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The fall portion of this PGA TOUR season was not without its share of milestones, drama or interesting finishes. Strong fields dotted the schedule. Seven of the nine winners had already laid claim to a PGA TOUR victory in their careers. The roster of champions included established names like Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Max Homa, along with rising stars such as Sam Burns, Sungjae Im and Viktor Hovland. Players went remarkably low to get to those trophies: the final-round scoring average for the winners this fall was 65.6. Over the previous five PGA TOUR seasons, winners have averaged 67.2 on Sundays.
Here are the top numbers to know from the fall portion of the season:
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At the Shriners Children’s Open, Sungjae Im put on a stellar display of approach play, hitting 62 of 72 greens in regulation on his way to a four-shot victory. Since 1990, only 4% of PGA TOUR winners have hit at least 86% of their greens in regulation for the week. Incredibly, it was the second week in a row that it happened! The previous week, Sam Burns lit up the Country Club of Jackson with 63 of 72 greens hit as he picked up his second PGA TOUR title.
Speaking of Burns, he careens into the new year sitting in second place in the FedExCup standings. Burns is averaging a whopping 1.78 Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (combining performance off-the-tee and on approach), a full quarter-of-a-stroke better than anyone else with at least eight measured rounds this fall. Now in the top 15 of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his young career, Burns has not finished worse than T-21 in any event around the world since July 19.
With four consecutive top-20 finishes, another young star positioning himself for a successful 2022 is Matthew Wolff. The 22-year-old Oklahoma State product leads the PGA TOUR in scoring average and ranks fourth in Strokes Gained: Total. One intriguing figure within Wolff’s stat sheet is his increased club head speed. At 125.11 MPH, Wolff led all measured players this fall, and sits nearly 11 MPH above the TOUR average.
At THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT, Rory McIlroy made two eagles and 13 birdies on the weekend to win by one stroke over a surging Collin Morikawa. At age 32, the victory was McIlroy’s 20th on the PGA TOUR, making him the second-youngest player born outside the United States to achieve this milestone. Harry Cooper, born in England in 1904, is credited with his 20th PGA TOUR title at age 31. Since 1960, McIlroy is one of just seven players to reach 20 official PGA TOUR titles before age 33. The others are a list of historical luminaries: Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
McIlroy found the winner’s circle in an unconventional manner for him: with an incredible week on the greens. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting for the week, just the second time in his career he has done that over the entirety of a PGA TOUR event. The other instance came at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, which he also won. It was just the seventh time McIlroy finished a PGA TOUR event ranked in the top five in the statistic; he’s won four of those seven instances, and never finished outside the top five when ranking in the top five in Strokes Gained: Putting for the week.
McIlroy’s terrific putting and usual stellar performance off the tee masked a below-average statistical performance with his approach play at Summit Club. For the week, McIlroy wound up with -3.58 Strokes Gained: Approach, ranking 67th of 77 players in the field. Of the nearly 700 PGA TOUR events officially tracked by ShotLink all-time, it is the worst Strokes Gained: Approach performance by a player in a victory.
At the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, Viktor Hovland became the first player to successfully defend a title on the PGA TOUR since Brooks Koepka won back-to-back PGA Championships in 2018 and 2019. Hovland picked up his third TOUR win at 24 years, 1 month, 20 days old, making him just the fourth international player in the last 40 years to win three times that young. The others: McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott. Hovland capped off his 2021 with an unofficial win at the Hero World Challenge last week to rise to a career-best seventh in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s now the second-ranked European in the world, behind only No. 1 Jon Rahm.
Was this the most impressive collection of PGA TOUR winners we have ever seen in the fall? The numbers suggest so. The average World Ranking of the nine official tournament winners this fall was 31.8, by far the best since wrap-around scheduling began in 2013-14. For comparison’s sake, the average World Ranking of winners in fall 2020 was 169.8! Every winner this fall was ranked in the top 60 of the OWGR at the time of his victory. Only one other fall stretch can even boast an average under 60 (2013, 53.2).
The United States trounced Europe at the Ryder Cup, posting the largest margin of victory (19-9, 10 points) by either side in the modern era. The Americans dominated the par-5s for the week, winning 34 holes to Europe’s 14. Every American player won at least one match before Singles even began. Dustin Johnson was a flawless 5-0-0, becoming the first American since Larry Nelson in 1979 to win five matches in a single Ryder Cup. U.S. rookies posted a combined record of 14-4-3, the highest points per match average (0.74) for any group of rookies in the modern era.
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