Stats & Info: Luke Donald

Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBubba Watson will try to become the rare repeat Masters winner.
With three wins this year, Tiger Woods has regained the No. 1 ranking in the world and dominated the headlines entering the Masters. But 18 majors have been played since Woods last won one, so let’s examine the “Front Nine” and key storylines surrounding other players with a chance to put on the Green Jacket Sunday afternoon.

Don’t Expect Bubba Watson to Repeat
Only three players have repeated as Masters champion and the list reads of golf royalty – Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus.

In fact, each of the last six Masters champions has finished outside the Top 15 each the following year. Considering Watson has just three Top 10s in 20 majors, don’t be surprised to see this trend continue.

The fall – and rise? – of McIlroy
Following a highly publicized equipment switch this season, McIlroy’s game was a work in progress to being the season.

In 2012, McIlroy had five Top-3 finishes and a scoring average of 68.3 entering the Masters. Over his first five events, he did not post a Top-3 finish and his scoring average was nearly three strokes worse than 2012. That was until a runner-up finish in the Valero Texas Open where McIlroy led the field in greens-in-regulation and shot a final round 66.

While McIlroy's game appears to be rounding into form, McIlroy too has had his problems on the weekend at Augusta, putting up Saturday-Sunday scores of 150 and 153 the last two years.

Phil Mickelson looks to equal Arnie and Tiger
Phil Mickelson has his own chase with history going. Mickelson is looking for his fourth Masters title, which is the same number Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have.

Since 2001, Mickelson has three wins and nine Top-5 finishes at Augusta, which is the same number of wins and one more Top-5 finish than Woods has in that span.

Mickelson’s biggest problem lately? Getting off to a good start.

In his last 11 majors, Mickelson has been over par after the first round in nine of them. His average position on the leaderboard after Round One—62nd.

Adam Scott and Brandt Snedeker
The two are linked by near misses both at Augusta and last year at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.

Snedeker led after 36 holes, while Scott led by four on the back nine before his historic collapse. But their time is coming.

Scott made the cut in all four majors last year and had the best cumulative score of those players which did. He’s been in the Top 15 in six of the last eight majors and leads the TOUR in par 5 birdie-or-better percentage, an all important stat at Augusta.

If Snedeker is healthy, he also could capture his first major. In his last 16 events, Snedeker has a better scoring average and the same number of Top-5 finishes than Tiger Woods does in that stretch.

If you have won, forget about winning. And if you win, forget about winning
Each of the last six Masters winners did not have a win prior to the Masters the year they won the event. And for the last five Masters champions, it has been a struggle since.

The last five Masters champions have combined for three wins (all by Phil Mickelson) in 327 events since their Masters win.

The last Masters winner not named Mickelson to have a win since capturing the Green Jacket? 2007 winner Zach Johnson.

English Lesson
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are among the top players in the world, but each is seeking his first major victory. And they couldn’t be any more opposite in their pursuit and shortcoming.

Donald has been a very poor starter in majors, as just five of his last 44 rounds on Thursday and Friday have been under par (31 have been over par). As a result, not surprisingly, Donald has missed the cut or finished outside the Top 20 in 26 of his 38 majors.

Westwood on the other hand has 7 Top 3 finishes in majors since 2008, which is the most by any player in history without a major title. Westwood led the Masters after the first round last year, but given he is 115th in strokes gained putting this year, his putter again could be his undoing.

Greens, Greens and more Greens
If there is one stat which has been the biggest harbinger of Masters success lately, it has been greens in regulation.

Ten of the last 13 Masters champions have been in the Top 4 in GIR for the tournament. And the three which were not – Charl Schwartzel, Angel Cabrera and Mike Weir – were each in the Top 12 in putting.

Some notable names atop the GIR ranking this year include 2012 winner Bubba Watson and Brandt Snedeker.

Someone new again?
The last 17 majors have been won by 16 different players – only Rory McIlroy has two in that span. And nine of the last eleven major winners were first-time major winners.

Also interesting, since 2009, three players ranked inside the Top 10 have won a major and three players outside the Top 100 have won a major.

Runner-up Need Not Apply
Like Louis Oosthuizen’s chances after losing in a playoff last year?

After reading this, your hopes may be tempered some.

Just once in the last 40 years has someone won the Masters the year after finishing second. That was Ben Crenshaw in 1984. Before that? Jack Nicklaus in 1972.

So while Oosthuizen’s game stamps him as a contender. History says otherwise.

Rookies, Mickelson lead way on Day 1

September, 28, 2012

AP Photo/Charlie RiedelPhil Mickelson did something in the Ryder Cup he'd never done before.
Five notes to know from today's Ryder Cup action:

1- It was a big day for rookies. Teams from the United States and Europe that had rookies competing went a combined 5-1. Rookie-free teams were a combined 3-7.

2--The U.S. leads by 2 points after day 1. Over the previous 20 Ryder Cups, teams who lead by two or more points after two sessions go on to win two-thirds of the time (8-for-12).
History says the Americans could have used more pad, though. Those who lead by three or more win three-quarters of the time (6-for-8) Those who lead by four-or more have won four times in five chances.

3--Over the previous 20 Ryder Cups, the United States has held a lead of two points or more six times after the first two sessions. The two teams the lead was two, Europe won. The four times it was three or more, the United States won.

4--The team of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald entered 14-0-1 combined in their career in foursomes entering their match with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. That loss-free streak ended with a 4 & 3 defeat.

5--This marked the first time in nine Ryder Cups for Phil Mickelson that he won two matches in the same day. He was paired with Keegan Bradley for each of his victories Friday.

Home-course advantage big at Ryder Cup

September, 27, 2012

Getty ImagesLuke Donald and Tiger Woods headline the European and American Ryder Cup teams.
The 2012 Ryder Cup tees off on Friday morning at Medinah Country Club in Illinois, where the Europeans will try to win their second straight cup and seventh since 1995.

Home-course advantage has been a big factor in the Ryder Cup recently, as the past three cups have gone to the home team. Americans have won 16 of 19 times when the Ryder Cup matches have been in America, including each of the first 13 Ryder Cups held on United States soil.

But in 1987, the Europeans won for the first time on U.S. soil at Muirfield Village in Ohio. Since then, the two teams have alternated victories when the event has been in the U.S.

Tiger Woods, who was No. 1 on the United States Ryder Cup points list, is likely looking forward to returning to Medinah Country Club. He has won the past two major championships there (1999 PGA Championship and 2006 PGA Championship) and was a combined 29 under par in those wins, shooting par or better in all eight rounds.

Woods is making his seventh appearance in the Ryder Cup. He has made his mark in singles play (4-1-1) but has struggled to earn points in foursomes (4-7-1) and four-balls (5-6-0).

So whom does Woods not want to see at Medinah? Lee Westwood, who has defeated Woods in six of seven previous Ryder Cup matches.

Phil Mickelson is appearing in the Ryder Cup for the ninth time, the most ever by an American player. As a result of his longevity, he also has the distinction of losing more matches (17) than any other American.

Mickelson played well in his first four appearances, winning eight of 16 matches, but has struggled since then. He has lost 12 times and has only three wins in 18 matches over his past four appearances.

This is quietly one of the strongest European teams in history from a statistical perspective. The players with the highest point percentage in European team history with a minimum of three Ryder Cups played (Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia) are all on this year’s squad.

The Europeans also have their good-luck charm in place, with Donald on the team. Donald is playing in his sixth team match-play event, including four Ryder Cups. He is personally 15-3-1 in his own matches, and his teams are a perfect 5-0 (3-0 at the Ryder Cup).

Garcia also should be able to help the European effort this weekend, especially in foursomes. He has never lost in nine foursomes matches, surrendering only a half point in a 2008 match with Lee Westwood.

Donald tries to pick up where he left off

February, 15, 2012
Luke Donald
Last season’s best player -- or at least the most profitable -- both in the United States and Europe was Luke Donald, who will make his 2012 PGA Tour debut this weekend at the Northern Trust Open.

Donald also opened his PGA Tour season at Riviera Country Club last year. His play did not portend the season to come as he missed the cut after shooting a second-round 79.

Donald made history last season, winning the money title on both the PGA and European tours, despite playing fewer events than the players he was competing against for each tour’s title.

Donald played 19 PGA Tour events last season, pocketing $6.7 million. The runner-up for the money title, Webb Simpson, played 26 events and made $6.3 million.

Donald did this on the strength of 14 top-10 finishes, including four straight finishes of fourth or better to end the season. He also had a pair of PGA Tour wins, after only winning twice in his PGA Tour career entering the season, with none since the 2006 Honda Classic.

Overall, Donald had four worldwide wins last season, also capturing the European Tour money title despite playing just 13 events. Rory McIlroy, who played in six additional events, finished second.

In 13 European Tour starts last year, Donald finished 11th or better in 11 of them, with six finishes of third or better and three wins. His win in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship counted as both a European and PGA Tour victory.

The most important of those wins may have come at the BMW PGA Championship, where he defeated Lee Westwood in a playoff, taking control of the world’s No. 1 ranking. After the No. 1 spot had been held by Westwood and Martin Kaymer earlier in the year, it was Donald who would hold the top ranking for the rest of the year.

How did Donald achieve his success? The old golf saying held true, in that Donald putted for dough.

Strokes gained -- putting is a metric used to measure the true putting ability of a player, taking to account various distances and comparing a player’s performance on every green against the other players in the field. Donald has led the PGA Tour in the statistic in each of the past three years.

Donald's run of success and victories was even more impressive when you consider that from 2005 to '10, he had only two wins on the European and PGA tours combined, the 2006 Honda Classic and 2010 Madrid Masters.
The Open Championship tees off Thursday morning at Royal St. Georges Golf Club in Sandwich, England, the first time the course has hosted the Open Championship since Ben Curtis won it in 2003. The last time the event was played here just one player – Curtis – finished under par, and only two were at even par, runners-up Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn.

Rory McIlroy tees it up for the first time since winning the U.S. Open by eight shots last month. He’ll be trying to join a select group by winning both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship in the same season. Since 1960, only three men have done that: Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino.

Recent history doesn’t favor him, as just two of the past 10 U.S. Open winners have even finished in the top 10 in the following Open Championship. But McIlroy has been on a hot streak of late. He’s had a lead after seven of the last eight major rounds this season, and has finished in the top three in three of his last four majors played.

Phil Mickelson has traditionally struggled at the Open Championship in his career. He has just one top 10 finish in 16 appearances as a professional, a third-place finish in 2004. In fact, in 10 of his 16 starts, he’s finished 40th or worse, including a 48th place finish last year.

Luke Donald, the top-ranked golfer according to the latest Official World Golf Rankings, enters the Open Championship fresh off his victory at the Scottish Open. However, he’s historically not played well here, making the cut in just five of 10 starts. Furthermore, it’s been almost two decades since an Englishman won, when Nick Faldo hoisted the trophy in 1992.

Lee Westwood is perhaps the best player to never have won a major, with eight top-five major finishes and two second place finishes. Yet Westwood appears poised to finally break through, having finished among the top three in five of his last seven majors, including each of the last two Open Championships.

Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen will try to become the third man in the last six years to successfully defend his Open Championship title. Oosthuizen finished tied for ninth at last month’s U.S. Open, his highest major finish outside the 2010 Open Championship win. But overall Oosthuizen has largely been a non-factor at majors, with nine missed cuts in 12 majors played.

Having trouble picking a winner from the field? You’re not alone. Over the last 11 majors played, there have been 11 different winners. It's the longest stretch of its kind since 2002-05, when there were 12 consecutive majors won by 12 different players.

Your best bet might be to pick a golfer without a United States flag next to his name. The last five majors have been won by non-Americans, the first time that's happened in Major Championship Golf history. Three of the last four Open Championships have been won by non-Americans, and last year at St. Andrews, no American finished in the top five for the first time since 2002.

Snedeker's quick approach reaping benefits

April, 27, 2011
Every week, Numbers Game provides a stat-based look at the PGA Tour at This week, Justin Ray looks at the three items to keep an eye on this weekend in New Orleans. His full article can be found here.

