Stat attack!: Players Championship review

By John AntoniniMay 12, 2014, 2:08 am

Even though Martin Kaymer held the lead through every round of the Players Championship, he seemed almost an afterthought throughout the week.

All eyes were on the precocious Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan, threatening to become the youngest winner in Players history.

Or Adam Scott, and his quest for the No. 1 ranking. There was Bubba Watson and his bid to win the Players and the Masters in the same year.

And we had our weekly questions about Phil Mickelson, who was still searching for his first top-10 finish of the season.

But Spieth stumbled Sunday, Scott and Watson faltered and Mickelson missed the cut, the first time he would do so at the Masters and the Players in the same year since 1997.

Kaymer kept rolling along. Only the weather delay made things interesting Sunday, with Kaymer finishing at 13-under 275 to hold off Jim Fuyrk by one stroke after making a 28-foot, 6-inch putt for par on the 17th hole that turned a certain playoff — and a return to the course Monday morning — into his second PGA Tour victory.

Kaymer became the fourth player to win a major, a World Golf Championship event and a Players Championship. Yes, the math is correct. Kaymer only has two PGA Tour victories because the 2011 WGC-HSBC Champions in China, which he won, was not an official PGA Tour event at the time. He won at the Stadium Course in record-breaking fashion. His 29 on the front-nine Thursday was the first sub-30 round in Players history, and his 63 matched three others for the lowest round in Stadium course history. 

Players who have won a major, a WGC event and the Players Championship

 Player Majors WGCs Players
 Tiger Woods 14 18 2
 Phil Mickelson 5 2 1
 Adam Scott 1 1 1
 Martin Kaymer 1 1 1

Kaymer’s victory shouldn’t have been a surprise. He has not missed the cut in six Players starts, and although this was his first top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass, he now has the lowest scoring average in history for players with at least 20 rounds at the Stadium Course.

Lowest scoring average, 20+ rounds at TPC Sawgrass

 Player Average Rounds
 Martin Kaymer 70.92 24
 Henrik Stenson 71.19 32
 Matt Kuchar 71.33 42
 Zach Johnson 71.39 38
 Luke Donald 71.43 33
 Sergio Garcia 71.53 56

Kaymer finished tied for third in the field in greens in regulation, becoming the ninth Players champion to finish in the top 10 in greens in regulation in the last 12 years.

Players champs who were in the top 10 in GIR since 2003

 Year Player GIR rank
 2014 Martin Kaymer T-3
 2013 Tiger Woods T-3
 2012 Matt Kuchar T-3
 2010 Tim Clark 4
 2008 Sergio Garcia 1
 2006 Stephen Ames T-1
 2005 Fred Funk 1
 2004 Adam Scott 1
 2003 Davis Love III 10

Kaymer’s long putt on the 17th hole Sunday was indicative of his week. He led the field with four putts made from more than 25 feet, none bigger than the snake he rolled in with the tournament in the balance. For the week he holed 339 feet of putts, tied for the fifth-most in the field.

Distance of putts made at the Players

 Rank Player Distance of putts made
 1 Scott Langley 367 feet, 6 inches
 2 Francesco Molinari 354 feet, 9 inches
 3 Jim Furyk 350 feet, 10 inches
 4 Henrik Stenson 339 feet, 2 inches
 T-5 Martin Kaymer 339 feet, 0 inches
 T-5 Brian Stuard 339 feet, 0 inches

But the Players wasn’t just about Martin Kaymer. It was about Jordan Spieth repeating his Masters performance with a spectacular tournament debut before coming up short. The game within the game was about Adam Scott (and Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar) coming up short in their quest for the top spot on the World Ranking. And it was about Rory McIlroy’s third consecutive event where he made the cut on the number only to finish with a back-door top 10. For Rory, the Players was the tale of two nines. He played the front nine in 8 over and the back nine in 17 under, a difference of 25 strokes. 

Rory McIlroy at the Players

 Round Front nine Back nine
 One +1 (37) -3 (33)
 Two +6 (42) -4 (32)
 Three +2 (38) -5 (31)
 Four -1 (35) -5 (31)
 Total +8 -17

McIlroy had a similar performance at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he was even par on the front nine and 8 under on the back during his T-8 finish. He also finished T-8 at the Masters but was a more equitable 1 under on the front and 1 over on the back.

Spieth finished T-4 in his first Players. As at the Masters, he was tied for the 54-hole lead. At Sawgrass he fell off the pace with a bogey on the fifth hole Sunday, his first of the week after 58 holes without one. Spieth would make four more bogeys in a final-round 74. He became the youngest player to finish in the top 10 in the Masters and the Players in the same year and was one of four players with a top 10 at both tournaments this year.

