Stat attack!: Greenbrier Classic preview

By John AntoniniJuly 1, 2014, 7:30 pm

July is a month for vacations, and the PGA Tour’s top stars are doing just that this week. Bubba Watson is the only top 10 player on the Official World Golf Ranking in the field at the Greenbrier Classic (there are no top-10 players in the European Tour’s Alstom French Open). Jimmy Walker (ahem) and Steve Stricker represent the top 20 in West Virginia and only 12 of the top 50 players are present. With the stars away, are some players more inclined to succeed than others? Identify those players and you might uncover this week’s winner.

To find out who plays well in weaker tournaments, I started by looking at the Official World Golf Ranking. The world ranking is scheduled to award 42 points to the Greenbrier Classic champion. There have been 10 PGA Tour events this season where the winner has been given 42 or fewer points. And as expected, there are players who clean up at those events. Walker won two such tournaments – the Open and the Sony Open (he also won at Pebble Beach, which gave 44 points to the winner, just missing our threshold). Webb Simpson also finished in the top 25 all four times he played a weak-field event, including the Las Vegas tournament, which he won. Here’s a list of the players in the Greenbrier field who have at least four top-25 finishes in weak-field events in 2013-14, along with the percentage of their season earnings that have been a result of those weeks.

Top finishers in weak-field* events in 2013-14

 Player Starts Cuts Top 25 Money Pct. of season money Best
 Brendon Todd** 7 7 5 $715,028 25.24% T-6 Humana, Valero
 Will Mackenzie 9 5 5 997,490 55.96 T-2 Texas
 Jeff Overton 9 7 5 835,251 81.60 4, Zurich
4 4 4 2,112,740 42.82 Won Frys, Sony
 Webb Simpson 4 4 4 1,610,017 64.71 Won Las Vegas
8 7 4 841,078 65.71 T-2, Texas
 Brian Harman 8 7 4 599,672 43.99 T-6 Memphis
 Jerry Kelly 9 6 4 803,190 81.09 3, Sony
 Carl Pettersson 9 5 4 650,610 63.83 T-3 Memphis
 J.J. Henry 9 7 4 351,009 74.91 T-13 Memphis
10 6 4 963,680 89.32 T-2, Zurich
 Ben Martin**** 10 6 4 592,447 42.44 3, Puerto Rico

* The tournaments with the ranking points awarded to the winner are as follows. Open (28), Las Vegas (36), McGladrey (32), Mayakoba (24), Sony (42), Humana (40), Puerto Rico (24), Valero Texas (40), New Orleans (36), FedEx St. Jude (42).

** Todd also won the Byron Nelson Championship, which just missed the threshold, awarding 44 points to the winner. If include the Nelson, Todd has won 69.09 percent of his season earnings in such events.

*** Including the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which earned Walker just 44 ranking points for winning, would give him 66.91 percent of his season earnings in such events.

**** Martin had made the cut in his last seven starts, with additional thirds at the Heritage and at last week’s Quicken Loans National, which is another reason to consider him: The hot-hand effect.

Most of these players should make the cut and finish among the leaders. But be forewarned that just because Jerry Kelly, for one, plays well in such events, it doesn’t mean he’ll win the Greenbrier Classic. It just means he has a good chance to play well. Someone from this group might win, but Walker stands out.

Consider that when Jonas Blixt won in 2013 for his first PGA Tour win, Walker was one of four players who finished two strokes back. Walker has parlayed that runner-up into three victories this seasson. Matt Jones and Stephen Bowditch have also won in 2014. Perhaps Johnson Wagner is waiting for this week for his breakout 2014 performance.

