If you consistently put up the best scores on the PGA Tour, like Tiger Woods did again in 2009, you will lead the Tour in scoring average, as Woods did this past season.
Sometimes, though, stats can confuse and befuddle and mislead.
Here’s a look back at the numbers in ’09.
We saw Woods more agitated than usual on the course this year.
The tomahawked club into the brush at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the bounced club into the crowd in Australia, the more pronounced cursing, they were signs of heightened frustration. Of course, it’s harder to tell now what was really going on in his head and heart.
The numbers, though, reveal what must have been a source of frustration.
While Woods is one of the best putters who ever lived, he ranked 158th on the PGA Tour in putting this year from the 15-to-25-foot range. He was first in that stat in ’08.
Here’s another notable item in Woods’ ’09 stats. As much as we want to blame his tee shots when he’s off his game, he ranked 12th in total driving this past season, up from 197th in ’08.
A lot of big names saw their scoring averages balloon this past year.
That involved different kinds of pain for different men.
A look at the numbers and what they meant:
Adam Scott 71.72 (+1.63).
Scott had his worst year on the PGA Tour, enduring six consecutive cuts in the spring while logging just one top-10 finish in 19 starts. Scott showed signs he’s finding his old form, though, winning the Australian Open earlier this month.
Anthony Kim 70.51 (+1.23).
Kim had his moments, tying for second at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, finishing third at the AT&T National and tying for third at the RBC Canadian Open, but those were his lone top-10s a year after he won twice. It was a strange year for Kim, because the scoring average makes it look worse than it was. His Masters’ effort typifies the year. He made a record 11 birdies in the second round at Augusta National but finished the championship tied for 20th. Injuries and an overly ambitious worldwide scheduled were surely factors. While Kim has fought a reputation for having too much fun off the course, he says he’s committed to fitness and getting better.
Phil Mickelson 70.22 (+1.05)
Given the tumult of dealing with his wife and mother both being diagnosed with breast cancer, Mickelson had a strong year, regardless of the scoring average. He won three times on the PGA Tour and also won the HSBC Champions World Golf Championship event in China.
Vijay Singh 70.66 (+1.08)
Knee surgery at the start of the year doesn’t bode well when you’re 46 years old. Near year’s end, Singh said the knee still bothered him when he returned home at the end of a day. Singh will turn 47 on Feb. 22.
Padraig Harrington 70.23 (+.95)
A lot was made of Harrington’s desire to improve his swing after he won two majors in ’08, but despite his drop off early in the year he finished strong. In his last six PGA Tour starts of ’09, Harrington’s finishes looked like this: T-2, T-10, T-2, T-4, T-6, T-4. Throw out some untimely wild wedges into the water, and his finish would have been even better.
Sergio Garcia 70.06 (+.94)
Garcia revealed that a breakup with his girlfriend, Morgan Leigh Norman, daughter to Greg Norman, hurt his confidence and game this past season. Now, there’s word that his right hand is still bothering him after he hurt it last month in the Dubai World Championship.
MORE ON SCORING AVERAGES
Zach Johnson enjoyed terrific improvement in scoring in ’09.
Johnson’s scoring average was exactly a full stroke better this past year than in ‘08, jumping from 70.60 to 69.60. He won twice (Sony Open, Valero Texas Open).
Scoring averages don’t always register with what your eyes tell you, though.
Take Brian Gay. He found something special in ’09, winning in a pair of dominant performances at the Verizon Heritage and St. Jude Classic. He did this in a year in which his scoring average actually went up .38 to 70.40. His putting explains a lot, though. He was No. 1 on Tour in total putting, a combination of six ShotLink putting categories.
And then there’s Stewart Cink, who broke through to win the British Open in a season in which his scoring average went up nearly a half stroke (.44). He didn’t finish among the top 75 in putting average (92nd), GIR (144th) or total driving (97th) but had a year most of his peers would have relished.
Robert Garrigus led the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average of 312.0 yards per drive, ending Bubba Watson’s run of three consecutive long-distance titles.
While there were 47 recorded drives of 400 yards or longer this season, Garrigus didn’t hit any of them. His longest drive of record was 381 yards, which was tied for the 345th longest drive of the season.
Those 47 drives of 400 yards or longer were a PGA Tour record, 35 more than were recorded last year.
Charley Hoffman hit the longest recorded drive this year – 467 yards at the first hole in the third round of the Valero Texas Open – as one of two he blasted beyond the 400-yard mark. Dustin Johnson recorded five blasts of 400 yards or more, the most on Tour. Andres Romero was next with four.
DRIVE FOR SHOW AND . . .
Joe Durant led the Tour in driving accuracy, hitting 74.9 percent of his fairways. He was third in greens in regulation, hitting 70.58 percent. That kind of ball striking might lead you to believe Durant enjoyed a stellar season, but he finished 182nd on the money list. His putter, of course, explains everything. He was 137th in putting average.
By the way, it marked the second straight year that the player who led the tour in driving accuracy failed to retain fully exempt playing privileges. Olin Browne led the Tour in driving accuracy in ’08 and finished 204th on the money list.
MORE ON BALL STRIKING
Jonathan Byrd was second in hitting greens in regulation, trailing only John Senden. He jumped from 149th in GIR in ’08. Byrd also finished first in total driving. That’s a terrific combination that helped him finish No. 1 on Tour in ball striking. His putting average wasn’t bad, ranking 42nd on the PGA Tour, but Byrd’s overall performance wasn’t as stellar as you would suspect based on those numbers. He finished 67th on the money list.
What none of these stats can measure is what’s happening in a man’s personal life and how it’s affecting him. Byrd’s father, James, died in July from brain cancer. He’d been sick a couple years. Numbers can’t give us the total picture of a player’s game. Mostly, they’re clues.