Stat attack!: FedEx St. Jude Classic review

By John AntoniniJune 9, 2014, 1:34 am

Ben Crane has always been one of the PGA Tour’s better putters. When the Tour created the strokes gained/putting stat, it retroactively named the new FedEx St. Jude Classic champion as the Tour leader in 2005 and 2006, and he was sixth in 2008. But from 2009 to 2013 he lost his stroke and never finished better than 19th on Tour. A year ago he was 125th in the FedEx Cup standings and barely made the PGA Tour Playoffs. Coming into Memphis he was 150th in points, and was in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007. But he led the field in strokes gained at TPC Southwind, was second in scrambling, fourth in putting from beyond 10 feet and only missed two putts from less than 10 feet. Those numbers lifted Crane to his fifth career win, and his first since the 2011 McGladrey Classic.

Ben Crane’s stats at the FedEx St. Jude Classic

 Distance Accuracy GIR Scrambling St. gained
Putting from
10+ feet
 271.3 (62) 58.93% (T30)  58.33% (T47) 83.33% (2) 2.190 (1)  10/41; 24.39% (T4)

Crane was the second player in four weeks to win while leading the tournament in total putting, a weighted formula of six putting stats that determines putting success. Crane’s figure of 22.2 was the best since William McGirt’s 9.8 total on the small greens of the RBC Heritage

Tournament leaders in total putting the last two months

 Tourament Player Total putting Finish
 FedEx St. Jude Ben Crane 22.2 Won
 Memorial Aaron Baddeley 28.1 T-37
 Crowne Plaza Colonial Freddie Jacobson 30.3 T-3
 Byron Nelson Brendon Todd 25.3 Won
 Players Matt Jones 23.4 T-17
 Wells Fargo Jason Bohn 26.5 4
 Zurich Classic Retief Goosen 29.5 T-21
 RBC Heritage William McGirt 9.8 T-9

Crane played 30 holes Sunday in the rain-plagued event, and didn’t make birdie in his final-round of three-over 73. Yet he still held on to beat Troy Merritt by one stroke, thanks to opening rounds of 63-65-69. Crane had the lowest first-round score by the Memphis winner since Bob Estes shot 61 in 2001 and matched the highest final-round score by a winner in tournament history. Crane’s 63 was one of the lowest opening-round scores in Memphis in the last 20 years.

Lowest first-round scores at the FedEx St. Jude Classic: 1995-2014

 Player Score Year Finish
 Bob Estes  61 2001 Won
 Justin Leonard 62  2005  Won 
 Glen Day 62  1995  T-21
 Mike Standly 62  1995  T-26 
 Ben Crane  63  2014  Won
 Lee Westwood  63  2010  Won 
 Tom Lehman  63  1999  T-2 
 Hal Sutton  63  1999  T-6 
 David Frot  63  1999  T-15 

Highest final-round score by a winner at the FedEx St. Jude Classic

 Player Score Year
 Ben Crane 73 2014 
 Justin Leonard 73 2005
 David Toms 73 2004
 Dave Hill 73 1967

Troy Merritt, who shot 71 Sunday, finished one stroke back despite not making birdie in his last 15 holes in the final round. It was a career-best performance for the Iowa-born resident of Idaho. He had made just three cuts in 12 previous starts this season, none better than T-46. He is one of 13 players whose only top-10 finish on Tour this year was a runner-up performance. Ian Poulter would have been on this list if not for a T-6 at Memphis. His only previous top-10 was a runner-up at the HSBC Champions. Three players – Matt Jones, Scott Stallings and Steven Bowditch – were winners the only time they finished in the top 10.

Players whose only top-10 finish in 2013-14 was a runner-up

 Player Tournament Result
 Briny Baird McGladrey Classic One back of Chris Kirk
 Jonas Blixt Masters

Three back of Bubba Watson

 K.J. Choi Farmers Insurance One back of Scott Stallings
 Tim Clark McGladrey Classic One back of Chris Kirk
 Jamie Donaldson WGC-Cadillac One back of Patrick Reed
 Victor Dubuisson WGC-Accenture Lost finals to Jason Day
 Danny Lee Puerto Rico Open Two back of Chesson Hadley
 Troy Merritt FedEx St. Jude One back of Ben Crane
 Jim Renner AT&T Pebble Beach One back of Jimmy Walker
 Vijay Singh Open Two back of Jimmy Walker
 Robert Streb Zurich Classic Two back of Seung-Yul Noh
 Mike Weir Byron Nelson Two back of Brendon Todd

Crane – who, by the way, had one previous top-10 this year, a T-9 at the Humana - and Merritt are not qualified for this week’s U.S. Open, and only four players in the top-10 are playing this week. Matt Every and Webb Simpson were T-3, and Ian Poulter and Billy Horschel were T-6. They will look to ride that momentum at Pinehurst. In addition, Phil Mickelson seemed pleased with his T-11 in his 500th official PGA Tour start at the FedEx. Much is expected of Mickelson at Pinehurst this week. Here’s how he fared the week before the Open in his previous runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open.

Phil Mickelson’s previous week performance when he finishes second at the U.S. Open

 Year Result the week before the U.S. Open
 2013 T-2, FedEx St. Jude Classic
 2009 T-59, FedEx St. Jude Classic
 2006 T-18, Barclays Classic
 2004 T-16, Buick Classic
 2002 T-25, Buick Classic
 1999 Did not play

We focused on Mickelson in the Stat Attack preview for the tournament, but his failure to post a top finish this year raises questions not just at the Open, but of his future. Historically, players don’t win often after they’ve made more than 500 Tour starts. Tom Watson won twice after his 500th appearance. Hale Irwin and Raymond Floyd won a U.S. Open after they had played 500 times on Tour, but totaled four and three wins after that milestone, respectively. It’s likely Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer didn’t win after they had played that many times. (Tour starts are notoriously untrustworthy as you go back into the 1960s and beyond, as missed cuts are not accurately kept on the Tour database.) Vijay Singh hasn’t won since making start No. 500. Neither has Justin Leonard. Only six active players have won on Tour after they played in 500 PGA Tour events. Lefty is a better golfer than anyone on this list so it’s likely he’ll win a few more times. Can he join Irwin and Floyd as Open champs?

PGA Tour players who have won after they played in 500 tournaments

 Player Career starts Wins after 500 starts
 Woody Austin 529 1
 Mark Calcavecchia 756 2
 Fred Funk 641 3
 Davis Love III 694 2
 David Toms 565 1
 Scott Verplank 630 1

Finally, don’t look for the U.S. Open champion to come out of the FedEx St. Jude Classic field. The last U.S. Open champ who also played Memphis in the same year was Payne Stewart in 1999. Hmmm, that Open was held at Pinehurst, too. Maybe Mickelson can win this week.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.