Defending his title, Bryson looking to bounce back
The first two events of the 2018 FedExCup Playoffs have been the high point of Bryson DeChambeau’s short professional career to date.
Entering last year’s postseason, Bryson was ranked 21st in the world and recently removed from his second PGA Tour victory at the Memorial that June. What followed was a halcyon tear of terrific golf: consecutive playoff wins, and a run of four victories in nine worldwide starts in a span from August to January.
As for those 2019 Playoffs, DeChambeau finished with a cumulative score of 47-under-par, tied for fourth-best in a single season since the Cup began in 2007. While Justin Rose won the big prize, and Tiger Woods was the big story at East Lake, Bryson may have been the best overall performer of the Playoffs.
Most of the season has been inarguably disappointing for Bryson – over his last 15 worldwide starts, he has more missed cuts (four) than top-ten finishes (two). A dip in some key ball-striking metrics is to blame – Bryson is down 44 spots this season in strokes gained approach, from 12th to 56th. He is also 144th this season in greens in regulation, a drop of more than 100 positions from a season ago (tied for 25th).
DeChambeau remains in the top-ten in the World Ranking, but sits 13th in the 15th Club Performance Index. He will try to become the first back-to-back winner of The Northern Trust since Ernie Els in 1996 and 1997.
TIGER BACK IN ACTION
Tiger Woods has had a mixed bag of memories at this week’s host venue, Liberty National Golf Club. He has played in two PGA Tour events here – this event in both 2009 and 2013 – and finished tied for second each time. The latter is probably best remembered for Woods’ painful reaction to a shot coming down the stretch, when he collapsed in pain.
In 2017, Tiger was an assistant captain for Steve Stricker’s U.S. Presidents Cup team, struggling with his numerous back injuries and an uncertain future in golf. Liberty National was the venue that week, as the American team clobbered the International side, 19-11.
This will be just the fifth tournament for Woods since he won the Masters in April. He’s played a grand total of four weekend rounds in that span. Still, his ball-striking numbers from the season are to be acclaimed: his greens in regulation percentage of 71.2 is his highest in any year with ten or more starts since 2007.
As you might expect, Tiger leads many FedExCup Playoff all-time leaderboards. Woods has the best scoring average (68.3) and most birdies/eagles per round (4.58) of anyone in the history of the Playoffs (20 or more rounds played).
NOTES ON KEY PLAYERS IN THE FIELD
– Tommy Fleetwood averaged 4.81 birdies/eagles per round last year in the FedExCup Playoffs. That is the highest average by any player over the last three years combined in the postseason. Fleetwood posted finishes of T-20, T-24, T-8 and T-11 en route to a 19th-place finish in the FedExCup.
– Rory McIlroy is hunting some next-generation statistical history in the Playoffs. Rory currently averages 2.67 strokes gained total per round this season, best of anyone on Tour. Only one player has had a better single season average in that statistic since it began in 2004 – Woods, who did it three times (2006, 2007 and 2009).
– One of the biggest improvements for McIlroy statistically this season has come from 150 to 175 yards. Last season, Rory ranked 156th on the PGA Tour in that metric. This season, he’s 4th.
– While Rory leads the Tour in strokes gained total this season, Patrick Cantlay ranks second. Cantlay has assembled an impressive strokes gained profile this season, ranking in the top-30 in every major classification. One major improvement Cantlay has made in 2019 has been in scrambling, where he’s jumped from 109th last season to 3rd in ’18-19.
– Scott Piercy and J.T. Poston will be grouped with Tiger in rounds one and two. While Woods will draw in most of the eyeballs, it’s Poston and Piercy that have a symbiotic statistical relationship. Over the last nine seasons, only two players have completed an official 72-hole, individual PGA Tour event without making a bogey: Poston last week in his win at the Wyndham Championship, and Piercy earlier this season at the AT&T Byron Nelson, where he finished tied for second.