Brandt Snedeker: Last week’s winner posted the lowest final round score by a winner so far on Tour this season with his 64 on Sunday. Snedeker has a very aggressive, confident approach to the ball when he putts -- if you watched him Sunday you know he spends very little time over the ball before making his stroke.
Brandt Snedeker

His putting numbers may suggest public course patrons and club players quicken their approach on the greens. Snedeker is second on Tour this season in putting average (1.695), fourth in both total putting and one-putt percentage (44.8), and best on Tour on putts from 10 to 15 feet. He’s made 47.8 percent of those this season.

Luke Donald: Lost in Sunday's dramatics in South Carolina was the emergence of a trend regarding the still-world-No. 3. Last Saturday marked the seventh time in his PGA Tour career that Donald held at least a share of the 54-hole lead in an official Tour event; however, it was the sixth time that he failed to win. That’s a 14.3 percent winning clip.

For a bit of context, let’s look at the three most prolific PGA Tour winners of the previous decade. Tiger Woods has won 48 of 52 tournaments (92.3 percent) where he held at least a share of the 54-hole lead in his PGA Tour career. Phil Mickelson (24-for-33) is at 72.7 percent, and Vijay Singh is 19-for-32, 59.4 percent.

Steve Stricker: Just three of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are in the field this week: (3) Donald, (5) Graeme McDowell and (9) Stricker. Stricker will make his first start since finishing tied for 11th at the Masters Tournament, and will be seeking his first win on Tour since his 26-under-par performance last summer at the John Deere Classic.
Steve Stricker

Stricker has been a model of consistency the last year or so. His streak of 30 straight tournaments in the money is the longest active run on Tour.

The magic number for Stricker, though, is 70.

Stricker has played 19 PGA Tour stroke-play events since last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. In nine of those events he hit 70 percent of his greens in regulation or better, and finished in the top 10 eight times. In the 10 events that he was lower than 70 percent GIR, he finished in the top 10 just once.

Numbers Game: The Heritage

April, 19, 2011
Every week, Numbers Game provides a stat-based look at the PGA Tour at Here are three key numbers to think about this weekend:

56.77: If your favorite player is having to scramble for a lot of pars this week, try not to fret -- the rest of the field should be doing the same. Last year at Harbour Town, the field hit just 56.77 percent of their greens in regulation. That number was the second-lowest on the PGA Tour in 2010; only Pebble Beach the week of the U.S. Open was more difficult (51.78 percent were hit that week).

To offer even further context, this year, 15 of the 20 events on Tour have had the field hit 60 percent or more of their greens in regulation. Last year’s winner, Jim Furyk, hit 61.1 percent of his greens in regulation here en route to victory, his lowest percentage in any of his 16 PGA Tour wins, by far.

However, the numbers say that if you miss the green (and you’re going to miss it a lot -- the average green size of 3,700 square feet makes them some of the smallest on the PGA Tour) players still have a great shot at making par. The PGA Tour has player-specific statistics for 50 events in 2010. Harbour Town was 48th out of 50 (so, third-easiest) in putting average in 2010, 44th in scrambling, and dead last in 1-putt percentage difficulty.

Those numbers speak largely to a consequence of small greens being missed by players, some relatively easy clean-up shots around the green, which in turn result in shorter putts, many for par. The key phrase for this week: up-and-down.

3: There may not be a more obvious pick to succeed this weekend than current world number three Luke Donald. Donald has finished T-3rd, T-2nd here the last two years, is 22-under-par in his past seven rounds at Harbour Town, and is coming off one of his best career finishes in a major -- a tie for fourth at Augusta National.

If you want an early front-runner for PGA Tour player of the year, Donald is probably it. He has a win in what many think is the toughest non-major to win on Tour (WGC-Accenture Match Play), four top-10 finishes in five starts, had the previously mentioned tie for fourth at the Masters, and is currently fifth on the money list. The only two-time winner on Tour this year, Mark Wilson, would beg to differ with that assessment, but when evaluating a total body of work, it’s tough to pick against Donald.

1982: To have the Heritage two weeks removed from the season’s first major championship is a bit jarring to those who follow the Tour week-in and week-out. Traditionally, a closing-hole backdrop of shoreline and that red and white lighthouse have always followed Georgia pines on the schedule. The last time this favorite Tour stop was NOT played the week after the Masters was in 1982. That was the year before last week’s Valero Texas Open winner, Brendan Steele, was born.

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