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Surprise performers

7 unsung heroes of the PGA Tour fall season (so far)

November 09, 2021
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We're seven tournaments deep into the nine-event fall season on the PGA Tour, and that means it's time to take a look at some of the players who have made the most of their forays into autumn golf. We're not talking about the winners—the winners have had plenty of attention—but the guys who have quietly played impressive golf, excelled in a specific area or positioned themselves to have surprisingly strong 2021-22 seasons. These are the seven unsung heroes whose names are now … well, sung.

1. Mito Pereira and the divine approach

"Who is Mito Pereira?" you might reasonably ask, if you're not a devotee of fall golf. We'll forgive you for not knowing the Chilean 26-year-old who started his 2021-22 season by finishing third in the Fortinet Championship, and made three more cuts before a Friday 78 cost him last week at the Mayakoba. In fact, Pereira comes from the Korn Ferry Tour, by way of PGA Tour Latinoamerica. He was one of the unfortunate souls who had enough points on the Korn Ferry Tour to reach the big time before the pandemic hit, but then had to start all over. It turned out, the second time around was even better with three KFT wins earning him a promotion to the PGA Tour—and then three straight top-10s there last summer to get him comfortable with the big leagues. He had arguably one of the best seasons (relatively speaking) of anybody in the world.

Now he's top 20 in the FedEx Cup standings, and the stats show why he's been so successful: his iron play. Pereira is second on tour in strokes gained/approach, gaining a massive 1.422 on the field in 12 measured rounds. Granted, that's still a small sample size, but when you look at the rest of the list, you're already seeing names like Collin Morikawa, which is a good indication that Pereira could be for real. If so, it's great news, because stats show again and again that the approach game is the most important for overall success. Morikawa, currently the game's foremost iron genius, can attest to that, having won two majors and five tournaments overall even though he occasionally struggles putting. If Pereira keeps it up, he's going to keep winning.

Cliff Hawkins

2. Matthew Wolff's comeback

There are times in life and sports where talent just speaks for itself, and Wolff, with two top-10s and a T-17 in his three fall events, is showing that even an incredibly tough spell can be overcome with sheer ability (and a good deal of resilience, too). Wolff's mental-health struggles in 2020 and 2021 have been well-documented, and considering how low he fell after his incredible debut on the PGA Tour, the bounce-back here is really impressive. Wolff's game looks to be razor sharp, and he's clearly a different player than the one who was disqualified from the Masters and took a two-month break from golf to address his problems. Now he's out there shooting 61s, and it's good to see him back.

3. Nate Lashley's complete putting 180

Let's be clear about one thing: Lashley, the best putter on the PGA Tour this fall with at least 10 measured rounds, will not finish his season averaging 1.402 strokes gained/putting on the field. If he did, he would have turned in the greatest statistical putting season in years, and one of the best all time. It is not sustainable. HOWEVER, 12 rounds is not nothing, and this is a guy who finished 150th in that category last season with 59 measured rounds. He's doing something right on the greens, and it's echoing in his results, which include a pair of top-20s and only one (narrowly) missed cut. Lashley is 36, and his career has been journeyman to its core, with his PGA Tour stint only really starting in 2018. This is his last season playing off the exemption earned with his 2019 Rocket Mortgage win, but so far in the fall he's put the struggles of last season (when he finished 131st in the FedEx Cup) behind him, including the rough stretch over the summer where he missed six of eight cuts. Judging by the stats, the flat stick has been his savior.

Ezra Shaw

4. Cameron Tringale, autumn's iron man

There are four players who have played in six of seven possible fall events—no one has the full seven-pack—and Tringale is the best of them, with five made cuts and a T-2 at the Zozo that leave him in 11th place in the FedEx Cup standings. Playing well in the fall can really help a player throughout the season, as there are a ton of points to be gained, and Tringale—who has won the most career money of any golfer not to win a PGA Tour event—has taken advantage better than anyone. He'll be more comfortable than most come the spring and summer with the cushion his play has given him so far to start the 2021-22 season.

Mike Ehrmann

5. Carlos Ortiz and the home bump

Ortiz is from Guadalajara, Mexico, and playing in his home country last week, he secured a second-place finish and jumped from 120nd to 13th in the FedEx Cup standings. Granted, the El Camaleon course is extremely far from Guadalajara—Google Maps says it would take you 26 hours to drive there—but it is Ortiz's home country, and he played the best golf he's played in a long time. He also has a history of playing well close to home. In 2018, his first full PGA Tour season, he had his best finish at Mayakoba, and of the four tournaments he's won as a professional, one was in Houston (he went to college in Texas), one was in Panama, one was in Leon, Mexico, and one was in … Portland. There's always an outlier, but in general, when Ortiz is near home, he makes the most of it.

Mike Ehrmann

6. Cameron Young, the latest Cam who hits the ball a mile

There have been a glut of Cams and Camerons on the PGA Tour lately. One of them, Cameron Champ, made his name as a guy who could obliterate the golf ball off the tee, and won in back-to-back years in the fall. Now there's a new Cam in town, 24-year-old Cameron Young, and he's leading the tour in driving average. It helps that Bryson DeChambeau has not played an event yet, but Young is leading such luminaries as Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, and is average just shy of 330 yards per drive. He finished second at Sanderson Farms, so clearly he's not all show, and even though he has a long way to go before he's a household name (or before he's more famous than the basketball Cameron Young), there is always room on lists like these for a bomber.

Stan Badz

7. Talor Gooch, Mr. Consistency

Nobody has more than two top-10s in the fall season yet, but Gooch has bolstered his two top-10s at the Fortinet and the CJ Cup with two other T-11s—just outside the magical number—at the Shriners and Mayakoba (this one might feel even disappointing since he was playing in the final pairing on Sunday and couldn’t keep up the pace with eventual winner Viktor Hovland). Those are the only four events he's played, and nobody, not even the seven winners thus far, have been more consistently excellent. Next time you hear a golf gallery do the "Kuccccchhh" cheer, pretend it's for Talor Gooch and all his unheralded fall heroics.

Mike Ehrmann