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Tuesday, May 17, 2011
K.J. Choi heads a trio to watch


Trivia question

The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, played since 1946, is the longest-run event on the PGA Tour to be played on the same layout. What is the Tour's longest-running event overall (majors not included)? (Answer below.)

Over the past few years, there have been two pervasive storylines in the world of golf. Fans are probably growing tired of both of them.

One involves a former world No. 1 and his struggles. The other: American golf stinks, while international players are dominating the sport. However, we at Numbers Game are proposing a new way to look at the pattern of winners of the world's most prestigious events.

Maybe the problem is we're framing the discussion wrong. Maybe we've reached the point in the sport where we can no longer pit one country against the rest of the planet.

The long-held perspective in golf that it's "America against the world" seems a bit outdated and unfair at this point. Sunday at the Players Championship marked the fourth straight year an international player has won at TPC Sawgrass. K.J. Choi (South Korea) followed previous winners Tim Clark (South Africa), Henrik Stenson (Sweden) and Sergio Garcia (Spain).

Add the "fifth major" to the four recognized major championships, and since 2008, that's the United States with four wins, the world with 13.

During that span of 13 majors and four Players Championships that have been held, the United States is tied for first in titles won with four. South Africa has also won four times in that group of tournaments. The other countries with more than one are Ireland (Padraig Harrington's back-to-back wins in 2008; keep in mind that Graeme McDowell hails from Northern Ireland) and now South Korea, both with two.

If an American fails to win this year's U.S. Open, it will mark the first time in the modern era that an American went five majors played without a victory. Back in April, when Charl Schwartzel won at the Masters, it marked a first in the history of golf: in addition to the Americans not currently holding the Ryder Cup, no American player is the reigning champion at a major.

Embrace the global game, American fans. Consider this: Since the 2009 Masters, five different continents have seen at least one native son win a major championship.


Three on the tee this week looks at a trio of intriguing players, from last week's field and this weekend at Colonial and the World Match Play Championship. The starter calls to the tee:

K.J. Choi: Mr. Choi's victory at TPC Sawgrass last weekend was the eighth of his PGA Tour career, and undoubtedly his biggest. Like so many successful Tour veterans, Choi seems to lack just one more credential on a great career résumé -- a major championship. It's not like he hasn't been in the mix: he's got six career top-10 finishes in majors, and five times he's been in the top four on the leaderboard entering the final round of a major.

If Choi is to become the second Asian-born player to win a major championship, though (in 2009, Y.E. Yang earned that distinction with his PGA Championship win), he'll have to buck some history. Only three players have ever won the Players and a major championship in the same year: Tiger Woods in 2001, Hal Sutton in 1983 and Jack Nicklaus in 1978.

Adam Scott: Your girlfriend's favorite golfer to look at, Scott, has enjoyed great success in the Lone Star State in his career. In fact, he's won three times in Texas: the 2007 Shell Houston Open, the 2008 Byron Nelson and last year's Valero Texas Open. Three down, one to go.

Scott is looking this week to become the first player to ever complete the Texas Slam. Amazingly, no one has ever accumulated victories in all four Texas PGA Tour events in their career. Nine other players have won three legs of the Texas Slam, including all-time greats Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Ben Crenshaw (the last two of which are Texas natives).

Luke Donald: With seven top-10 finishes in a row on the PGA Tour, Donald continues his ascent up the world rankings (he's No. 2 this week). Since 2006, only one player who ended up leading the PGA Tour in top-10s had a streak longer than Donald's: Woods had eight straight top-10 finishes in 2009.

Donald is playing this week at the World Match Play in Europe and has rung off 21 straight rounds of par or better. That's the longest active streak on the PGA Tour and one shy of the best streak on tour this year (22 by Brian Gay). His last round over par came in the third round of the Honda Classic, when he shot 2-over 72.


If you catch the broadcast of the Colonial this weekend, you're likely to hear a lot about the "Horrible Horseshoe" -- holes 3, 4 and 5. There's merit to that name, too -- those three holes were the first, second and T-third toughest on the course in 2010.

Trivia answer

Question: The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, played since 1946, is the longest-run event on the PGA Tour to be played on the same layout. What is the Tour's longest-running event overall (majors not included)?

Answer: BMW Championship (1899).

The stretch of tough holes sticks out especially, though, because of the birdies that are to be found everywhere else on this course. Zach Johnson set the 72-hole tournament record here last year at 21-under. Since 2000, no winner has been fewer than 11 shots under par, and over the past four years, the winner is a combined 66-under par.

In 2010, holes 3, 4 and 5 played to a combined average of plus-0.301 shots over par. The rest of the course? Nearly two shots under par on average. Just something to keep an eye on this weekend in Texas.

Numbers Game is a weekly stat-centric look at the PGA Tour.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.