Golf Stats of the Year: 2019

December 18, 2019
Justin Ray

Though the year will historically be defined by one incredible week in April, 2019 featured an enormous array of statistical highlights in the world of golf.

Rory McIlroy assembled one of the most consistent seasons in recent history.

Brooks Koepka assembled one of the best major championship seasons ever.

Jin Young Ko reached superstar status in the women’s game, while names like Wolff, Macintyre and Hovland burst into the global conversation.

Oh, and Tiger Woods won The Masters.

The Major Championships

– When Tiger won The Masters in April, he joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win major championships 20 or more years apart. Nicklaus’ first and last major wins came 24 years apart, while Woods had a span of 22 years between the 1997 and 2019 Masters. Woods also joined Nicklaus as the only players to win The Masters in three different decades.

– Iron play proved to be pivotal again at Augusta National: Woods led the Masters field in strokes gained approach on his way to victory. Over the last five years, players to lead the Masters in that statistic have finished 1st, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 1st.

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– Incredibly, Woods has won the Masters five times without ever claiming a Green Jacket in his 30s. Tiger’s fourth Masters win came at age 29, while his fifth came at age 43.

Tiger went eleven years between winning the 2008 U.S. Open and his next major, the 2019 Masters. That eleven-year gap in sequential major wins tied the record in the modern era, matching Julius Boros (1952-1963), Hale Irwin (1979-1990) and Ben Crenshaw (1984-1995).

– At the PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka became the first player to hold two back-to-back major championships at the same time (2017-18 U.S. Open, 2018-19 PGA). He is also the only player in history to win both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship back-to-back in a career.

Brooks’ opening 36 holes at Bethpage were historic: his score of 128 was the lowest ever through two rounds in men’s major championship history. His seven-shot lead through 36 holes was the largest in a major championship in nearly eighty years.

Brooks’ win that week was his fourth victory in eight major championship starts. In men’s golf history, Koepka joined Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger as the only players to accomplish that feat.

Dustin Johnson nearly caught Koepka that Sunday but finished two shots back. With that result, DJ became just the eighth player in men’s golf history to finish runner-up in all four major championships, joining Phil Mickelson, Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Louis Oosthuizen, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Craig Wood.

Gary Woodland won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, finding strength in what had been a past weakness. Woodland led the field in scrambling at 80% – the best percentage by a U.S. Open champion over the last 20 years. Gary entered the week ranked 169th on the PGA Tour in that statistic.

Woodland’s victory was the ninth by American players in – at that time – the last ten contested. It was the first time American players had taken nine-out-of-ten majors since a stretch from the 1996 U.S. Open (won by Steve Jones) through the 1998 Open (Mark O’Meara).

Viktor Hovland recorded a 72-hole total score of 280, setting the record for best score in U.S. Open history by an amateur. The previous mark was held by Nicklaus, who shot a 282 in 1960 at Cherry Hills. Hovland was also low amateur at the Masters, becoming the first player since Matt Kuchar in 1998 to be low amateur at both the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season.

– An inspiring Shane Lowry won The Open at Royal Portrush by six shots in July. Lowry became just the fourth player in the last 100 years to win his first career major title by six strokes or more, joining Woods (1997 Masters), Oosthuizen (2010 Open) and Rory McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open).

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Lowry took the Open title ten years after claiming the Irish Open. Shane became just the fifth player since 1960 to win both the Irish Open and The Open Championship, joining McIlroy, Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Padraig Harrington.

Koepka would finish tied for fourth at Portrush, becoming just the fourth player in the modern era to finish fourth or better in every major in a season. He joined Jordan Spieth (2015), Woods (2005) and Nicklaus (1973) in that exclusive group.

Brooks didn’t quite pull off the ‘three-peat’ at the U.S. Open, but will have another chance to do it next spring at the PGA Championship. The last player to win any major three consecutive years was Peter Thomson at The Open in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

Lee Westwood tied with Brooks at Portrush, racking up his 12th career top-five in the majors. In the history of the men’s game, only Harry Cooper (with 13) has more top-five finishes in major championships without a win.

– Before Robert Macintyre won the European Tour Rookie of the Year title, he laid claim to some remarkable Scottish golf history at The Open Championship. Bob finished tied for sixth at Royal Portrush, becoming the first Scottish player to finish top-ten in his Open debut since Andrew Kirkaldy… in 1879!

J.B. Holmes started the final round alone in third place but shot a disastrous 87 on Sunday. It was the highest final round score shot by anyone at The Open since Lew Taylor in 1966.

Jin Young Ko won both the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship, becoming the first woman to claim multiple majors in a season since Inbee Park in 2015. Ko had just one top-ten finish in her major championship career entering this season.

Remarkable Rory

– PGA Tour Player of the Year Rory McIlroy averaged 2.55 strokes gained total per round for the 2018-19 season. Since that statistic has been tracked (2004), that was the best season average by any player not named Tiger Woods (who bettered that mark in 2006, 2007 and 2009).

Rory also won the PGA Tour’s Vardon Trophy, the season-long scoring average title. McIlroy became the third player to earn the honor three or more times at age 30 or younger, joining Woods and Tom Watson.

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– In 25 official worldwide starts in 2019, Rory finished in the top-10 a ridiculous 19 times. Rory had as many 1st and 2nd place finishes (six) as finishes outside the top-ten (also six).

– With his win at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, Rory became the fourth player in the last 75 years to win 18 PGA Tour titles, including four majors, at age 30 or younger. He joined Jack, Tiger and Watson.

Tiger ties Sam Snead

– At the Zozo Championship in Japan, Tiger won his 82nd career PGA Tour title. Dustin Johnson is the only player currently under age 40 with 20 or more PGA Tour wins. At the pace DJ has set for his career – 21.7 starts per season, a win percentage of 7.7% – he is on pace to tie Tiger Woods’ win total of 82 in the year 2056. He would be 72 years old then.

Woods’ 82 PGA Tour wins since the beginning of the 1996 season are more than the next two players’ totals on the list combined. Phil Mickelson (39) and Vijay Singh (31), Hall of Famers in their own right, have combined for 70 in that span.

Tiger won the Zozo Championship by three shots. He has 32 PGA Tour wins by three or more strokes – since the beginning of 1997, that is 20 more than anyone else (Mickelson, 12).

Tiger has successfully converted 55 of 59 times when holding the 54-hole lead or co-lead on the PGA Tour, the highest closing percentage in recorded history. His 55 wins when holding the lead entering the final round, on their own, would put him sixth on the all-time wins list between Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson.

Woods opened the Zozo Championship bogey-bogey-bogey. According to the PGA Tour, since hole-by-hole data became available in 1983, Woods is the only player to open a tournament with three consecutive bogeys and still win.

Money Matters

– At the CME Group Tour Championship, Sei Young Kim claimed the largest winner’s share in LPGA history, $1.5 million. To put that tour’s growth in perspective: just 20 years ago, Karrie Webb became the first woman to earn $1.5 million in an entire LPGA season.

– The total combined purses for the 1996 PGA Tour season – the year Tiger turned professional – was $65.9 million. Just the FedExCup bonus payouts alone at the 2019 Tour Championship totaled $70 million.

The $15 million first prize McIlroy won at East Lake was more than legend Greg Norman won officially on course in his entire PGA Tour career ($14.5 million).

– In the 2018-19 PGA Tour season, Rory won more than $17,000 per hole in official earnings.

The 2019 Clubbies: End of Year Honors

In lieu of the traditional end-of-season awards given out, we present the 1st Annual Clubbies – unlikely statistical achievements that stood out this season. Without further ado:

Married to the Game: Sungjae Im

In the 2018-19 PGA Tour season, Sungjae teed it up in 35 events, the most for any player in a season since Danny Lee played in 36 tournaments in 2015. In a 94-week stretch from the beginning of 2018 through the ’19 WGC-HSBC Champions, Im played in 69 globally-sanctioned tournaments in 11 different countries. He capped that run off with a memorable Presidents Cup debut, where he earned 3.5 points for the International side.

Lightning In a Bottle: Brendon Todd

Brendon Todd did not earn a single World Ranking point in either 2017 or 2018. Entering this October’s Bermuda Championship, he had not had a top-ten finish on the PGA Tour in 1,579 days. He then proceeded to win the next two events on the Tour’s schedule, and then finish fourth at the RSM Classic.

