Stat attack!: Greenbrier Classic preview

By John AntoniniJuly 1, 2014, 7:30 pm

July is a month for vacations, and the PGA Tour’s top stars are doing just that this week. Bubba Watson is the only top 10 player on the Official World Golf Ranking in the field at the Greenbrier Classic (there are no top-10 players in the European Tour’s Alstom French Open). Jimmy Walker (ahem) and Steve Stricker represent the top 20 in West Virginia and only 12 of the top 50 players are present. With the stars away, are some players more inclined to succeed than others? Identify those players and you might uncover this week’s winner.

To find out who plays well in weaker tournaments, I started by looking at the Official World Golf Ranking. The world ranking is scheduled to award 42 points to the Greenbrier Classic champion. There have been 10 PGA Tour events this season where the winner has been given 42 or fewer points. And as expected, there are players who clean up at those events. Walker won two such tournaments – the Open and the Sony Open (he also won at Pebble Beach, which gave 44 points to the winner, just missing our threshold). Webb Simpson also finished in the top 25 all four times he played a weak-field event, including the Las Vegas tournament, which he won. Here’s a list of the players in the Greenbrier field who have at least four top-25 finishes in weak-field events in 2013-14, along with the percentage of their season earnings that have been a result of those weeks.

Top finishers in weak-field* events in 2013-14

 Player Starts Cuts Top 25 Money Pct. of season money Best
 Brendon Todd** 7 7 5 $715,028 25.24% T-6 Humana, Valero
 Will Mackenzie 9 5 5 997,490 55.96 T-2 Texas
 Jeff Overton 9 7 5 835,251 81.60 4, Zurich
4 4 4 2,112,740 42.82 Won Frys, Sony
 Webb Simpson 4 4 4 1,610,017 64.71 Won Las Vegas
8 7 4 841,078 65.71 T-2, Texas
 Brian Harman 8 7 4 599,672 43.99 T-6 Memphis
 Jerry Kelly 9 6 4 803,190 81.09 3, Sony
 Carl Pettersson 9 5 4 650,610 63.83 T-3 Memphis
 J.J. Henry 9 7 4 351,009 74.91 T-13 Memphis
10 6 4 963,680 89.32 T-2, Zurich
 Ben Martin**** 10 6 4 592,447 42.44 3, Puerto Rico

* The tournaments with the ranking points awarded to the winner are as follows. Open (28), Las Vegas (36), McGladrey (32), Mayakoba (24), Sony (42), Humana (40), Puerto Rico (24), Valero Texas (40), New Orleans (36), FedEx St. Jude (42).

** Todd also won the Byron Nelson Championship, which just missed the threshold, awarding 44 points to the winner. If include the Nelson, Todd has won 69.09 percent of his season earnings in such events.

*** Including the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which earned Walker just 44 ranking points for winning, would give him 66.91 percent of his season earnings in such events.

**** Martin had made the cut in his last seven starts, with additional thirds at the Heritage and at last week’s Quicken Loans National, which is another reason to consider him: The hot-hand effect.

Most of these players should make the cut and finish among the leaders. But be forewarned that just because Jerry Kelly, for one, plays well in such events, it doesn’t mean he’ll win the Greenbrier Classic. It just means he has a good chance to play well. Someone from this group might win, but Walker stands out.

Consider that when Jonas Blixt won in 2013 for his first PGA Tour win, Walker was one of four players who finished two strokes back. Walker has parlayed that runner-up into three victories this seasson. Matt Jones and Stephen Bowditch have also won in 2014. Perhaps Johnson Wagner is waiting for this week for his breakout 2014 performance.

Greenbrier Classic leaderboard in 2013

 Finish  Player Best event since Greenbrier
 Won Jonas Blixt Second at 2014 Masters, Fourth at 2013 PGA
 T-2 Jimmy Walker Won, Sony Open, AT&T Pebble
 T-2 Stephen Bowditch Won Valero Texas Open
 T-2 Matt Jones Won Shell Houston Open
 T-2 Johnson Wagner 10th, 2013 Reno, no top-10s in 2014

Here’s how the top 50 players on the World Ranking in the field have fared at the Greenbrier 

 World rank Player 2013 2012 2011 2010
 3 Bubba Watson T-30      
 17 Jimmy Walker T-2 MC T-4 T-4
 18 Steve Stricker   T-22    
 25 Keegan Bradley   T-46 T-43  
 29 Patrick Reed MC      
 31 Webb Simpson T-41 T-7 T-9 MC
 35 Bill Haas T-9 T-33 2  
 38 Kevin Na   T-7   T-36
 41 Jonas Blixt Won      
 45 Chris Kirk   MC T-49  
 47 Brendon Todd   T-49    
 50 Gary Woodland T-62 MC T-4 MC

Normally, I wouldn’t expect any player not named Tiger Woods to finish in the top five at the same tournament four times in five years. But with Walker’s pedigree at Greenbrier, it’d be silly not to consider him option No. 1.

As for option No. 2, there is another trend to consider at the Greenbrier. A common denominator among Greenbrier winners is that none of them had played the tournament. After Stuart Allenby won the inaugural event in 2010, Scott Stallings in 2011, Ted Potter in 2012 and Blixt were all making their first appearances in West Virginia. I wouldn’t get too worked up about this. It’s bound to end as the tournament ages. Besides, of the 32 first-timers in the field at press time, only two – Chesson Hadley and Tim Clark – are in the top 100 on the FedEx Cup standings.

First-time players in the Greenbrier field who are also the top 150 in the FedEx Cup standings

 FedEx rank Player Best finish in 2013-14
 52 Chesson Hadley Won Puerto Rico Open
 98 Tim Clark T-2 McGladrey Classic
 102 Tim Wilkinson T-7 AT&T Pebble Beach
 113 Bryce Garnett T-7 Shell Houston Open
 126 Tyrone Van Aswegen T-16 Byron Nelson 
 128 Gonzalo Fdez-Castano T-24 Honda Classic
 137 Hudson Swafford T-8 Sony Open
 141 Andrew Loupe T-4 Valero Texas Open

In addition to his win at Puerto Rico, Hadley was fifth at Las Vegas and T-13 at Memphis. If it weren’t for six missed cuts in his last seven starts, he would be someone to consider from his list as he plays well in the weak-field events discussed above. So does Wilkinson, and he’s made five cuts in a row. Food for thought.

One final point: Don’t get too worked up about early round leaders at the Old White course. Because the course usually plays to a subpar scoring average, plenty of players can make moves in later rounds. In fact, the first, second, or third round leader/co-leader has never gone on to win in the tournament’s four years.

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

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.