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Stat attack!: FedEx St. Jude Classic review

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Ben Crane has always been one of the PGA Tour’s better putters. When the Tour created the strokes gained/putting stat, it retroactively named the new FedEx St. Jude Classic champion as the Tour leader in 2005 and 2006, and he was sixth in 2008. But from 2009 to 2013 he lost his stroke and never finished better than 19th on Tour. A year ago he was 125th in the FedEx Cup standings and barely made the PGA Tour Playoffs. Coming into Memphis he was 150th in points, and was in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007. But he led the field in strokes gained at TPC Southwind, was second in scrambling, fourth in putting from beyond 10 feet and only missed two putts from less than 10 feet. Those numbers lifted Crane to his fifth career win, and his first since the 2011 McGladrey Classic.

Ben Crane’s stats at the FedEx St. Jude Classic

 Distance Accuracy GIR Scrambling St. gained
putting
Putting from
10+ feet
 271.3 (62) 58.93% (T30)  58.33% (T47) 83.33% (2) 2.190 (1)  10/41; 24.39% (T4)

Crane was the second player in four weeks to win while leading the tournament in total putting, a weighted formula of six putting stats that determines putting success. Crane’s figure of 22.2 was the best since William McGirt’s 9.8 total on the small greens of the RBC Heritage

Tournament leaders in total putting the last two months

 Tourament Player Total putting Finish
 FedEx St. Jude Ben Crane 22.2 Won
 Memorial Aaron Baddeley 28.1 T-37
 Crowne Plaza Colonial Freddie Jacobson 30.3 T-3
 Byron Nelson Brendon Todd 25.3 Won
 Players Matt Jones 23.4 T-17
 Wells Fargo Jason Bohn 26.5 4
 Zurich Classic Retief Goosen 29.5 T-21
 RBC Heritage William McGirt 9.8 T-9

Crane played 30 holes Sunday in the rain-plagued event, and didn’t make birdie in his final-round of three-over 73. Yet he still held on to beat Troy Merritt by one stroke, thanks to opening rounds of 63-65-69. Crane had the lowest first-round score by the Memphis winner since Bob Estes shot 61 in 2001 and matched the highest final-round score by a winner in tournament history. Crane’s 63 was one of the lowest opening-round scores in Memphis in the last 20 years.

Lowest first-round scores at the FedEx St. Jude Classic: 1995-2014

 Player Score Year Finish
 Bob Estes  61 2001 Won
 Justin Leonard 62  2005  Won 
 Glen Day 62  1995  T-21
 Mike Standly 62  1995  T-26 
 Ben Crane  63  2014  Won
 Lee Westwood  63  2010  Won 
 Tom Lehman  63  1999  T-2 
 Hal Sutton  63  1999  T-6 
 David Frot  63  1999  T-15 

Highest final-round score by a winner at the FedEx St. Jude Classic

 Player Score Year
 Ben Crane 73 2014 
 Justin Leonard 73 2005
 David Toms 73 2004
 Dave Hill 73 1967

Troy Merritt, who shot 71 Sunday, finished one stroke back despite not making birdie in his last 15 holes in the final round. It was a career-best performance for the Iowa-born resident of Idaho. He had made just three cuts in 12 previous starts this season, none better than T-46. He is one of 13 players whose only top-10 finish on Tour this year was a runner-up performance. Ian Poulter would have been on this list if not for a T-6 at Memphis. His only previous top-10 was a runner-up at the HSBC Champions. Three players – Matt Jones, Scott Stallings and Steven Bowditch – were winners the only time they finished in the top 10.

Players whose only top-10 finish in 2013-14 was a runner-up

 Player Tournament Result
 Briny Baird McGladrey Classic One back of Chris Kirk
 Jonas Blixt Masters

Three back of Bubba Watson

 K.J. Choi Farmers Insurance One back of Scott Stallings
 Tim Clark McGladrey Classic One back of Chris Kirk
 Jamie Donaldson WGC-Cadillac One back of Patrick Reed
 Victor Dubuisson WGC-Accenture Lost finals to Jason Day
 Danny Lee Puerto Rico Open Two back of Chesson Hadley
 Troy Merritt FedEx St. Jude One back of Ben Crane
 Jim Renner AT&T Pebble Beach One back of Jimmy Walker
 Vijay Singh Frys.com Open Two back of Jimmy Walker
 Robert Streb Zurich Classic Two back of Seung-Yul Noh
 Mike Weir Byron Nelson Two back of Brendon Todd
     

Crane – who, by the way, had one previous top-10 this year, a T-9 at the Humana - and Merritt are not qualified for this week’s U.S. Open, and only four players in the top-10 are playing this week. Matt Every and Webb Simpson were T-3, and Ian Poulter and Billy Horschel were T-6. They will look to ride that momentum at Pinehurst. In addition, Phil Mickelson seemed pleased with his T-11 in his 500th official PGA Tour start at the FedEx. Much is expected of Mickelson at Pinehurst this week. Here’s how he fared the week before the Open in his previous runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open.

Phil Mickelson’s previous week performance when he finishes second at the U.S. Open

 Year Result the week before the U.S. Open
 2013 T-2, FedEx St. Jude Classic
 2009 T-59, FedEx St. Jude Classic
 2006 T-18, Barclays Classic
 2004 T-16, Buick Classic
 2002 T-25, Buick Classic
 1999 Did not play

We focused on Mickelson in the Stat Attack preview for the tournament, but his failure to post a top finish this year raises questions not just at the Open, but of his future. Historically, players don’t win often after they’ve made more than 500 Tour starts. Tom Watson won twice after his 500th appearance. Hale Irwin and Raymond Floyd won a U.S. Open after they had played 500 times on Tour, but totaled four and three wins after that milestone, respectively. It’s likely Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer didn’t win after they had played that many times. (Tour starts are notoriously untrustworthy as you go back into the 1960s and beyond, as missed cuts are not accurately kept on the Tour database.) Vijay Singh hasn’t won since making start No. 500. Neither has Justin Leonard. Only six active players have won on Tour after they played in 500 PGA Tour events. Lefty is a better golfer than anyone on this list so it’s likely he’ll win a few more times. Can he join Irwin and Floyd as Open champs?

PGA Tour players who have won after they played in 500 tournaments

 Player Career starts Wins after 500 starts
 Woody Austin 529 1
 Mark Calcavecchia 756 2
 Fred Funk 641 3
 Davis Love III 694 2
 David Toms 565 1
 Scott Verplank 630 1

Finally, don’t look for the U.S. Open champion to come out of the FedEx St. Jude Classic field. The last U.S. Open champ who also played Memphis in the same year was Payne Stewart in 1999. Hmmm, that Open was held at Pinehurst, too. Maybe Mickelson can win this week.