Scoring vs. Skill on the PGA Tour

Do Scoring and Skill statistics align on the PGA Tour, or are they just one of many factors?

The Numbers GameWell, we’re barely into the 2008 season on the PGA Tour, but the statistics collected already tell many different stories. For those of you who are at least mildly interested in statistics, if you’ve never visited the stats section of, you should. The dropdown menus of ad hoc reports available to anyone with a laptop and WiFi connection is fantastic! And I’m sure with some mid to high level ‘tech’ skills it would be easy to use a report writer software tool to push, pull, and twist data from existing reports to create your own.

I have always been fascinated with data. Data of all kinds too, not just courtesy of the PGA Tour, the NFL, or MLB. I believe in the value of using numbers to support conclusions and the decision-making process in business. But as a sports fan, we often use data to either come to a conclusion or find data that will support an already made conclusion or opinion.

That is the great thing with statistics and data. It can be static (representative of one point in time), or dynamic, showing us trends over a period of time. Either way, I always keep the above in mind when I’m looking at another’s data-supported perspective. Having said that, I will do my best to present data taken straight from It is unaltered and as I found it online. From this data I will draw some conclusions, make observations, and form opinions. And I’d urge you to so the same for yourself.

To begin, I pulled three Scoring reports: Par-Three, -Four and -Five Performance. Each of these reports provides the total strokes under or over par for the three types of holes played. As an example, if I played 10 par threes and made five birdies and five bogeys my status would be ‘E’ (even) and I would be ranked relative to the rest of players. I also pulled three Skill reports that could in part or whole support how a player arrived at their rank in the respective Scoring report.

Keep in mind, though this is only an assumption, I believe it has some logic to it. To score well on Par threes, I believe it’s important to hit greens in regulation (GIR). GIR is defined as any part of the ball touching the putting surface and the number of strokes taken is two or fewer less than par. Yes, getting up and down and making sand saves are also important, but again, my assumption is if you hit greens the potential to score well is alive.

To perform well on par fours I have pulled a Driving Accuracy report and paired them together. Driving accuracy is defined as the percentage of time a tee shot comes to rest in the fairway, regardless of club used. Again, the assumption is, be it a short par four, a long par four or somewhere in the middle, if you hit fairways, the potential exists to score well on par fours. It’s certainly better I’d suggest, than if you had to play from the rough or worse all day.

Lastly, scoring well on par fives, I matched up with the Driving Distance report. Driving distance is defined as the average number of yards per measured drive. Drives are measured on two holes per round with holes in opposite direction to counteract the effect of wind. Drives measured to the point at which they come to rest regardless of of whether they are in the fairway or not. The logic is since one of the primary difficulties of most par fives is the length, the further a drive the better your chance to score.

Par Three Performance vs. GIR

Par Three Performance

This   Last
Week   Week   Player           RNDs  TOT    Avg
----   ----   ------           ----  ---   ----
 1      T1    Dudley Hart       10    -7   2.83
 2      T1    Chez Reavie       19    -6   2.92
T3       3    Steve Lowery      10    -5   2.88
T3      T4    Jesper Parnevik   13    -5   2.91
T3     T30    Charlie Wi        17    -5   2.93
T6      T6    Jason Day         14    -4   2.93
T6     T30    Matt Kuchar       20    -4   2.95
T6      T6    Justin Leonard    21    -4   2.95
T6     T21    Jeff Quinney      23    -4   2.96
T6      T4    D.J. Trahan       18    -4   2.95


This   Last
Week   Week   Player           RNDs  GIR%    GIR    To Par
----   ----   ------           ----  ----    ---    ------
   4    12    Justin Leonard    21   74.87   283     -0.3
  29   T29    Charlie Wi        17   69.28   212     -0.25
  36    69    Dudley Hart       10   68.89   124     -0.22
 T38   T29    Chez Reavie       19   68.71   235     -0.26
 T44   T75    Jesper Parnevik   13   68.38   160     -0.27
 T66    74    Matt Kuchar       20   66.67   240     -0.2
 T66    49    D.J. Trahan       18   66.67   216     -0.3
  79  T103    Jeff Quinney      23   66.18   274     -0.31
T116  T133    Jason Day         14   63.89   161     -0.34
T172  T121    Steve Lowery      10   58.89   106     -0.3

Of the top 10 in Par Three Performance, only one – Justin Leonard – was in the top 25 in GIR. He ranked fourth. This made perfect sense to me as Leonard has always been known as a guy that can roll the rock. Charlie Wi was next, ranked 29th. Then most of the top 10 guys clustered and ranked between 36th and T116.

