Category archive: Ernie Els

HOYLAKE, England -- Ernie Els is a very strong man in every conceivable way -- note the work he has done for the cause of helping his son, Ben, and millions of other children who have been diagnosed with autism.

But Els is also known as a very nice man, which might explain why he lost any chance of winning the Open Championship for the third time with his very first swing of the tournament.

Els' wayward opening drive Thursday veered left and struck a spectator in the face. The Big Easy didn't take it easily, and for good reason.

"There was blood everywhere," he said.

Els was so distracted and so distraught, he three-putted from a foot and finished the first hole with a triple-bogey 7 to start a round of 7-over 79 he called "a nightmare." The four-time major champion later discovered the spectator wasn't badly hurt.

"Really tough day today," Els tweeted. "Just spoke to the gentleman I hit on the 1st and happily he's fine. Got him some tickets at @The_Open this weekend."

Only Els won't be joining that gentleman at Royal Liverpool for the weekend. He did turn in a score of 1-over 73 Friday, but it was much too little, much too late to make the cut. And when his round was complete, Els peeked into the media interview area where playing partners Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson would speak and quickly ducked away.

Asked how badly he thought Els was affected by the incident, Mickelson said, "Yeah, he told me even before that (three-putt) happened. He said, 'I hit him in the mouth.' And he was shook up. And I tried to say, 'Look, you can't worry about that. I do that all the time.' But it didn't help, I guess."

Els admitted Thursday that he couldn't stop thinking about the injured man, whose name wasn't released by tournament officials.

"Yeah," he said, "I was kind of finished."

In the end, a genuine good guy was done in by compassion. There are worse ways to exit the Open Championship.

No bad blood between Scott, Els

March, 15, 2013
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Adam Scott's time between tournaments this week was spent helping out a friend, then accompanying him to Augusta National to get a sneak peek at the Masters venue.

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Adam Scott
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesEven though Adam Scott lost the Open Championship in July to eventual champion Ernie Els, the Australian and the South African remain close friends.

That the friend is Ernie Els should come as no surprise, given that the two golfers have been close for years.

Scott participated in the Els for Autism event on Monday at PGA National -- Els' son, Ben, is autistic -- then went with the Big Easy to get a look at Augusta National on Tuesday.

And that little matter of last year's Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's was never an issue.

Els, of course, captured the Claret Jug after Scott bogeyed the final four holes to lose by one. It was a crushing defeat for the Australian, albeit an uplifting win for Els, who had gone 10 years between major victories.

"I was very happy for Ernie," said Scott, who on Friday moved into contention at the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank. "I think he's an incredible talent and he's one of the best players I've seen on a golf course. I've played so much golf with him and seen him do such incredible things. I think he could have won 10 majors.

"So he paid his dues, and whether he won it or I helped him win it a little bit … it doesn't matter. He won it. Probably eased the pain a little bit that he was a close friend of mine. I could feel some happiness for him."

As for the trip to Augusta, it was just the two of them on a busy Tuesday with several other PGA Tour players and members on the course. The 77th Masters begins April 11.

"I thought it was in the best shape I've ever seen it this early in the year," said Scott, who tied for second at the Masters in 2011. "They must have had some nice warm days and cool nights, and a lot of grass seems to be growing. Sometimes it can be a little thin early on, but it looks great. It's Augusta. It's pretty much perfect."

Scott tied for third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Sunday after shooting a final-round 64. The Tampa Bay Championship is his final tournament before the Masters.

Digging into the belly putters numbers

November, 30, 2012
Before we at Numbers Game dive into the math, we must offer a disclaimer for prisoners of the moment.

Putting technique controversy is nothing new.

In 1967, the USGA and R&A agreed to prohibit players from straddling the line of their putt. The great Sam Snead had developed a "croquet style" of putting that grew in popularity with players struggling on the green.

Trivia question

Who is the only player to rank inside the top five in strokes gained putting each of the last three seasons? (Answer below)

Fast-forward 45 years, and the belly putter is now in the proverbial cross hairs. Wins in three of the last five majors (Keegan Bradley at 2011 PGA, Webb Simpson at 2012 U.S. Open and Ernie Els at 2012 Open Championship) will do that.

Els' rediscovered recent success says the switch worked, but what do the specifics tell us? Whether or not the switch has been effective for a few players isn't at the core of the debate, but the statistics can lend some clarity as to the impact the belly putter has had.

