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Stat attack!: Memorial Tournament preview

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It’s hard to believe that the Memorial Tournament, Jack Nicklaus’ pre-summer shindig in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, is firmly entrenched in the second half of the PGA Tour season. But that’s the case in 2013-14, with the Tour’s wrap-around schedule in place for the first time. There are only 12 weeks (13 tournaments) before the FedEx Cup Playoffs begin, and as the season reaches its climax with three majors and a WGC event in the next three months, several big names need to make a summer push to qualify for the Playoffs. Headed by the injured Tiger Woods, five Tour Championship qualifiers from 2013 are outside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup standings and would miss the Playoffs if they began today. 

2013 Tour Championship qualifiers currently outside the top 125 on the 2014 FedEx Cup standings

 Player 2014 rank 2013 rank Noteworthy
 Roberto
 Castro
130 21 He has made just one cut in his last six starts
 Nick
 Watney
142 15 Baby blues: Nothing better than T-44 since daughter’s birth in March
 Steve
 Stricker
153 3 Semi-retired, a T-13 at Sawgrass was his best finish in five season starts
 D.A.
 Points
178 30 Trending worse than Castro, with just one cut made in his last eight starts
 Tiger
 Woods
205 2 The back injury will keep him out a while longer. Not sure when we’ll see him again

On the other side of the coin, 13 players who have never made the PGA Tour Playoffs, are in the top 125 in the standings entering the Memorial. The group is led by HP Byron Nelson Championship winner Brendon Todd, who is ninth in points, and includes rookies Chesson Hadley and Brice Garnett.

Players in the top 125 in points with no playoff experience

 Player 2014 rank Previous best season
 Brendon Todd 9 145th in 2013
 Russell Knox 31 166th in 2013
 Ryo Ishikawa 43 141st in 2013
 Chesson Hadley 46 Rookie
 Hideki Matsuyama 50 First-year non-rookie
 Ben Martin 67 153rd in 2011
 Robert Streb 74 126th in 2013
 Andrew Svoboda 83 202nd in 2013
 Billy Hurley III 91 150th in 2012
 Brice Garnett 93 Rookie
 Danny Lee 99 159th in 2012
 Kevin Kisner 105 153rd in 2012
 Jim Renner 121 155th in 2011

Here are a few other statistical notations to be aware of as we move to the final third of the PGA Tour season.

Rory McIlroy is close to the PGA Tour record for lowest putting average in a season. Although it has been replaced by strokes gained-putting as the measuring stick for the circuit's best putters, putting average has one advantage on it's newfangled successor. Putting average incorporates all of a players rounds in a given year. (Major championships and rounds played on courses not set up for ShotLink aren’t tabulated in strokes gained/putting.) McIlroy has been rolling his ball at a near record clip this year. He is averaging 1.709 putts per green in regulation, .009 off the tour record set by Luke Donald in 2011. 

Lowest single-season putting average on the PGA Tour: 1986 to the present

 Player Year Stat
 Luke Donald 2011 1.700
 Brad Faxon 2000 1.704
 David Frost 2001 1.708
 Jim Furyk 1995 1.708
 Rory McIlroy 2014 1.709
 Brad Faxon 1996 1.709

McIlroy’s putting is leading to a plethora of birdies as his birdies per round total of 4.75 would be the second-best mark since the Tour went from total birdies to birdies per round to determine the tour leader in 1996.

Most birdies per round in a single season: 1996-2014

 Player Year Stat
 Tiger Woods 2000 4.99
 Rory McIlroy 2014 4.75
 Tiger Woods 2006 4.65
 Tiger Woods 2005 4.57
 Phil Mickelson 2001 4.49
 Tiger Woods 2002 4.47
 Davis Love III 2001 4.45
 Jimmy Walker 2014 4.44

Jim Furyk has been getting up and down at a rate unheard of in today’s game. Furyk’s scrambling percentage of 68.51 percent is the best figure on Tour since Tiger Woods had a 69.67 percentage in 2002 and would be the eighth-best mark since the Tour started keeping the stat in 1992.

Best single-season scrambling percentage: 1992-2014

 Player Year Stat
 Greg Norman 1993 72.80%
 Tiger Woods 2001 69.78
 Tiger Woods 2002 69.67
 Mike Reid 1999 68.84
 Bob Estes 1997 68.84
 Mark McCumber 1994 68.70
 Nick Price 2001 68.54
 Jim Furyk 2014 68.51
 Corey Pavin 1994 68.44
 Nick Price 1992 68.26

Bubba Watson leads the Tour in driving distance at 313.9 yards and has been the undisputed king of the long drive since he joined the Tour in 2006.  He led the Tour in distance in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2012, and has led a tournament in driving distance 68 times in his career. Since 2010 he’s led the field in distance 35 times, including five times this year. Only Robert Garrigus has led a tournament as much as 20 times in the last five years.

Most tournaments led in driving distance: 2010 to 2014

 Player Total 2014
 Bubba Watson 35 5
 Robert Garrigus 20 0
 J.B. Holmes 19 3
 Dustin Johnson 18 3
 Gary Woodland 8 0
 Charlie Beljan 7 0

For different reasons McIlory, Watson and Furyk are three players to keep an eye on at this week’s Memorial. McIlroy is the hottest golfer, Watson has had the best year and Furyk has the best history at the Memorial.

McIlroy returns to the PGA Tour having won last week’s BMW PGA Championship. Before he went across the pond, McIlroy had four straight top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, three of them coming after he made the cut on the number. Watson is arguably the Tour’s player of the year through the first two-thirds of the season with two wins and two runner-up finishes. Furyk, who was second in back-to-back weeks at the Wells Fargo and Players, has one of the best histories at the Memorial. He won in 2002, was second in 2009 and has only missed one cut in 18 starts.

McIlroy, Watson and Furyk at the Memorial

 Player Starts Cuts made Top-10s Noteworthy
 Rory
 McIlroy
4 3 2 He was fifth in 2011, T-10 in 2010
 Jim
 Furyk
18 17 6 He’s the third all-time money winner at Memorial
 Bubba
 Watson
8 6 0 No top-10s, but 16 of 28 rounds are par or better

One final thought: In 2013, Muirfield Village GC yielded a scoring average of 73.256 making it the second hardest non-major course on Tour after the par-70 Champion Course at PGA National, which had a scoring average of 71.318. Tournament winner Matt Kuchar and runner-up Kevin Chappell were the only players with four subpar rounds.