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Stat attack!: Wyndham Championship preview

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As the PGA Tour’s regular season winds down with the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield CC in Greensboro, N.C., just how safe is the playoff position of Paul Casey, who sits in the 125th spot in the FedEx Cup standings? Can he be caught by Sang-Moon Bae, 126th on the list, 11 points back? Next in line are Charlie Beljan, Greg Chalmers and David Lingmerth. Will they pass Casey? Or will it be J.J. Henry, who sits at 130 on the points table and has never missed the playoffs in its first seven years?

We ask because this week’s Wyndham Championship is two tournaments in one. The venerable championship, which began in 1938 and has been won by the likes of Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Davis Love III and Sergio Garcia, is also the Last Chance Saloon for anyone outside the top 125 who wants to qualify for the PGA Tour playoffs.

Everybody ranked from 126th to 136th in the FedEx Cup standings is in the field this week, and before we look at who might win the tournament, let’s see what chance that group of players has of making the playoffs.

The Bubble Boys: Players ranked 125 to 136 in the PGA Tour playoff race

 Rank Player Points
Minimum Wyndham
 125 Paul Casey 0   4 3 T-26 in 2008
 126 Sang-Moon Bae 11 59 1 1 T-52 in 2013
 127 Charlie Beljan 12 58 2 1 T-20 in 2013
 128 Greg Chalmers 19 51 9 4 T-32 in 2009
 129 David Lindbergh 30 40 1 0 None
 130 J.J. Henry 33 37 10 6 T-4 in 2008
 131 Ben Curtis 37 33 4 1 T-76 in 2005
 132 Jonathan Byrd 38 32 9 7 T-3 in 2002
 133 Richard H. Lee 45 25 2 1 T-14 in 2012
 134 Mike Weir 46 24 5 1 T-25 in 1999
 134 Brian Gay 46 24 11 6 T-13 in 2007
 136 Martin Laird 51 19 3 3 T-4 in 2008

The number in the minimum column is the position that player would need to finish if every player ahead of him on the list were to miss the cut. For example, if everyone from Casey to Gay missed the cut this week, Laird would need to finish 19th to make the playoffs. If Laird finishes 20th or worse he’s out. If anyone from Casey to Gay makes the cut, Laird’s finishing position would have to improve for him to have a chance.

It makes no sense to determine every scenario for the playoffs because every player is dependent on each other. No player exists in a vacuum. Laird, for example, could finish fifth and still not advance if the players finishing ahead of him are Gay, Weir, Lee and Byrd.

That said; let’s have some fun. Who would make the playoffs if everyone in the Wyndham Championship field matched their best finish at the tournament since 2008, when the event moved to Sedgefield CC?

Adjusting the playoff points based on best finishes at Wyndham since 2008

 Moving in Best finish Moving out Best finish
 Bud Cauley T-3 Brice Garnett MC
 J.J. Henry T-4 James Hahn MC
 Martin Laird T-4 Robert Allenby MC
 Tommy Gainey T-3 Nicholas Thompson T-72
 Charlie Beljan T-20 Jhonattan Vegas MC

Ha! Laird would get in. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

At 7,127 yards, Sedgefield is not overly long. Like most Donald Ross courses, the challenge will come on the greens, as the putting complexes are undulating and very tricky. Last year Sedgefield ranked seventh on Tour in three-putt avoidance at 4.67 percent (just behind Augusta National). There were 384 three-putts at Sedgefield a year ago. Only three courses had more.

Most three-putts by course in 2013

 Course Three-putts

Three-putt percentage

 Muirfield 572 6.69%
 Merion 552 6.73
 Quail Hollow 411 4.89
 Sedgefield 384 4.67
 Innisbrook 324 3.89
 Oak Hill 308 3.73

PGA Tour leaders in three-putt avoidance who are in the Wyndham field

 Player Three-putt avoidance percentage
 Freddie Jacobson 1.42
 Kevin Kisner 1.69
 Brian Harman 1.78
 Tim Herron 1.81
 Bryce Molder 1.91
 Brendon de Jonge 1.94
 Aaron Baddeley 1.96

Sedgefield was also the ninth hardest course to putt on from less than 10 feet and one of the toughest courses in which to nail approach shots, ranking 10th in proximity to the hole and just fifth in proximity to the hole from the rough. Accuracy off the tee, and especially on approach is key.

PGA Tour leaders in proximity to the hole in the Wyndham field

 Player Proximity to the hole
 Tim Clark 31 feet, 4 inches
 Nick Watney 32 feet, 5 inches
 Paul Casey 32 feet, 7 inches
 Brian Harman 32 feet, 7 inches
 Bo Van Pelt 32 feet, 8 inches
 Joe Durant 32 feet, 9 inches

That Brian Harman appears on both lists is notable. That he finished T-3 in 2013 is even more so. That he won a few weeks ago at the John Deere Classic makes him less of a sleeper than he would ordinarily be. The only thing that scares me about the 27-year-old Georgian is that this is his eighth tournament in nine weeks.

Who else might contend this week at Sedgefield? Clark and Carl Pettersson played college golf at nearby North Carolina State and have had success at the Wyndham. Also, Casey, who is the second-best player on Tour in rough proximity, deserves consideration. One of the Tour’s better long-distance putters according to ShotLink – he’s sixth from 10-15 feet, 13th from 20-25 feet and 29th from more than 25 feet – he might put to rest all the talk of him being passed for that final position in the playoffs.

Possible Greensboro contenders

 Player Note
Like Mickelson a week ago, he’s no top 10s this year but has been close quite often
Second at Sedgefield two years ago and T-6 in 2008
First in approach distance from 50-125 yards, he needs to avoid three-putts, a bugaboo in 2014
Clark’s Wolfpack teammate won in 2008 and was T-4 in 2011 and 2012
The 2011 champ has three top-11 finishes in five career starts here

One final thought: Going really low seems to be the norm at Sedgefield, as the winning score has been 18-under or better four times in six years. Patrick Reed’s 14-under 266 a year ago was the highest winning score since the event moved from Forest Oaks.

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