Greenbrier Classic leaderboard in 2013

 Finish  Player Best event since Greenbrier
 Won Jonas Blixt Second at 2014 Masters, Fourth at 2013 PGA
 T-2 Jimmy Walker Won, Sony Open, AT&T Pebble
 T-2 Stephen Bowditch Won Valero Texas Open
 T-2 Matt Jones Won Shell Houston Open
 T-2 Johnson Wagner 10th, 2013 Reno, no top-10s in 2014

Here’s how the top 50 players on the World Ranking in the field have fared at the Greenbrier 

 World rank Player 2013 2012 2011 2010
 3 Bubba Watson T-30      
 17 Jimmy Walker T-2 MC T-4 T-4
 18 Steve Stricker   T-22    
 25 Keegan Bradley   T-46 T-43  
 29 Patrick Reed MC      
 31 Webb Simpson T-41 T-7 T-9 MC
 35 Bill Haas T-9 T-33 2  
 38 Kevin Na   T-7   T-36
 41 Jonas Blixt Won      
 45 Chris Kirk   MC T-49  
 47 Brendon Todd   T-49    
 50 Gary Woodland T-62 MC T-4 MC

Normally, I wouldn’t expect any player not named Tiger Woods to finish in the top five at the same tournament four times in five years. But with Walker’s pedigree at Greenbrier, it’d be silly not to consider him option No. 1.

As for option No. 2, there is another trend to consider at the Greenbrier. A common denominator among Greenbrier winners is that none of them had played the tournament. After Stuart Allenby won the inaugural event in 2010, Scott Stallings in 2011, Ted Potter in 2012 and Blixt were all making their first appearances in West Virginia. I wouldn’t get too worked up about this. It’s bound to end as the tournament ages. Besides, of the 32 first-timers in the field at press time, only two – Chesson Hadley and Tim Clark – are in the top 100 on the FedEx Cup standings.

First-time players in the Greenbrier field who are also the top 150 in the FedEx Cup standings

 FedEx rank Player Best finish in 2013-14
 52 Chesson Hadley Won Puerto Rico Open
 98 Tim Clark T-2 McGladrey Classic
 102 Tim Wilkinson T-7 AT&T Pebble Beach
 113 Bryce Garnett T-7 Shell Houston Open
 126 Tyrone Van Aswegen T-16 Byron Nelson 
 128 Gonzalo Fdez-Castano T-24 Honda Classic
 137 Hudson Swafford T-8 Sony Open
 141 Andrew Loupe T-4 Valero Texas Open

In addition to his win at Puerto Rico, Hadley was fifth at Las Vegas and T-13 at Memphis. If it weren’t for six missed cuts in his last seven starts, he would be someone to consider from his list as he plays well in the weak-field events discussed above. So does Wilkinson, and he’s made five cuts in a row. Food for thought.

One final point: Don’t get too worked up about early round leaders at the Old White course. Because the course usually plays to a subpar scoring average, plenty of players can make moves in later rounds. In fact, the first, second, or third round leader/co-leader has never gone on to win in the tournament’s four years.

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

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Garnett's six-shot lead dwindles to two in Punta Cana

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 10:57 pm

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - Brice Garnett took a six-stroke lead into the wind Saturday in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He came out with a two-stroke advantage.

Garnett bogeyed three of the final six holes in the wind and rain for a 3-under 69 and a 16-under 200 total.

''Once we made the turn coming back, all those holes coming in toward the north, it was all we wanted and then some,'' Garnett said. ''I kind of took advantage of some holes going out, some holes downwind, some par 5s, and then we were just trying to leave it in the right spot those last four or five holes. Pars are pretty good scores on those holes.''

Canadian Corey Conners was second after a 67, and Tyler McCumber also had a 67 to get to 12 under. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped out Friday, finishing last in the 132-man field in his PGA Tour debut. He shot 77-82 playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption.

A stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, Garnett opened with a bogey, birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6, eagled the par-5 seventh, and made two more birdies on the par-3 ninth and par-5 12th. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, par-5 15th and par-3 17th.

Full-field scores from the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship

''I looked once and the lead was a little bigger than what it is now,'' Garnett said. ''The eagle was huge, kind of gave me that confidence that I can push it on out and stretch it a little bit more. That wind was tough and I'll take a two-shot lead into tomorrow.''

The 34-year-old Garnett is winless on the PGA Tour. He won twice last year on the Tour.

''You've got another 18 holes. So much can happen,'' Garnett said. ''Just going to try to keep the golf ball in front of me. I have that self-belief this week and that's what I had last year when I won, so I'll just keep my head down and just keep going.''

