Stat attack!: McGladrey Classic preview

RSS

The state of Georgia provided more than its share of PGA Tour winners during the 2013-14 season. Ten players with state ties combined to win 13 times on Tour last season, including former University of Georgia players Chris Kirk and Bubba Watson and Augusta State grad Patrick Reed, who won twice.

Kirk is the defending champion at this week’s McGladrey Classic, a relatively new event held on the Seaside Course at Sea Island GC in St. Simons Island, Georgia. Georgia players have won two of the previous four tournaments, with 2010 champ Heath Slocum (a resident of Milton, Georgia) joining Kirk in the winner’s circle. In addition, tournament host Davis Love III, who lives at Sea Island, was fourth in 2012 and Augusta native Scott Brown was fourth in 2013.

Kirk, Slocum, Love and Brown are among the 20 or so players with Georgia ties (players who were born in, reside in, or played college golf in the Peach State) who are in this week’s tournament. Of the 10 Georgia winners from a year ago, only Watson and Reed are skipping this week’s tournament. 

Players with Georgia ties who won on the PGA Tour in the 2013-14 season

 Player Tournament Georgia tie
 Harris English Mayakoba Classic Born in Valdosta, attended Georgia
 Chesson Hadley Puerto Rico Open Attended Georgia Tech
 Russell Henley Honda Classic Born in Macon, attended Georgia
 Brian Harman John Deere Classic Born in Savannah, attended Georgia
 Zach Johnson Hyundai T of C Lives in Sea Island
 Chris Kirk McGladrey, Deutsche Bank Attended Georgia, lives in Atlanta
 Matt Kuchar RBC Heritage Attended Ga. Tech, lives in Sea Island
 Patrick Reed Humana, WGC-Cadillac Attended Augusta State, transferred from Georgia
 Brendon Todd Byron Nelson Attended Georgia, lives in Atlanta
 Bubba Watson Northern Trust, Masters Attended Georgia

Players with Georgia ties who have top 10 finishes at the McGladrey Classic

 Player Top 10s at McGladrey
 Scott Brown T-4 in 2013
 Brian Harman T-10 in 2013
 Charles Howell III T-6 in 2010, T-7 in 2012
 Chris Kirk Won in 2013
 Matt Kuchar T-7 in 2013
 Davis Love III T-4 in 2012
 Aron Price T-9 in 2010
 Heath Slocum Won in 2010

Crafty Kirk

Chris Kirk took a circuitous route to victory in 2013. Although he was T-41 in the field in driving accuracy, Kirk was T-5 in average distance to the pin on approach shots. He hit the green in regulation 10 of the 18 times he missed the fairway. He made six birdies and two bogeys when he missed the fairway, going four-under on those holes for the week.

Even when he missed the green he gained ground on his competitors. Kirk was T-5 in the field in scrambling, making par or better 13 of the 17 times he didn’t hit the green in regulation. His tally included three birdies, 10 pars and four bogeys, which means he lost only one stroke to par when he missed the green. That was three strokes better than any other player, a big difference maker in his one-stroke victory. 

Scrambling stats for McGladrey leaders in 2013

 Player Greens missed Birdies/Pars/Bogeys To par on missed GIR
 Chris Kirk (Won) 17 3/10/4 +1
 Briny Baird (T-2) 15 1/8/6 +5
 Tim Clark (T-2) 12 0/7/4 (1 double) +6
 Scott Brown (T-4) 19 1/13/5 +4
 Brian Gay (T-4) 22 0/14/8 +8
 John Senden (T-4) 20 0/16/4 +4

Watch out for Webb

While Kirk remains a favorite this week, Webb Simpson is another player to watch. The 2011 runner-up at Sea Island - he lost a playoff to Ben Crane - Simpson has played this event three times and never finished worse than T-12. He has 11 rounds in the 60s and a scoring average of 67.17. Among players in this week’s field who have played at least two times previously, only Michael Thompson has a lower scoring average at Sea Island (67.00).

Lowest scoring average at the McGladrey among players in the 2014 field: Minimum 8 rounds

 Player Scoring average Rounds
 Michael Thompson 67.00 8
 Webb Simpson 67.17 12
 Scott Brown 67.50 8
 David Toms 67.79 14
 Ken Duke 68.00 8
 Matt Kuchar 68.00 12
 Charles Howell III 68.06 06

Starting off on the right track

That Charles Howell III has played well here should not be lost among those trying to find a fantasy sleeper this week. Getting off to a quick start each new season is a Howell trait, regardless of whether the new season starts in January or October. Dating back to his last victory in 2007, Howell has 14 top-10 finishes in his first five events of the year, including three such finishes a year ago.

This season Howell was T-71 at the Frys.com Open, but improved to T-18 at last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a good sign that things are trending right for this Augusta native, who has two top 10 finishes in his career at Sea Island.

Charles Howell III’s first five starts of the season since 2007

 Year First start Second start Third start Fourth start Fifth start
 2014-15 T-71 Frys T-18 Shriners      
 2013-14 T-33 Frys T-5 Shriners T-7 CIMB T-27 McGladrey T-6 Mayakoba
 2013 T-3 Sony T-2 Humana T-9 Farmers Ins. T-36 Phoenix MC-Northern Trust
 2012  T-2 Sony T-49 Humana T-43 Farmers Ins. T-33 Phoenix MC-Northern Trust
 2011 T-68 Sony T-13 Hope T-14 Farmers Ins. MC Phoenix T-66 Northern Trust
 2010  T-5 Sony T-26 Hope T-9 Farmers Ins. MC Northern Trust T-20 Mayakoba
 2009 4 Sony MC Phoenix T-42 Buick Inv. T-39 Pebble T-59 Northern Trust
 2008 T-8 T of C T-69 Sony T-13 Buick Inv. T-25 Phoenix T-55 Northern Trust
 2007 2 Sony T-65 Hope 2 Buick Inv. T-33 Phoenix Won Nissan Open

One final thought: Nine players who finished among the top 10 at last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open are in the field at the McGladrey Classic, led by Vegas champion Ben Martin. Out of those who participated in this event last year, Martin was the only one to miss the cut. Scott Brown (T-4) and Webb Simpson (T-7) finished in the top 10, while Scott Piercy, David Hearn and Russell Knox made the cut. Adam Hadwin, Tony Finau and Robert Streb did not play at Sea Island in 2013. 

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc