Stat attack!: Tour Championship preview

By John AntoniniSeptember 9, 2014, 2:12 pm

The PGA Tour’s first wrap-around season comes to a close with this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, and you’re not wrong if you think this year has resulted in a changing of the guard.

For the first time since 1992, you won’t see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els in the season finale.

The top five players on FedEx Cup standings – those who control their own destiny when it comes to winning the Cup – include 25-year-old world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and the three players who won playoff events at the Barclays (Hunter Mahan), Deutsche Bank (Chris Kirk, shown) and BMW Championship (Billy Horschel).

Here’s a look at those five players, plus a statistical look at the rest of the Tour Championship field: 

PGA Tour statistics of the FedEx Cup leaders

 Player Rank Starts Cuts Top 10s Wins Scoring Distance Accuracy GIR St. G. putting

 Chris
 Kirk

1 27 25 4 2 70.24 (31) 290.9 (81) 63.08% (64) 63.22% (139) .348 (25)
 Billy
 Horschel
2 26 19 4 1 70.68 (63) 291.4 (77) 67.74 (19) 70.03 (4) .190 (62)
 Bubba
 Watson
3 20 17 8 2 69.71 (9) 314.2
(1)
60.77 (102) 67.79 (26) -.041 (110)
 Rory
 McIlroy
4 16 16 11 3 68.90 (1) 311.2
(2)
60.00 (112) 69.35 (6)

.254 (45)

 Hunter
 Mahan
5 24 19 6 1 70.52 (46) 295.8 (45) 65.40 (35) 67.49 (31) .207 (59)

How the top five players have fared in the Tour Championship

 Player 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
 Chris Kirk              
 Billy Horschel T-7            
 Bubba Watson   T-5 T-23 T-17   30  
 Rory McIlroy   T-10          
 Hunter Mahan T-20 T-8 2 T-15 T-24 T-17 T-5

It might surprise you to learn that McIlroy has only played in one Tour Championship, in 2012, when he concluded his remarkable season with a T-10 at East Lake for a second-place finish in the Cup standings behind tournament winner Brandt Snedeker. McIlroy didn’t qualify for East Lake a year ago (finishing 50th in the FedEx Cup standings) or in 2010 (36th), his only previous years as a PGA Tour member.

Mahan, meanwhile, is playing his eighth straight Tour Championship. He is the only player to have appeared in every PGA Tour playoff event since the post-season series began in 2007.

Kirk - who was born in Atlanta, played college golf at Georgia and still makes the state his home - tops the FedEx Cup standings but the Tour Championship hasn’t been kind to the point’s leader in recent years. The only player to enter the Tour Championship ranked atop the standings and win the tournament was Tiger Woods in the inaugural Cup year of 2007. In the last four years, the player who won the Tour Championship has also won the FedEx Cup, and the points leader entering the finale has finished second in the final standings.

FedEx Cup leaders entering the Tour Championship

 Year Player TC finish Cup finish Cup winner
 2013 Tiger Woods T-22 2 Henrik Stenson
 2012 Rory McIlroy T-10 2 Brandt Snedeker
 2011 Webb Simpson 22 2 Bill Haas
 2010 Matt Kuchar T-25 2 Jim Fuyrk
 2009 Tiger Woods 2 Won FedEx Cup  
 2008 Vijay Singh T-22 Won FedEx Cup  
 2007 Tiger Woods Won Won FedEx Cup  

This year’s 29-man field (Dustin Johnson finished 30th on the point’s list, but remains on leave for personal reasons) is a strong one. Eight of the top 10 players on the Official World Golf Ranking are at East Lake, as are seven of the next 10. Only four players are ranked outside the top 50.

World ranking of the Tour Championship field

 Rank Total Players
 Top 10 8 McIlroy (1), Scott (2), Garcia (3), Rose (5), Watson (6), Furyk (7), Day (8),
Kuchar (9)
 11-20 7 Fowler (11), Kaymer (12), Spieth (13), Johnson (15), Walker (18), Matsuyama (19),
Mahan (20)
 21-30 3 Horschel (23), Kirk (24), Reed (28)
 31-40 3 Haas (31), Simpson (33), Na (36)
 41-50 4 Palmer (44), Todd (46), Woodland (49), Senden (50)
 51-75 3 Henley (53), Tringale (72), Ogilvy (74)
 76+ 1 Hoffmann (101)

Morgan Hoffman is the highest-ranked player to qualify for the Tour Championship since Kevin Streelman (147th) in 2010. The 25-year-old New Jersey native is certainly trending in the right direction. At the, Barclays in his home state, Hoffmann finished T-9 for his first top-10 finish of 2013-14. Two weeks later at Cherry Hills, his stellar closing rounds of 62-63 (the best final 36-hole scores this season) moved him from T-53 to third in the tournament and into the Tour Championship for the first time.

Highest ranked players to qualify for the Tour Championship in the playoffs era

 World rank Player Year TC finish
 147 Kevin Streelman 2010 T-9
 112 Marc Leishman 2009 T-28
 101 Morgan Hoffmann 2014  
 96 Bubba Watson 2008 30
 91 John Senden 2009 T-10
 90 Briny Baird 2008 T-27
 90 Gary Woodland 2013 T-22

Only 13 players are retuning to the Tour Championship from 2013. Defending champion Henrik Stenson failed to qualify, as did co-runner-up Steve Stricker. The other runner-up, Jordan Spieth, is back. There are nine first-timers in the field this week, including Kirk and Hoffmann.

First-timers in the Tour Championship field

 Player FedEx rank Best 2014 finish
 Chris Kirk  1 Won McGladrey, Deutsche Bank
 Jimmy Walker 6 Won Frys.com, Sony, Pebble Beach
 Martin Kaymer 14 Won Players, U.S. Open
 Patrick Reed 18 Won Humana, WGC-Cadillac
 Cameron Tringale 19 T-2 Barclays
 Russell Henley 20 Won Sony
 Morgan Hoffmann 21 3 BMW Championship
 Brendon Todd 27 Won Nelson
 Hideki Matsuyama 28 Won Memorial

Hoffmann and Tringale are two of 10 players in the field who have not won on Tour in 2013-14. Hoffmann, in fact, is the only player in the Tour Championship who did not have a win or a runner-up finish this season. Here’s the list of non-winners. Some of the names might surprise you.

Players in the Tour Championship who have not won in 2013-14

 Player FedEx rank Best finish in 2013-14
 Jim Furyk 7 2 Wells Fargo, Players, Canadian Open
 Rickie Fowler 9 T-2 U.S. Open, British Open
 Jordan Spieth 11 2 Hyundai T of C, T-2 Masters
 Sergio Garcia 13 2 WGC-Bridgestone, T-2 Travelers, British Open
 Bill Haas 16 T-2 Wyndham
 Cameron Tringale 19 T-2 Barclays
 Morgan Hoffmann 27 3 BMW Championship
 Ryan Palmer 23 2 Humana, T-2 Honda
 Kevin Na 24 2 Valspar, Memorial
 Gary Woodland 29 2 CIMB

One final thought: Bill Haas is the only player in the playoff era to make the Tour Championship his first win of the season. Haas won in 2011 in a playoff over Hunter Mahan. Haas hasn’t won yet in 2013-14 and needs a victory this week to extend his streak of consecutive years with a win on Tour to five.

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

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.