Todd climbed back from golf-swing-Hell to reclaim his game and nearly join golf’s elite. How so? The previous two players to win three consecutive events on the PGA Tour schedule (not three straight starts – but three tournaments in a row) were Gary Player 1978 and Tiger in 2006. Every player to win three straight weeks/events on the PGA Tour since 1960 is in the World Golf Hall of Fame: the previous two legends mentioned, plus Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer and Hubert Green. Todd finished just three shots out of a potential playoff to join those kings of the sport.

The Cleanest Card (Tie): J.T. Poston & Jin Young Ko

At the Wyndham Championship, J.T. Poston became the first player to win a 72-hole, individual PGA Tour event without making a bogey since Lee Trevino at the 1974 Greater New Orleans Open. Not to be outdone, Jin Young Ko won the CP Women’s Open, also without a dropped shot. Ko went a remarkable 114 consecutive holes without a dropped shot during one stretch of the season, the longest run in recorded LPGA history.

The Koepka Climb Award: Kurt Kitayama

Over the years, there haven’t been too many Americans who have played week-to-week on the European Tour. But the success of Brooks Koepka, ascending from Challenge Tour winner to major champion, has given some U.S.-born players motivation to try their hand on the global circuit.

Kurt Kitayama won twice on the European Tour this season, and nearly got to three, finishing T-2 at the Turkish Airlines Open. If Kurt would have won that week, he would have become just the third American to be credited with three or more European Tour wins in a season since the Tour formed in 1972, joining Mark O’Meara (1998) and Tiger Woods (eight different times).

Moments and Milestones

Ariya Jutanugarn recorded a remarkable 23 eagles in 2019, breaking the LPGA single-season mark by four. Entering the year, Laura Davies held the mark, making 19 in 2004.

– At the Desert Classic in January, Phil shot his third career round of 60 on the PGA Tour, becoming the first player in Tour history to record three rounds of 60 or better. A few weeks later at Pebble Beach, Lefty won his fifth AT&T Pro-Am title, tying Mark O’Meara for most wins in that event’s history.

Mickelson’s incredible run in the top-50 of the Official World Golf Ranking ended on November 3. Lefty’s run, which started in November of 1993, lasted more than 1,350 weeks. The new active leader in consecutive weeks in the top-50 is McIlroy. To reach Phil’s mark, Rory would need to stay in the top-50 of the Ranking every week until October of 2034.

– At the WGC-Mexico Championship, Dustin Johnson picked up his 20th PGA Tour win, becoming just the fifth player in the last fifty years to reach 20 wins before age 35 – joining Woods, Watson, Mickelson and Johnny Miller. It was the 12th straight PGA Tour season in which DJ had at least one win – he is just five behind the all-time mark held by Nicklaus and Palmer.

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– At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, no American players finished in the top-five. It was the first time a PGA Tour event featured no American top-five finishers since the 2010 Open Championship. Later that month, when Graeme McDowell won in the Dominican Republic, it marked the first time in the PGA Tour’s modern era that a European player won in four consecutive weeks.

Matthew Wolff won the 3M Open at just 20 years, 2 months, 23 days old – becoming the second player in the last 85 years to win on the PGA Tour at that young of an age. Jordan Spieth won the 2013 John Deere Classic at just 19 years old.

– Not to be outdone, Joaquin Niemann of Chile won his first PGA Tour title (Military Tribute at The Greenbrier) at the age of 20 years, 10 months and 9 days. Niemann was the youngest international winner on the Tour since English-born Harry Cooper won the 1923 Galveston Open. It was the first time since 1931 that the Tour had multiple winners under age 21 in the same calendar year.

– Earlier that week at The Old White TPC, Kevin Chappell shot the eleventh sub-60 round in the history of the PGA Tour. From the time the Tour started through 2009, there were just three rounds of 59 recorded. This decade, there were seven rounds of 59 and Jim Furyk’s 58 in 2016.

– In November, Jon Rahm won his sixth career European Tour title in just his 40th career start. It was the fewest starts needed to reach six European Tour wins since Woods (26) and 15 fewer starts than it took ET career wins leader Seve Ballesteros.