Planet Golf — 23 November 2018 by GW staff and news services
What the Fall Season tells us

There were eight tournaments, and eight winners, from the East Coast to the West Coast to Asia.

The best golfers in the world played it safe (Safeway Open) and gambled (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas). They were hot (CIMB Classic) and cold (The RSM Classic). They won it on the greens (Cameron Champ), the tees (Champ), or both at the same time (Champ).

What did it all mean? Here are five takeaways from those eight events.

1. It’s (still) not how you start …

Charles Howell III went 3 over for the first four holes but 6 under for the final 14 in capturing The RSM Classic on Sunday. He was the latest fall winner to finish with a flourish.

Kevin Tway was four behind playing partner Brandt Snedeker at the turn, reeled off five straight birdies — including three in a sudden-death playoff — and won the Safeway Open. He tied two others for the best score to par, 8 under for the week, on holes 16-18.

Bryson DeChambeau played the front nine in just 6 under for the week, but the back in 15 under in winning the Shriners, a continuation of his great play in the FedExCup Playoffs.

Brooks Koepka shot a back-nine 29 in the final round to win THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, then explained, “I’m not somebody that’s going to panic if things go the wrong way, pretty sure everybody can tell that. I just kind of hang in there, wait for my holes, I know I’m going to have some good looks and when I do, you’ve got to capitalize on them.”

Yep, hitting the back-nine afterburners was kind of a thing in the fall.

2. You could almost measure Strokes Gained: Patience

Howell, 39, broke a win drought that went back 333 starts, all the way to the 2007 Genesis Open at Riviera. And he did it one week after Matt Kuchar, 40, broke his own win drought of 116 starts dating back to the 2014 RBC Heritage.

When he won for the first time in his 91st start, Tway, 30, made himself and his mostly retired father, Bob, the 10th father-son duo to win on TOUR.

Marc Leishman didn’t win last season, but wasted no time in capturing the CIMB Classic, by five, in just the second tournament of the new season. Another example of the power of patience: Leishman said he was hitting the ball everywhere early in the week but found something on the driving range and used it to shoot 26 under, tying the tournament record at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

3. Champ lived up to his name

The owner of perhaps the coolest golf moniker since Tiger Woods, Cameron Champ lived up to his surname. Befitting a guy who easily led the Web.com Tour in driving distance, he dominated with his long game in winning the Sanderson Farms Championship in just his ninth TOUR start.

Or did he dominate with his short game?

Although it’s true that Champ, 23, ranked second for the week in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee at the Sanderson, and led the field with eight drives of 340 yards or longer, he was also second in Stroke Gained: Putting, making over 114 feet of putts in the final round alone.

Champ became just the 22nd winner on TOUR since the 2004 introduction of ShotLink lasers to rank in the top two in both categories. Two additional top-10s in the fall tied him for the TOUR lead with Scott Piercy and Gary Woodland, and his 117 birdies were the most of anyone over the first eight tournaments and the most ever for the fall portion of the wraparound season.

4. Koepka, DeChambeau validated

Although the fall and the 2018 calendar year in general gave us more than the usual number of comeback stories (see above), Koepka validated his PGA TOUR Player of the Year season with a final-round 64 and a four-shot victory over Woodland at THE CJ CUP. Koepka fans had had to wait only a little over two months since his win at the PGA Championship at Bellerive.

DeChambeau also validated in winning the Shriners in Vegas, where he dominated from tee to green. It had been two months and one day since DeChambeau’s win at the Dell Technologies Championship, his second victory in as many weeks in the FedExCup Playoffs last season.

He also further cemented his status as a premier ball-striker. He ranked 6th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green in Vegas, making up for his 45th in Strokes Gained: Putting. In all five of his wins, DeChambeau has not ranked worse than 27th in either SG: Off-the-Tee or SG: Approach-the-Green.

5. Spieth, Finau will command extra eyeballs in ’19

Jordan Spieth is back! That was the conventional wisdom after his opening 66 at the Shriners, his first fall TOUR start in the U.S., but rounds of 68-71-72 dropped him into a T55 finish. Not what he was looking for as he comes off a winless season that saw him struggle on the greens.

There were fewer highlights as Spieth missed the cut at the Mayakoba Golf Classic (71-69) the next week, but focus may have been hard to come by as he prepped for his impending marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Annie Verret. A former world No. 1 and the 2015 FedExCup champion, Spieth, 25, has dropped to 16th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and will enter the 2019 portion of the schedule tied for 190th in FedExCup points.

Tony Finau had better luck in the fall, but after looking nerveless while going 2-1-0 at the Ryder Cup, he shot a final-round 71 and lost a sudden-death playoff to Xander Schauffele at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Finau, who still hasn’t won since breaking through at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, later called it a missed opportunity.

All of which says—what exactly?

The fall doesn’t provide an adequate sample size, Spieth was on the verge of a major life event, and no less a superstar than Dustin Johnson had fumbled at the goal line at the WGC-HSBC Champions. (Yeah, he seemed to survive OK.) It happens. But going into 2019, the mega-talented Spieth and Finau aren’t just due for a win. They’re overdue.

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