McIlroy poised for more success at the Earth Course

November 20, 2019
Justin Ray

In the world of pre-tournament golf handicapping, there aren’t too many times a player is listed at 4-to-1 or better to win entering a marquee event. Aside from Tiger Woods in his prime, a 25 percent clip to win against an elite field is rare.

But this week, that’s exactly what Rory McIlroy is entering the DP World Tour Championship, a tournament he has won twice in his career. Looking at the context surrounding that number (4-to-1), it’s easy to see why.

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Event history: Rory has a career scoring average of 68.42 in this event, tied with Patrick Reed for best all-time among players with at least 12 rounds. He’s 129-under-par in this event in his career, thirty shots better than his nearest competitor in event history (Francesco Molinari, -99).

Current form: Rory has two wins and five top-5 finishes in his last six worldwide starts. His scoring average in that stretch is 67.5, with 20 of those 24 rounds being in the 60s.

Course mastery: McIlroy has eaten the par-four’s alive at the Earth Course, playing them in 62-under-par since 2009. That’s 24 shots better than anyone else (Molinari again, at -38). He’s 48-under on holes 14 through 18 here in his career, also best of any player in that span.

Precision with the long irons: The Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates is longer than your typical layout, and players will face more approach shots than normal from 150-250 yards. That’s no issue for Rory, who put together stellar ranks in approach shot proximity from that range on the PGA Tour in 2019. McIlroy ranked 6th from 150-175 yards, 1st rom 175-200, and 4th from 200-225.

A win this week would give McIlroy five worldwide titles in 2019, tying his career-high (he had 5 wins in 2012).

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NOTES ON PLAYERS COMPETING THIS WEEK

Rory’s Ryder Cup teammate Jon Rahm is second in the oddsmakers eyes, sitting at 13-to-2 at last glance. Both players won in their previous start worldwide: Rory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, Rahm at the Open de Espana in October. Rahm is a combined 33-under in this tournament the last two years combined, two strokes better than any other player. He’s played the par 5s in 18-under during that span, tied for best of anyone.

Rahm still has an outside shot at winning the European Tour’s season scoring title, but he’ll need a dominant performance and a dud by Rory. Jon likely needs to beat McIlroy by 14 strokes or more this week to secure the statistical crown.

– Can you name the player with the best cumulative score to par this season on the European Tour? It’s Bob Macintyre (154-under), who this summer became the first Scottish player to top-ten in his Open Championship debut since Andrew Kirkaldy in 1879. Macintyre, currently 69th in the World Ranking, could move into the top-50 at week’s end with a win or runner-up finish.

– Welcome to the Brendon Todd era! One of the most inspiring professional comebacks in the sports world this year belongs to Todd, who has come back from the golf swing abyss to win back-to-back PGA Tour starts. With a win this week at the RSM Classic, Todd would become just the fourth player since 2000 to win three starts in a row on the Tour, joining Dustin Johnson (2017), Rory McIlroy (2014) and Tiger Woods (5 different times).

Todd started the year ranked 2,006th in the Official World Golf Ranking, which was the position given to all players with a points average of 0.00 per start. Essentially, he was tied for last among players to compete in at least one registered event. Incredibly, Todd does not have the biggest leap in World Ranking since the beginning of the year: that distinction belongs to Collin Morikawa, who is currently 11 spots ahead of Brendon.

Largest jump in World Ranking since beginning of 2019

Collin Morikawa, +1,934 (Current rank: 72)

Brendon Todd, +1,923 (Current rank: 83)

Zack Sucher, +1,847 (Current rank: 159)

­Todd’s Xbox-esque stats in his last nine PGA Tour rounds: 65.6 scoring average, 50-under-par and a greens in regulation percentage near 80. He has birdied more than 36 percent of his holes played in that span.

– The player with the best career scoring average at the RSM Classic (minimum 12 rounds played) is Webb Simpson at 67.46. Right behind him on that list sits Kevin Kisner (67.64), Jim Furyk (67.64) and Billy Horschel (67.67). All four players are in the field this week at Sea Island.

– Three players have averaged 4.5 birdies/eagles per round or more at the RSM Classic (again, minimum 12 rounds played): J.J. Spaun (4.83), Robert Streb (4.56) and Kevin Chappell (4.50). All three of those men are in the field, as well.

– Back to Kisner – here’s what he has done on the Seaside Course since 2014: a scoring average of 66.3, 2.69 strokes gained per round on the field, and not a single round where he had negative strokes gained from tee to green.

– Last year, Charles Howell III won the RSM Classic, his first PGA Tour victory in more than a decade. With a strong title defense this week, he can hit a career milestone that is a testament to remarkable consistency. Charles is just $153K in official earnings away from his 20th consecutive PGA Tour season making $1 million or more. If (or when) he passes that mark, he would join Phil Mickelson as the only players in Tour history with 20 consecutive $1M-plus seasons. Lefty is on an active streak of 24 in a row.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

– The only player in the last sixty years to win four consecutive starts on the PGA Tour is Tiger Woods. He’s done it three different times.