The PGA Championship: Part 2

Distance was a factor, but did not rule the PGA Championship. It is still all about hitting greens.

The Numbers GameWell, that was one of the better PGA Championships that I’ve seen in a while. I wish I could have watched the end of it, but like many other people, I was stuck at work checking the updates on the web. It went down to the wire with an up and down by Lefty at the 18th.

Now all the talk going into the PGA was about how the long hitters were going to dominate at Baltusrol. Phil did win and Tiger came back from a rough start and, in my opinion, probably would have at least been in a playoff if the round on Sunday hadn’t been suspended. Last week I even used driving stats to help predict who was going to win…which didn’t work out the way I thought. So what did the final numbers of the top 10 look like? Read on to find out.

Below is a list of the players that finished in the top 10 and their position in Driving Distance (DD), Greens in Regulation (GIR) and Putting Average (PA). I used the PGA Tour stats when a player had enough tournaments to be officially ranked. For the others, I used their place on the European Tour stats. That only applied to Thomas Bjorn and Michael Campbell. Anyway, here are the numbers.

Player            Pos   GIR     DD      PA
Phil Mickelson      1    35     17      15
Thomas Bjorn        2    22     48      16
Steve Elkington     2    25    131      82
Davis Love III      4    67     10     126
Tiger Woods         4     6      2      15
Geoff Ogilvy        6    75     23      19
Michael Campbell    6    75    107      46
Pat Perez           6   122     55     154
Retief Goosen       6    25     37      44
David Toms         10    21    100       9
Dudley Hart        10    85    121      57
Steve Flesch       10   171    134     159
Ted Purdy          10    75     46     175
Vijay Singh        10     2     12      57
Averages                57.57  60.21   69.57

See anything interesting?

First off, let’s look at putting average. Notice that there are six different players that had PA as their best stat. While the average place was the highest of the three, more players that putted better than they hit GIR or DD finished in the top 10. As long as Phil hits the ball, he actually ranks higher in putting. Everyone talks about him bombing the ball off the tee and having an advantage over other golfers. Well, Phil did miss a few, but overall it did not let him down and made more than his share of putts.

Second, take the case of Vijay Singh. I really thought that he was going to do well at the PGA because leading up to last week, his putter was getting hot. He repeated his performance in the US Open where he hit the ball really well, but could not hole any putts. Had his putter been hot, I think we’d be talking about Vijay rather than Phil.

Think of it this way, Phil’s ranking in putting went from 17 to 15 and Vijay’s went from 48 to 57 after the PGA. Enough said.

Greens in Regulation
I’ve beaten this into my own head and I’ll continue to do it. GIR is THE stat. At a course that was billed to be set up for the long hitters, GIR was still beat out DD. Not by much, but it still did. Only two players lower than 100 in GIR managed to finish in the top 10. The least of all the stats.

Six of the top 25 in GIR finished in the top 10 at the PGA. Greens people…it’s all about hitting greens.

Driving Distance
I wanted to save this for last. I will admit that I did think that distance may play a factor… even after some of the columns I wrote. Let’s throw DD a bone though. It did finish close to GIR. Tiger flew it into 17 a couple times and was making the last two par fives look relatively easy. But that didn’t mean he was making birdie. In fact, he was only -1 on those two holes the entire tournament. Fred Funk, noted short knocker, was -3 on 17 and 18 all week. Things like that make what I’ve been researching all the more evident. It isn’t about the distance.

Look at it this way. Six of the top 10 in DD did not even play in the PGA for the tournament. Five of the six didn’t qualify to play and the other was out with a windsurfing injury. On the flip side, eight of the top 10 in GIR played at the PGA and the other two were Q-School graduates from last year.

I know, I know… broken record. So do I think DD is important? Yes, but not at the expense of hitting less greens. A good example of this was Tiger on the 17th during Friday’s round. He killed a drive and then flew his second to the green in two but the lie he got was terrible and had to actually pitch back into the rough. Tiger ended up missing the green and making bogey. I would be willing to bet that the worst he would have made laying up is par.

Now I’m rarely going to second guess Tiger. I’m just saying that length does not mean easy par fives, par fours, and lots of GIR. The longest player on tour, Scott Hend, is 113th in GIR. Hank Kuehne, known for his prodigious length, is 182nd. For every Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh – guys that are long off the tee and accurate into the greens – there is a Scott Hend and Hank Keuhne.

Okay, I’m off my soapbox. I promise to cover something notabout driving distance for at least two weeks. If anyone has any suggestions for future Numbers Game topics, please email me or leave me a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *