With another major upon us, it’s time to take a look at numbers that may play a role in determining the Open Championship golfer of the year. Given the success of this column at the U.S. Open, I’m hesitant to ever do a preview column again since the chances of it ever working out that well are incredibly small. Seriously, guys, it’s golf!
Putting my trepidation aside, here are five stats (and the players who perform well) that this week’s Open Championship winner will (probably) do well. Caveat: There are no statistics for wind and players who are the best at controling iron shots and working the ball both ways, keeping the ball on the ground rather than in the air, which, of course, is always a must for links golf.
Lag putting: With large green surfaces at the Open Championship, along with the fact that the wind makes it more difficult to get the ball close to the hole and avoid three putts, lag putting will be crucial to success at Muirfield. One stat to look at is three-putt avoidance from longer than 25 feet. The top 10 players leading this stat in 2013 on the PGA Tour: Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, David Hearn, Adam Scott, Paul Haley II, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark, Greg Chalmers, Webb Simpson
Another good statistic in terms of lag putting is approach proximity for the first putt — basically, after the first putt, which players have the shortest second putts on average. Obviously, the closer you are to the hole for your second putt, the easier it is to make. Top 10: Andrew Svoboda, KJ Choi, Michael Letzig, Ricky Barnes, and the following players are all tied for fourth, Jonathan Byrd, Jason Day, Jeff Gove, JJ Henry, Justin Leonard, John Merrick, Phil Mickelson, Ryan Moore, Rod Pampling, Webb Simpson, Kevin Stadler, Daniel Summerhays, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood
Approaches from 175-200 yards. Three of the four par-3s are shorter than 200 yards, and with some long par-4s, expect to see a fair number of shots from this range. Top 10 on the PGA Tour this year: Ryan Palmer, Robert Garrigus, Rory McIlroy, Nick Watney, Camillo Villegas, Ben Kohles, Scott Piercy, Chez Reavie, Matt Every, Tiger Woods
Long iron play: With firm and fast conditions at the Open, players will likely avoid hitting driver and instead, take long irons and/or hybrids off the tee. The players who are superior at controlling long iron shots will probably give themselves the best opportunities to post low scores. From a stats perspective, this is a little bit tricky as there isn’t a stat for accuracy when hitting tee shots with irons. Instead, look at approaches from 225-250 yards since that’s usually the long iron/hybrid distance for most pros at a regular Tour event. Top 10: Nicolas Colsaerts, Daniel Summerhays, David Lingmerth, Jeff Gove, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Jobe, Jeff Maggert, Ernie Els, Ross Fisher
Scrambling (sort of): With the long rough, tough bunker shots, wind, and unpredictable bounces, players will miss greens in regulation. This makes scrambling important and it’s inherently tied to putting, which on a week-to-week basis is very fickle. So, let’s take a look at the scrambling average for distance -to-the-hole, and see the players who generally leave themselves with the shortest par putts, and hence, the greatest opportunity to save par regardless of how well they are putting that week. Top 10 this year: Lee Williams, Tim Clark, Luke Donald, Chris Stroud, Roberto Castro, Bob Estes, Justin Rose, Stuart Appleby, Bryce Molder, Webb Simpson.
Taking these stats into consideration, no player jumps out in quite the same way as Justin Rose did at the U.S. Open, but I’ll probably include Webb Simpson on my Fantasy team. When in doubt, though, historically, Muirfield seems to have rewarded the best ballstrikers.
Also, greens in regulation isn’t listed here, which is nearly always the most important stat on the PGA Tour, so bear that in mind. However, it’s the Open Championship, so in reality, luck plays more of a role than it usually does, so the unpredictable is more likely to happen.
–Shoshana Agus-Kleinman (@Shosheak)