Stat attack!: OHL Classic at Mayakoba preview

By John AntoniniNovember 11, 2014, 7:44 pm

This week’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba is the final event of the year on the PGA Tour, but not the final event of the season. That incongruity comes thanks to the wraparound schedule the Tour implemented last year. What we have this week is the finish to the Fall Series – and so far during the North American portion, youngsters have dominated. All four domestic winners are in their 20s, led by 26-year-old Nick Taylor (shown), who won last week’s Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi. 

PGA Tour Fall Series winners in 2014-15

 Winner Tournament Age Career wins
 Sang-Moon Bae Open 28 2
 Ben Martin  Shriners Las Vegas  27 1
 Robert Streb  McGladrey Classic 27 1
 Ryan Moore  CIMB Classic 31 4
 Bubba Watson  WGC-HSBC Champions 36 7
Nick Taylor  Sanderson Farms 26 1

Martin, Streb and Taylor are all playing at Mayakoba this week and are looking to become the first player to win two Fall Series events in the same year. Of the three, only Martin has experience in Mexico, having finished T31 a year ago. Streb and Taylor are making their tournament debuts.

Similarity scores

If Martin, Streb and Taylor don’t have the pedigree to win the OHL Classic, who does? How about this pair of young veterans who share a similar name as well as a penchant for playing well south of the border? Chris Stroud and Brian Stuard – or is that Chris Stuard and Brian Stroud? – have combined for five top-five finishes in this event. Both average below 70 strokes per round in the tournament, with Stuard’s 67.25 average the lowest among players with eight or more rounds in the event. Stroud, who has played Mayakoba all seven years of its existence, is sixth in scoring average among players with 20 or more rounds in the event.

Career record at the OHL Classic of Brian Stroud and Chris Stuard

 Player 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
 Chris Stroud MC T-12 T-60 T-40 4 T-5 T-3
 Brian Stuard       T-2     2

Lowest career scoring average at the OHL Classic: Minimum eight rounds

 Player Rounds  Scoring avg.
 Brian Stuard 8 67.25
 Matt Kuchar 8 67.88
 Jason Bohn 8 68.00
 David Toms 8 68.13
 Robert Appleby 8 68.13
John Huh 8 68.13

Lowest career scoring average at the OHL Classic: Minimum 20 rounds

 Player Rounds Scoring avg.
 Charles Howell III 20 68.90
 J.J. Henry 20 68.90
 Jarrod Lyle 20 68.90
 Brian Gay 24 68.96
 Briny Baird 24 68.96
 Chris Stroud 26 69.04

Lucky seven

Stroud has played the Mayakoba Classic every year, but because he missed the cut in the premiere event in 2007, he doesn’t have the distinction of playing the weekend every year. That honor goes to a pair of veterans – Kevin Stadler and Cameron Beckman. They are among five players in this year’s field who have played Mayakoba at least five times and never missed the cut.

Most starts at the OHL Classic without missing the cut*

 Player Starts Best finish
 Kevin Stadler 7 T-9 in 2010
 Cameron Beckman 7 Won in 2010
 John Merrick 6 T-3 in 2008
 Charles Howell III 5

T-6 in 2013

 J.J. Henry 5 Second in 2009

*Among players in the 2014 field.

Split seasons

When Harris English beat Stuard by four strokes a year ago, he did so on the strength of his putting. He ranked first in the field in putts per GIR and fifth in total putts with 108. He was especially good with the flatstick in Round 2, when his nine-birdie, no-bogey 62 was the week’s best score.

It was part of a stretch during which English could do no wrong. He made the cut in his first 13 starts of the 2013-14 season. The victory in Mexico was the highlight of a run that included six top-10 finishes, including a solo fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

His cut streak ended at the Masters and his year hasn’t been gratifying since. English has made just eight cuts in 18 starts, with one top-10 finish, a T-7 at the Travelers Championship.

From the Masters to date, English’s scoring average has risen by more than a stroke and a half, and his GIR percentage has dropped from 73 percent to 64 percent. His putts per GIR has risen from 1.754 to 1.791.