Players with top-10 finishes at the Players and the Masters

 Player Masters Players
 Jordan Spieth T-2 T-4
 Jimmy Walker T-8 T-6
 Rory McIlroy T-8 T-6
 Lee Westwood 7 T-6

Scott needed to shoot 68 Sunday to move to No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking. Instead he shot 73 and finished T-38. He will overtake Woods after this week’s Byron Nelson Championship. Matt Kuchar is the only player who could surpass Scott next week, but it’s unlikely the tournament will dole out enough first-place points for him to get there. Henrik Stenson would have gotten to No. 1 if he had finished seven strokes better Sunday. He would have needed a 67 to finish T-4, but instead shot 74 to finish T-34.

Finally, no statistical analysis about the Players would be complete without a look at the par-3 17th hole, which gave up the fewest number of water balls since 2003. There were only four balls in the pond on the weekend, another tournament low.

Water balls at the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass

 Year Water balls Weekend water balls
 2014 28 4
 2013 44 20
 2012 39 10
 2011 40 14
 2010 29 14
 2009 32 10
 2008 64 26
 2007 93 22
 2006 57 21
 2005 68 53
 2004 30 11
 2003 29 13
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Woods' final round is highest-rated FEC telecast ever

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 24, 2018, 9:05 pm

We've heard it a million times: Tiger Woods doesn't just move the needle, he IS the needle.

Here's more proof.

NBC Sports Group's final-round coverage of Woods claiming his 80th career victory in the Tour Championship earned a 5.21 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs and the highest-rated PGA Tour telecast in 2018 (excluding majors).

The rating was up 206 percent over 2017's Tour Championship.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Coverage peaked from 5:30-6PM ET (7.19) as Woods finished his round and as Justin Rose was being crowned the FedExCup champion. That number trailed only the 2018 peaks for the Masters (11.03) and PGA Championship (8.28). The extended coverage window (1:30-6:15 PM ET) posted a 4.35 overnight rating, which is the highest-rated Tour Championship telecast on record.

Sunday’s final round also saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (up 561 percent year-over-year), and becomes the most-streamed NBC Sports Sunday round (excluding majors) on record.

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Randall's Rant: Woods' comeback story ranks No. 1

By Randall MellSeptember 24, 2018, 8:40 pm

We’re marveling again.

This time over the essence of the man as much as the athlete, over what Tiger Woods summoned to repair, rebuild and redeem himself, after scandal and injury so ruinously rocked his career.

We watched in wonder Sunday as Woods completed the greatest comeback in the history of sport.

That’s how we’re ranking this reconstruction of a champion. (See the rankings below.)

We marveled over the admiration that flooded into the final scene of his victory at the Tour Championship, over the wave of adoring fans who enveloped him as he marched up the 18th fairway.

This celebration was different from his coronation, when he won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, or his masterpiece, when he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots in 2000, or his epic sweep, when he won at Augusta National in ’01 to claim his fourth consecutive major championship title.

The awe back then was over how invincible Woods could seem in a sport where losing is the week-to-week norm, over how he could decimate the competition as no other player ever has.

The awe today is as much over the transformed nature of the rebuilt man.

It’s about what he has overcome since his aura of invincibility was decimated in the disgrace of a sex scandal, in the humiliation of a videotape of a DUI arrest, in the pain of four back surgeries and four knee surgeries and in the maddening affliction of chipping yips and driving and putting woes.

The wonder is also in imagining the fierce inventory of self-examination that must have been grueling, and in the mustering of inner strength required to overcome foes more formidable than Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and today’s other stars.

It’s in Woods overcoming shame, ridicule, doubt and probably some despair to rebuild his life outside the game before he could rebuild his life in the game.

Woods may never let us know the detail or depth of those inner challenges, of what helped him prevail in his more spiritual battles, because he’s still fiercely private. He may never share the keys to rebuilding his sense of himself, but he’s more open than he has ever been. He shares more than he ever has.

As a father of two children, as a mentor to so many of today’s young players, there’s more depth to the picture of this champion today. There also is more for fans to relate to in his struggles than his success. There’s more of the larger man to marvel over.

The greatest comebacks in the history of sports:

1. Tiger Woods

Four back surgeries and four knee surgeries are just part of the story. It’s why Woods ranks ahead of Ben Hogan. Woods’ comeback was complicated by so many psychological challenges, by the demon doubts created in his sex scandal and DUI arrest. There was shame and ridicule to overcome on a public stage. And then there were the chipping yips, and the driving and putting woes.

