Fall Season PGA Tour Awards: Best player, rookie, moment and more
This is the space where I typically write The Monday Finish — but this week there was basically nothing that needs finishing, so it’s time to reflect on the season that has already happened!
Fun fact: We have now entered a part of the schedule the PGA Tour officially refers to as the “Challenge Season.” In contrast to the ceaseless carousel that is the bulk of the Tour season, the Challenge Season is just a footnote: Two events, the Hero World Challenge and the QBE Shootout. The Champions Tour has a one-event Challenge Season, too, putting on the PNC Championship (formerly known as the Father-Son). That makes it three Challenge Season tournaments, getting us from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
The use of the word “challenge” here is troubling, if you think too hard about it. Why is this week’s event the Hero World “Challenge?” That would imply that the players involved are engaging in some sort of grueling physical test. Running a marathon is a challenge. Swimming the English Channel is a challenge. Walking 18 holes in a day while someone else carries your clubs, feeds you snacks and tells you what to do? I like your chances of survival.
But let’s get to the point. The beginning of the Challenge Season means the official end to what came before it. On other words, the Fall Season is over. Nine official events are in the books, which means we’re somehow about 20 percent of the way through the 2021-22 schedule. No matter how you look at this period on the calendar — like the offseason or the midseason or the Challenge Season — this is basically the only time of the year we get to pause and evaluate. Without further ado, it looks like our first presenter is approaching the podium…
ROOKIE OF THE FALL
Winner: Mito Pereira
One nerdy joy of the fall season is getting to know the under-the-radar first-year Tour pros. They often come out hot, fresh off Korn Ferry Finals and playing to impress. But not every crop wins as quickly as the Morikawa-Hovland-Wolff trio, and this year the talented bunch haven’t completely broken through — there are 27 rookies but no clear front-runner. Cameron Young has the best single rookie result this season with a T2 at the Sanderson Farms. Hayden Buckley is the only rookie with multiple top-10s. Taylor Pendrith has made five cuts in seven starts and nearly won in Bermuda. All solid sticks with bright futures. But I’m handing Rookie of the Fall to Mito Pereira.
Pereira earned his Tour card with three wins on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, including two in a row over the summer. He started this season in style with a third-place finish at the Fortinet, then made five cuts in his six subsequent starts and put together an incredibly consistent — if unremarkable — seven-tournament resume of 3-T29-T29-T30-T31-T40-MC.
It’s a precarious position at the top; if the competition were open one single week longer, Pereira could be unseated. But it’s not! These are the Fall Season Awards! So it’s a narrow win for Mito, whose game already has us dreaming of an all-Chilean Niemann-Pereira Presidents Cup pair putting on a ball-striking clinic.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE FALL
Winner: Matthew Wolff
Wolff’s star seemed very much on the rise when he finished second at the 2020 U.S. Open and followed that with a T2 at the Shriners a week later. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Wolff skipped some tournaments and looked distinctly unhappy at others, failing to contend the entire rest of the season. His next top 10 came, in fact, at the 2021 Shriners, where he finished runner-up once again.
Since his reemergence this summer, Wolff has spoken openly about his battles on and off the course, but he seems to have found a happy place on Tour of late: In four starts this season Wolff has four top-20s, two top-fives and leads the Tour in scoring average. Oh, and we can be patient. He’s still just 22 years old…
MOST EFFICIENT FALL
Winner: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy has logged one PGA Tour start this season: A victory at the CJ Cup. That’s value! That’s bang for your buck! He beat the season’s most stacked field to climb back inside the top 10 in the world, and he did so by embracing an essentialist mantra: Be yourself.
“I feel the last couple weeks I’ve realized that just being me is good enough,” McIlroy said after the win. “And maybe the last few months I was trying — not trying to be someone else, but maybe trying to add things to my game or take things away from my game. I know that when I do the things that I do well, this is what I’m capable of. I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA Tour and being the best player in the world.”
McIlroy’s other two appearances this fall were a decidedly mixed bag, going 1-3 in an emotional showing at the Ryder Cup and yielding the 54-hole lead at the DP World Tour Championship, where he wound up T6 with a torn shirt. But on Tour he’s one for one. That’s a high winning percentage.