Last was Steve Lowery, winner at Pebble Beach a few weeks back. Though ranked third in Par Three Performance, Lowery was T172 (of 186) in GIR. This stat was surprising and odd, but it told me that when he misses greens, he gets up and down (or just down) and when he hits greens he converts putts. So take it one step further and zoom out a bit on that analysis and I found the same thing. While GIR are certainly a factor in success on Par threes (especially for those who putt well), they are just one factor. Sand Saves and Scrambling are others.

Par Four Performance vs. Driving Accuracy

Par Four Performance

This   Last
Week   Week   Player            RNDs  To Par   Avg
----   ----   ------            ----  ------  ----
   1      1   Dustin Johnson     21    -19    3.91
   2     T6   Phil Mickelson     15    -16    3.90
   3      2   Justin Leonard     21    -15    3.93
   4    T14   Jeff Quinney       23    -12    3.95
   5     T8   K.J. Choi          18    -10    3.95
   6     T3   Rory Sabbatini     20     -9    3.96
   7    ---   Padraig Harrington  8     -8    3.90
  T8     T3   Ben Crane          15     -7    3.96
  T8    T11   John Senden        15     -7    3.96
 T10     T3   Steve Elkington    18     -6    3.97
 T10    T20   Steve Stricker     14     -6    3.96
 T10    T14   Scott Verplank     13     -6    3.96

Driving Accuracy

This   Last
Week   Week   Player            RNDs    FWY%   Hit
----   ----   ------            ----   -----  ----
   1      1   Scott Verplank     13    84.86    157
   3      4   Justin Leonard     21    79.05    234
  30     30   Steve Elkington    18    70.40    176
 T43    T52   John Senden        15    68.90    144
  47     60   Jeff Quinney       23    68.13    218
  59     26   Ben Crane          15    67.46    141
  80     88   Rory Sabbatini     20    64.44    183
  89     94   Steve Stricker     14    63.50    127
  94     83   K.J. Choi          18    63.28    162
 143    131   Phil Mickelson     15    57.42    120
T161    ---   Padraig Harrington  8    54.05     60
 182    178   Dustin Johnson     21    49.32    144

Only Scott Verplank and Justin Leonard appear in the top 10 in both lists. The majority (seven) were bunched between rankings of 30th and 94th. Rounding out the top 10, we find the same surprise from the Par Three: Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, and Padraig Harrington (ranked 1, 2, and 7 in Par Four Performance), were strangely 182, 143, and T161 respectively in Driving Accuracy out of 186.

Now Phil is hardly known by anyone to be an accurate driver of the golf ball, but I made a quick glance to the Par Five Skill report to see what I could find. And I noticed that Johnson, Harrington, and Mickelson were ranked 3, 29, and T60 in Driving Distance. So while they were anything but accurate, they can hit the long ball, theoretically making up any accuracy shortcomings.

My summary on Par Four Performance vs. Driving Accuracy? While some players (Verplank, Leonard) use Driving Accuracy to score on par fours, others (Johnson, Harrington) seems use Driving Distance moreso to score well on the fours. So again, Driving Accuracy can be a major factor in scoring, but it’s not the only or even the predominant factor. If this were Mythbusters, I would offer the “myth”‘ of Par Four Performance and Driving Accuracy correlation as busted.

Par Five Performance vs. Driving Distance

Par Five Performance

This   Last
Week   Week   Player           RNDs  To Par   Avg
----   ----   ------           ----  ------  ----
   1     T7   Bill Haas          19    -35   4.46
  T2      1   Steve Marino       21    -34   4.51
  T2     T2   Vijay Singh        22    -34   4.55
   4     T2   Mike Weir          19    -33   4.54
  T5    T15   Jason Gore         23    -32   4.61
  T5     T5   Kevin Na           23    -32   4.59
  T5    T12   Kevin Sutherland   20    -32   4.57
  T5     T9   Bubba Watson       19    -32   4.49
  T5     T2   Boo Weekley        19    -32   4.54
  10    T23   Mark Wilson        22    -31   4.58

