Do it on any given Sunday

February 28, 2019
Dylan Beirne

They say you can’t win a tournament on a Thursday but you can definitely lose it. There’s a reason most modern day tournaments are played over four days. It’s proved to be the ideal balance between allowing the best player to come out on top, and maintaining a high level of variance that keeps everyone (players and fans alike) on their toes week after week. The reality is that over the first three days of an event, all players can do is position themselves as well as possible to be in contention on Sunday. But how important is that positioning, and how does the ability to close out tournaments from a strong position vary between players?

Golfs best closers-100 (1)Lead Conversions-100

When looking at guys who’ve held a lead after 54-holes on golf’s two main tours since 2001, only 39.1% of them have gone on to convert that lead in to a win. It’s a similar number for the guys in WGCs and Majors, where 54-hole leads have only been converted 41.1% of the time.

So what makes the best and brings the cream of the crop to the top? In a game of such tiny margins and close scoring, anyone who can build a 54-hole lead is a great golfer. Anyone who does it more than once is a world class player, but if you’ve done it over 15 times you’re amongst the very best. In fact since 2001, only 17 players have done it, but how well have they closed them out?

As tends to be the case with golfing records, Tiger tops out the list, converting a 54-hole lead in to a win 87% of the time. Not only is that the highest conversion rate, but from a guy who’s held the lead 40 times after three rounds – Phil comes in second in total leads with 28 (57% conversion rate) – it’s once again super-human. As mentioned, the group of players to have held 15 leads on golf’s main tours is pretty special, and in terms of ability are all superbly similar. But not all of them get it done. The top five are a some players you might have heard of…

1. Tiger Woods (87%),

2. Ernie Els (76%),

3. Vijay Singh (68%),

4. Rory McIlroy & Jordan Spieth (59%)

5. Phil Mickelson (57%)

Tiger and Ernie clearly combine the two, almost separate, skills of positioning themselves over the first three days and closing the deal on Sundays. That’s what makes them greats. All of the 17 players on who have had 15+ leads have the first skill nailed down, but the closing percentage varies from 26% to Tigers 87%, indicating that mastering the latter is not a certainty even in the best players.