Love takes statistical deep dive to help make picks

By Rex HoggardAugust 31, 2016, 7:00 pm

Davis Love III looks like neither Billy Beane nor Brad Pitt, the actor who played the trailblazing baseball executive in the 2011 movie “Moneyball,” but the American Ryder Cup captain sounded like a man in search of golf’s version of on-base percentage on Monday.

On-base percentage, or OBP, was Beane’s magic statistical bullet in the film, which was based on the Oakland Athletics success in the early 2000s despite a small-market budget.

It seems Love and the PGA of America are sparing no expense in their quest to make the United States relevant in the biennial matches that have gone Europe’s way in eight out of last 10 meetings.

“You know, we've run a lot of stats, numbers and looked at how to set up the golf course and how do we match up and what their team is like and what our team is like,” Love said on Monday after his eight automatic qualifiers had been set.

Love hired Scouts Inc. to crunch the numbers for him heading into next month’s matches, and although he was reluctant to give specifics one can probably figure out what the captain’s OBP might be as he inches closer to making his captain’s picks.

Love, unlike his Continent counterpart Darren Clarke, has the advantage of experience, with just a single rookie among his qualifiers (Brooks Koepka), so there probably won’t be a lot of debate over whether he needs to make a veteran one of his picks.

He also enjoys a solid balance of power (Dustin Johnson and Koepka) and precision (Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson), which will likely make the final four selections (three picks will be made on Sept. 12 and the final player will be named on Sept. 25) a combination of specific performances and individual preferences.

Two statistics are most often cited in these situations – final-round scoring average and birdie average.

Final-round scoring average is often applied to these picks because playing the Ryder Cup is akin to the pressure a player faces on Sunday with a title on the line, but that pressure is applied from the opening hole onward.

Among the leading candidates for a pick, Jim Furyk leads the field on this front at 18th on the PGA Tour in final-round scoring, followed by Bubba Watson (19th), Rickie Fowler (21st), Matt Kuchar (55th), J.B. Holmes (83rd), Scott Piercy (119th) and Bill Haas (128th).

Birdie average, however, paints a vastly different picture, with Holmes (seventh) leading the way, followed by Kuchar (14th), Watson (28th), Fowler (44th), Piercy (84th), Furyk (177th) and Haas (183rd).

Hazeltine National, site of this year’s matches, is going to be an exceedingly long layout (7,628 yards), which would, in theory, give long hitters like Watson and Holmes an advantage, but on Monday Love – whose reputation as a “player’s captain” is why he was brought back for a second turn – didn’t seem interested in the “horses for courses” philosophy.

“If my team needs a quarterback and I draft a running back, they are going to be mad at me,” Love said. “I have to make sure if they say, we want this guy, that he pairs well with this other guy, that we pick that guy. I can't say it enough: It's their team.”

Perhaps, but the decision, and the inevitable post-match critique, will fall to Love – it’s the price of sliding behind the wheel of Team USA’s golf cart. And it’s why Love hasn’t left a single Pro V1 unturned in his pursuit of the best team.

Every scrap of information, every opinion, every conceivable vantage point has been studied. It’s why the PGA created a task force and overhauled the selection process. And why Love told anyone who will listen that his picks, like everything else, will be a team decision.

“The statisticians are going to help us with this, but those eight players on our team and the four assistant captains, they are pretty good golfers,” Love said. “They know what's going on. They know the players. They know who they want to play with.”

The importance of getting the captain’s picks right is always relative to the outcome, but consider that in 2012 when the Continent rallied to win by a point, Europe’s two picks won 5 points out of a possible eight (a 62 percent winning clip); while the four American picks won 6 points out of a possible 14 (43 percent).

So forgive Love if he sounded a little like Beane on Monday as he mulled his potential picks and provided a glimpse into what has become a surprisingly scientific process.

“I think there's going to be two obvious picks and there's going to be two we're going to have to waffle about a little bit,” he said, “and the stats will help us narrow that down.”

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.