Driving Distance

This   Last
Week   Week   Player            RNDs     Avg
----   ----   ------            ----   -----
   1      1   Bubba Watson       19    316.4
   9      9   Jason Gore         23    301.7
  11     14   Bill Haas          19    297.4
  13     15   Steve Marino       21    296.7
 T32    T27   Boo Weekley        19    291.7
  54     60   Vijay Singh        22    288.5
  80     66   Kevin Sutherland   20    284.1
  84    T95   Kevin Na           23    283.2
T133    144   Mark Wilson        22    277.8
 135   T135   Mike Weir          19    277.7

Par Five Performance seemed to show the clearest data of all. Simply put, if you go deep with the driver, you score well on par fives. The stats seem to support this with few exceptions. Of the top ten in Par Five Performance, five golfers (Bubba Watson, Jason Gore, Bill Haas, Steve Marino, Boo Weekley) are also in the top 32 for Driving Distance (with the first four inside the top 14).

The next group of guys – Vijay Singh, Kevin Sutherland, and Kevin Na – are clustered between 54th and 84th. While the final two in the top 10 – Mark Wilson and Mike Weir – were ranked T133 and 135 respectively. Both guys are known not to be long but have great control and short games that enable them to score well.

So while Driving Distance clearly helps players score well on par fives, yet again the stats show that there are other factors to doing so, as is the case with Weir and Wilson. Are you starting to sense the same trend I am?

Final Thoughts

Of the 30 different players in the Top 10 in Par-Three, -Four and -Five Performance, only seven are in the top 25 in World Golf rankings, and six of them were in the Par-Four Performance with the seventh in the Par-Five. None were in the Par-Three.

Also, keep in mind this information is only based on the first seven PGA events this season (all data is through the Northern Trust Open). While the players listed are bound to change many times over throughout the season, only time and a bigger dataset would confirm the contentions I’ve made above.

Remmber, too, that there are different ways to use and interpret data and after studying all the PGA Tour data for this article, there was nothing I saw that unequivocally linked the Skill stat to the Scoring stat I chose. While the Scoring stat may be a small factor for some players or a large factor for others, they were still just that – one of several factors.

Taking some of these observations out of context of the PGA Tour and placing them in my world of amateur golf I was happy to find similarities. While I don’t have any official data on my game yet (I’m still playing with the Scorecard software) or of the guys I golf with, I do have a great memory and knowledge of the guys I tee it up with each week and so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or, you can even draw your own parallel to the group of golfers at your home course. Regardless of handicap, we all know golfers that consistently miss greens, yet somehow walk off with a par three. Guys that never hit a straight tee ball or hit it very long, but inevitably they grind out a par four or five.

This is because golf isn’t a sport where if you do this (e.g. hit greens), the result is that (e.g. par three or better). The fact is, there are many things you have to do to make par three or four or five or better, and, you have to do them together. While I’m certain the stats above will change for all the players over the course of this PGA season, I feel more than secure that no one Skill stat will transfer to one Scoring stat. To say that would mean to have never played the game.

World Ranking

This   Last
Week   Week   Player          Events   Total       Avg    Lost    Gained
----   ----   ------          ------   ------    -----    ----    ------
   1      1   Tiger Woods       40     788.22    19.71   106.39   110.00
   2      2   Phil Mickelson    44     448.07    10.18    49.59   114.20
   3      3   Steve Stricker    43     278.56     6.48    27.84    48.46
   4      4   Ernie Els         57     355.37     6.23    43.99    21.82
   5      5   Adam Scott        49     296.65     6.05    41.78    53.90
   6      7   Justin Rose       51     293.21     5.75    52.57    18.22
   7      6   Jim Furyk         51     293.21     5.75    52.57    18.22
   8      9   K.J. Choi         58     332.45     5.73    32.53    66.54
   9      8   Rory Sabbatini    50     281.03     5.62    31.37    59.30
  10     11   P. Harrington     59     309.2      5.24    39.90    31.64
  11     10   Vijay Singh       61     304.67     4.99    41.49    36.28
  12     13   Henrik Stenson    54     248.62     4.60    31.19    60.48
  13     12   Sergio Garcia     50     225.19     4.50    30.21    11.65
  14     14   Angel Cabrera     52     211.65     4.07    22.93     7.30
  15     15   Geoff Ogilvy      46     182.09     3.96    36.37     ----
  16     19   Luke Donald       51     200.88     3.94    31.12    30.73
  17     16   Zach Johnson      50     186.87     3.74    28.25     6.80
  18     17   Aaron Baddeley    54     198.98     3.68    22.39    12.58
  19     18   Lee Westwood      57     203.12     3.56    19.30    39.29
  20     20   Trevor Immelman   53     175.27     3.31    28.99     ----
  21     21   Martin Kaymer     41     134.3      3.28     7.24    74.00
  22     22   Stewart Cink      51     166.7      3.27    22.83    22.70
  23     26   Scott Verplank    49     155.56     3.17    18.94    20.62
  24     23   Niclas Fasth      52     164.96     3.17    20.63     7.48
  25     24   Ian Poulter       59     186.27     3.16    23.09     8.08

