Stat attack!: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational preview

By John AntoniniJuly 29, 2014, 3:24 pm

The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is a tournament of haves and have-nots. Foremost among the haves, of course, is Tiger Woods, who has won at Firestone CC’s South course eight times. He won the Bridgestone three straight times from 1999 to 2001 and from 2005 to 2007. He is also the defending champ, having shot 15-under 265 to beat Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson by seven strokes in 2013. The poster boy for the have-nots is probably Ernie Els, who has made 14 Bridgestone starts but does not have a top-10 finish at Firestone since 2001. (He also didn’t have any top-10s at the tournament’s predecessor, with nothing better than a T-16 in six starts in the World Series of Golf.)

With a win in 2012 and a runner-up in 2013, Bradley is quickly becoming a have. Bubba Watson, who has not finished better than T19 in four starts, is close to joining the have-nots. Here’s a sampling from both categories.

Players with successful records at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player Starts Top 10s Best
 Keegan Bradley 3 2 Won in 2012
 Luke Donald 9 5 T-2 in 2011
 Jason Dufner 2 2 T-4 in 2013
 Jim Furyk 14 9 Second two times
 Rory McIlroy 5 3 T-5 in 2012
 Tiger Woods 14 12 Eight wins

Players who have struggled at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player Starts Top 10s Last top 10
 Ernie Els 14 2 2001
 Sergio Garcia 13 1 1999
 Dustin Johnson 5 0 None
 Graeme McDowell 8 0 None
 Ian Poulter 11 0 None
Charl Schwartzel  5 0 None
 Bubba Watson 4 0 None

The winners the last five years have been dominant on and around the greens, with each champion finishing no worse than 11th in the field in greens in regulation and strokes gained/putting. It’s a feature of most of the players on the hot list. Consistency in the short game. When they’re on at Firestone, as they’ve most always been, they hit plenty of greens and make their putts. The have-nots list is littered with talented, but erratic players who have a history of hot and cold play.

Statistics of WGC-Bridgestone Inviational winners: 2009-2013

 Year Winner GIR Proximity to hole Scrambling Strokes gained/putting
 2013 Tiger Woods 73.61% (2) 25' 8" (1) 73.68% (4) .849 (11)
 2012 Keegan Bradley 68.06 (T-11) 29' 5" (12) 60.87 (T-25) 3.017 (1)
 2011 Adam Scott 70.83 (T-9) 28' 7" (12) 80.95 (2) 1.838 (4)
 2010  Hunter Mahan 69.44 (T-8) 32' 4" (31) 72.73 (8) 1.765 (4)
 2009 Tiger Woods 70.83 (T-2) 29' 0" (5) 71.43 (T-6) 1.322 (4)

It will be interesting to see if Sergio Garcia can play his way off the have-not list. Garcia is fourth on tour in GIR at 69.59 percent. It’s his best GIR percentage since 2005, when he led the PGA Tour at 71.81 percent. But he is also putting well this year, ranking 27th in strokes gained/putting, his third straight season in the top 30 after three years ranking outside the top 100. Garcia is one of four players on Tour who are in the top 30 in both stats, and his combined rank of 31 – similar to total driving, I’ve added a player’s rank in GIR and SG/P to get this figure – trails only Adam Scott.

PGA Tour leaders in combined GIR and strokes gained/putting

 Player GIR rank SG/Putting rank Combined total rank
 Adam Scott 13 14 27
 Sergio Garcia 4 27 31
 Jimmy Walker 29 6 35
 John Senden 25 12 37
 Matt Kuchar 41 11 52
 Daniel Summerhays 39 16 55
 Charley Hoffman 10 51 61

It’s also worth noting how many major champions have also won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitaional. Only Craig Parry (2002) and Hunter Mahan (2010) are not also major champions. Parry’s victory came at Sahalee, the only time Firestone has not hosted the championship. 

Major champions who have won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player Bridgestone wins Major wins
 Tiger Woods 1999-01, 2005-07, 2009, 2013 14 majors
 Keegan Bradley 2012 2011 PGA
 Adam Scott 2011 2013 Masters
 Vijay Singh 2008 3 majors
 Stewart Cink  2004 2009 British
 Darren Clarke 2003 2011 British

Another notable feature of the WGC-Bridgestone Championship is how often the tournament is not close. There have been just two playoffs in the event – Tiger Woods winning both, in 2001 over Furyk and in 2006 over Cink – and eight times in 15 years the winner has won by four strokes or more. 

Largest winning margin at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Year Winner Margin
 2000 Tiger Woods 11 strokes
 2007 Tiger Woods 8 strokes
 2013 Tiger Woods 7 strokes
 2011 Adam Scott 4 strokes
 2009 Tiger Woods 4 strokes
 2004 Stewart Cink 4 strokes
 2003 Darren Clarke 4 strokes
 2002 Craig Parry 4 strokes

Perhaps all these winners were channeling their inner Jose Maria Olazabal, who famously won the 1990 World Series of Golf at Firestone by a whopping 12 strokes. That year Ollie shot 18-under 262, including a course-record 61 in the first round. That mark has since been tied by Woods in 2000 and 2013.

Can Woods turn around his season by winning – or at least contending – in Ohio? If history is an indication, probably not. Woods has finished outside the top 10 twice at the Bridgestone, finishing T-78 in 2010 and T-37 in 2011. Like this year, Woods was injured, and those were the two worst years of his career and the only times he did not win on Tour. Woods’ ball-striking stat – a number that combines his rank in total driving and greens in regulation – is amazingly similar to 2010 and 2011, showing he’s not quite ready to contend.

Tiger Woods’ key statistical ranks since 2009.

 Year Fairways


 2014 160 187 35 191 191 198
 2013 69 24 22 17 16 1
 2012  55 29 35 6 12 2
 2011 186 37 45 187 187 128
 2010 165 167 109 193 193 68
 2009 86 16 2 12 6 1

Like this year, Woods didn’t play enough rounds in 2010 and 2011 to qualify for a statistical ranking. The figures above show where he would have ranked if his small sample size were imported into the official tour statistics. But the comparison to 2010 and 2011 is telling. The back injury has taken its toll, no question. It’s likely we won’t see the healthy Woods of 2012 and 2013 until next year.

One final thought: Phil Mickelson is the only player in the field who also won the World Series of Golf at Firestone, having taken the title in 1996. Lately, he’s a contender for our have-nots list, with just one top 20 finish in his last 11 starts (T-4 in 2008). He was in the top 10 at Firestone every year from 1995 to 2001.

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Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 5:18 pm

After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.

The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.

His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.

“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."

McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.

"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

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Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.

Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.

His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.

''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.

After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.

''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.

A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.

They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.

McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.

''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.

''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''

Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''

''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''

Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.

On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.

It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.

With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.

He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.

''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”