Stat attack!: Wyndham Championship preview

By John AntoniniAugust 12, 2014, 7:12 pm

As the PGA Tour’s regular season winds down with the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield CC in Greensboro, N.C., just how safe is the playoff position of Paul Casey, who sits in the 125th spot in the FedEx Cup standings? Can he be caught by Sang-Moon Bae, 126th on the list, 11 points back? Next in line are Charlie Beljan, Greg Chalmers and David Lingmerth. Will they pass Casey? Or will it be J.J. Henry, who sits at 130 on the points table and has never missed the playoffs in its first seven years?

We ask because this week’s Wyndham Championship is two tournaments in one. The venerable championship, which began in 1938 and has been won by the likes of Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Davis Love III and Sergio Garcia, is also the Last Chance Saloon for anyone outside the top 125 who wants to qualify for the PGA Tour playoffs.

Everybody ranked from 126th to 136th in the FedEx Cup standings is in the field this week, and before we look at who might win the tournament, let’s see what chance that group of players has of making the playoffs.

The Bubble Boys: Players ranked 125 to 136 in the PGA Tour playoff race

 Rank Player Points
Minimum Wyndham
 125 Paul Casey 0   4 3 T-26 in 2008
 126 Sang-Moon Bae 11 59 1 1 T-52 in 2013
 127 Charlie Beljan 12 58 2 1 T-20 in 2013
 128 Greg Chalmers 19 51 9 4 T-32 in 2009
 129 David Lindbergh 30 40 1 0 None
 130 J.J. Henry 33 37 10 6 T-4 in 2008
 131 Ben Curtis 37 33 4 1 T-76 in 2005
 132 Jonathan Byrd 38 32 9 7 T-3 in 2002
 133 Richard H. Lee 45 25 2 1 T-14 in 2012
 134 Mike Weir 46 24 5 1 T-25 in 1999
 134 Brian Gay 46 24 11 6 T-13 in 2007
 136 Martin Laird 51 19 3 3 T-4 in 2008

The number in the minimum column is the position that player would need to finish if every player ahead of him on the list were to miss the cut. For example, if everyone from Casey to Gay missed the cut this week, Laird would need to finish 19th to make the playoffs. If Laird finishes 20th or worse he’s out. If anyone from Casey to Gay makes the cut, Laird’s finishing position would have to improve for him to have a chance.

It makes no sense to determine every scenario for the playoffs because every player is dependent on each other. No player exists in a vacuum. Laird, for example, could finish fifth and still not advance if the players finishing ahead of him are Gay, Weir, Lee and Byrd.

That said; let’s have some fun. Who would make the playoffs if everyone in the Wyndham Championship field matched their best finish at the tournament since 2008, when the event moved to Sedgefield CC?

Adjusting the playoff points based on best finishes at Wyndham since 2008

 Moving in Best finish Moving out Best finish
 Bud Cauley T-3 Brice Garnett MC
 J.J. Henry T-4 James Hahn MC
 Martin Laird T-4 Robert Allenby MC
 Tommy Gainey T-3 Nicholas Thompson T-72
 Charlie Beljan T-20 Jhonattan Vegas MC

Ha! Laird would get in. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

At 7,127 yards, Sedgefield is not overly long. Like most Donald Ross courses, the challenge will come on the greens, as the putting complexes are undulating and very tricky. Last year Sedgefield ranked seventh on Tour in three-putt avoidance at 4.67 percent (just behind Augusta National). There were 384 three-putts at Sedgefield a year ago. Only three courses had more.

Most three-putts by course in 2013

 Course Three-putts

Three-putt percentage

 Muirfield 572 6.69%
 Merion 552 6.73
 Quail Hollow 411 4.89
 Sedgefield 384 4.67
 Innisbrook 324 3.89
 Oak Hill 308 3.73

PGA Tour leaders in three-putt avoidance who are in the Wyndham field

 Player Three-putt avoidance percentage
 Freddie Jacobson 1.42
 Kevin Kisner 1.69
 Brian Harman 1.78
 Tim Herron 1.81
 Bryce Molder 1.91
 Brendon de Jonge 1.94
 Aaron Baddeley 1.96

Sedgefield was also the ninth hardest course to putt on from less than 10 feet and one of the toughest courses in which to nail approach shots, ranking 10th in proximity to the hole and just fifth in proximity to the hole from the rough. Accuracy off the tee, and especially on approach is key.

PGA Tour leaders in proximity to the hole in the Wyndham field

 Player Proximity to the hole
 Tim Clark 31 feet, 4 inches
 Nick Watney 32 feet, 5 inches
 Paul Casey 32 feet, 7 inches
 Brian Harman 32 feet, 7 inches
 Bo Van Pelt 32 feet, 8 inches
 Joe Durant 32 feet, 9 inches

That Brian Harman appears on both lists is notable. That he finished T-3 in 2013 is even more so. That he won a few weeks ago at the John Deere Classic makes him less of a sleeper than he would ordinarily be. The only thing that scares me about the 27-year-old Georgian is that this is his eighth tournament in nine weeks.

Who else might contend this week at Sedgefield? Clark and Carl Pettersson played college golf at nearby North Carolina State and have had success at the Wyndham. Also, Casey, who is the second-best player on Tour in rough proximity, deserves consideration. One of the Tour’s better long-distance putters according to ShotLink – he’s sixth from 10-15 feet, 13th from 20-25 feet and 29th from more than 25 feet – he might put to rest all the talk of him being passed for that final position in the playoffs.

Possible Greensboro contenders

 Player Note
Like Mickelson a week ago, he’s no top 10s this year but has been close quite often
Second at Sedgefield two years ago and T-6 in 2008
First in approach distance from 50-125 yards, he needs to avoid three-putts, a bugaboo in 2014
Clark’s Wolfpack teammate won in 2008 and was T-4 in 2011 and 2012
The 2011 champ has three top-11 finishes in five career starts here

One final thought: Going really low seems to be the norm at Sedgefield, as the winning score has been 18-under or better four times in six years. Patrick Reed’s 14-under 266 a year ago was the highest winning score since the event moved from Forest Oaks.

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

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1