The 28-event PGA Tour Champions schedule crosses the finish line in Phoenix this week.
But there will be no repeat champions at Phoenix Country Club in 2022.
Like the PGA Tour, the Champions circuit has a three-event playoff to determine the season’s champion.
Unlike the PGA Tour, where the winner of the Tour Championship final also claims the season title, the PGA Tour Champions final generally produces two winners. In 2021 Phil Mickelson won the 72-hole tournament, while Bernhard Langer took his sixth Charles Schwab Cup series title.
There will be no title defenses in 2022. Fan favorite Mickelson will not be returning to the tournament and Langer is too far back in the points to win the series title.
Nevertheless, the stage is set for an exciting week at Phoenix Country Club. Here are five things to keep an eye on this week.
Champions wins mark in Langer’s crosshairs
Bernhard Langer holds up a big check on the 18th green after winning the 2022 TimberTech Championship at the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo: Raj Mehta/Getty Images)
The next time Bernhard Langer poses with a trophy and oversized check, it will be to celebrate his record-breaking 45th PGA Tour Champions win.
Langer won the TimberTech Championship last Sunday in Boca Raton, Florida for his 44th win on the senior circuit, a defender of Hale Irwin, who has been in power for 15 seasons.
Irwin won his last Champions tournament about 10 months before Langer won his first in 2007.
Langer rose to fifth in the Schwab point standings after his TimberTech win and although he is too far back to win the series title, he is lining up to post a record-tying win.
Alker commissioned for first series title
Steven Alker shakes hands with Jerry Kelly after their first round of the 2022 TimberTech Championship at the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo: Raj Mehta/Getty Images)
Steve Alker nearly took the drama out of the Schwab finale before the tour even reached Phoenix.
Heading into the TimberTech, Alker, who along with Steve Stricker had the most wins in 2022 with four, had a significant lead over Padraig Harrington, No. 2 in points.
Alker could have become the third player to win the cup for the final, but a draw for sixth held it back. Nevertheless, Alker is at the wheel to claim his first series title.
He has 3,753,435 points, more than 600,000 for Harrington.
Harrington hunting series title in his attempt
Padraig Harrington celebrates after scoring an eagle bunker shot 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 finish solo in fourth place at the TimberTech, is the only other golfer to have attempted to catch Alker.
Harrington had two eagles in the round and needed both of them to conquer 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 going out,” he said of Saturday’s round. “So I had a lot of issues 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 uncomfortable and difficult.”
Harrington said he had battled it out over the years, but also mentioned another flare-up on the track.
“I just pulled a muscle hitting a 5-iron on the range,” he said.
Harrington, who had back-to-back 67s this weekend, is playing his first full season on the Champions circuit, winning three times in 2022, including a major at the US Senior Open.
He turned 50 in August 2021, but only played two events last year.
Bubble boys: two come in, two fall off
Kevin Sutherland responds to the sinking of his putt on the 18th hole to send him to 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, went to 54 last week, but only the top 36 advanced to the 72-hole final in Phoenix.
Two golfers made their way onto the field, including Kevin Sutherland, who won the 2020 Schwab Cup final after surviving a nine-hole playoff that lasted until Monday.
32nd en route to the TimberTech, John Huston tied for eighth, propelling him to 36th and final spot for the Schwab Finals. Needless to say, Huston picked a good week to post only his third top-10 in 14 outings in 2022.
So who got hit? Mike Weir was 46th but dropped to 41st, while Woody Austin dropped from 34th to 45th.
If you were wondering what Fred Couples was, he won the regular season finale three weeks ago for his first win in five years, but shortly after, he announced he would be shutting it down for a year.
What about Lefty then?
Phil Mickelson reacts after making his putt on the 18th hole to take the 2021 Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club. (Photo: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports)
Phil Mickelson, a long-time fan favorite in Arizona’s golfing 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 during his tournament debut and sent them all home with a smile after winning.
Mickelson won for the fourth time in his first six Champions events after shooting a final round of 65. He joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win four of their first six starts on the Champions Tour.
Over the next 12 months, Mickelson’s life and the golf world turned on its side with the launch of the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series. In the fallout, Mickelson, who was one of the biggest names to make the jump, was suspended from the PGA Tour and is ineligible to return to defend his title.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek