As the first full-field event of the season, the Sony Open in Hawaii inaugurated the PGA Tour careers of most — but not all — the 2013 rookies. Generally, the tournament is won by a Tour veteran, but not this year: two rookies, Russell Henley and Scott Langley, stole the show.
How did they do it? For the mathematically inclined (and inept), here’s your statistical breakdown of the week in Waialae.
Henley was second after round one (63), and then held at least a share of the lead for the final three days. In recording his first win on the PGA Tour he set numerous scoring records. Unsurprisingly, his numbers across the board were excellent.
- He ranked first for the week in strokes gained-putting, posting an average of 3.075 shots per round (meaning he took three fewer putts than the field average each day). To put that in perspective, only two winners on tour last year had a strokes gained number over 3: Keegan Bradley at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and Phil Mickelson at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am. He also ranked second in total distance of putts made, breaking the 400ft barrier, and one-putted a mind-boggling 33 times in 72 holes(!).
- While Henley clearly excelled on the greens, his ball-striking was also very good. He ranked second for the week in greens hit in regulation, while also being inside the top-15 in approach shot proximity to the hole (14th). He was able to be aggressive because he was often playing from the fairway, ranking 8th in fairways hit.
- While Henley sealed the victory in round four with a great day on the greens (strokes gained -4.384), the key to his victory may well have been the 67 he shot on Saturday. Despite having his worst ball-striking day of the tournament, hitting “only” 12 of 18 greens, and a comparatively ordinary day on the greens, he still managed to score, carding a 67, which included a perfect two for two from the bunkers (incredibly, the only ones he found all week).
- With the victory, Henley became the first rookie to win in his first start as a Tour member since Garret Willis in 2001 (what, you’ve never heard of him?). Perhaps even more impressively, it marked Henley’s third win in his last five professional starts (he won two out of his last four starts on the web.com tour to finish third on the money list). The victory moves the Georgian to 50th in the official world golf ranking, leaving him on the verge of automatic entry to all four majors and three of the four world golf championships.
- For most of the tournament, the player leading the way on the greens was Scott Langley. A disappointing Sunday saw him fall back to second in strokes gained-putting for the week, but he still averaged a robust 2.168 for the tournament. Langley led the field in total distance of putts made, at an astounding 488’8”ft.
- Where Langley really lost ground to Henley for the week was his ball-striking. Where Henley was second in greens in regulation, Langley was 49th. While greens in regulation tends to be overweighted as a statistical category (if you’re hitting every green but 50ft from the hole, you’re not going to shoot a good score), clocking a high number does tend to make scoring easier.
Overall, the Sony Open proved even more of a putting contest than most tour events. No one who fnished in the top-15 closed the week lower than 26th in strokes gained-putting index, and other than Tim Clark (11th), none of the top-seven ranked below tenth.