GREATEST WINNING MOMENT
Winner: Hideki Matsuyama
It was more than enough that Matsuyama rose to the occasion, winning the Zozo Championship in his native Japan in front of crowds of adoring crowds. But the fact that he punctuated the week by nearly slam-dunking his approach shot at No. 18 and settling for a walk-off eagle to win by five? That took things to the next level.
Winner: Cameron Young…
…technically. Young is a big-bombing Tour rookie who leads the driving distance category at 323.0 yards per rip. But it certainly helps his case that Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Champ have played two rounds combined on Tour this season (Champ’s missed cut at the Fortinet, and that’s it). Still, whether he’s first or third or 13th, there’s no question that Young can smash it — and you’d better get used to seeing his name around leaderboards, too.
BEST ALL-AROUND GOLFER
Winner: Collin Morikawa
In two PGA Tour starts since the end of last season, Morikawa finished second and T7. Toss in his Ryder Cup rookie stardom, his DP World Tour Championship title, his Race to Dubai win and his ascent to World No. 2 and you’d be hard-pressed to name anyone currently playing the game at a higher level.
Winner: Patrick Cantlay
Since he won a cool $15 million in the FedEx Cup finale and became a low-key fan favorite at the Ryder Cup, Patrick Cantlay has… basically disappeared. He has played exactly zero PGA Tour events this fall. His Instagram indicates he showed up at least one Hugo Boss event, but that’s about it. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing a professional golfer have something very good happen to them and not necessarily just say, “okay, on to next week!” It leaves open the possibility that he’s actually been enjoying himself.
THE BOYS OF FALL AWARD
Winners: Tom Hoge, Peter Malnati, Sung Kang and Sepp Straka
These four played eight events this fall, tied for the league lead. It hasn’t all been easy — Kang has yet to crack the top 25 — but on Tour sometimes you just need to keep getting shots up. How do you know when it’s going to be your week? Of these four, Hoge has had the most success, logging a couple top-20s before a T4 at the RSM. We hope they’ve got their feet up and their clubs in the closet for a couple weeks, enjoying some well-earned time off.
Winner: Nah, just kidding. We don’t rate babies in this column. They’re all winners!
Everyone’s a winner in this category, because it was wild that two of the Tour’s biggest stars, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, each became first-time fathers this fall just four days apart. Sammy Spieth is already working on his grip, while Maya Fowler is diving into the Jup Life. They’ll be well looked after.
Winner: Tiger Woods
Woods dropped a four-second video that instantly shifted the tectonic plates of the entire sport and served as an important reminder of two things. One, Woods’ force of will should never, ever be doubted, not even now. Two, all the existential questions the golf world has been facing about money and leagues and tours and sponsors all seems suddenly small when compared to the attention Woods commands.
I’m not sure whether he posted the video because it was the last day to earn PIP points or because he knew he’d be facing the media at this week’s Hero World Challenge or because he’s going to shock the world at the PNC Championship or just because he finally had some good news he wanted to share. Either way, it was so good to see him back that he absolutely needs an award, even though he never considered hitting a competitive shot this fall season.
Winner: Talor Gooch
Talor Gooch and Sam Burns put together near-identical resumes this fall, each logging a win and three top 10s. Burns’ victory came at the Sanderson Farms and he finished T5, T7 and T14 in his other three starts. He described it as “gut-wrenching” to just miss out on September’s Ryder Cup team and played like a man trying to make an impression.
But Gooch’s body of work was just slightly better. Granted, he played two extra events, but his RSM Classic win came against a stronger field than the Sanderson and he came in T4 at the Fortinet and T5 at the CJ Cup. He finished in the top 11 in five of six starts, jumped from No. 77 to No. 32 in the world ranking and took a commanding lead in the FedEx Cup.
Now Gooch will face his toughest test yet: Carrying the magic of the Fall Season on to the rest of his season and beyond. Many FedEx Cup leaders of falls past have withered come springtime. But he can worry about that come January, when he’ll be playing in his first Tournament of Champions. He’ll worry about it in April, when he’s teeing it up at the Masters. In the meantime he can recharge and enjoy a couple weeks away from the relentlessness of getting that ball in the hole every single time.
That’s the beauty of the Fall Season: It has an actual end. Once the new year starts it doesn’t really stop — not until we hit this same corner of the calendar next year. When we do, let’s celebrate our fall heroes once again.