For the PGA Tour, this has been the autumn of the big name. With Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, three of the best and brightest stars of the game notched victories in the fall season, while the tour’s “next level” winners, like Kevin Na and Camerson Champ, have had their own fascinating storylines. We already knew it was important both to play and to play well in the fall to lay the groundwork for a successful season, but statistical importance and cultural relevance are two different things. This year, we can say for certain that the tour’s fall season has achieved a deeper significance than in years past, and that’s due in part to its name winners. (It didn’t hurt that Tiger tied Sam Snead’s 82-wins record, either.) With only two weeks left before the short December break, it’s already been a success, and perhaps the biggest “quiet” winner of all this fall has been the tour itself.
Beyond the stars, though, this has been a very good time for a few players who aren’t quite at Tiger’s and Rory’s level but who will relish the success just as much, if not more. Below you’ll find the nine men who have had quietly stellar fall seasons to put themselves in prime position for 2020.
9. Hideki Matsuyama
By all rights, Matsuyama should be much higher on this list, because he finds himself eighth on the FedEx Cup standings and second among players with no wins. And he’s been good, even very good—in six starts, he’s had five top-20 finishes and three top 10s, including a second-place showing to Tiger at the Zozo Championship in his native Japan. But with Matsuyama’s obvious talent, there’s always the question (fair or not) of why he doesn’t win more. We’ve been spoiled by his consistent excellence to the degree that top-10 finishes just don’t cut it anymore, and the fact that he hasn’t won anything, anywhere in two-plus years has become the glaring stat.
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8. Byeong Hun An
It’s practically ho-hum with An at this point: He plays, a lot, and he’s mostly good. Nothing has changed this fall, with seven starts (the most of any player on tour) and three top-10 finishes. He’s missed two cuts, too, but when you give yourself this many chances and play this well, the FedEx Cup points will come.
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7. Mark Hubbard
Who is Mark Hubbard? Well, he’s 30, he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, his Twitter handle is “HomelessHubbs” and, before this fall season, he hadn’t played a PGA Tour event since 2017. He’s a journeyman, to put it mildly, and he’s on the PGA Tour because he won the Lecom Classic in the 2019 Korn Ferry season. But Hubbard has taken advantage of his latest chance with two top 10s in the fall, including a T-2 at Houston that was very, very close to being a victory—his back nine was a story of near-misses on birdie attempts. He’s 13th on the FedEx Cup points list, and he’s already come close to ensuring himself a top-125 finish when the wraparound season ends next summer. Autumn might symbolize old age and decay, but for Hubbard and a few others on this list, this fall has been about rebirth.
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4-5-6. Joaquin Niemann/Sebastian Munoz/Lanto Griffin
These are three tour winners in the fall who have been somewhat overshadowed by the bigger names mentioned above. Of course, the mere fact of winning is a very big deal. Along with the two-year exemption and the Masters berth, it gives the victorious golfers a good shot to make it to the season-ending Tour Championship. Of course, it’s no guarantee—every year, there are plenty of players with a win, some of them in the fall, who drop outside the top 30. It happened last year to Kevin Tway and Cam Champ, and at least one of this group will likely miss the mark. Still, it’s a big relief, and there’s an enormous difference between finishing first and second in these fall events.
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3. Sungjae Im
This guy is golf’s ironman, as evidenced by the fact that he led all pros with 35 PGA Tour starts last season, the most anyone had played since Danny Lee in 2015. Im actually took two weeks off in early October, the slacker, but he still has played six events (and counting), with four top 20s and two top fives. It should come as no surprise that he’s tops in the FedEx Cup standings among players without a win (sixth overall), and if you can get decent odds on this guy making the Tour Championship again in 2020, take them.
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2. Harris English
Starting on April 1, 2018, and ending at the Wyndham Championship in August, English played 45 events and had zero top-10 finishes. He managed to hang onto the 149th spot in the 2018-’19 FedEx Cup standings and thus (barely) maintained some status for this season. This fall, in four events, he has three top 10s. That’s an astounding turnaround, and the FedEx Cup points he’s earned already would put him 10 spots better than his 2018-’19 finish. It’s obvious there’s been a major infusion of confidence in his game. Considering the context of where he’s been, nobody has had a more important fall schedule than English … save one.
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1. Brendon Todd
And now I’d like talk about a University of Georgia alum in his 30s who has been in the professional golf wilderness for years and managed to completely change his career with a terrific fall season …
… wait, is there an echo in here? Yes, there are a ton of similarities between English and Todd, both of whom seem to be finding the old magic in time for the 2020 season. I’m giving Todd the nod here because he won an event, shooting a Sunday 62 in Bermuda, and though he won’t be heading to the Masters because his win came opposite the WGC-HSBC Champions, he will be pocketing that sweet two-year exemption (which, since he won in the fall, is essentially a three-year exemption). If nothing else, it saves him some grinding, and for guys like Todd and English who have spent many years at the grind, you can’t put a price on that.