Stat attack!: Barclays preview

By John AntoniniAugust 19, 2014, 6:52 pm

Let’s get Rory McIlory out of the way right from the start. He has never won the Barclays, never come close, actually, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be anointed the unconditional favorite at this week’s first PGA Tour Playoff event. His previous three tournaments have earned him that much. McIlroy shot a combined 48-under par in his three wins at the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship, and surpassed longtime FedEx Cup standings leader Jimmy Walker at the PGA to become the No. 1 player on the point’s list entering the Playoffs. The regular season FedEx Cup leader has never won the Barclays – Tiger missed by a stroke last year and in 2009.

How the regular season FedEx Cup leader fared at the Barclays

 Year Player Barclays finish
 2013 Tiger Woods T-2
 2012 Tiger Woods T-38
 2011 Nick Watney T-10
 2010 Ernie Els 71
 2009 Tiger Woods T-2
 2008 Tiger Woods Did not play
 2007 Tiger Woods Did not play

Rory McIlroy at the Barclays

 Year Scores Finish
 2013 (Liberty National) 71-65-71-72—279 T-19
 2012 (Bethpage) 69-73-69-72—283 T-24
 2010 (Ridgewood) 68-74-71-72—285 T-56

The Barclays has bounced around courses in the New York metropolitan area since the Playoffs began, this year returning to Ridgewood CC in Paramus, N.J., where it was held in 2008 and 2010. McIlroy had a poor result (T-56) in 2010, but the sample size is small so we can’t say with certainty that the course is not a good fit for him.

Who is Ridgewood a good for? The smart player, for certain, one who takes advantage of what’s given to him, instead of trying to force things to happen. Conventional wisdom says keeping the ball in play will be important at the venerable course that combines holes from the East, West and Center courses at the A.W. Tillinghast designed venue. Resisting the temptation to gamble is key. The Tour’s “Going for the Green” stat identifies the number of times a player tries for the green in two shots on a par-5 or from the green or on a par-4 when it is considered a viable option. Fewer players attempted that option at Ridgewood in 2010 than at any other course on Tour. In 2008 it ranked third. Players “go for the green” less than 25 percent of the time. And when they do gamble, it’s usually a failed attempt, with players hitting the green less than 12 percent of the time in 2010 and 8 percent of time in 2008.

The tour identified 16 opportunities to go for it at Ridgewood in 2010 and champion Matt Kuchar used his head. He only attempted to reach the green on four of 16 opportunities. He was three under on the four holes, and he was a tournament best six-under par when he laid up. Kuchar’s nine under total on the 16 gambling holes was the best in the field, and went a long way toward the 12-under total that got him into a playoff with Martin Laird, which he won.

Going for the green stats for Barclays leaders in 2010

 Player Going for it Layed up RTP-going for it RTP-laying up RTP-overall
 Matt Kuchar 4 12 3 under 6 under 9 under
 Martin Laird 7 9 3 under 2 under 5 under
 Kevin Streelman 4 12 1 under 1 under 2 under
 Steve Stricker 0 16 Even 4 under 4 under

Who were the PGA Tour’s smartest players in relation to gambling in 2014. The Tour’s “going for the green” stat isn’t a fair comparison here because not everyone played the same courses. It’s easy for Robert Garrigus to have a better relation to par in gambling efforts than Rory McIlroy because he played more events and because he played more courses where going for it might be the right play. Instead let’s use just the recent Bridgestone and the PGA Championship as our guide. Who were the “smartest” players during those two tournaments?

The Tour identified 13 opportunities to go for the green at Valhalla and eight chances at Firestone. Here are the leaders in relation to par on those 21 holes over two weeks.

Relation to par on gambling holes at the Bridgestone and PGA Championship

 Player Total to par Bridgestone PGA
 Rickie Fowler -15 -6 -9
 Lee Westwood -14 -6 -8
 Rory McIlroy -13 -4 -9
 Phil Mickelson -13 -2 -11
 Charl Schwartzel -13 -4 -9
 Hideki Matsuyama -13 -5 -8

All of those players enjoy going for the green when it’s a viable option. The one who picks his spots at the Barclays, choosing to lay up at the right time, just might have the advantage this week.


Otherwise, the stats at Ridgewood don’t really identify a particular player. None of the leaders in 2008 or 2010 excelled in any particular aspect of the game (save Streelman in putting in 2008 and Kuchar in putting in 2010).

Stats of Barclays leaders at Ridgewood CC in 2008 

 Player Finish Distance Accuracy GIR St. gained/putting
 Vijay Singh Won 289.4 (T-13) 48.21% (T-66) 73.61% (T-6) .298 (39)
 Kevin Sutherland T-2 287.0 (18) 64.29 (T-21) 70.83 (T-20) .981 (12)
 Sergio Garcia T-2 284.5 (25) 58.93 (T-40) 66.67 (T-35) .834 (15)
 Matthew Goggin T-4 289.4 (T-13) 64.29 (T-21) 72.22 (T-13) -.474 (60)
 Ben Curtis T-4 283.6 (T-28) 62.50 (T-25) 65.28 (T-39) .193 (43)
 Kevin Streelman 
T-4 275.9 (T-47) 58.93 (T-40) 65.28 (T-39) 1.900 (1)

Stats of Barclays leaders at Ridgewood CC in 2010

 Player Finish Distance Accuracy GIR Str. gained/putting
 Matt Kuchar Won 277.6 (34) 64.29% (T-30) 70.83% (T-15) 1.870 (4)
 Martin Laird 2 288.5 (T-10) 46.43 (T-69) 62.50 (T-51) .840 (19)
 Steve Stricker T-3 272.1 (49) 67.86 (T-18) 72.22 (T-6) .617 (28)
 Kevin Streelman T-3 284.1 (19) 73.21 (T-6) 63.89 (T-47) 1.172 (8)

Even Streelman, who was in top five both years, didn't excel in the same statistics. In 2010 he hit more fairways and was longer off the tee, but hit fewer greens. Although he putted well both years, he was much more dominant with the flatstick in 2008. However, Streelman is not coming into this event, looking much like a contender. After winning the Travelers Championship in June, he has finished no better than T-54 in five starts. (You might recall, that Streelman, the Illinois-born Duke grad, has New Jersey roots. His grandparents are buried in the cemetery beyond the seventh hole at Ridgewood CC.)


One final thought: We identified the “smartest” players above, but who failed to capitalize on the gambling holes at the Bridgestone and the PGA? Patrick Reed (four under), Graham DeLaet (four under), Bubba Watson (three under) and Jonas Blixt (two under) make this list.

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

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

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How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

“Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

“You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

“There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

“It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.