Stat attack!: Players Championship preview

By John AntoniniMay 6, 2014, 9:25 pm

Whether you believe the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is worthy of fifth-major status or you think it’s just a regular PGA Tour event with a stellar field, there’s one thing you cannot dispute. It almost always crowns a worthy champion. Every winner since the tournament moved to May in 2007, led by top-ranked Tiger Woods (shown) a year ago, was ranked in the top 40 on the Official World Golf Ranking at the time of his victory. And not since 199th-ranked Craig Perks won in 2002 has the Players champ been outside the top 100.

World Ranking of Players Championship winners: 2007-2013

 Year Player World rank
 2013 Tiger Woods 1
 2012 Matt Kuchar 16
 2011 K.J. Choi 34
 2010 Tim Clark 40
 2009 Henrik Stenson 9
 2008 Sergio Garcia 18
 2007 Phil Mickelson 3

In 2013 Tiger Woods' 13-under 275 total was enough to beat Kevin Streelman, David Lingmerth and Jeff Maggert by two strokes. Woods was the third straight winner to finish at 13-under and the third winner in a row to shoot a 70 in the final round. But Woods, Matt Kuchar in 2012 and K.J. Choi in 2011 got there in different ways. 

Stats of past three Players champions

 Year Winner Accuracy GIR Scrambling

Str.gained
putting

 2013 Tiger Woods 67.86 (T-19) 76.39 (T-3) 70.59 (6) .445 (38)
 2012 Matt Kuchar 62.50 (T-37) 76.31 (T-3) 63.16 (21) 2.09 (2)
 2011 K.J. Choi 71.34 (T-10) 69.44 (T-21) 77.27 (3) 2.05 (2)

Choi and Kuchar had stellar weeks with the putter, while Woods was just average on the greens. Tiger and Kuchar, meanwhile, were among the best the field in greens in regulation, while Tiger and Choi were stellar scramblers. 

Hitting greens in regulation has always been a key statistic for the Players champion. In the last 10 years the winner has also been in the top four in greens hit. Since 1982, when stats were first kept, 10 Players champions have also led the field in greens in regulation.

Players winners who led the field in greens in regulation

 Year Player Greens hit
 2008 Sergio Garcia 56
 2006 Stephen Ames 52
 2005 Fred Funk 58
 2004 Adam Scott 54
 2000 Hal Sutton 54
 1993 Nick Price 61
 1991 Steve Elkington 64
 1988 Mark McCumber 57
 1985 Calvin Peete 57
 1982 Jerry Pate 54

With that in mind, let’s look at the current PGA Tour leaders in GIR. The group as a whole has had very little success at TPC Sawgrass. Of the eight players currently in the 2014 Players field, only Ryan Palmer has a previous top-10 finish at Ponte Vedra.  

PGA Tour leaders in greens in regulation

 GIR Rank Player GIR Pct. In Players

Players
starts

 1 Graham DeLaet 72.06 Yes 2
 2 Chad Campbell 72.63 No  
 3 Harris English 71.71 Yes 2
 4 Dustin Johnson 70.77 Yes 6
 5 Justin Hicks 70.37 Yes 0
 6 Boo Weekley 70.28 Yes 7
 7 Ryan Moore 70.28 Yes 7
 8 John Merrick 70.20 Yes 6
 9 Ryan Palmer 70.00 Yes 8
 10 Andrew Svoboda 69.97 Alternate 0

Lurking behind Svoboda is Masters champion Bubba Watson in 11th on the GIR list, and not much farther back is Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard has lamented his inability to win a major, but he’s had no such problem at the Players, winning the 2008 tournament at TPC Sawgrass. He finished second to Phil Mickelson a year earlier and is one of 12 players in this year’s field who have a subpar score scoring average at the Players in 20 or more rounds at TPC Sawgrass.  

Lowest scoring average at TPC Sawgrass: 20 or more rounds

 Player Scoring average Rounds
 Henrik Stenson 71.18 28
 Martin Kaymer 71.35 20
 Luke Donald 71.42 38
 Zach Johnson 71.44 34
 Matt Kuchar 71.45 29
 Ben Crane 71.56 32
 Adam Scott 71.64 42
 Sergio Garcia 71.71 52
 Hunter Mahan 71.83 23
 Jeff Overton 71.85 20
 J.B. Holmes 71.96 24
 Phil Mickelson 71.96 70

That’s a pretty impressive list, but only five players from this group – Stenson, Kuchar, Scott, Garcia and Mickelson - have won the Players title. Four players have won a major: Kaymer, Johnson, Scott and Mickelson. 

Taking a closer look at Mickelson, who is closing in on 500 career PGA Tour starts (the Players is his 498th), it’s worth noting that Lefty is one of seven players players who have won the Players, the U.S. Amateur and a major championship.

Players who have won the Players, the U.S. Amateur and a major title

 Player TPC win Amateur win Major titles
 Justin Leonard 1998 1992 1
 Phil Mickelson 2007 1990 5
 Jack Nicklaus 1974, 76, 78 1956, 61 18
 Jerry Pate 1982 1974 1
 Hal Sutton 2000 1980 1
 Lanny Wadkins 1979 1970 1
 Tiger Woods 2001, 13 1994, 95, 96 14

Former Amateur champ Matt Kuchar won the Players in 2012 and came close to joining this group at the Masters. Kuchar was one stroke off the 54-hole lead at Augusta National, before shooting 74 Sunday to finish T-5. But he rebounded with a win at the RBC Heritage and now has four consecutive top-five finishes on Tour inlcuding a playoff loss at Houston and a T-4 at the Valero Texas Open. Given his strong recent play and the fact he’s fifth on the Sawgrass scoring list, Kuchar might very well get is second Players crown before he wins his first major championship.

Kuchar made the most of his one start since the Masters, but six players in the field at Sawgrass have not played anywhere in the world since the first major of the year. Five of them are ranked in the top 20 on the Official World Golf Ranking, led by No. 2 Adam Scott. Does taking a month-long break between top-tier tournaments benefit the rested player? It sure helped Tiger Woods a year ago. The world No. 1 was T-4 at the Masters and didn’t play for another month before winning the Players. 

Players making their first appearance since the Masters

 Player Masters finish Current world rank Rank after Masters
 Adam Scott T-14 2 2
 Bubba Watson Won 4 4
 Sergio Garcia MC 9 7
 Dustin Johnson MC 13 13
 Steve Stricker T-31 16 15
 Joost Luiten T-26 41 44

One final thought: You cannot write a column about the Players Championship without mentioning the famed 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass' Stadium course. The par-3 with the island green is one of the most iconic golf holes on Tour and it never fails to raise the heart rate during Players week. Did you know, however, that since 2003 the 17th green is the second easiest to hit in regulation. But avoiding the water isn't the only obstacle facing the pros. You still have to make your putts, which is much easier said than done. The 17th has yielded 304 three-putts or worse since 2003, the second most of any hole on the course.

Getty Images

Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''


Full-field scores from the Sanford International


Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

Getty Images

Glover (64) leads Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Web.com Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Web.com Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

Getty Images

Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”