Stat attack!: Wells Fargo Championship review

By John AntoniniMay 5, 2014, 12:39 am

It was only a matter of time. J.B. Holmes might not have been on the cusp of victory over the past several weeks but he was certainly trending in the right direction. With 10 cuts made in 11 starts this season entering the Wells Fargo Championship and four top-20 finishes in his previous five starts, Holmes was playing his best extended golf since the spring of 2011, just months before brain surgery to repair Chiari malfunctions set back his career. This year's resurgence includes his most recent stretch of 10 straight subpar rounds, eight straight subpar rounds on the weekend, and 19 of 24 rounds at par or better. In his last six starts he has moved from 166th to 15th on the money list and from 157th to 18th on the FedEx Cup standings. He was outside the top 500 on the Official World Golf Ranking entering the Arnold Palmer Invitational and will climb into the top 75 after his win at Wells Fargo.

J.B. Holmes’ record since the Arnold Palmer Invitational

 Tournament Finish Scores Earnings
 Arnold Palmer Invitational T-10 68-69-72-73—282 $148,800
 Valero Texas Open T-64 72-75-72-76—295 13,020
 Shell Houston Open T-12 66-73-71-71—281 125,440
  RBC Heritage T-18 72-71-69-69—281  75,632
  Zurich Classic T-11 71-65-69-71—276 149,600
 Wells Fargo Championship 1 70-67-66-71—274 1,242,000

Holmes won with his usual long-distance game. He has never finished worse than seventh on Tour in driving distance and is averaging 305 yards per measured drive this season. But he outdid himself at the Quail Hollow Club, leading the field in driving distance at 333.9 yards. He is the fourth tournament winner this season to lead his event in distance of measured drives. It was also the second-longest single-event average in 2013-14, trailing only Bubba Watson’s 334.1 yards per poke during his runner-up finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Tournament winners who also led the field in driving distance in 2013-14

 Player Tournament Distance
 J.B. Holmes Wells Fargo Championship 333.9 yards
 Bubba Watson Masters 305.6
 Bubba Watson Northern Trust Open 318.5
 Jimmy Walker Sony Open 319.5

What Holmes didn’t do last week as well as previous winners of the Wells Fargo Championship was hit greens in regulation. That said, the long-hitting Kentuckian hit 45 of 72 for a 62.5 percentage, slightly better than his season average of 60.75 (ranked 181st on Tour), and better than the tournament average of 59.22 percent. He was fourth in strokes gained/putting and 53rd in driving accuracy. Just as Derek Ernst did during his stunning win in Charlotte a year ago, Holmes held his own in a statistic that he normally struggles in (GIR), while the rest of the field came back to him. He turned those greens in regulation into his best putting week of the year and his first PGA Tour victory since 2008.

J.B. Holmes' statistics

 Event Distance Accuracy Greens in regulation Scrambling Str. gained/putting
 at Wells
333.9 (1) 46.43%
62.50% (T-29) 74.07%
1.472 (4)
296.1 50.17 59.22 57.69 .000
 Holmes in
305.0  (T-7) 54.46
60.75 (181) 62.15
.183 (64)

The victory didn’t come easily. Holmes is the sixth winner this year and the second in a row to shoot his highest score of the week during the final round. Holmes finished with a one-under 71 at Quail Hollow after opening with rounds of 70-67-66. His bogeys on the 16th and 18th holes Sunday kept him one stroke ahead of Jim Furyk.

2013-14 winners whose highest score came during the final round

 Player Tournament Scores
 J.B. Holmes Wells Fargo Championship 70-67-66-71
 Seung-Yul Noh Zurich Classic 65-68-65-71
 Steven Bowditch Valero Texas Open 69-67-68-76
 Russell Henley Honda Classic 64-68-68-72
 Jimmy Walker AT&T Pebble Beach 66-69-67-74
 Patrick Reed Humana Challenge 63-63-63-71

Two players – Kevin Stadler and Matt Every – matched their high score of the week during the final round of their victories.

Despite his bogeys on the 16th and 18th holes Sunday, Holmes held his own on the dreaded Green Miles holes, Quail Hollow’s finishing trio that yielded less than 100 birdies among them for the second straight year. Holmes was even par on the week on Nos. 16-18, including birdies on the last hole on Friday and Saturday. Holmes won the tournament on the front nine, leading the field in scoring on the first side, his 134 total outpacing Furyk by four strokes and third-place finisher Martin Flores by seven strokes. That opening stretch, plus four straight birdies on the par-5 10th hole, allowed Holmes the luxury of playing holes 11 to 18 in even par.

Best scores on the front nine at the Wells Fargo Championship

 Player Front-nine average Score
 J.B. Holmes 33.50 134
 Phil Mickelson 33.75 135
 Brendon de Jonge 34.00 136
 Bill Haas 34.00 136
 Rory Sabbatini 34.25 137
 Wes Roach 34.25 137

It has been a year in which players outside the world’s top 100 have been winning on a regular basis and Holmes was no exception. He is the seventh winner to rank outside the top 100 this year (four other winners ranked between 90 and 99), and at 242nd entering the week was the second-highest ranked player to win this season.

Highest-ranked players to win in 2013-14

 Player Tournament World rank
 Steven Bowditch Valero Texas Open 339
 J.B. Holmes Wells Fargo Championship 242
 Seung-Yul Noh Zurich Classic 176
 Kevin Stadler Waste Management 127
 John Senden Valspar Championship 123
 Scott Stallings Farmers Insurance Open 112
 Russell Henley Honda Classic 110

As for runner-up Jim Furyk, the veteran might be getting used to that moniker. It was the 26th second-place finish of his career and his 17th in the last 10 years, more than any other player on Tour.