Putting some English on it: Harris English’s up-and-down season

 Time frame Starts Cuts made Top 10s Money Scor. avg. GIR Putts per GIR
 October 2013-
 March 2014
13 13 6 $2,535,303 69.17 73.03% 1.754
 April 2014-
 November 2014
18 8 1 516,319 70.90 64.31 1.791

Long hitters need not apply

PGA Tour stats were not available from the OHL Classic at Mayakoba prior to 2012, but it’s apparent when looking at the past winners that length off the tee is not a requirement for success. Until English’s win a year ago, the Mayakoba champion had never finished in the top 100 in driving distance that season. Two past champs – Brian Gay in 2008 and Fred Funk in 2007 – were in the bottom five in distance during the year they won at Mayakoba.

The Mayakoba winner’s season rank in driving distance

 Year Winner Season driving distance (rank)
 2013 Harris English 299.2 (26)
 2012 John Huh 288.3 (113)
 2011 Johnson Wagner 282.2 (160)
 2010 Cameron Beckman 285.7 (115)
 2009 Mark Wilson 284.3 (118)
 2008 Brian Gay 270.5 (196)
 2007 Fred Funk 271.8 (193)

One final thought: What a difference a year makes for Robert Streb. The McGladrey Classic champion is leading the FedEx Cup race and is the only player to have three top-10 finishes in the short season. Last year, Streb earned just 18 FedEx Cup points during the Fall Series and was T-160 at the year-end hiatus.

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.

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Kupcho gets redemption with NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 2:54 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Driving from Chicago to Denver the night of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship, Mike Kupcho was worried about what the next two days might bring.

A few hours earlier, he’d watched his 20-year-old daughter, Jennifer, take a two-shot lead into the 71st hole at Rich Harvest Farms. With just 127 yards left for her approach, she hit her pitching wedge the one place she couldn’t afford to miss – short, in the pond – and then compounded the error with a three-putt. The triple bogey dropped her one shot behind Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.

Kupcho conducted a series of teary interviews afterward, but she had no time to dwell on the heartbreaking finish. She hopped on a plane back home and competed in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier two days later.

“We were worried about how she’d react – I didn’t know what to expect,” Mike said. “I would have been a wreck.”

But Jennifer fired a 66 in the opening round, then a 72 in the afternoon to earn medalist honors.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Well,” Mike said, “I guess she’s over it.”

Kupcho made it official Monday at Karsten Creek, claiming the NCAA title that should have been hers last May.

The Wake Forest junior won by two shots – the same margin she blew a year ago – for her fourth victory of the season, vaulting her into contention for the Annika Award.

“It’s just exciting to get here after everything I’ve been through,” she said.

Entering the final round in a share of the lead, Kupcho birdied the first but played Nos. 5-7 in 4 over par. It seemed like another collapse was brewing.

“I told her she’s going to have to face some adversity at some point,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Potter, who walked alongside her Monday. “There was a lot of golf to play, especially on a course like this.”

A birdie on 11 sent her on her way. She added a birdie on the drivable 12th, dropped another one on the par-5 14th and then canned a 60-footer for birdie on 16.

And so there she was again, two shots clear with two holes to go, when she stepped to the tee on the 17th. She piped a drive down the center, then flushed her approach directly over the flag, leading to a stress-free par. On 18, with water all the way down the left side, she nuked her second shot into the middle of the green for a two-putt birdie.

If there were any lingering questions about whether Kupcho could close, she answered them emphatically Monday. She carded five back-nine birdies for a two-shot victory over Stanford’s Andrea Lee (66) and Arizona’s Bianca Pagdaganan (72).

“Redemption,” Potter said. “She knew she could do it. It was just a matter of holding the trophy.”

After last year’s devastating finish, Potter tacked a photo on his closet wall of a victorious Arizona State team posing with the NCAA trophy. Each day was a reminder of how close they’d come.

“That sticks with you,” he said.

There were areas of Kupcho's game to shore up – namely chipping and bunker play – and she worked tirelessly to turn them into strengths. She built momentum throughout the season, culminating with a dominant regional performance in which she tied a school record by shooting 15 under, holed the winning putt to send her teammates to the NCAA Championship and became just the second player in history to win a regional in consecutive years.

“She’s interesting,” Potter said, “because the bigger the tournament, the bigger the stage, the better she plays.”

Indeed, Kupcho became the first player in a decade to finish in the top 6 in three consecutive NCAAs.

Here at Karsten Creek, she tied a women’s course record with a 7-under 65 in the opening round. And even though she backed up on Day 2, she played the last two rounds in 3 under to claim the title.

The one she kicked away a year ago.

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard (total scores): Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to shoot 71 and win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.

The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.