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Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Fowler's putting stats prove revealing


Rickie Fowler nearly accomplished something Sunday at TPC Sawgrass that has not been done since 1997.

Trivia question

Who is the only player to win both The Players Championship and the Byron Nelson Championship multiple times each? (Answer below)

Had Fowler picked up the victory at The Players Championship, he would have been the first golfer since David Duval to get his first two career PGA Tour wins in consecutive weeks.

Fowler's T-2 showing at TPC Sawgrass was his fifth career runner-up finish on tour. He moved to sixth on the money list, seventh in Ryder Cup points and eighth in the FedEx Cup standings. His résumé is building by the week, and he's likely going to be one of the most talked-about names leading up to this year's U.S. Open at Olympic Club.

Now if only this kid could putt.

All this success, and Fowler is 126th on the PGA Tour this year in strokes gained--putting. At Sawgrass, Fowler missed 11 putts inside 10 feet, and was just 4-for-21 on putts from 10-20 feet.

His season putting marks aren't good either, regardless of how you slice it. Fowler is tied for 91st on tour in putts inside 10 feet. From 10-15 feet, he's outside the top 120. From 15-20 feet, he's tied for 168th. Yikes.

And we at Numbers Game aren't condemning Fowler -- on the contrary -- we're thinking about what could be should these numbers improve. Fowler has eight career finishes of fourth or better in his PGA Tour career. In seven of them, he gained at least 0.6 strokes per round on the field putting.

And Saturday, when Fowler fired a 66 to surge up the leaderboard, his flatstick was true: zero 3-putts, 2.14 strokes gained on the field, and 16-for-17 on putts inside 10 feet. Fowler seems to be one club away from seeing his career really take off.
"Three on the tee" this week examines the new world No. 5 golfer, a player finding his game and a streak that might never be approached again. The Numbers Game starter calls to the tee:

Matt Kuchar: He has as many top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour since 2010 (25) as anybody else on the circuit (tied with Luke Donald for the most in that span). He's been in the top 25 on tour in birdie average for three straight years. So before last week at TPC Sawgrass, how had Kuchar won just twice on the PGA Tour since October 2009?

We at Numbers Game suppose his final-round scoring average has had something to do with it. In 2011, Kuchar ranked fourth on the tour in overall scoring average. In fourth-round scoring average? Tied for 37th.

"Final round performance" measures how often a player improved his position on the leaderboard in the final round. In 2010, when Kuchar led the tour's money list, he was eighth in the statistic. In 2011 and 2012, he's been outside the top 75.

So will Sunday's performance help Kuchar shake that Sunday stigma? Almost everything Kuchar did in the final round at Sawgrass points to yes. He hit his last 13 greens in regulation, hit eight of his last 10 fairways, and had just a single 3-putt (at 17) on Sunday.

Jhonattan Vegas: Last week, he rung up his first top-10 finish of 2012. One of the biggest reasons? Vegas made 91.0 percent of his putts inside 10 feet -- his best performance over the course of a tournament as a PGA Tour professional. Vegas' 20 holes at better than par were also the most he's recorded in a tournament this year.

In each of his last three starts, Vegas has hit at least 65 percent of his greens in regulation. If Vegas wishes to improve on last week's T-7 finish at Sawgrass, he'll likely need to exceed that number again. In each of his four top-10 finishes on tour, he's hit at least that many greens in regulation. Vegas will be playing about four hours from his old collegiate stomping grounds at the University of Texas at this week's HP Byron Nelson Championship.

Byron Nelson: This week's tournament namesake would have turned 100 on Feb. 4, 2012. We could go another 100 years without seeing anyone come close to approaching a record he set in 1945.

From March to August of that year, Nelson went on a streak that anyone throughout the annals of sports will be hard-pressed to ever replicate. Nelson won an amazing 11 straight tournaments, starting with the Miami Four Ball and ending with the Canadian Open.

Trivia answer

Question: Who is the only player to win both The Players Championship and the Byron Nelson Championship multiple times each?

Answer: Jack Nicklaus (The Players -- 1974, '76, '78; The Nelson --1970, '71)

In the nearly 70 years since then, only two players have even gotten halfway to Nelson's 11 straight victories: Tiger Woods (who has streaks of six and seven straight in his career) and Ben Hogan, who won six tournaments in a row in 1948. Put it into this perspective: since Joe DiMaggio's MLB-record 56-game hit streak in 1941, there have been 28 hit streaks of at least 30 games.

Nelson captured 18 tournaments in all that year, five more than any other player has won in single season (13 by Hogan in 1946) in PGA Tour history.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.