Stat attack!: Masters review

By John AntoniniApril 14, 2014, 2:48 am

He has had previous success at Augusta National. He has already won on Tour this season. He hits plenty of greens in regulation. A long hitter, he makes plenty of birdies on par-5 holes. He rarely three-putts (at least not this year). He’s left-handed. Bubba Watson meets all the requirements of a Masters champion. So tell me again why I didn’t pick him to win the tournament this week?

Watson’s second Masters title, coming two years after his first, was statistically similar to his win in 2012. He didn’t need a playoff this time, beating Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt by three strokes, but his greens in regulation, fairways hit and total putts were similar to his results when he beat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff.

Watson’s stats in his two Masters victories

 2012 Stat 2014
 278 Score 280
 37 (T-46) Fairways hit 40 (T-13)
 53 (T-4) Greens in regulation 50 (T-5)
 120 (T-37) Putts 116 (T-16)
 4-under Par-3s 1-under
 2-over Par-4s 1-over
 8-under Par-5s 8-under

Watson didn’t post his best numbers Sunday. He hit only seven fairways and 10 greens, his lowest figures of the week. Still, his final-round 69 was his third sub-70 score for the tournament (which ties the Masters record). He countered his relative failure to hit greens Sunday by taking just 25 putts in the final round. He needed just one putt on 11 holes.

Watson’s Masters stats by round

  Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Total
 Fairways hit 10 10 13 7 40
  Greens in regulation 16 12 12 10 50
 Putts 32 26 33 25 116
 Score 69 68 74 69 280

Long one of the best shapers of the golf ball, Watson’s ball-striking skills were on display at Augusta National. His greens in regulation and putting totals were among the best he’s had in major championships.

Bubba Watson’s most greens hit in a major

 Major Greens hit
 2010 British Open 56
 2012 Masters 53
 2011 Masters 52
 2014 Masters 50
 2013 U.S. Open 49

Bubba Watson’s fewest putts taken at a major

 Major Total putts
 2009 U.S. Open 112
 2004 U.S. Open 114
 2010 PGA Championship 114
 2014 Masters 116
 2012 British Open 119

Watson’s second Masters title came in his sixth start at Augusta National. Only Horton Smith needed fewer appearances to get his second Masters victory. All of the players on this list, except Watson, are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Fewest starts needed for two Masters victories

 Starts Champion Years of victories
 3 Horton Smith 1934, 1936
 6 Jimmy Demaret 1940, 1947
 6 Arnold Palmer 1958, 1960
 6 Bubba Watson 2012, 2014

With two major championships and six PGA Tour victories, Watson is well on his way toward his own hall-of-fame career. (Don’t forget how close he came to a third major, having lost the 2010 PGA Championship in a playoff to Martin Kaymer.) He does, however, need to avoid the pitfalls that befell him after his 2012 Masters victory. Emotionally exhausted after a month that saw him not only win the Masters, but also become a father for the first time after he and wife, Angie, adopted baby Caleb, Watson didn’t win again in 2012 and 2013. But 2014 has been a different story. With two wins and two seconds this season, Watson is first on the PGA Tour money list, second in FedEx Cup points and second in scoring average.

Bubba Watson in 2013-14

 Tournament Finish Scores Money
 CIMB Classic T-31 78-69-65-73—285 $44,450
 WGC-HSBC Champions T-8 68-69-69-68—274 161,666
 Farmers Insurance Open T-23 70-73-73-69—285 54,290
 Waste Management Phoenix T-2 64-44-48-71—269 545,600
 Northern Trust Open Won 70-71-64-64—269 1,206,000
 WGC-Accenture Match Play T-9   148,000
 WGC-Cadillac Championship T-2 73-72-72-68—285 753,000
 Arnold Palmer Invitational WD 83  
 Masters Won 69-68-74-69—280 1,620,000

But this Masters wasn’t all about Bubba Watson. Seniors and first-timers also made waves. More Champions Tour eligible players made the cut (6) than ever before and 11 Masters rookies played the weekend, tieing the tournament record. At age 20, Jordan Spieth almost became the youngest Masters champion, settling for a tie for second with fellow first-timer Jonas Blixt. It was the fifth runner-up finish in 43 starts for Spieth, golf’s new Nearly Man. There were four rookies in the top-10, including Kevin Stadler and Jimmy Walker, who were T-8.

Low finish by first-timers since 1980 

 Finish Player Year
 T-2 Jonas Blixt 2014
 T-2 Jordan Spieth 2014
 T-2 Jason Day 2011
 T-2 Dan Pohl 1982
 3 Tommy Tolles 1997
 T-3 Luke Donald 2005
 T-3 Tom Lehman 1993
 T-3 John Huston 1990
 T-3 David Edwards 1984

In his first four treks around Augusta National, Spieth hit 53 greens in regulation, more than anyone in the field. He was also T-13 in fairways hit (40) and T-30 in total putts (120). But he wasn’t the only player with his eye on history. Fifty-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez, 30 years older than Spieth, shot 66 Saturday to move into contention, and was looking to become the oldest major champion of all time. The Spaniard shot 71 Sunday to finish fourth, four strokes back of Watson. It was the second-best finish by a player age 50 or older at the Masters. Jimenez was joined in the top-10 by fellow senior Bernhard Langer, whose 69 Sunday gave him a T-8 finish. It was his first top-10 at the Masters since he was T-4 in 2004.

Best Masters finish by a player 50 or older 

 Player Finish Year Age
 Sam Snead T-3 1963 50
 Miguel Angel Jimenez 4 2014 50
 Jimmy Demaret T-5 1962 51
  Fred Couples 6 2010 50
 Jack Nicklaus T-6 1998 58
 Bernhard Langer T-8 2014 56
 Sam Snead T-10 1967 54
 Ben Hogan T-10 1967 54

One final thought: Next up on the major schedule is the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in June. Watson has played in seven national championships, making the cut four times with a best finish of T-5 in 2007. He was T-32 a year ago at Merion.


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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.