Inside the numbers: Not easy holding 54-hole lead

RSS

By JUSTIN RAY

The most pervasive statistic following Jim Furyk, especially after Sunday's performance at Pebble Beach, is that he has failed to convert any of his last nine 54-hole leads or shares of the lead on the PGA Tour.

Furyk held a one-shot advantage over Matt Jones and Brandt Snedeker entering the final round. But with conditions ripe for low scores, and Furyk's recent final-round history when sleeping on the lead, few expected Furyk to pick up career PGA Tour win No. 17 Sunday on the Monterey Peninsula.

Furyk shot a final-round 74, and he finished six behind Brandt Snedeker.

But how valuable is a one-shot lead for anyone – let alone the beleaguered Furyk?

Since the beginning of last season, 16 players have held a one-shot lead entering the final round on the PGA Tour. Only five have won, good for a 31.3 percent clip. Rory McIlroy is the last player to convert a one-shot lead, doing so at the PGA Championship last year. Since then, five have tried, and none have succeeded.

A two-shot lead isn't much safer in that span. There have been 12 instances of players holding a two-shot lead through 54 holes over the last two seasons. Only four have won.

Outright 54-hole leaders PGA Tour last two seasons

1-shot lead: 5 wins/16 attempts

2-shot lead: 4 wins/12 attempts

3-shot lead: 3 wins/7 attempts

4+ shot lead: 6 wins/7 attempts

In contrast, there have been 15 PGA Tour winners in that span who came from either one or two shots down entering the final round.

So, in the last two seasons, winners who held a one or two shot lead through 54 holes: Nine. Winners from one or two back: 15.

Inherently, there is a higher possibility of a winner coming from behind than holding onto a lead. Obviously, there can only be one player leading a golf tournament outright at any given moment. Everyone else is trailing. Sheer numbers make someone making a comeback the safer bet.

From 1994-2010, Jim Furyk held the lead entering the final round of a PGA Tour event 17 times, going on to win 10 of those tournaments. That’s capitalizing nearly 60 percent of the time.

After dropping nine straight, his career mark with the lead is 10-for-26. Though Furyk’s streak is both surprising and captivating for golf fans, maybe he’s just regressing to the mean.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with Golf Channel’s editorial research unit.