Stat attack!: Sony Open statistical preview

By John AntoniniJanuary 8, 2014, 1:32 pm

Every April we hear how difficult it is for a golfer to win the Masters on his first try. After all, it hasn’t happened since Fuzzy Zoeller won in his debut in 1979. Last June marked the 100th anniversary of the last time a player, in this case Francis Ouimet, won the U.S. Open in his tournament debut. But we never read about how hard it is to accomplish that feat at most PGA Tour events.

Consider this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii. When Russell Henley won last year by shooting three 63s en route to a tournament-record 24-under 256 and a three-stroke victory over Tim Clark, he became the first player to win at Waialae in his first start in the tournament since Bruce Lietzke in 1977. The only other player to win the Sony Open in his first start was Gay Brewer in 1965, the tournament’s debut season.

Sony Open first-time winners

Russell Henley 2013
Bruce Lietzke 1977
Gay Brewer 1965

But the 2013 Sony was more than Henley’s tournament debut; it was his PGA Tour debut as a professional. After making the cut as an amateur in the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Open, Henley turned pro and joined the Tour in 2012, finishing third on the money list to earn his PGA Tour card for 2013. Henley was, quite literally, a seasoned professional by the time he won last year at Waialae, but he did become the first player to win in his first start as an official Tour member since Henrik Stenson in the 2007 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

How Henley won was even more impressive. His record-setting 24-under 256 was four strokes lower than the previous aggregate of 260 set by John Huston in 1998 and matched by Brad Faxon three years later. Also, his rounds of 63-63-67-63 made him one of eight players in the last 20 years to shoot three rounds of 64 or lower in the same tournament. Henley was one of five to turn his trick on a par-70 course, while Cook’s came at a par-71 course and Laird and Sabbatini accomplished it at par-72 venues.

Players with three rounds of 64 or lower in the same event since 1993

2013 Sony Open Russell Henley 63-63-67-63 Won
2011 Travelers Championship Ryan Moore 64-70-64-63 T-2
2008 Wyhdham Championship Martin Laird 63-70-64-63 T-4
2007 Tour Championship Tiger Woods 64-63-64-66 Won
2003 Texas Open Tommy Armour III 64-62-63-65 Won
2001 Las Vegas Invitational Rory Sabbatini 64-67-72-63-64 T-2
1996 FedEx St. Jude Classic John Cook 64-62-63-69 Won
1993 Hardee's Classic (John Deere) David Frost 68-63-64-64 Won

It’s worth noting that Henley is the only player on this list with three rounds of 63. That puts Henley in very select company. PGA Tour records are sketchy and incomplete, but only one other such week has been uncovered. At the 1954 Texas Open, Chandler Harper shot 70-63-63-63 at Brackenridge Park.

It would take an extraordinary effort for another first-time player to win at Sony, but there is one player in the field who would make that feat look pedestrian. Of course, we’re talking about Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan, who was runner-up at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions Monday for his fourth second-place finish in the last 12 months to go with his win at the John Deere Classic. He had never been to Maui before that finish, and now embarks on another new course. Although Waialae is quite different from Kapalua’s Plantation Course – much narrower fairways, much smaller greens – he has proven he can adapt to anything the Tour throws at him.

Spieth’s four runner-up finishes on Tour

2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions One back of Zach Johnson
2013 Tour Championship Three back of Henrik Stenson
2013 Wyndham Championship Lost playoff to Patrick Reed
2013 Puerto Rico Open One back of Scott Brown

Meanwhile, in the last 30 years only two players have repeated at the Sony Open – Ernie Els in 2003-04 and Corey Pavin in 1986-87. That’s the long and the short of it. Henley, the 2013 champ, is somewhere in the middle. He’s not as long a hitter as Els in his prime, but not a relative bunter like Pavin. Henley was 83rd on Tour in driving distance in 2013 and averaged 293 yards off the tee at Waialae (T-22 for the week). He was T-8 in accuracy, second in greens in regulation and first in strokes gained-putting. Those ranks are about normal for the Sony winner. In the last eight years only one winner was in the top 10 in distance of all drives that week (Ryan Palmer, 2010) and every champion was in the top 12 in GIR. The accuracy rate for winners on Waialae’s notoriously tight fairways fluctuates. Three winners finished in the top three in fairways hit, while two others were ranked 50th and beyond.

Sony Open winners since 2006

Year Winner Distance rank (of all drives) Accuracy rank GIR rank
2013 Russell Henley T-22 T-8 2
2012 Johnson Wagner 65 T-56 T-10
2011 Mark Wilson 28 2 T-10
2010 Ryan Palmer 6 T-50 T-3
2009 Zach Johnson 60 T-3 T-12
2008 K.J. Choi 20 T-20 T-4
2007 Paul Goydos T-49 2 T-9
2006 David Toms T-23 T-9 T-2

In an effort to help fantasy golf players with their selections this week, here’s a look at some of the other players in the Sony Open field, starting with last year’s top-10 finishers.

Tim Clark: The runner-up a year ago, he also broke the previous tournament record, shooting 21-under 259 with a 63 on Sunday. He has not missed the cut in four previous starts and also finished second in 2011 with a final-round 64 to finish two back of Mark Wilson.

Charles Howell: Entering 2014 he has 20 consecutive rounds of par or better at Waialae. Howell has made 12 cuts in a row at Waialae (he did not play in 2006) with a best of T-5 in 2009.

Scott Langley: He was T-3 in 2013 in his tournament debut with an opening-round 62. He was tied for the lead after 54 holes but shot 70 Sunday.

Matt Kuchar: Making his 11th start at Waialae, Kuchar has made four cuts and has three top-10s. He was T-4 in 2002 and T-5 in 2011 and 2013. He played well last week at Kapalua, finishing T-6.

Chris Kirk: He has made the cut in his three previous starts but his T-5 a year ago was his only top-10. He was T-16 at Kapalua.

Brian Stuard: He was T-5 in 2013 after finishing T-25 in his only other appearance in 2010.

Jeff Overton: His eighth-place finish a year ago was his best in seven starts. It is his only top-10 at Waialae.

Dicky Pride: Making his 10th start, he has made three cuts with a best of T-9 in 2013.

Pat Perez: His T-9 last year was his third top-10 in 12 starts. He has made the cut 10 times.

Mark Leishman: He hasn’t finished outside the top 30 in four previous starts, but his T-9 a year ago remains his only top-10.

Harris English: His T-9 a year ago followed a T-67 in his 2012 debut. He was T-11 at Kapalua.

Here are the previous winners of the Sony Open in the field.

Wagner: The 2012 winner shot 13-under 267 to win by two over four players. However, he has made only one other cut at Waialae in six starts.

Wilson: The 2011 winner has made four cuts in eight starts.

Palmer: He won in 2010, beating Robert Allenby by one stroke with a birdie on the 18th hole. He has five cuts made in his previous eight starts.

Johnson: Last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions winner was the 2009 winner at Waialae, and has made six cuts in eight starts. The win remains his only top-10.

Choi: With nine cuts in 12 starts, the 2008 champ is the most recent Sony Open winner with another top-10 in the event. He was T-4 in 2007 and T-7 in 2002.

Goydos: The 2007 winner has made 10 cuts in 17 previous starts.

Vijay Singh: The 2005 champ has never missed the cut and has four top-10s in 16 previous starts.

Jerry Kelly: He won in 2002, beating John Cook by one for his first Tour victory. 

ONE FINAL NOTE: John Daly is in the Sony Open field, marking his first PGA Tour appearance of the 2013-14 season. Daly underwent elbow surgery in July and is playing this week on a non-exempt medical extension. He has one event to earn $551,940, which means he has to finish first or second at Waialae, or else he will have to play the rest of the season out of the Past Champions category.

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.