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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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.