This article was written by a guest author. If you’d like to contribute, send us an email.

9 thoughts on “Scoring vs. Skill on the PGA Tour”

  1. Really good article, you made some interesting points.

    I think, as you said, statistics can pretty much say anything you want them to say. Looking at the GIR stat, a ball that is in the fringe is not a GIR officially, but that ball could be closer than someone who is actually on the green. The same with fairways hit.

    Stats have always got to be looked at in context, something you did very well!

  2. Thanks Matt, glad you enjoyed it! The data was certainly interesting to learn and write about (but give Erik an assist for some good comments/edits).

    Thanks again for reading!

  3. Great article. For all the stats, spreadsheets, and numbers crunching, there is really only one that matters – your score.

    One other note: It seems somebody was left out of the OWFR table – there is no 7th-ranked player this week (and no 6th-ranked player last week… it must be the same guy).

    (Poor Jim Furyk… always forgotten.)

  4. Great article. For all the stats, spreadsheets, and numbers crunching, there is really only one that matters – your score.

    One other note: It seems somebody was left out of the OWFR table – there is no 7th-ranked player this week (and no 6th-ranked player last week… it must be the same guy).

    (Poor Jim Furyk… always forgotten.)

    Exactly! As the saying goes, ‘it’s not how, it’s how many.’ And thanks, glad you liked the article.

    Thank you for the Furyk catch (I think that can be fixed easy enough).

  5. The stat on par 3’s is quite interesting. Irrespective of how good you are with sand saves and scrambling for putts, the fact is if each time you get on the green if you have a putt for birdie then you are more or less certain to be on that list. Quite obviously some of the guys who were in the top 10 of greens in regulation must be really atrocious putters or let’s just call them bad. No other way to explain the anomaly

    But whatever little I went through on the stats section it seemed to suggest to me that if we wait for the entire record of the season we are more likely to see these stats along expected lines. Instead of drawing a report for the 2008 season we will get a clearer picture by looking at the 2007 stats or for that matter a complete report for any previous season. A quick glance at the 2007 season seemed to suggest that there is a better co relation to be found there but not to the extent one would have thought.

    I am really hoping course architects would figure out a way to ensure distance does not play such a crucial role on par 5’s. Players must be made to think around the course. I really look forward to the day that players with the greatest length struggle with their performance because of the kind of stuff where the ball might end up.

  6. Tiger doesn’t show up in the top 10 of any of the Par 3, 4 or 5 performance charts? Did he not have enough rounds yet to qualify?

  7. Tiger doesn’t show up in the top 10 of any of the Par 3, 4 or 5 performance charts? Did he not have enough rounds yet to qualify?

    Good question and yes, I don’t believe he did have enough rounds. At the time this data was pulled (thru the Northern Trust Open) I believe he had only played in the Buick.


    Guys while the pga tour offers a particularly good reference point for those interested in statistics I suggest you take a quick look at the link posted at the beginning of this poorly costructed message. Statistics are generally averages, the most interesting thing about golf is to notice when players are playing badly or brilliantly i.e outliers either side of a bell curve. Sal johnson’s (deserves a medal for his site, my opinion of course) site offers a brilliant insight into these trends and i believe this information far exceeds the information to be gleaned from the pga tour stats pages, as good as it is.

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