Day looks to begin bounce-back season at CJ Cup

October 16, 2019
Justin Ray

For the most part, 2019 has been a year to forget on the golf course for Jason Day.

Day did not qualify for the Tour Championship. He has one top-ten finish worldwide since The Masters, a tie for eighth in Connecticut in June. And stunningly, he will need a captain’s pick from Ernie Els to get onto the International Team at the Presidents Cup, held later this year in his native Australia. It’s a far cry from peak Day, who is one of just nine men to hold the number one position in the World Ranking for fifty or more weeks.

So what went wrong? His ball-striking was largely not the culprit: though Day was 55th in strokes gained tee-to-green on the PGA Tour, he was down just five spots from the previous season. His greens in regulation rank actually jumped more than 100 positions, and his strokes gained approach rank improved incrementally over 2018.

On and around the greens, where he has been brilliant throughout his career, Day saw a significant drop-off. Jason was 5th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the green in 2018 – that number dropped to 100th. Scrambling fell from 25th to 102nd, while his putting rank inside ten feet from 3rd to 54th.

Despite all that, Day still ranked 22nd in scoring average and 26th in strokes gained total in 2018-19 on the PGA Tour. His immense success has admittedly set the bar extremely high.

Day will try to get a bounce-back ’19-20 PGA Tour season started this week in South Korea. He has good memories to fall back on: in two starts at Nine Bridges he has finished 11th and 5th.

A LOOK AT NINE BRIDGES

There isn’t an ocean of data to pull from regarding this week’s PGA Tour venue, but one thing is certain: tons of greens hit in regulation. Nine Bridges yielded a field G.I.R. percentage of 75.0% last year, second-highest of any course all season – only Kapalua (75.4%) allowed a higher rate.

In his victory in this event last year, Brooks Koepka birdied or eagled 34.7% of his holes played, the third-highest percentage in his PGA Tour career. One item to watch is the wind – in the third round in 2017, winds touched 30 MPH at times, pushing the field scoring average that day to 74.8. In the third round in 2018, with wind speeds in the single-digits, the average dropped to 70.0.

NOTES ON KEY PLAYERS IN THE FIELD

– A lengthy era in men’s professional golf is on the precipice of possibly ending. Phil Mickelson is ranked 47th in the Official World Golf Ranking this week – significant because Lefty has been in the top-50 every week for more than 25 years. The last time he wasn’t among the top fifty was late November 1993, three years before Tiger Woods turned pro, and twelve months before Jon Rahm was born.

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Phil’s run in the top-50 is the longest since the inception of the OWGR, but the achievement looks even more incredible when juxtaposed with his peers’ active streaks. The second-longest active run in the top-50 belongs to Rory McIlroy at 569 weeks – a mere 782 weeks (a little over FIFTEEN YEARS) behind Mickelson. Only six players have an active streak within 1,000 weeks of Phil: Rory, Matt Kuchar (510), Dustin Johnson (506), Justin Rose (489), Jason Day (477) and Sergio Garcia (427).

Lefty reached the top-fifty in the world when the ranking was just seven years old, meaning he’s been part of that exclusive club for nearly 80 percent of its existence. Phil will have a great opportunity to gain OWGR points this week in the no-cut CJ Cup, a tournament he is playing in for the first time.

Kevin Na putted the lights out in his emotional victory in Las Vegas two weeks ago. There have been 619 different PGA Tour events all-time where strokes gained putting has been measured. Among that group, Na is the only winner to gain 14 or more strokes putting en route to victory. Na is in the field this week in South Korea.

– We have chronicled the early success in the career of Viktor Hovland in this space previously – but it won’t hurt to refresh readers on just how great he’s been since turning pro earlier this year. In his last eight worldwide starts, Viktor is an obscene 110 strokes below par. In that span, 81% of his rounds have been in the 60s, and his scoring average is 67.6.

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Justin Thomas is the betting favourite this week in South Korea – and justifiably so. JT won this tournament two years ago, finished tied for fourth in his last start in Napa, and has finished in the top-12 in each of his last seven starts worldwide. Thomas appears to only be getting better, too – the previous three seasons, his strokes gained approach ranks on the PGA Tour have been 6th, 4th, and last year, 2nd.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

In the 2006 PGA Tour season, Tiger had 396 measured putts from three feet away or closer. He missed one.