Stat attack!: Players Championship preview

By John AntoniniMay 6, 2014, 9:25 pm

Whether you believe the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is worthy of fifth-major status or you think it’s just a regular PGA Tour event with a stellar field, there’s one thing you cannot dispute. It almost always crowns a worthy champion. Every winner since the tournament moved to May in 2007, led by top-ranked Tiger Woods (shown) a year ago, was ranked in the top 40 on the Official World Golf Ranking at the time of his victory. And not since 199th-ranked Craig Perks won in 2002 has the Players champ been outside the top 100.

World Ranking of Players Championship winners: 2007-2013

 Year Player World rank
 2013 Tiger Woods 1
 2012 Matt Kuchar 16
 2011 K.J. Choi 34
 2010 Tim Clark 40
 2009 Henrik Stenson 9
 2008 Sergio Garcia 18
 2007 Phil Mickelson 3

In 2013 Tiger Woods' 13-under 275 total was enough to beat Kevin Streelman, David Lingmerth and Jeff Maggert by two strokes. Woods was the third straight winner to finish at 13-under and the third winner in a row to shoot a 70 in the final round. But Woods, Matt Kuchar in 2012 and K.J. Choi in 2011 got there in different ways. 

Stats of past three Players champions

 Year Winner Accuracy GIR Scrambling


 2013 Tiger Woods 67.86 (T-19) 76.39 (T-3) 70.59 (6) .445 (38)
 2012 Matt Kuchar 62.50 (T-37) 76.31 (T-3) 63.16 (21) 2.09 (2)
 2011 K.J. Choi 71.34 (T-10) 69.44 (T-21) 77.27 (3) 2.05 (2)

Choi and Kuchar had stellar weeks with the putter, while Woods was just average on the greens. Tiger and Kuchar, meanwhile, were among the best the field in greens in regulation, while Tiger and Choi were stellar scramblers. 

Hitting greens in regulation has always been a key statistic for the Players champion. In the last 10 years the winner has also been in the top four in greens hit. Since 1982, when stats were first kept, 10 Players champions have also led the field in greens in regulation.

Players winners who led the field in greens in regulation

 Year Player Greens hit
 2008 Sergio Garcia 56
 2006 Stephen Ames 52
 2005 Fred Funk 58
 2004 Adam Scott 54
 2000 Hal Sutton 54
 1993 Nick Price 61
 1991 Steve Elkington 64
 1988 Mark McCumber 57
 1985 Calvin Peete 57
 1982 Jerry Pate 54

With that in mind, let’s look at the current PGA Tour leaders in GIR. The group as a whole has had very little success at TPC Sawgrass. Of the eight players currently in the 2014 Players field, only Ryan Palmer has a previous top-10 finish at Ponte Vedra.  

PGA Tour leaders in greens in regulation

 GIR Rank Player GIR Pct. In Players


 1 Graham DeLaet 72.06 Yes 2
 2 Chad Campbell 72.63 No  
 3 Harris English 71.71 Yes 2
 4 Dustin Johnson 70.77 Yes 6
 5 Justin Hicks 70.37 Yes 0
 6 Boo Weekley 70.28 Yes 7
 7 Ryan Moore 70.28 Yes 7
 8 John Merrick 70.20 Yes 6
 9 Ryan Palmer 70.00 Yes 8
 10 Andrew Svoboda 69.97 Alternate 0

Lurking behind Svoboda is Masters champion Bubba Watson in 11th on the GIR list, and not much farther back is Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard has lamented his inability to win a major, but he’s had no such problem at the Players, winning the 2008 tournament at TPC Sawgrass. He finished second to Phil Mickelson a year earlier and is one of 12 players in this year’s field who have a subpar score scoring average at the Players in 20 or more rounds at TPC Sawgrass.  

Lowest scoring average at TPC Sawgrass: 20 or more rounds

 Player Scoring average Rounds
 Henrik Stenson 71.18 28
 Martin Kaymer 71.35 20
 Luke Donald 71.42 38
 Zach Johnson 71.44 34
 Matt Kuchar 71.45 29
 Ben Crane 71.56 32
 Adam Scott 71.64 42
 Sergio Garcia 71.71 52
 Hunter Mahan 71.83 23
 Jeff Overton 71.85 20
 J.B. Holmes 71.96 24
 Phil Mickelson 71.96 70

That’s a pretty impressive list, but only five players from this group – Stenson, Kuchar, Scott, Garcia and Mickelson - have won the Players title. Four players have won a major: Kaymer, Johnson, Scott and Mickelson. 

Taking a closer look at Mickelson, who is closing in on 500 career PGA Tour starts (the Players is his 498th), it’s worth noting that Lefty is one of seven players players who have won the Players, the U.S. Amateur and a major championship.

Players who have won the Players, the U.S. Amateur and a major title

 Player TPC win Amateur win Major titles
 Justin Leonard 1998 1992 1
 Phil Mickelson 2007 1990 5
 Jack Nicklaus 1974, 76, 78 1956, 61 18
 Jerry Pate 1982 1974 1
 Hal Sutton 2000 1980 1
 Lanny Wadkins 1979 1970 1
 Tiger Woods 2001, 13 1994, 95, 96 14

Former Amateur champ Matt Kuchar won the Players in 2012 and came close to joining this group at the Masters. Kuchar was one stroke off the 54-hole lead at Augusta National, before shooting 74 Sunday to finish T-5. But he rebounded with a win at the RBC Heritage and now has four consecutive top-five finishes on Tour inlcuding a playoff loss at Houston and a T-4 at the Valero Texas Open. Given his strong recent play and the fact he’s fifth on the Sawgrass scoring list, Kuchar might very well get is second Players crown before he wins his first major championship.

Kuchar made the most of his one start since the Masters, but six players in the field at Sawgrass have not played anywhere in the world since the first major of the year. Five of them are ranked in the top 20 on the Official World Golf Ranking, led by No. 2 Adam Scott. Does taking a month-long break between top-tier tournaments benefit the rested player? It sure helped Tiger Woods a year ago. The world No. 1 was T-4 at the Masters and didn’t play for another month before winning the Players. 

Players making their first appearance since the Masters

 Player Masters finish Current world rank Rank after Masters
 Adam Scott T-14 2 2
 Bubba Watson Won 4 4
 Sergio Garcia MC 9 7
 Dustin Johnson MC 13 13
 Steve Stricker T-31 16 15
 Joost Luiten T-26 41 44

One final thought: You cannot write a column about the Players Championship without mentioning the famed 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass' Stadium course. The par-3 with the island green is one of the most iconic golf holes on Tour and it never fails to raise the heart rate during Players week. Did you know, however, that since 2003 the 17th green is the second easiest to hit in regulation. But avoiding the water isn't the only obstacle facing the pros. You still have to make your putts, which is much easier said than done. The 17th has yielded 304 three-putts or worse since 2003, the second most of any hole on the course.

Getty Images

'Putting Stroke Whisperer' helps get McIlroy on track

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.

Getty Images

Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

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

In a statement, the PGA Tour said, “While we do not comment specifically on security measures, the safety and security of our players and fans is, and always will be, our top priority. Our security advisors at the Tour are working in close collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to monitor, review and evaluate the situation and implement procedures as needed. We encourage all spectators to review the PGA Tour's bag policy and prohibited items list, available at, prior to arriving at the tournament."

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

Getty Images

Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.