I.T.N. No. 12
PUBLISHED July 29, 2019
Inside The Numbers ...
is a brief numerical summary of the current happenings in the world golf, published every Monday — hopefully.
With the FedEx Cup Playoffs fast approaching, players around the 125 cutoff were battling it out last week at the Barracuda Championship with hopes of punching their ticket to the postseason — well, most of them were. Alex Noren was sitting 136th in the FedExCup standings to begin last week, but was still eligible to play in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude thanks to his world ranking. No Laying Up brought up an interesting point on Sunday, questioning whether it was fair given that the limited-field WGC event awards more points than its opposite (and larger) field counterpart.
While it is true that the WGC event had more FedExCup points to give out to a smaller field, the field was much stronger at the Fedex St. Jude than at the ‘Cuda. Noren ultimately finished T12, jumping up to 125th in the FedExCup standings. So, was this unfair? Using our true strokes-gained metric, we find that a similar performance would have left Noren T3 at the Barracuda, and, most notably, given him an additional 33 FedExCup points — moving him to 119th in the standings!
Rory McIlroy had another disappointing final round on Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude, relinquishing the 1-shot lead he held entering the round to Brooks Koepka, ultimately settling for a tied fourth finish. Disappointing Sundays seem like a recurring storyline for Rory in 2019; to quantify this, we've aggregated all of Rory's 2019 data from our live predictive model. Plotted below are Rory's expected wins at each point in time throughout a tournament.
Note that this is a completely different expected wins concept than what we've written about recently. This plot tells us, for example, that in Rory's 15 PGA Tour starts so far in 2019, his pre-tournament win probabilities add up to about 1. Similarly, through 54 holes, Rory's win probabilities added up to 1.72 (meaning we would expect him to get 1.72 wins from his end-of-Saturday positions if he performs as our model expects). In fact, McIlroy has won twice so far in the 2019 PGA Tour season — slightly exceeding our model's expectation. This is surprising, but keep in mind that in McIlroy's two victories of 2019 — the PLAYERS Championship and the RBC Canadian Open — his win probabilities through three rounds were just 27% and 30%, respectively. Those were tournaments where McIlroy over-performed substantially on Sunday. This plot does not disprove the narrative that Rory has underachieved on Sundays in 2019, but it is, at the very least, an interesting data point to consider.
In a recent blog, we analyzed how two types of players — bombers and accurate drivers — perform relative to their baseline skill level at each course on the PGA Tour. This week’s venue for the Wyndham Championship, Sedgefield CC, is a course that disadvantages power players. More precisely, we estimate that a golfer who hits it 10 yards further than average is expected to play 0.15 strokes per round below their baseline skill level. In 11 years of data analyzed, there was just a single year (2012) where a golfer’s driving distance average was positively correlated with performance relative-to-baseline at Sedgefield.
It’s no secret that Phil Mickelson has been playing bad golf. Over his last 20 rounds, Phil the Thrill has been performing 1.6 strokes per round below his baseline (defined by his average performance in the past 12 months). This is the 5th worst mark of all the eligible golfers we track across global tours. Surprisingly, despite Mickelson’s Shot Tracker being a comedic affair on a weekly basis, it is not Mickelson’s off-the-tee game that is costing him strokes of late. Rather, it is the flat stick, which in the past may have masked Phil’s long game struggles, that appears to be the main culprit.