Stat attack!: Barclays preview

By John AntoniniAugust 19, 2014, 6:52 pm

Let’s get Rory McIlory out of the way right from the start. He has never won the Barclays, never come close, actually, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be anointed the unconditional favorite at this week’s first PGA Tour Playoff event. His previous three tournaments have earned him that much. McIlroy shot a combined 48-under par in his three wins at the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship, and surpassed longtime FedEx Cup standings leader Jimmy Walker at the PGA to become the No. 1 player on the point’s list entering the Playoffs. The regular season FedEx Cup leader has never won the Barclays – Tiger missed by a stroke last year and in 2009.

How the regular season FedEx Cup leader fared at the Barclays

 Year Player Barclays finish
 2013 Tiger Woods T-2
 2012 Tiger Woods T-38
 2011 Nick Watney T-10
 2010 Ernie Els 71
 2009 Tiger Woods T-2
 2008 Tiger Woods Did not play
 2007 Tiger Woods Did not play

Rory McIlroy at the Barclays

 Year Scores Finish
 2013 (Liberty National) 71-65-71-72—279 T-19
 2012 (Bethpage) 69-73-69-72—283 T-24
 2010 (Ridgewood) 68-74-71-72—285 T-56

The Barclays has bounced around courses in the New York metropolitan area since the Playoffs began, this year returning to Ridgewood CC in Paramus, N.J., where it was held in 2008 and 2010. McIlroy had a poor result (T-56) in 2010, but the sample size is small so we can’t say with certainty that the course is not a good fit for him.

Who is Ridgewood a good for? The smart player, for certain, one who takes advantage of what’s given to him, instead of trying to force things to happen. Conventional wisdom says keeping the ball in play will be important at the venerable course that combines holes from the East, West and Center courses at the A.W. Tillinghast designed venue. Resisting the temptation to gamble is key. The Tour’s “Going for the Green” stat identifies the number of times a player tries for the green in two shots on a par-5 or from the green or on a par-4 when it is considered a viable option. Fewer players attempted that option at Ridgewood in 2010 than at any other course on Tour. In 2008 it ranked third. Players “go for the green” less than 25 percent of the time. And when they do gamble, it’s usually a failed attempt, with players hitting the green less than 12 percent of the time in 2010 and 8 percent of time in 2008.

The tour identified 16 opportunities to go for it at Ridgewood in 2010 and champion Matt Kuchar used his head. He only attempted to reach the green on four of 16 opportunities. He was three under on the four holes, and he was a tournament best six-under par when he laid up. Kuchar’s nine under total on the 16 gambling holes was the best in the field, and went a long way toward the 12-under total that got him into a playoff with Martin Laird, which he won.

Going for the green stats for Barclays leaders in 2010

 Player Going for it Layed up RTP-going for it RTP-laying up RTP-overall
 Matt Kuchar 4 12 3 under 6 under 9 under
 Martin Laird 7 9 3 under 2 under 5 under
 Kevin Streelman 4 12 1 under 1 under 2 under
 Steve Stricker 0 16 Even 4 under 4 under

Who were the PGA Tour’s smartest players in relation to gambling in 2014. The Tour’s “going for the green” stat isn’t a fair comparison here because not everyone played the same courses. It’s easy for Robert Garrigus to have a better relation to par in gambling efforts than Rory McIlroy because he played more events and because he played more courses where going for it might be the right play. Instead let’s use just the recent Bridgestone and the PGA Championship as our guide. Who were the “smartest” players during those two tournaments?

The Tour identified 13 opportunities to go for the green at Valhalla and eight chances at Firestone. Here are the leaders in relation to par on those 21 holes over two weeks.

Relation to par on gambling holes at the Bridgestone and PGA Championship

 Player Total to par Bridgestone PGA
 Rickie Fowler -15 -6 -9
 Lee Westwood -14 -6 -8
 Rory McIlroy -13 -4 -9
 Phil Mickelson -13 -2 -11
 Charl Schwartzel -13 -4 -9
 Hideki Matsuyama -13 -5 -8

All of those players enjoy going for the green when it’s a viable option. The one who picks his spots at the Barclays, choosing to lay up at the right time, just might have the advantage this week.

Otherwise, the stats at Ridgewood don’t really identify a particular player. None of the leaders in 2008 or 2010 excelled in any particular aspect of the game (save Streelman in putting in 2008 and Kuchar in putting in 2010).

Stats of Barclays leaders at Ridgewood CC in 2008 

 Player Finish Distance Accuracy GIR St. gained/putting
 Vijay Singh Won 289.4 (T-13) 48.21% (T-66) 73.61% (T-6) .298 (39)
 Kevin Sutherland T-2 287.0 (18) 64.29 (T-21) 70.83 (T-20) .981 (12)
 Sergio Garcia T-2 284.5 (25) 58.93 (T-40) 66.67 (T-35) .834 (15)
 Matthew Goggin T-4 289.4 (T-13) 64.29 (T-21) 72.22 (T-13) -.474 (60)
 Ben Curtis T-4 283.6 (T-28) 62.50 (T-25) 65.28 (T-39) .193 (43)
 Kevin Streelman 
T-4 275.9 (T-47) 58.93 (T-40) 65.28 (T-39) 1.900 (1)

Stats of Barclays leaders at Ridgewood CC in 2010

 Player Finish Distance Accuracy GIR Str. gained/putting
 Matt Kuchar Won 277.6 (34) 64.29% (T-30) 70.83% (T-15) 1.870 (4)
 Martin Laird 2 288.5 (T-10) 46.43 (T-69) 62.50 (T-51) .840 (19)
 Steve Stricker T-3 272.1 (49) 67.86 (T-18) 72.22 (T-6) .617 (28)
 Kevin Streelman T-3 284.1 (19) 73.21 (T-6) 63.89 (T-47) 1.172 (8)

Even Streelman, who was in top five both years, didn't excel in the same statistics. In 2010 he hit more fairways and was longer off the tee, but hit fewer greens. Although he putted well both years, he was much more dominant with the flatstick in 2008. However, Streelman is not coming into this event, looking much like a contender. After winning the Travelers Championship in June, he has finished no better than T-54 in five starts. (You might recall, that Streelman, the Illinois-born Duke grad, has New Jersey roots. His grandparents are buried in the cemetery beyond the seventh hole at Ridgewood CC.)

One final thought: We identified the “smartest” players above, but who failed to capitalize on the gambling holes at the Bridgestone and the PGA? Patrick Reed (four under), Graham DeLaet (four under), Bubba Watson (three under) and Jonas Blixt (two under) make this list.

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.