For starters, not many elite putters are using the anchoring method. Look at the PGA Tour's leaders in putting's definitive metric, strokes gained putting. Not a single player ranked in the top 20 in SGP this year primarily used a long putter. The highest-ranked player using one? Carl Pettersson, who is 21st.

When the Big Easy made the switch, he didn't turn into Ben Crenshaw. Instead, the numbers say it made an atrocious putter simply below average.

In 2011, Els was 178th to 183rd on the PGA Tour in several categories, including strokes gained putting, make percentage inside 10 feet, putts between 4 and 8 feet and putts between 10 and 15 feet.

Els skyrocketed into mediocrity in each of those categories in 2012. He moved to 112th in strokes gained putting, 85th inside 10 feet, and 91st between 4 and 8 feet.

Adam Scott rode a similar escalator to below-average putting when he switched.

In 2010, Scott's last full season with the regular-length flatstick, he was 186th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting and 192nd on make percentage inside 10 feet. In 2012, Scott was up to 148th and 111th in those statistics. That's a definite improvement, but not exactly Brandt Snedeker territory.

A common thread between the switches made by Els and Scott was their huge jump in make percentage on putts between 10 and 15 feet.

Els' ranking in that statistic jumped 55 spots from 2011 to 2012. Scott ascended 74 places -- from 157th to 83rd -- from 2010 to this season. Bradley and Pettersson also rank inside the top 40 on tour in the category.

But not all of the numbers reflected glowing improvement for Els and Scott.

In 2011, Els had 41 three-putts in official PGA Tour events. Want to venture a guess on how many he had in 2012?

That's right: 41.

In 2010, using a conventional putter, Scott ranked 189th on putts between 4 and 8 feet. In 2012, he was just 166th.

The switch doesn't work for everybody. For one week in 2011, Phil Mickelson gave us one of golf's most bizarre sights in recent years when he tried using a long putter.

Lefty finished the 2011 Deutsche Bank Championship tied for 10th, but it wasn't on the strength of his putting. Mickelson made just one putt longer than 15 feet all week; he was 61st in the field in strokes gained putting. He also missed seven putts inside 10 feet.

Trivia answer

Question: Who is the only player to rank inside the top five in strokes gained putting each of the last three seasons?

Answer: Luke Donald

Switching back was the right call for Lefty. With a conventional putter in 2012, he finished 10th on tour in strokes gained putting and made 55 putts of 15 feet or longer.

Because players who have dabbled in long-putter experimentation tend to go back and forth with using the club, it can be difficult to get a firm grasp on what a switch means statistically.

One thing is certain: As long as the anchoring of belly or long putters is allowed by the rules and there's a chance they help a player succeed, then they'll continue to be in some players' bags.

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

'Three On The Tee' tackles top names

March, 20, 2012
Arnold Palmer Invitational week and thinking about the upcoming Masters Tournament seem to go together like iced tea and lemonade. At least here at Numbers Game, they do.

Every winner at Bay Hill since 2000 has gone on to finish in the top 20 at that year's Masters except two -- Kenny Perry (2005) and Chad Campbell (2004). But is success at Bay Hill the best harbinger of Augusta success in the "Florida Swing"?

Trivia question

Tiger Woods has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational six times. Who are the other players to win the event multiple times? (Answer below)

The current stretch of Florida tournaments on the PGA Tour -- The Honda Classic, WGC-Cadillac Championships, Transitions Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational -- has been a before-April staple since 2007. During that stretch, the winner at Bay Hill has finished in the top 20 at the Masters each year.

During that same span, winners of the WGC-Cadillac Championship are 3-for-5 finishing in the top 20 at Augusta. Transitions winners are 2-for-5, while champions at the Honda Classic are 0-for-5.

This week's edition of "Three on the Tee" starts off with a player who is still just hoping to earn a spot in the Masters next month:

Ernie Els: His meltdown at Nos. 17 and 18 Sunday at the Transitions Championship wasn't the most painful to witness on the PGA Tour in 2012 (see: Stanley, Kyle) but should Els not make the field at Augusta this year, it might end up being the most notorious.

Els, who has been in the Masters field every year since 1994, led by one stroke with two holes to play at Innisbrook. He finished bogey-bogey to miss the four-man playoff by a single stroke, missing a putt of 4 feet, 2 inches on the 18th green for par.

If you've paid attention to The Big Easy over the past few years, you know that he's struggled with shorter putts. Els now ranks 158th in putting inside 10 feet on the PGA Tour this year, and 146th on putts between 4-8 feet. Last year, he was even worse -- 180th inside 10 feet, and 183rd from 4-8 feet.

In 2010, when he won twice on the Florida Swing, his ranks were 20th and 28th in those categories.

But what better place for Els to redeem last week's squandered opportunity than the site of his last PGA Tour victory? He will try to not only earn his spot in the Masters this week with a win, but join Tiger Woods as the only player to win the event three times or more.

Speaking of Tiger ...

Tiger Woods: We can't be completely certain about the health of Woods this week at Bay Hill, but we can be certain about the fantastic history he has in this event.

Tiger has won this tournament six times. As said earlier, nobody else has won it more than twice. In fact, the only players in PGA Tour history to win any event more than Woods' six wins here are Sam Snead at the Greater Greensboro Open (eight) and Tiger himself at the WGC-Bridgestone (seven).

And if health is concern No. 1 for Woods, the putter is concern 1-A. Over Tiger's past nine PGA Tour stroke-play rounds that he completed (so not counting his withdrawal from the final round at Doral), three have been even-par or worse, and six have been below par.

In the three par-or-worse rounds, Woods has lost an average of 2.4 strokes per round on the green to the field, and missed 10 putts inside 10 feet. In the six rounds better than par during that span, Tiger has gained 1.8 strokes per round on the field while putting, and missed a combined total of just six putts inside 10 feet.

Doral was the week much of the golf world pegged for Tiger's return to the winner's circle, but of course it was not to be. So what about this week? Keep in mind, Tiger is currently second on the PGA Tour in scoring average at 68.53 (trailing only Rory McIlroy's 67.53), first in all-around ranking and first in total driving.

Of course, golf fans are more recently accustomed to seeing Woods hobble into a golf cart than winning. Since Thanksgiving 2009, Tiger has three more withdrawals (3) than victories (0) in official PGA Tour events.

Phil Mickelson: Maybe it's simply his busy early-season schedule in Arizona and California wearing him out a bit, but Phil doesn't have a stellar career history on the Florida Swing. One would have to argue though that his best play in the Sunshine State has come at The King's event.

Trivia answer

Question: Tiger Woods has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational six times. Who are the other players to win the event multiple times?

Answer: Tom Kite, Loren Roberts and Ernie Els have each won it twice.

Mickelson has four career top-10s at Bay Hill in 12 starts, including a victory way back in 1997. At the Honda Classic, Doral (WGC-Cadillac events held there + the old Ford Championship at Doral) and Transitions combined, Mickelson has just two top-10 finishes in 20 starts.

Mickelson isn't going to be the betting favorite this week, though. Since the beginning of 2010, Mickelson has made seven PGA Tour starts in the state of Florida. In that span, he has never finished in the top 10, and his lone top-20 finish came at The Players Championship in 2010.

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

No need for big names in a major finish

August, 16, 2011

Trivia question

Who were the 2 players to finish in the top-20 in all four major championships in 2011? (Answer below)

Sunday's conclusion to the PGA Championship proved that you don't need big names on a Sunday leaderboard at a major championship to provide big entertainment.

Though television executives might cringe at the sight of a Jason Dufner--Keegan Bradley playoff, true golf fans were treated to a dramatic finish to regulation, followed by clutch shot-making in the three-hole playoff by the eventual champion -- PGA Tour rookie Bradley.

A few notes from the Numbers Game notebook on the season's final major:

•  Bradley, amazingly, won in his first career major appearance. Only two other players in modern major history have won in their first ever start at a major: Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open Championship and Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open.

•  Talk of the "next young American to break through" has been a pervasive theme leading into major championships over the past several years. Though names like Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler are often thrown about, Keegan Bradley was the surprising member of the under-30 crowd to snap the American major drought.

Bradley is the youngest American golfer to win a major since Tiger Woods was in the midst of his legendary "Tiger Slam" from 2000 to 2001, when he won four straight majors for the first and only time in golf history. In fact, Bradley, Woods and Ben Curtis have been the only three American major winners younger than 29 since the year 2000.

•  At 25 years, two months, Bradley became the third major champion this year under the age of 27. Three of the four major champions in 2011 were age 27 or younger (the other two: Charl Schwartzel at the Masters, Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open). The last time that three of the four major winners were age 27 or younger in a calendar year was 2000, when 24-year-old Tiger Woods won three on his own en route to the "Tiger Slam" he completed at the 2001 Masters.

•  Bradley snapped a streak of six straight major championships played without an American winning. That was easily the record in modern major history -- the prior mark was four straight, when non-American players won all four majors in 1994.

•  Bradley marked the seventh straight first-time major champion, and the 10th in the last 11 dating back to the 2009 U.S. Open won by Lucas Glover. The streak of seven straight first-time winners is the longest in modern major championship history.

•  From 2005 to 2008, eight different players won major championships. In just three years since (2009-11), 12 different men have won a major.

•  Bradley's triple-bogey on the 15th hole seemed like the effective end of the tournament, as Dufner's lead climbed to five shots for a brief period of time. But Bradley's resilience was truly historic. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the last player to win any PGA Tour event with a triple-bogey or worse in the final round happened eight years ago -- David Toms at the 2003 Wachovia Championship.

•  Since the inception of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986, only seven players have been ranked 108th or lower and won a major championship. That's now happened in the last two majors -- Darren Clarke was 111th at Royal St. George's, and Keegan Bradley was 108th entering the PGA Championship.

•  With yet another playoff, we inch closer to the record for most playoffs in a PGA Tour season. The PGA Championship made it 14 times we've seen extra holes on Tour this year. That's just two shy of the record, set in both 1988 and 1991.

• Steve Stricker looked like he may have been on his way to his first career major championship -- and seizing complete control of the Player of the Year race after his opening-round 63 Thursday at the AAC. However, it was not to be, as has frequently been the case on Tour this year. A player has opened with a score of 63 or lower this year a total of 13 times, and only twice did that player go on to win the tournament -- Adam Scott (62) at the WGC-Bridgestone and David Toms (62) at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

As far as majors go, it's just as rare for a player to go low Thursday and hang on to win. Stricker was the 25th player to shoot a 63 in a major in any round, and the seventh to do it in the first round. Only five times has a player shot 63 in any round of a major and gone on to win. Of the seven players to do it in the opening round, only two won -- Raymond Floyd at the 1982 PGA and Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 U.S. Open.

The Wyndham Championship

This weekend at the Wyndham Championship marks the last chance for players outside the top 125 in the points standings to potentially qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin in two weeks in New Jersey at The Barclays.

The most talked-about player outside the top 125 is 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, but there are several other huge names who will need to play well or see their 2011 season come to an end.

One of them is Ernie Els (126th), who won twice on Tour just a year ago. Els added Wyndham to his schedule at the last minute in an attempt to qualify for the postseason. Padraig Harrington (130th) is on the outside looking in, too, as is Angel Cabrera (150th). Last year's Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen, is skipping the Wyndham this week (like Woods), ending his Tour season.

Also currently on the outside are Paul Casey (147th) and Justin Leonard (142nd); in the past, both have been among the top 10 players in the world.

Trivia answer

Question: Who were the 2 players to finish in the top-20 in all four major championships in 2011?

Answer:Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel.

Some names on the other side of the bubble to watch include this week's defending champion Arjun Atwal (120th), Heath Slocum (121st) and Camilo Villegas (125th).

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to

Ernie Els' woes with the putter are not contained to this year. He's been bemoaning his work with the flat stick for some time, wondering where the magic went on the greens.

The Big Easy is lauded for his fluid swing, but the three-time major champion is fully aware that a résumé that boasts more than 60 worldwide wins is also due to good putting.

"All of a sudden, it's like, 'Man, what's going on? I'm not making these putts anymore.' Normally when you make a certain putt, from there the momentum comes," Els said.

Those comments were made at the 2009 Memorial, but pick a time during the course of the past few years and Els, 41, has complained about his putting.

Now comes word that Els is toying with a belly putter. He had one in his bag during the pro-am for the Heritage this week and Golf Digest said he was "giving it a tryout."

Whether or not it becomes permanent remains to be seen, but even the thought of working with such a putter and putting it into play suggests Els has reached a point of frustration.

This year, he ranks 159th in putting average and 190th in putts per round on the PGA Tour. His best finish is a tie for 15th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Last year, when Els won twice on the PGA Tour and captured the South African Open as well, his putting had improved. He was 59th on the PGA Tour in putting average after he was 138th in 2009.

That year, he had Callaway make him a putter that looked and felt like the one he had used with great success a decade or more ago.

For Els to use a belly putter or even practice with one does not come without some irony.

It was in 2004, at the SAP-Deutsche Bank Open, where he called for such putters to be banned.

"Nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game," Els said. "Take a [pill] if you can't handle it."

He went on to say: "It's just becoming such an easy way to putt and you are actually pushing the putter into your body and then you can make a kind of perfect stroke with your hands.

"Physically or scientifically, you put the club up against your body and it's resting against something. If you were to put a pencil at the end of the putter, you're going to almost come back on the same angle every time and that's why I say they should be banned."

For now, the rules of golf allow belly putters -- which are typically about 45 inches, or around 10 inches longer than a standard putter. The long putter is usually around 50 inches.

Such putters offer up plenty to debate, as Els acknowledged all those years ago. There is clearly an advantage to being able to anchor the club.

But those who use them, including Adam Scott, who recently switched to the long putter, will say they are not a magic wand.

Scott has found success with the long putter, but is it fleeting? If such putters were so good, why doesn't everyone use them?

For now, at least, Els is willing to see what all the fuss is about -- and whether it will help him get putts in the hole.

Bob Harig covers golf for He can be reached at

Don't expect too much red at Bay Hill

March, 22, 2011

With two PGA Tour events remaining until the Masters, players are hitting high gear in preparation for the season's first major championship.

But the Arnold Palmer Invitational is no simple tune-up tournament. One of the favorite spots on tour for many professionals, The King's event features a challenging course that perennially is one of the most difficult among the non-majors.

Trivia question

The namesake of this week's tournament, Arnold Palmer, won 44 times on the PGA Tour in his 30s. Who is second on that list? (Answer below.)

Numbers don't lie -- let's dive into some of the pre-eminent numerals surrounding the PGA Tour this week:

44: The number of PGA Tour events Arnold Palmer won in his 30's, an all-time record. Numbers don't tell The King's most compelling and memorable stories, but they help accent his incalculable impact on the sport of golf. Palmer's seven major championship victories are more than all but six other players all-time. His 62 PGA Tour victories trail only Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan. He won a tournament in 17 consecutive years, tied for most all-time with Jack.

This week usually serves as a great refresher on just how much Mr. Palmer has meant to golf. This week's event has grown to become one of the marquee events on the PGA Tour, and his presence in and around the tournament has been a big reason why.

8: Speaking of this weekend's event, it will feature eight of the top-20 players in the world, including world No. 4 Graeme McDowell and six-time winner of this event, Tiger Woods. McDowell had a rough showing at Doral two weeks ago (T-42), but before that had made the most of his PGA Tour starts this year: third in Hawaii, T-9 at the Match Play, and T-6 at Honda. McDowell will make just his fourth career start at Bay Hill -- he finished T-2 back in 2005.

6: History doesn't tell us that the winner of this week's event, or next week's Shell Houston Open, will don the green jacket two Sundays from now. There have only been six instances since 1960 when a player won an event either one or two weeks prior to winning the Masters. It's happened just twice since 1990: Phil Mickelson in 2006 (won the BellSouth the week before) and Tiger Woods in 2001 (The Players Championship two weeks before).

5: Ernie Els is your defending champion this week. Last year, Ernie prefaced his Bay Hill win with one at Doral, becoming just the fifth player to win multiple times on the Florida Swing since 1980. The last player to do it before The Big Easy last year? Woods in 2001, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship.

260: Bay Hill was turned back into a par 72 from a par 70 for 2010, and fans were treated to 260 more birdies last year than they were in 2009. Even so, the average score to par last year was +0.892, fifth-toughest on the PGA Tour among non-majors. The previous year, Bay Hill was the toughest course on Tour outside of the major championships, playing to an average of 2.190 shots above par per round.

5.05: Speaking of birdies, Dustin Johnson currently leads the PGA Tour in birdie average at 5.05 per round. Johnson has been knocking on victory's door this year, with a T-3 at Torrey Pines and a runner-up finish at Doral already under his belt. He enters this week's event having made a field-low four bogeys two weeks ago in his last start (the aforementioned Doral event).

+3: Justin Rose has been in the top 10 through 54 holes four times on tour since his win last summer at the AT&T National. In each of those four instances, Rose descended the leaderboard in the final round, playing to a cumulative score of +3. Last week, Rose held the 54-hole lead outright at the Transitions before a round of 74 derailed his title hopes. Rose has just one top 10 in six career starts at Bay Hill.