Most runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour: 2005-2014

 Player Runner-up finishes
 Jim Furyk 17
 Tiger Woods 14
 Tim Clark 12
 Luke Donald 12
 Phil Mickelson 12
 Steve Stricker 11

Tiger Woods might call finishing second the “first loser,” but Furyk will take something from this strong finish as he heads toward the Players Championship held on his home course of TPC Sawgrass. His final-round 65 was his best of the year and he has finished in the top 20 five straight times. Can those top-20 finishes eventually lead to victory? Sure can. Just ask J.B. Holmes.





Getty Images

First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 11:30 pm

It's officially match play time.

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play kicks off this week in Austin, where 64 of the top players will square off in a combination of round robin play and single elimination. The top 16 players in the field will serve as top seeds in each of the 16 groups this week, while their round-robin opponents were drawn randomly from three different pods Monday night.

Here's a look at the four-player groups that will begin play Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Saturday:

Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

Johnson never trailed en route to victory last year, and he'll start with a match against the Austrian. Kisner has missed three of his last four cuts, while Hadwin enters off three straight top-12 finishes.

Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley

Rahm will start with a match against a former major winner in Bradley, while a match against fellow Arizona State alum Reavie looms the following day. Rounding out the group is Aphibarnrat, who won in Brunei two weeks ago.

Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth, (19) Patrick Reed, (34) Haotong Li, (49) Charl Schwartzel

All eyes in this group will be on the Spieth-Reed match Friday as the former Ryder Cup teammates square off. But don't sleep on Li, who finished third at The Open in July, or Schwartzel, a former Masters champ.

Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

This group kicks off with an all-English battle between Fleetwood and Poulter, while Berger and Chappell were both members of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team in the fall.

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez, (24) Gary Woodland, (37) Webb Simpson, (50) Si Woo Kim

Perez and Woodland are already winners this season in Malaysia and Phoenix, respectively, while Simpson finished T-8 in Tampa two weeks ago and Kim will soon defend his Players title at TPC Sawgrass.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Hey, loudmouth, you're not funny

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 10:30 pm

Dear misguided soul:

You know who you are.

You’re “that guy.”

You’re that guy following around Rory McIloy and yelling “Erica” at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

There was something creepy in the nature of your bid to get in McIlroy’s head, in the way you hid in the shadows all day. Bringing a guy’s wife into the fray that way, it’s as funny as heavy breathing on the other end of a phone call.

You’re that guy telling Justin Thomas you hope he hits it in the water at the Honda Classic.

There are a million folks invested in seeing if Thomas can muster all the skills he has honed devoting himself to being the best in the world, and you’re wanting to dictate the tournament’s outcome. Yeah, that’s what we all came out to see, if the angry guy living in his mother’s basement can make a difference in the world. Can’t-miss TV.

You’re that guy who is still screaming “Mashed Potatoes” at the crack of a tee shot or “Get in the Hole” with the stroke of a putt.

Amusing to you, maybe, but as funny as a fart in an elevator to the rest of us.

As a growing fraternity of golf fans, you “guys” need a shirt. It could say, “I’m that guy” on one side and “Phi Kappa Baba Booey” on the other.

I know, from outside of golf, this sounds like a stodgy old geezer screaming “Get off my lawn.” That’s not right, though. It’s more like “Stop puking on my lawn.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Because McIlroy is right, in the growing number of incidents players seem to be dealing with now, it’s probably the liquor talking.

The Phoenix Open is golf’s drunken uncle, but he isn’t just visiting on the holiday now. He’s moving in.

What’s a sport to do?

McIlroy suggested limiting liquor sales at tournaments, restricting alcohol consumption to beer.

I don’t know, when the beer’s talking, it sounds a lot like the liquor talking to me, just a different dialect.

From the outside, this push-back from players makes them sound like spoiled country club kids who can’t handle the rough-and-tumble playgrounds outside their prim little bailiwick. This isn’t really about social traditions, though. It’s about competition.

It’s been said here before, and it’s worth repeating, golf isn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Screaming in a player’s backswing isn’t like screaming at a pitcher, free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker. A singular comment breaking the silence in golf is more like a football fan sneaking onto the sidelines and tripping a receiver racing toward the end zone.

Imagine the outrage if that happened in an NFL game.

So, really, what is golf to do?

Equip marshals with tasers? Muzzle folks leaving the beer tent? Prohibit alcohol sales at tournaments?

While the first proposition would make for good TV, it probably wouldn’t be good for growing the sport.

So, it’s a tough question, but golf’s governing bodies should know by now that drunken fans can’t read those “Quiet Please!” signs that marshals wave. There will have to be better enforcement (short of tasers and muzzles).

There’s another thing about all of this, too. Tiger Woods is bringing such a broader fan base to the game again, with his resurgence. Some of today’s younger players, they didn’t experience all that came with his ascendance his first time around. Or they didn’t get the full dose of Tigermania when they were coming up.

This is no knock on Tigermania. It’s great for the game, but there are challenges bringing new fans into the sport and keeping them in the sport.

So if you’re “that guy,” welcome to our lawn, just don’t leave your lunch on it, please.


Getty Images

How Faxon became 'The Putting Stroke Whisperer'

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 9:39 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.

Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.

Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”

If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.

It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.

Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.

“Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.

“Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.

Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.

“The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”

Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.

A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.

“He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”

For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.

“We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”

Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.

The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.

“Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.

McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.

Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.

“I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”

Getty Images

Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.