As Competition Comes Back, A Statistical Refresher

June 3, 2020
Justin Ray

Next week, the PGA Tour schedule is scheduled to resume with the Charles Schwab Challenge. That Thursday will mark 91 days since the evening of March 12, when The Players Championship was canceled.

With play resuming next week in Fort Worth, we thought it worthwhile to provide a statistical refresh of sorts – a reintroduction into which players are succeeding most – and need the most help – in certain aspects of their games.

Some of the names will be familiar ones, and some might be a revelation of sorts. For instance…

MEET THE TOUR’S PUTTING LEADER

Denny McCarthy is not a household name just yet in the world of golf. Ranked 175th in the world, McCarthy has one top-five finish in 66 career PGA Tour starts. But there is one facet of his game that is miles above his peers: Denny might be the best putter on the planet right now.

Consider this: over the last two PGA Tour seasons, there have been 234 players with 30 or more rounds measured by ShotLink. Of that group, only one has gained, on average, a stroke or more on the field with the putter. McCarthy has averaged 1.07 strokes gained putting per round in that stretch – more than a quarter-shot per round better than his nearest competitor (Andrew Putnam is second, at 0.76 per round).

He currently leads the Tour in putting inside ten feet, making 91.4 percent this season. Over the last two years, he has had more than 1,050 putts from three feet and in. He’s missed one of them.

THE LONG & SHORT OF IT

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Strokes gained ‘long game’ combines a player’s performance off the tee and on approach shots. The statistic is basically the more familiar ‘strokes gained tee-to-green,’ except greenside shots and chips are eliminated from the equation.

In what isn’t a shock to anyone, the leader in this statistic since the beginning of last season is Rory McIlroy, at 1.85 strokes per round. But the man in second place might surprise you. Among players with 30 or more measured rounds, Viktor Hovland is second-best, gaining 1.69 per round. He’s right ahead of Justin Thomas (1.48).

How about strokes gained ‘short game?’ Using that same sampling – player performance since the beginning of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season – Brandt Snedeker has the most rounded short game on Tour. He is the only player to average at least 0.50 strokes gained around the green and 0.50 strokes gained putting per round. McCarthy also finds himself high on the list thanks to his amazing putting – he is actually about neutral (0.05 gained per round) on strokes around the green during this stretch.

GREAT LONG GAME, BUT…

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As good as Hovland has been so far tee-to-green, he will be really scary if he improves his short game.

Viktor is losing, on average, 0.59 strokes to the field per round pitching, chipping and putting. That colossal difference  between long game (+1.69) and short game (-0.59) is the largest of any player on the PGA Tour since the beginning of last season. Emiliano Grillo and Corey Conners are the only two other players with a disparity of two strokes or more between the two collective disciplines.

GREAT SHORT GAME, BUT…

Over the last two seasons, Jordan Spieth has averaged 1.03 strokes gained per round ‘short game,’ the fourth-best average of any player on Tour. That’s the good news.

The bad news is he’s ranked 155th in strokes gained ‘long game’ during that same span, losing 0.69 strokes to the field per round. That enormous disparity of 1.72 is the third-largest of any qualified player on Tour during that span – only Michael Kim and Aaron Baddeley have larger gaps.

Spieth was ranked second on Tour in 2017 in strokes gained tee-to-green. In 2020, he is ranked 161st.

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RED-HOT RORY

Back to McIlroy: the world’s top-ranked player is scheduled to make his first career appearance at Colonial next week. This will possibly be the strongest field in the history of this tournament – each of the top-five in the world are planning to compete. Since the World Ranking began in 1986, this event has never even had number one and two there the same week, let alone the whole top-five.

When play was suspended at TPC Sawgrass, McIlroy had finished fifth or better in seven consecutive starts around the world. He had been in the top-ten following 25 of his last 28 PGA Tour rounds. Since The Open Championship ended last July, he’s posted a scoring average worldwide of 68.27.

Players with little course history at Colonial have struck it big there in recent years. Take Justin Rose, who arrived in 2018 having not played in the event in nearly a decade. He proceeded to shoot 20-under, three shots ahead of his nearest competitor (Brooks Koepka).

One aspect of McIlroy’s game that has got markedly better this season: approach play. Rory has not finished a PGA Tour season ranked in the top-ten in strokes gained approach since 2012. He’s currently third. He is also hitting more than 71 percent of his greens in regulation, his highest rate in five years.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

Tiger Woods won his 10th professional major at age 29. There are currently only two players 29 or younger with ten or more PGA Tour wins: Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.