Stat attack!: Barclays preview


McIlroy listed as early favorite for 2015 Masters

Let’s get Rory McIlory out of the way right from the start. He has never won the Barclays, never come close, actually, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be anointed the unconditional favorite at this week’s first PGA Tour Playoff event. His previous three tournaments have earned him that much. McIlroy shot a combined 48-under par in his three wins at the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship, and surpassed longtime FedEx Cup standings leader Jimmy Walker at the PGA to become the No. 1 player on the point’s list entering the Playoffs. The regular season FedEx Cup leader has never won the Barclays – Tiger missed by a stroke last year and in 2009.

How the regular season FedEx Cup leader fared at the Barclays

 Year Player Barclays finish
 2013 Tiger Woods T-2
 2012 Tiger Woods T-38
 2011 Nick Watney T-10
 2010 Ernie Els 71
 2009 Tiger Woods T-2
 2008 Tiger Woods Did not play
 2007 Tiger Woods Did not play

Rory McIlroy at the Barclays

 Year Scores Finish
 2013 (Liberty National) 71-65-71-72—279 T-19
 2012 (Bethpage) 69-73-69-72—283 T-24
 2010 (Ridgewood) 68-74-71-72—285 T-56

The Barclays has bounced around courses in the New York metropolitan area since the Playoffs began, this year returning to Ridgewood CC in Paramus, N.J., where it was held in 2008 and 2010. McIlroy had a poor result (T-56) in 2010, but the sample size is small so we can’t say with certainty that the course is not a good fit for him.

Who is Ridgewood a good for? The smart player, for certain, one who takes advantage of what’s given to him, instead of trying to force things to happen. Conventional wisdom says keeping the ball in play will be important at the venerable course that combines holes from the East, West and Center courses at the A.W. Tillinghast designed venue. Resisting the temptation to gamble is key. The Tour’s “Going for the Green” stat identifies the number of times a player tries for the green in two shots on a par-5 or from the green or on a par-4 when it is considered a viable option. Fewer players attempted that option at Ridgewood in 2010 than at any other course on Tour. In 2008 it ranked third. Players “go for the green” less than 25 percent of the time. And when they do gamble, it’s usually a failed attempt, with players hitting the green less than 12 percent of the time in 2010 and 8 percent of time in 2008.

The tour identified 16 opportunities to go for it at Ridgewood in 2010 and champion Matt Kuchar used his head. He only attempted to reach the green on four of 16 opportunities. He was three under on the four holes, and he was a tournament best six-under par when he laid up. Kuchar’s nine under total on the 16 gambling holes was the best in the field, and went a long way toward the 12-under total that got him into a playoff with Martin Laird, which he won.

Going for the green stats for Barclays leaders in 2010

 Player Going for it Layed up RTP-going for it RTP-laying up RTP-overall
 Matt Kuchar 4 12 3 under 6 under 9 under
 Martin Laird 7 9 3 under 2 under 5 under
 Kevin Streelman 4 12 1 under 1 under 2 under
 Steve Stricker 0 16 Even 4 under 4 under

Who were the PGA Tour’s smartest players in relation to gambling in 2014. The Tour’s “going for the green” stat isn’t a fair comparison here because not everyone played the same courses. It’s easy for Robert Garrigus to have a better relation to par in gambling efforts than Rory McIlroy because he played more events and because he played more courses where going for it might be the right play. Instead let’s use just the recent Bridgestone and the PGA Championship as our guide. Who were the “smartest” players during those two tournaments?

The Tour identified 13 opportunities to go for the green at Valhalla and eight chances at Firestone. Here are the leaders in relation to par on those 21 holes over two weeks.

Relation to par on gambling holes at the Bridgestone and PGA Championship

 Player Total to par Bridgestone PGA
 Rickie Fowler -15 -6 -9
 Lee Westwood -14 -6 -8
 Rory McIlroy -13 -4 -9
 Phil Mickelson -13 -2 -11
 Charl Schwartzel -13 -4 -9
 Hideki Matsuyama -13 -5 -8

All of those players enjoy going for the green when it’s a viable option. The one who picks his spots at the Barclays, choosing to lay up at the right time, just might have the advantage this week.

Otherwise, the stats at Ridgewood don’t really identify a particular player. None of the leaders in 2008 or 2010 excelled in any particular aspect of the game (save Streelman in putting in 2008 and Kuchar in putting in 2010).

Stats of Barclays leaders at Ridgewood CC in 2008 

 Player Finish Distance Accuracy GIR St. gained/putting
 Vijay Singh Won 289.4 (T-13) 48.21% (T-66) 73.61% (T-6) .298 (39)
 Kevin Sutherland T-2 287.0 (18) 64.29 (T-21) 70.83 (T-20) .981 (12)
 Sergio Garcia T-2 284.5 (25) 58.93 (T-40) 66.67 (T-35) .834 (15)
 Matthew Goggin T-4 289.4 (T-13) 64.29 (T-21) 72.22 (T-13) -.474 (60)
 Ben Curtis T-4 283.6 (T-28) 62.50 (T-25) 65.28 (T-39) .193 (43)
 Kevin Streelman 
T-4 275.9 (T-47) 58.93 (T-40) 65.28 (T-39) 1.900 (1)

Stats of Barclays leaders at Ridgewood CC in 2010

 Player Finish Distance Accuracy GIR Str. gained/putting
 Matt Kuchar Won 277.6 (34) 64.29% (T-30) 70.83% (T-15) 1.870 (4)
 Martin Laird 2 288.5 (T-10) 46.43 (T-69) 62.50 (T-51) .840 (19)
 Steve Stricker T-3 272.1 (49) 67.86 (T-18) 72.22 (T-6) .617 (28)
 Kevin Streelman T-3 284.1 (19) 73.21 (T-6) 63.89 (T-47) 1.172 (8)

Even Streelman, who was in top five both years, didn't excel in the same statistics. In 2010 he hit more fairways and was longer off the tee, but hit fewer greens. Although he putted well both years, he was much more dominant with the flatstick in 2008. However, Streelman is not coming into this event, looking much like a contender. After winning the Travelers Championship in June, he has finished no better than T-54 in five starts. (You might recall, that Streelman, the Illinois-born Duke grad, has New Jersey roots. His grandparents are buried in the cemetery beyond the seventh hole at Ridgewood CC.)

One final thought: We identified the “smartest” players above, but who failed to capitalize on the gambling holes at the Bridgestone and the PGA? Patrick Reed (four under), Graham DeLaet (four under), Bubba Watson (three under) and Jonas Blixt (two under) make this list.

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