2. Ben Hogan

On Feb. 2, 1949, a Greyhound bus attempting to pass a truck slammed head on into Hogan’s Cadillac on a Texas highway. Hogan probably saved his life throwing himself over the passenger side to protect his wife, Valerie. He suffered a double fracture of the pelvis, a cracked rib, a fractured collarbone and a broken ankle, but it was a blood clot that nearly killed him a few weeks later. Hogan needed 16 months to recover but would return triumphantly to win the 1950 U.S. Open and five more majors after that.

3. Niki Lauda

In the bravest sporting comeback ever, Lauda returned to grand prix racing 38 days after his Ferrari burst into flames in a crash in a race in Germany in 1976. Disfigured from severe burns, the reigning Formula One world champion was back behind the wheel at the Italian Grand Prix, finishing fourth. He won the world championship again in ’77 and ’84.

4. Greg LeMond

In 1987, LeMond was shot and nearly killed in a hunting accident. Two years later, he won his second Tour de France title. A year after that, he won it again.

5. Babe Zaharias

In 1953, Babe Zaharias underwent surgery for colon cancer. A year later, she won the U.S. Women’s Open wearing a colostomy bag. She also went on to win the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year.

6. Monica Seles

Away from tennis for two years after being stabbed with a knife between the shoulder blades during a match in Germany, Seles won in her return to competition at the 1995 Canadian Open. She was the highest ranked women’s tennis player in the world at the time of the attack.

7. Lance Armstrong

After undergoing chemotherapy treatment in a battle with potentially fatal metastatic testicular cancer in 1996, Armstrong recovered and went on to win seven Tour de France titles. Of course, the comeback wasn’t viewed in the same light after he was stripped of all those titles after being implicated in a doping conspiracy.

8. Mario Lemieux

In the middle of the 1992-93 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins star underwent radiation treatment for Hodgkin disease and missed 20 games. Making a start the same day as his last treatment, Lemieux scored a goal and assist. The Penguins would go on a 17-game winning streak after his return and Lemieux would lead the league in scoring and win the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

9. Peyton Manning

Multiple neck surgeries and a spinal fusion kept Manning from playing with the Indianapolis Colts for the entire 2011 season. He was released before the 2012 season and signed with the Denver Broncos. He won his fifth NFL MVP Award in ’13 and helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl in the ’15 season.

10. Bethany Hamilton

A competitive surfer at 13, Hamilton lost her left arm in a shark attack in Hawaii. A month later, she was surfing again. Less than two years later, she was a national champion.

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Woods' win makes us wonder, what's next?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 24, 2018, 6:35 pm

The red shirt and ground-shaking roars.

The steely glare and sweet swings.

The tactical precision and ruthless efficiency.

If not for the iPhone-wielding mob following his every move, you’d swear that golf had been transported to the halcyon days of the early 2000s.

The Tiger Time Machine kicked into overdrive at East Lake, where Woods won for the first time in 1,876 days and suddenly put two of the sport’s most hallowed numbers – 82 and 18 – back in play.

“I didn’t understand how people could say he lost this and lost that,” said Hank Haney, Woods’ former swing coach. “He is so good. He’s Tiger Woods. He’s won 79 times. If he can swing, he can win again.”

The only disappointing part of win No. 80 is that Woods will have to wait four months for another meaningful chance to build upon it. That’s a shame, because all of the pieces are in place for him to make a sustained run, and the Tour Championship might just be the start of an unimaginable final act.

A season that began with questions about whether a 42-year-old Woods could survive a full schedule with no setbacks ended with him saving his best for last, when his younger, healthier peers seemed to be gassed. Taking his recovery week by week, Woods ended up making 18 starts – his second-heaviest workload since 2005 – and never publicly complained of any discomfort, only the occasional stiffness that comes with having a fused lower spine.

Remember when Woods’ tanking world ranking was punch-line material? Now he’s all the way up to No. 13 – not bad for a guy who was 1,199th when he returned to competition last December at the Hero World Challenge. Nowhere close to reaching his 40-event minimum divisor, he’ll continue to accrue points and charge up the rankings, putting the game’s top players on notice.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The victory at East Lake moves Woods only two shy of Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour wins record (82), a goal that seemed unthinkable a year and a half ago, when he was bedridden following the Hail Mary fusion surgery. And for those wondering whether he’s capable of chasing down Big Jack, remember that Woods almost picked off two majors this summer, at Carnoustie and Bellerive, with a body and swing that was constantly evolving. 

