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.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.