Conners had five birdies and a bogey on the front nine and added a birdie on No. 12.

''Really happy with the round,'' Conners said. ''I got off to a nice start, made a bunch of birdies on the front nine and kind of held it together on the back nine. It was playing really difficult. The wind was really blowing out there, made things challenging.''

McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, has played his last 39 holes with a bogey.

''Second shots have been pretty solid,'' McCumber said. ''Putting pretty well, short game is pretty good. Just really being in the right areas and staying below the hole.''

Tom Lovelady was fourth at 11 under after a 68. Seamus Power (71), Denny McCarthy (71) and Seungsu Han (72) were 10 under.

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Poulter incorrectly told he's in Masters before loss to Kisner

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 10:33 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Ian Poulter was not happy, and it was only partially because of his blowout loss to Kevin Kisner in Saturday’s quarterfinals at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Following his morning victory in the round of 16 over Louis Oosthuizen, the Englishman was incorrectly informed that by making it to the Elite 8 at Austin Country Club he was assured enough Official World Golf Raking points to move into the top 50 and qualify for the Masters in two weeks.

“I should never listen to other people,” Poulter said following his 8-and-6 loss to Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals. “When you finish a round of golf and the press and everybody is telling you you're in the Masters, and then you get a text message 10 minutes before you tee off to correct everybody, to say, ‘Oh, we've made a mistake, actually, no, that was wrong, you're not in. You need to go and win.’

“Not that that's an excuse in any form or factor, it's a little disappointing.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Poulter actually needed to advance to the semifinal round to move into the top 50. Instead, his last chance to qualify for the Masters is to win next week’s Houston Open, although he was unsure if he’d play the event.

“I don't know yet, I haven't decided,” said Poulter when asked if he’d play next week. “I'm tired. It's been a long week. It's been a draining week. I'll wait until Monday night and if I have the energy then I will.”

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Not DJ, not Poulter: Kisner most proud to take down Kuchar

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 9:34 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On his way to this week’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Kisner has beaten world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the European match play ninja Ian Poulter. But neither match could compare to his duel with Matt Kuchar early Saturday.

“I was more jacked to beat [Kuchar], really. Kuch is such a good player and our games are so similar,” said Kisner, who defeated Kuchar in the round of 16, 1 up. “We both made eight birdies this morning and I barely snuck out of there. I thought it was a lot of fun.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

By comparison, his quarterfinal bout against Poulter wasn’t nearly as electric. Kisner won two of the first four holes when the Englishman made bogey (No. 3) and when he was conceded the fourth hole, hecruised to an 8-and-6 victory for the week’s most lopsided win.

“I don't know Ian that well, so I don't really have a history with him, other than watching him kill us in the Ryder Cup,” Kisner laughed.

Things won’t get any easier for Kisner on Sunday when he’ll play Alex Noren in the semifinals. The Swede has been dominant this week and is considered one of Europe’s top players heading into this year’s Ryder Cup.

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Hahn: 'My fault for not expecting the worst from fans'

By Grill Room TeamMarch 24, 2018, 8:35 pm

Fan behavior has made headlines all year long on the PGA Tour, and the topic of conversation doesn't look like it’s going away anytime soon.

The latest example came on Friday at the WGC-Dell Technologies March Play, when James Hahn took to Twitter to complain that a fan deliberately yelled in his backswing on the 15th hole during his match with Jason Dufner, which he lost 3 and 2.

“Whether we like it or not, this is where the game is going,” he tweeted. “My fault for not expecting the worst from fans. Just sucks to lose a match that way.”

The two-time PGA Tour winner followed up his original tweet, clarifying that he can expect bad behavior from all golf fans while still loving and respecting them.

He also pointed out a major difference in comparing golf to other sports, saying some PGA Tour players go to far greater lengths than the typical NFL star to engage with fans on a daily basis.

The incident comes on the heels of several recent player run-ins with fans, including Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Sergio Garcia earlier this week at Austin Country Club.

On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that inappropriate fan behavior related to alcohol sales is something his staff is monitoring.