Stat attack!: Wells Fargo Championship preview

By John AntoniniApril 30, 2014, 2:25 am

Before we look at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship let’s take a look back at last year’s tournament. Derek Ernst, age 22, ranked 1,217th on the world ranking, and playing in just his ninth PGA Tour event beat back a crowded leaderboard that included Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. Ernst had never finished better than T-41 in a Tour event, yet managed to maneuver his way through Quail Hollow’s diabolical Green Mile like he was on a buddies trip. Ernst, who ranked outside the top 100 in driving accuracy, greens in regulation, strokes gained/putting and scoring average in 2013, finished in the top 15 in those categories at the Wells Fargo. Simply put, he had the week of his life.

Derek Ernst’s PGA Tour statistics

 Tournament Distance Accuracy GIR St.G/Putting Scoring avg. Scrambling
 2013 Wells
285.4 (11) 58.93% (T-13) 75.00% (T-3) 1.287 (11) 68.89 (1) 66.67% (T-9)
 2013 season 291.5 (61) 60.49 (105) 63.89 (122) -.217 (138) 72.27 (176) 49.34 (179)
 2014 season 293.8 (52) 67.04 (29) 64.69 (135) -.815 (200) 73.31 (199) 46.50 (202)

The field hit only 51.73 percent of the fairways and 64.33 percent of the greens at Quail Hollow in 2013. The “good drive” percentage – the percentage of times a player hit a fairway or a green (or the fringe of the green) on a hole - was 78.62 percent, making Quail Hollow the 12th toughest course from tee to green on Tour in 2013. Ernst’s good-drive percentage in 2013 was 81.11, but at the Wells Fargo it improved to 85.71, second best in the field. Not only did Ernst improve his strokes gained putting my more than six strokes that week, he increased his “good drive” percentage by hitting fairways at his normal rate and greens a better than average clip when all those around him were being brought to their knees by Quail Hollow.

Courses with the hardest fairways to hit in 2013

 Rank Course Driving accuracy pct.
 1 Torrey Pines (North) 47.01%
 2 Waialae CC 48.03
 3  Torrey Pines (South) 49.59
 4 Glen Abbey GC  51.14
 5 Quail Hollow Club 51.73

Good drive percentage leaders in 2013

 Season rank Player Good drive percentage
 1 Steve Stricker 87.44%
 2   Mark Wilson 86.81
 3 Henrik Stenson 86.61
 4 Jerry Kelly 86.58
 5 Jim Furyk 86.29
 103 Derek Ernst 81.11
 Wells Fargo rank Player Good drive percentage
 1  Brian Harman 87.50%
 2 Brian Davis 85.71
 2 Henrik Norlander 85.71
 2 Derek Ernst 85.71
 2 Roberto Castro 85.71
 2 Rory McIlroy 85.71
 2  Ross Fisher 85.71
 2 Pat Perez 85.71

Ernst, though, did continue a trend at the Wells Fargo Championship of young players taking the title. And it many cases it wasn’t just young players. It was YOUNG players. Even though he had yet to turn 23, Ernst was the third-youngest winner of the tournament in the previous six years.

Age of winners of the Wells Fargo Championship since 2008

 Year Winner Age
 2013 Derek Ernst 22 years, 11 months
 2012 Rickie Fowler 23 years, 5 months
 2011 Lucas Glover 31 years, 7 months
 2010 Rory McIlroy 20 years, 11 months
 2009 Sean O'Hair 26 years, 10 months
 2008 Anthony Kim 22  years, 10 months

Youth, as has been discussed by many, has been the order of the day on the PGA Tour this year. Eight players born in the 1990s are in the top 100 on the FedEx Cup standings (Ernst, having reverted to form in 2013-14, is not one of them). Three of them are in the field this week.

Top players born in the 1990s in the Wells Fargo Championship field

 Player Birthday FedEx rank Best Wells Fargo finish
 Seung-Yul Noh May 29, 1991 16 T-9 in 2012
 Hideki Matsuyama February 25, 1992 55 None
 Danny Lee July 24, 1990 92 T-38 in 2009

But age is just a number and 1990 is just a year. Perhaps the player with the best career record at Quail Hollow was born in 1989. And he just happens to be turning 25 on Sunday.

Rory McIlroy at the Quail Hollow Championshp

 Year Finish Scores To par Earnings
 2013 T-10 67-71-73-73—284 -4 $148,517
 2012 T-2 70-68-66-70—274 -14 572,000
 2011 MC 75-72—147 +3  
 2010 Won 72-73-66-62—273 -15 1,170,000

McIlroy would have won in 2012 had it not been for the way he played Quail Hollow’s closing holes, the dastardly trioka known as the Green Mile. McIlroy was four-over for the week on the trio – the par-3 17th is sandwiched by a pair of 478-yard par-4s. They lived up to their billing last year as well, playing as the third, fourth and fifth toughest holes on the course, and providing the PGA Tour’s most exasperating closing threat. For the week there were only 99 birdies and one eagle on the Green Mile and only Merion’s finishing holes were harder on Tour in 2013.

Finishing holes on the PGA Tour’s 10 toughest courses in 2013

 Rank Course Scoring to par Subpar scores
 1 Merion +1.360 67
 2  Muirfield +.720 169
 3  Oak Hill +.777 135
 4 Augusta National +.458 130
 5 PGA National -.147 293
 6 Muirfield Village +.675 150
 7 Innisbrook +.637 130
 8 Congressional +.039 218
 9 Firestone +.137 156
 10 Quail Hollow +.818 100

One final thought: This will be the 12th playing of the Wells Fargo Championship and four players in the field will be making their 12th appearance. Stuart Appleby, J.J. Henry, Charles Howell III and Rory Sabbatini are the Charlotte iron men. Appleby is the only one who has never finished in the top 10 at Quail Hollow, with a best of T-15 in 2004. Sabbatini’s was third in 2007 and 2011. Howell and Henry finished as high as T-7 (2010 of Henry and 2003 for Howell).

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry