Stat attack!: Hero World Challenge

By John AntoniniDecember 2, 2014, 4:25 pm

Tiger Woods returns to competition this week at the Hero World Challenge, more than three months removed from his last appearance at the PGA Championship and eight months on from a microdiscectomy, performed to alleviate a pinched nerve in his back resulting in the worst season of his professional career.

How Woods plays this week is not the most pertinent question – the Hero, after all, is an unofficial competition, in which golfers play for pride, World Ranking points and gobs and gobs of money – but his performance this week at Isleworth G&CC could go a long way to determining what to expect when the bell rings on the PGA Tour season in 2015. If he’s healthy, and there’s no reason to expect he won’t be, he’ll improve on those 79 Tour wins and perhaps those 14 majors. How much he improves is the question.

There has never been another player like Woods. But at his age, with all the scar tissue – physical and mental – it’s fair to ask what to expect from him. Woods’s birthday is December 30, and he’s about to embark on his age 39 season. Do we dare compare him to other 39-year-old golfers? Yes, let’s do. Let’s compare him to the greats. 

Wins and majors after age 39 among the top 10 victory leaders in PGA Tour history

 Player Date turned 39 Wins Majors
 Sam Snead 5-27-1951 22 3
 Jack Nicklaus 1-21-1979 5 3
 Ben Hogan 8-13-1951 7 3
 Arnold Palmer 9-10-1968 9 0
 Byron Nelson 5-4-1951 0 0
 Billy Casper 6-24-1970 6 0
 Walter Hagen 12-21-1931 5 0
 Phil Mickelson 6-16-2009 6 2
 Cary Middlecoff 1-6-1960 1 0
 Tom Watson 9-4-1988 2 0

Woods likely won’t match Sam Snead, who played often, and quite competitively, deep into his 50s. Vijay Singh, 14th on the all-time victory list, who won 25 times after age 39, is also an anomaly. But if Woods is every bit the player that Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan were during the final years of their careers, Tiger will certainly break the all-time record for PGA Tour victories. He needs three wins to tie Snead’s mark of 82. Nicklaus, Hogan, Snead and Mickelson all won multiple majors after age 39. There’s no reason Woods won’t also, although getting to 18 and matching Nicklaus’s all-time record might be a stretch.

But what about 2015? How will Woods compare to the greats in their age 39 season. Nicklaus and Tom Watson did not win during that year, 1979 for Jack and 1989 for Tom, finishing deep down the PGA Tour money list. But others, notably Palmer and Sam Snead had good years. Then there’s Singh, who was about to embark on a run never before seen by a player of his age. As good as he was in 2002 at age 39, Singh was even better in 2003 and 2004, when he led the PGA Tour in wins and earnings. 

How selected golfers fared in their age 39 season on the PGA Tour*

 Player Year Birthday Wins Top 10s Money (Rank)
 Jack Nicklaus 1979 1-21-1940 0 3 59,434 (71)
 Tom Watson 1989 9-4-1949 0 2 185,390 (80)
 Arnold Palmer 1969 9-10-1929 2 10 95,267 (9)
 Ben Hogan 1952 8-13-1912 1 3 5,625 (24)
 Sam Snead 1951 5-27-1912 1 10 15,073 (6)
 Vijay Singh 2002 2-22-1963 2 11 3,756,563 (3)

*A player’s age on June 1, about the midpoint of most seasons, was used to determine a season age. Hogan made only three starts in 1952. Stats were pulled from the PGA Tour statistical database.

The money grab

That Woods can rebound from an injury-plagued season is not unprecedented. He played just six events in 2008 (winning four times), before a knee injury sidelined him for the second half of the year. He rebounded in 2009 to win six times and led the PGA Tour money list. In 2011, injuries to his left knee and Achilles' tendon limited him to nine starts and a paltry $660,238 in earnings. Healthy in 2012 he won three times and earned $6,133,158. Woods’s monetary increase of $5,472,920 from 2011 to 2012 is the fourth-largest one-season earnings jump in PGA Tour history. Woods has four of the nine greatest single-season earnings jumps all time.

Largest PGA Tour single-season earnings gains from one season to the next

 Player Gain in $ First season Second season
 Rory McIlroy $6,477,653 $1,802,443 (2013) 8,280,096 (2014)
 Rory McIlroy* 5,658,343* 2,389,609* (2011) 8,047,952 (2012)
 Henrik Stenson 5,597,123 791,107 (2012) 6,388,230 (2013)
 Tiger Woods 5,472,920 660,238 (2011) 6,133,158 (2012)
 Webb Simpson 5,374,391 972,962 (2010) 6,347,353 (2011)
 Tiger Woods 5,262,552 5,365,472 (2004) 10,628,024 (2005)
 Tiger Woods 4,775,468 1,841,117 (1998) 6,616,585 (1999)
 Tiger Woods 4,733,163 5,775,000 (2008) 10,508,163 (2009)
 Bubba Watson 4,577,702 1,759,276 (2013) 6,336,978 (2014)

*Not a Tour member in 2011, McIlroy’s earnings that year are unofficial.

To overtake McIlroy for the greatest monetary improvement from one year to the next, Woods would have to earn just less than $6.6 million in 2015. Basically, he'd need to have a slightly better year than the one Bubba Watson had in 2014 (two wins, three seconds, eight top-10s).

Of course, Woods wouldn’t have some of the greatest one-season earnings jumps in history, if not for the greatest one-season earnings drops. His 2014 season is the second-greatest decline in PGA Tour history, trailing just his $9,213,488 decline from 2009 to 2010.

* Of note, is Rory McIlroy’s decline from 2012 to 2013, which precipitated his $6,477,653 increase in earnings from 2013 to 2014, the all-time greatest single-season earnings improvement in PGA Tour history. 

Largest PGA Tour single-season earnings drops from one season to the next

 Player Loss in $ First season Second season
 Tiger Woods $9,213,488 $10,508,163 (2009) $1,294,765 (2010)
 Tiger Woods 8,445,164 8,553,439 (2013) 108,275 (2014)
 Rory McIlroy 6,245,509 8,047,952 (2012) 1,802,443 (2013)
 Vijay Singh 5,324,279 6,601,094 (2008) 1,276,815 (2009)
 Tiger Woods 5,092,052 10,867,052 (2007) 5,775,000 (2008)

One final thought: Woods has come back from injuries before, but as he ages, it will be tougher for him to return to the otherworldly levels we once assumed were normal for him. He already has the longest streak of sustained brilliance in PGA Tour history, his 16 years from his first money title (1997) to his most recent (2013) is the longest stretch since the Tour began keeping track of earnings in 1934. Snead (1938 to 1950) and Nicklaus (1964 to 1976) went 12 years from their first money title to their last. Whatever Tiger does in 2015, is icing on an already historic career.

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

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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.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.