farmers Insurance Open
Difficult conditions at Torrey Pines did nothing to slow down Hovland in his second round. He missed just two greens and carded one bogey on the day en route to a 65, outpacing the field by 9.5 strokes. Field strength hurt his ranking on this list – it was just barely over tour average.
8. Andrew Novak
Strokes Gained: 9.84
Tournament: Emerald Coast Golf Classic
Tour: Korn Ferry
Our first Korn Ferry round on the list, Novak carded eight birdies and an eagle, and outpaced the field by almost 11 strokes. Like Del Rey’s performance, Novak’s came in a weaker field (1.096 worse than PGA average), but the sheer dominance of the round was enough to put it among the best of the year. Novak didn’t win the tournament, but he did finish 2021 with his PGA Tour card.
9. Sergio Garcia
Strokes Gained: 9.72
Tournament: The Players Championship
While the field was shooting 1.8 strokes over par, Garcia came out of the gates hot, carding a first round 7-under 65. His round was highlighted by two eagles in which he hit both greens in two and make putts from nine- and 18-feet out. The remainder of the tournament was a disappointment, as he would finish in an eight-way tie for ninth, shooting just 1-under par the rest of the way.
10. Nino Bertasio
Strokes Gained: 9.64
Tournament: Portugal Masters
Tour: DP World Tour
Rounding out the top 10 is our first DP World Tour round. Bertasio’s opening-round 61 was four clear of the field and almost 10 strokes better than field average. The Italian did not card a bogey in the round and led the field with 10 birdies. Bertasio would go on to place in the tournament’s top five for best finish of the season.
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Design by Matt Sisneros.