Stat attack!: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational preview

By John AntoniniJuly 29, 2014, 3:24 pm

The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is a tournament of haves and have-nots. Foremost among the haves, of course, is Tiger Woods, who has won at Firestone CC’s South course eight times. He won the Bridgestone three straight times from 1999 to 2001 and from 2005 to 2007. He is also the defending champ, having shot 15-under 265 to beat Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson by seven strokes in 2013. The poster boy for the have-nots is probably Ernie Els, who has made 14 Bridgestone starts but does not have a top-10 finish at Firestone since 2001. (He also didn’t have any top-10s at the tournament’s predecessor, with nothing better than a T-16 in six starts in the World Series of Golf.)

With a win in 2012 and a runner-up in 2013, Bradley is quickly becoming a have. Bubba Watson, who has not finished better than T19 in four starts, is close to joining the have-nots. Here’s a sampling from both categories.

Players with successful records at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player Starts Top 10s Best
 Keegan Bradley 3 2 Won in 2012
 Luke Donald 9 5 T-2 in 2011
 Jason Dufner 2 2 T-4 in 2013
 Jim Furyk 14 9 Second two times
 Rory McIlroy 5 3 T-5 in 2012
 Tiger Woods 14 12 Eight wins

Players who have struggled at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player Starts Top 10s Last top 10
 Ernie Els 14 2 2001
 Sergio Garcia 13 1 1999
 Dustin Johnson 5 0 None
 Graeme McDowell 8 0 None
 Ian Poulter 11 0 None
Charl Schwartzel  5 0 None
 Bubba Watson 4 0 None

The winners the last five years have been dominant on and around the greens, with each champion finishing no worse than 11th in the field in greens in regulation and strokes gained/putting. It’s a feature of most of the players on the hot list. Consistency in the short game. When they’re on at Firestone, as they’ve most always been, they hit plenty of greens and make their putts. The have-nots list is littered with talented, but erratic players who have a history of hot and cold play.

Statistics of WGC-Bridgestone Inviational winners: 2009-2013

 Year Winner GIR Proximity to hole Scrambling Strokes gained/putting
 2013 Tiger Woods 73.61% (2) 25' 8" (1) 73.68% (4) .849 (11)
 2012 Keegan Bradley 68.06 (T-11) 29' 5" (12) 60.87 (T-25) 3.017 (1)
 2011 Adam Scott 70.83 (T-9) 28' 7" (12) 80.95 (2) 1.838 (4)
 2010  Hunter Mahan 69.44 (T-8) 32' 4" (31) 72.73 (8) 1.765 (4)
 2009 Tiger Woods 70.83 (T-2) 29' 0" (5) 71.43 (T-6) 1.322 (4)

It will be interesting to see if Sergio Garcia can play his way off the have-not list. Garcia is fourth on tour in GIR at 69.59 percent. It’s his best GIR percentage since 2005, when he led the PGA Tour at 71.81 percent. But he is also putting well this year, ranking 27th in strokes gained/putting, his third straight season in the top 30 after three years ranking outside the top 100. Garcia is one of four players on Tour who are in the top 30 in both stats, and his combined rank of 31 – similar to total driving, I’ve added a player’s rank in GIR and SG/P to get this figure – trails only Adam Scott.

PGA Tour leaders in combined GIR and strokes gained/putting

 Player GIR rank SG/Putting rank Combined total rank
 Adam Scott 13 14 27
 Sergio Garcia 4 27 31
 Jimmy Walker 29 6 35
 John Senden 25 12 37
 Matt Kuchar 41 11 52
 Daniel Summerhays 39 16 55
 Charley Hoffman 10 51 61

It’s also worth noting how many major champions have also won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitaional. Only Craig Parry (2002) and Hunter Mahan (2010) are not also major champions. Parry’s victory came at Sahalee, the only time Firestone has not hosted the championship. 

Major champions who have won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player Bridgestone wins Major wins
 Tiger Woods 1999-01, 2005-07, 2009, 2013 14 majors
 Keegan Bradley 2012 2011 PGA
 Adam Scott 2011 2013 Masters
 Vijay Singh 2008 3 majors
 Stewart Cink  2004 2009 British
 Darren Clarke 2003 2011 British

Another notable feature of the WGC-Bridgestone Championship is how often the tournament is not close. There have been just two playoffs in the event – Tiger Woods winning both, in 2001 over Furyk and in 2006 over Cink – and eight times in 15 years the winner has won by four strokes or more. 

Largest winning margin at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Year Winner Margin
 2000 Tiger Woods 11 strokes
 2007 Tiger Woods 8 strokes
 2013 Tiger Woods 7 strokes
 2011 Adam Scott 4 strokes
 2009 Tiger Woods 4 strokes
 2004 Stewart Cink 4 strokes
 2003 Darren Clarke 4 strokes
 2002 Craig Parry 4 strokes

Perhaps all these winners were channeling their inner Jose Maria Olazabal, who famously won the 1990 World Series of Golf at Firestone by a whopping 12 strokes. That year Ollie shot 18-under 262, including a course-record 61 in the first round. That mark has since been tied by Woods in 2000 and 2013.

Can Woods turn around his season by winning – or at least contending – in Ohio? If history is an indication, probably not. Woods has finished outside the top 10 twice at the Bridgestone, finishing T-78 in 2010 and T-37 in 2011. Like this year, Woods was injured, and those were the two worst years of his career and the only times he did not win on Tour. Woods’ ball-striking stat – a number that combines his rank in total driving and greens in regulation – is amazingly similar to 2010 and 2011, showing he’s not quite ready to contend.

Tiger Woods’ key statistical ranks since 2009.

 Year Fairways


 2014 160 187 35 191 191 198
 2013 69 24 22 17 16 1
 2012  55 29 35 6 12 2
 2011 186 37 45 187 187 128
 2010 165 167 109 193 193 68
 2009 86 16 2 12 6 1

Like this year, Woods didn’t play enough rounds in 2010 and 2011 to qualify for a statistical ranking. The figures above show where he would have ranked if his small sample size were imported into the official tour statistics. But the comparison to 2010 and 2011 is telling. The back injury has taken its toll, no question. It’s likely we won’t see the healthy Woods of 2012 and 2013 until next year.

One final thought: Phil Mickelson is the only player in the field who also won the World Series of Golf at Firestone, having taken the title in 1996. Lately, he’s a contender for our have-nots list, with just one top 20 finish in his last 11 starts (T-4 in 2008). He was in the top 10 at Firestone every year from 1995 to 2001.

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

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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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.