A stat appeared on my television while I was watching the Ryder Cup on Sunday. The stat listed Paul Casey as being sixth on the European Tour in Greens in Regulation (GIR) at 75.1%. As the resident “numbers guy,” I was taken aback. I knew that Tiger Woods was ranked first on the PGA Tour… but with a GIR rate of nowhere close to 75%.
So I thought it would be worthwhile in this installment of The Numbers Game to compare players stats on both sides of the pond – the European Tour and the PGA Tour – to see what it might reveal. I’m not looking to identify the better tour – just see what the numbers tell us. I was surpised what they had to say!
I looked at the players who have played enough tournaments on both tours to be ranked in each statistical category. Some of the tournaments, like majors and WCG Championships, count towards both, but each of the players had enough difference in their numbers to make analysis worthwhile.
Player Euro GIR PGA GIR Diff ------ -------- ------- ---- Luke Donald 74.0 66.2 7.80 Ernie Els 76.3 63.6 12.70 Sergio Garcia 74.0 66.7 7.20 Retief Goosen 73.7 64.6 9.10 Padraig Harrington 68.4 65.0 3.40 David Howell 71.3 61.3 10.00 Graeme McDowell 63.0 63.3 -0.30 Ian Poulter 70.8 65.3 5.50
As you can see, it is pretty obvious – these players hit a lot less greens on the PGA Tour. Graeme McDowell was the only one to hit more, but only by 0.3%. David Howell and Ernie Els are significantly better. Els is 135th on the PGA tour this year at 63.6% GIR. On the European Tour, the South African is hitting 76.3% GIR on the European Tour, good for second place.
To me, it’s amazing that every single player, outside of McDowell, has a significant increase on the European Tour. Is it possible that they are just better because they are more comfortable with courses in Europe? Not likely when there are 14 players hitting greens at a higher rate than Tiger on the PGA Tour. It’s more likely that it has to do with the style of courses. Bigger greens perhaps?
Well, if these guys are hitting more greens because the greens are bigger, they probably have longer putts… and therefore a higher PA. Right? Well, not exactly.
Player Euro PA PGA PA Diff ------ ------- ------ ---- Luke Donald 1.746 1.763 -0.017 Ernie Els 1.775 1.780 -0.005 Sergio Garcia 1.737 1.804 -0.067 Retief Goosen 1.751 1.766 -0.015 Padraig Harrington 1.731 1.755 -0.024 David Howell 1.723 1.735 -0.012 Graeme McDowell 1.789 1.788 0.001 Ian Poulter 1.743 1.791 -0.048
In fact, all the players who hit more greens on the European Tour had better putting averages on the European Tour. Graeme McDowell was the only player, again, to have a higher PA… and he was the one player who hit less greens on the European Tour.
Putting seems to translate similarly between tours when looking at the numbers. Sure the players listed above putted better, but their averages for the most part were relatively close. The two exceptions were Ian Poulter and the ever perplexing Sergio Garcia. For the last few years Garcia has lost his touch on the greens, at least on the PGA Tour he has. I was shocked to see that he was 11th in putting on the European Tour. A .067 difference may not sound like much, but with it he is ranked 159th on the PGA Tour.
Silly, isn’t it? How can one golfer go from extremes like Garcia. He has done so on the PGA Tour over the years, but I never expected such a divergence from tour to tour.
So if guys are hitting more greens and averaging less putts per GIR, then their scoring must be lower, right? Bzzzzzzzzzzt. Wrong again. I’ll take statistical oddities for $600, Alex.
Player Euro Avg PGA Avg Diff ------ -------- ------- ---- Luke Donald 70.22 69.24 0.98 Ernie Els 70.30 69.98 0.32 Sergio Garcia 69.97 70.52 -0.55 Retief Goosen 70.50 70.39 0.21 Padraig Harrington 70.56 70.38 0.18 David Howell 70.88 71.03 -0.15 Graeme McDowell 71.46 71.27 0.19 Ian Poulter 70.73 70.40 0.33
As you can see, most of the players have a lower scoring average on the PGA Tour. Sergio, by virtue of his drastic putting average drop, was the only one to have a siginificant drop in scoring average. That was the only thing that wasn’t surprising.
The big shock is that Luke Donald is nearly one full stroke higher on the European Tour. Even with a huge gain (7%) in GIR and a slight drop in PA, Donald did not drop his average score. Are most of the courses in Europe par 73 or 74? I’m baffled.
In fact, if you look at the two stats alone, we find only one player on the European Tour (Garcia) averaging less than 70 strokes per round while the PGA Tour has 14. Looking at Putting and GIR stats on both tours, I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion. Now my brain is starting to hurt.
Ok, so I’m going to go to a different statistical category to give my head a rest.
Player Euro DD PGA DD Diff ------ ------- ------ ---- Luke Donald 276.6 284.7 -8.1 Ernie Els 296.2 294.6 1.6 Sergio Garcia 301.1 292.7 8.4 Retief Goosen 284.9 298.7 -13.8 Padraig Harrington 289.1 294.7 -5.6 David Howell 281.0 289.7 -8.7 Graeme McDowell 282.4 290.2 -7.8 Ian Poulter 281.7 288.4 -6.7
First, on average, the courses in the U.S. are at a higher altitude. More altitude equals more distance. Second, and this probably subject to some debate, I think that the U.S. players are a bit more “fitness crazy” than the Euros. I look at the US players – OK I turn a blind eye to Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Tim Herron, and players named Bubba – and see a lot of young, strong and tall players. Europeans seem to be skinny and shorter. Like I said, this might be nuts, but just my impression.
Of course, I also had the impression that the U.S. team would be competitive last week… and that turned out to be quite wrong.