Poring over the Tours year-end stats is a little like noshing on Thanksgiving Day leftovers: They often taste better the next day. Or, in the case of statistics, the next week or month.
Bubba Watson led the Tour in driving distance this year with an average poke of 315.1 yards. Perhaps more amazing was that 44.1 percent of Watsons measured drives in 2008 were 320 yards or longer. This stat is a little like federal bailout money numbers. After a few hundred billion dollars your eyes start to glaze over.
Olin Browne put 80.42 percent of his measured drives in the fairway to lead in that category. He also led in right rough avoidance with a 5.47 percent number. Take that Fred Funk.
Finally, before we leave the driving stats, it should be noted that J.B. Holmes and Robert Garrigus tied for first in the carry distance department with an average of 298.1 yards. Which means this is not a driving stat so much as it is a launching stat.
You shouldnt be surprised that short game wizard Corey Pavin led all comers in the approaches 75-100 yards category with an average leave of 11 feet, 10 inches. Stewart Cink was the best on Tour from 225-250 yards with an average leave of 41 feet, 4 inches.
Joe Durant led the Tour in ball striking but struggled near the end of the season to keep his card. Which tells you two things: Durant needs to putt better and, yes, putting is disproportionately important. Or as the late, great Lloyd Mangrum once put it: We dont play long ball out here. We play, get-it-in-the-hole.'
Harrison Frazar led in greens in regulation (GIR) from the rough at 60.39 percent. To which I can only reply: Groovy, baby. But, hey, no knock here on Frazar. Everybody has access to the same equipment (unless theyre stuck in a club deal with a company that doesnt know how to fit its players).
Dudley Hart led everybody with a success rate of 63.71 in getting up and down from bunkers. Mike Weir led everybody in proximity to the hole out of the sand with an average of 6 feet, 6 inches. Brian Gay, a dreamy good putter, was No. 1 in the overall scrambling category, getting it up and down 64.82 percent of the time.
This reminds me of how much everybody used to gush about how good Tom Watson was at making pars after missing greens in his prime. The main reason: He made more 10-foot putts in his prime than anybody else. In fact, when I ran that past top teacher Jim McLean recently he agreed it was the one thing Palmer, Nicklaus, Norman, Watson and Woods all had in common when they were playing their best golf: They made more important 10-footers than anybody else.
Sergio Garcia, arguably the player who took the biggest advantage of Woods absence for most of 2008, had the lowest scoring average at 69.12 while zooming to No. 2 in the world rankings. Phil Mickelson, an emotional player trapped in an analytical mind, was better than everybody else in the bounce back category, at a rate of 26.21 percent. One top agent recently told me Mickelson was the least successful among top players in 2008 at taking advantage of Tigers hiatus.
Heres a fascinating revelation: Bob Tway, who will turn 50 in 2009, led the Tour in par-3 birdies, making a deuce 20 percent of the time. Tway also led the Tour in putting average at 1.718 per hole. At the end of the year Scott Verplank, one of the best putters in golf in the last 20 years, was actually taking putting lessons from his good friend Tway.
The best putter from 10-15 feet with a success rate of 39.77 percent? This one might surprise you. It was Adam Scott, who had an otherwise unremarkable campaign. Paul Goydos, by the way, didnt miss a putt inside of 3 feet all year.
A few more tidbits:
Finally, take note: For the second consecutive year, driving distance went down on the PGA Tour. Before the drop in 2007, you had to go all the way back to 1993 to find a decline.
Maybe todays players are figuring out that Lloyd Mangrum was on to something.
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