Ranking the best fall seasons on the PGA Tour of the past decade
Brendon Todd’s wild late-fall run came to an end with a final-round 72 at the RSM Classic in Georgia, a small letdown after a torrid month. His solo fourth meant he fell just short of the rare third consecutive win, and an unbelievable capstone to his already unbelievable comeback from the depths of professional golf. Mental and perhaps physical fatigue likely got to him, but he still put together an historic fall season. It certainly has to be considered the best of this season, but how does it rank against other great fall stretches?
That’s the question before us, and answering it can be slightly complicated. The “wrap-around” era, when fall events began counting for the following year’s FedEx Cup points race, officially began in 2013-’14, and before that it was known as the “Fall Series” from 2007 to 2012. The Fall Series offered benefits to players who excelled, such as status on next year’s tour for those who hadn’t already earned it, along with exemptions into the PGA Championship, but it wasn’t on the scale of the current system. (Today, fall golf really matters with more events, full FedEx Cup points.) And prior to that, the Tour Championship was typically held much later and the only fall events after that were “silly season” events.
So the best point of comparison might be to look at just the wrap-around era alone. But this is 2019, which means the decade is about to end, and round numbers are simply more fun. Within that framework, I’m considering the fall to include any official events that happen after the Tour Championship, plus the WGC-HSBC Champions before its officially counted on the PGA Tour money list starting in the 2013-’14 season. My only other requirement is that every player who makes the list must have actually won—the rewards for finishing first in the fall are especially enormous, and that should be reflected in these rankings. Now, without further build-up, and with a full decade of autumns in our rearview mirror, here are the 10 best fall seasons of the past 10 years.
10. Russell Knox, 2015
It’s rare to see one of the November WGC-HSBC winners also have a great fall season, for the simple fact that most of the golfers who win that event traditionally haven’t played very much else in the fall (Shanghai is often the marquee tour players lone fall start). Knox, however, is the exception. Along with winning the WGC in 2015, he made the playoff a week later at Mayakoba, losing to Graeme McDowell, and also made two other cuts. (He takes this spot from Kevin Kisner, who had the same 1-2 punch in 2015 but won a “regular” event instead of the more prestigious WGC.)
• • •
9. Joaquin Niemann, 2019
Niemann’s fall season was decidedly mediocre after his win at The Greenbrier this year, and normally his composite performance wouldn’t be enough to warrant inclusion. However, he did something special at that initial start: In his blowout win, he became the first and only PGA Tour golfer of the decade to post a 72-hole score of 259 in the fall. For those curious, Justin Thomas holds the all-time tour record, regardless of seaons, with a 253 at the 2017 Sony Open. Speaking of ...
• • •
8. Justin Thomas, 2015
Thomas won the CIMB Classic and finished T-3 at the Frys.com, but like Niemann, he’s mostly here because of how he won. He was the first man of the decade to shoot 26 under in a fall event, beating the previous mark by two strokes and scorching Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club with a 61 on Friday. (This feels like a good time to shout-out Marc Leishman, who equaled Thomas’ mark in 2018 at the CIMB, and to Kevin Chappell, who became the first golfer ever to shoot a 59 in a fall event this year.)
• • •
7. Tiger Woods, 2019
Like the men above him, Tiger was a one-off in 2019, going out and winning the Zozo Championship in Japan. His aggregate score of 261 was tied for third best of the decade in all events, but there are three factors that really made this win stand out. First, it allowed him to catch Sam Snead on the all-time PGA Tour win list with 82. Second, his 2019 season after the historic Masters win was at least semi-absentee, and this proved yet again that he has plenty of elite golf left in him. Third, and more practically, it gave him all the justification he needed to pick himself for the Presidents Cup. That’s an efficient fall!
• • •
6. Luke Donald, 2011
Donald played one fall event in 2011 and was victorious, taking the title at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. This was the pre-wraparound days, so Donald’s late-season win wound up securing the money title and the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. That helped end any debate about who should be player of the year—Donald claimed that, too. Lastly, it set him up to be the first man to win both the American and European money lists in the same season. It’s hard to think of another fall win that has been quite so meaningful.
• • •
5. Robert Streb, 2015
It’s surprisingly uncommon for a golfer to earn three top-10 finishes in a single fall, despite what Brendon Todd may have made you think this year. Yet that’s exactly what Streb did in 2015, winning the McGladrey with a Sunday 63 and posting top 10s at the Shriners and Sanderson Farms. He had a few solid results after the new year, including a fifth-place finish at the Bridgestone, but his fall was so good that relative mediocrity afterward didn’t matter—he still made the Tour Championship.
• • •
4. Patton Kizzire, 2017
Kizzire is another member of the “three top-10s in one fall” club, culminating with a win at the Mayakoba. The hot start continued with a win at the Sony Open the following January. After that he hit a rough patch, but the strong fall and winter got him into the Tour Championship anyway. At the moment, Kizzire is still living on the exemptions he earned that year, though time is running out.
• • •
3. Cameron Champ, 2018
The best thing I can say about Champ’s fall 2018 season, which included a five-for-five made-cuts stretch, three top 10s, and a win at Sanderson Farms, is that it suckered me into picking him wayyyy to early in my fantasy draft. Wait, maybe that’s not the best thing … how about the fact that it announced him to the world as a high-flying bomber who could absolutely dominate a course? Incredibly, Champ didn’t make the Tour Championship the next year—speaking to the disappointing follow-up he had the rest of the season after the wicked start—but the fall of 2018 showed such flair and talent that it raised his profile even more. He appears to be back in rhythm, having won at the Safeway Open in October, and if patterns repeat themselves, he may craft himself into a veritable “legend of the fall” … a dubious honor.
• • •
2. Jimmy Walker, 2013
Walker bagged his first tour win at the Frys.com Open, riding a third-round 62 to the title, and he went on to finish T-12 at the Shriners and sixth at the CIMB Classic. That’s impressive by any measure, but the importance of that fall echoed into the next year—with newfound confidence, Walker won at the Sony and Pebble Beach, kicking off a year that would bring finish with almost $6 million in earnings. Walker didn’t let up, and within two years he was a major champion. That fall, and particularly his first win, was a life-changer.
• • •
1. Brendon Todd, 2019
Lost among Todd’s run is this simple fact: In the last decade, no other golfer has won more than a single fall event on the PGA Tour. Wins are paramount, and that alone would give him a leg up, but the fact that he almost won a third negates the fact that his fall season started with four cuts in September and early October. He found his form and left his competition wondering where that came from. By my reckoning, Todd just had himself the best fall season of the decade.