Indeed, in an era of TrackMans and coaching stables designed to maximize a player’s performance, Woods has refreshingly gone back to his roots. It always seemed incongruous, watching the game’s most brilliant golf mind scrutinize down-the-line swing video, and so this year he has been a solo act, relying on old feels to guide his new move. The credit for this resurgence is his alone. 

Sure, there were growing pains, lots of them, and for months each tournament turned into golf’s version of Whack-a-Mole, as yet another issue arose. The two clubs that most consistently held Woods back were his driver and putter, but recent improvements portend well for the future.

After wayward tee shots cost him the PGA, Woods changed the loft and shaft on his TaylorMade driver. For years, even while injured, he violently attacked the ball in a vain attempt to hang with the big hitters. But these tweaks to his gamer (resulting in lower swing speed and carry distance) were a concession that accuracy was more vital to his success than power. His newfound discipline was rewarded: He ended the season with four consecutive weeks of positive strokes gained: off the tee statistics, and on Sunday he put on a clinic while Rory McIlroy, one of the game’s preeminent drivers, thrashed around in the trees. Woods is still plenty long, closing out his victory with a 348-yard rocket on 18, and from the middle of the fairway he can rely on his vintage iron play. 

His troubles with the putter weren’t as quick of a fix. Frustrated with his inconsistent performance on the greens, Woods briefly flirted with other models before rekindling his love affair with his old Scotty Cameron, the trusty putter with which he’s won 13 of his 14 majors. It’s exceedingly rare for a player to overcome the frayed nerve endings and putt better in his 40s than his 30s, but Woods was downright masterful on East Lake’s greens.

“It’s more satisfaction than anything,” said Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. “People have no idea how much work he put into this.”

By almost any statistical measure, Woods’ season-long numbers suggest that he’s already back among the game’s elite – even after struggling to walk and swing for the past four years. He’s the best iron player in the game. He finished the season ranked seventh in strokes gained: tee to green. And after his normally stellar short game went MIA for a few years, his play around the greens appeared as sharp as ever.

And so on Sunday, while watching Woods school the top 30 players on Tour, even Johnny Miller got caught up in the latest edition of Tigermania.

“He’s not looking like he could win a couple more,” Miller said. “He’s looking like he could win A LOT more.”

Where Woods’ story is headed – to No. 1 in the world, to the top of Mt. Nicklaus, to the operating table – is anyone’s guess, because this comeback has already defied any reasonable logic or expectation.

He’s come back from confidence-shattering performances at Phoenix (chip yips) and Memorial (85) and even his own media-day event where he humiliatingly rinsed a series of wedge shots.

He’s come back from four back surgeries and pain so debilitating that his kids once found him face down in the backyard; pain so unbearable that he used to keep a urine bucket next to his bed, because he couldn’t schlep his battered body to the bathroom.

He’s come back from an addiction so deep that in May 2017 police found him slumped over the steering wheel of his Mercedes, five drugs coursing through his system, a shocking and sad DUI arrest that was the catalyst for this clear-eyed comeback.

All of the months of unhappiness and uncertainty nearly came pouring out afterward – the culmination of a remarkable journey from turmoil to redemption that ranks among the most unlikely in sports history. Woods fought back tears as thousands formed a big green mosh pit and chanted his name, a surreal scene even for this larger-than-life legend. Hugging LaCava, Woods said into his caddie’s ear, over and over: “We did it! We did it! We did it!” 

“He’s pumped up,” LaCava said later. “I’ve never seen him this excited.”

And not just for this moment, but for the future.

The prospects are as tantalizing as ever. 

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DJ may keep cross-handed grip for Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 4:29 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As he’s proven in the past Dustin Johnson isn’t averse to switching things up when it comes to his putting, but this was extreme even for him.

Johnson switched to a cross-handed grip on the sixth hole during Saturday’s third round at the Tour Championship and continued to use the same grip through the final round.

It was the first time he’d putted cross-handed in competition and the first time he switched his grip mid-round.

Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos

“I did it a few times on the putting green. Sometimes I do it on the putting green just to get my setup a little bit better because it just levels out my shoulders,” said Johnson, who closed his week at East Lake with a 67 and finished alone in third place. “I was putting well. I hit some bad putts for the first five holes, so after I hit a really bad putt for eagle on 6, the next one I tried it, I made it, so I kept it going.”

Johnson, who moved back into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking thanks to his third-place finish, was encouraged by his putting on the weekend but he was vague when asked if he planned to putt cross-handed this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We're going to stick with it for now. We'll try it,” he said.