4.260: Despite the late dramatics had at the 18th hole the last few years, the numbers say don't expect a birdie if you need one with a single hole to play. The toughest hole at Bay Hill in 2010 was the 18th, a 458-yard par-4 that played to an average score of 4.260. Only 43 birdies were made at 18 a year ago, a miniscule 11 percent of the holes played for the week.

Trivia answer

Question: The namesake of this week's tournament, Arnold Palmer, won 44 times on the PGA Tour in his 30s. Who is second on that list?

Answer: Ben Hogan with 43

T-13: Nick Watney shot a closing 73 Sunday at the Transitions Championship, ending a streak of seven straight PGA Tour finishes inside the top 10. During the stretch, Watney picked up a win at Doral, 20 of his 24 stroke play rounds were to par or better (the WGC-Accenture Match Play finish is included in the stretch), and ascended to the top of the PGA Tour money list so far in 2011.

66: It had been 17 rounds on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods shot a 66 or better before the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championships a few weeks ago. (He did shoot 66 in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic in February on the European Tour.) The blazing final round moved Woods to a T-10 finish, his best in an official stateside event since the U.S. Open. Tiger is a six-time winner of this event -- no other player has won it more than twice. Only two tournaments have been won more times than Tiger's take in this event: Sam Snead, who won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times, and Woods himself, who has won the WGC-Bridgestone seven times.

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

Three on the tee for Doral

March, 8, 2011

Each of the top 50 players on the planet are in the field this week at TPC Blue Monster for the newly-sponsored WGC-Cadillac Championships. With a tournament jam-packed with the best names in the sport, we at Numbers Game see no sense in waiting to take our first swing.

Trivia question

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the cinematic release of "Tin Cup." What is the name of the golfer Don Johnson plays in the movie? (Answer below.)

Three on the tee is a glance at three players in the field this week at Doral, using numbers that will amaze, enlighten and undoubtedly delight your senses. Prepare yourself for life-altering links wisdom.

Tiger Woods: His PGA Tour starts-without-a-win mark has reached an unofficial tally of 16 -- which would tie his longest drought without a victory in his career. We say unofficial because the WGC-HSBC Champions event held in China was marked as "unofficial" in 2009, but hazily was decreed "official" in 2010. We at Numbers Game are counting the 2010 tournament as a start without a win, but not 2009.

Regardless, it means he's still not the Woods we knew for so long. It seems like every week we're providing numerical evidence to say "this could be the week!" for Woods to return to form, but believe us this time, will you?

Tiger has won the WGC-Cadillac (or CA, or American Express) six times in his career -- two shy of Sam Snead's mark for most wins of a single PGA Tour event (Greater Greensboro Open). Just one of those have come since the event made Blue Monster its home, but Tiger also won the Ford Championship at Doral twice. Combined, he's 100 under par, with 25 of 28 rounds better than par at Doral in his tour career. In seven career starts in PGA Tour events at Doral, Woods has never finished outside the top 10.

Now that the obligatory Tiger talk is out of the way ...

Ernie Els: The Big Easy ended a two-year victory drought on the PGA Tour here last year with a 4-stroke victory over fellow South African Charl Schwartzel. Els became the third player to win the same WGC event more than once, along with Woods and Geoff Ogilvy (two-time winner of the Match Play).

Els has just one top-10 on the PGA Tour since last year's U.S. Open -- a tie for seventh at the Tour Championship last September. He did, however, win the South African Open in December, edging out Retief Goosen.

There might not be a better course for Els to regain his stateside stride: He's on an eight-round streak of par or better at Doral, and 30 of his last 37 rounds at the course have been at par or better.

Bubba Watson: Is Bubba the best American golfer right now? It's debatable, but Watson is certainly in the conversation. Some notes on Bubba's successful start to 2011:

• He's first on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage (76.8). That's an 11.2 percent increase over his mark in 2010.
• He's second on the money list to Mark Wilson, with a win at Torrey Pines and a fourth-place finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
• His only round over par this year came in the first round of an event he withdrew from because of injury.
• He's first on tour in driving distance, seventh in birdie average and third in ball striking.

The "best American right now" title is an open competition, to be re-evaluated weekly until further notice.

The 18th at TPC Blue Monster is one of the most famous finishing holes on the PGA Tour. The 467-yard beast is gorgeous from a blimp shot above, but distinctly less attractive if your vantage point is the tee box.

Last year, though, No. 18 was downright tame compared to years past, playing to an average score of 4.210 during the '10 WGC-CA Championship. That was the easiest the hole had registered in tournament play since 2003.

Granted, the brutal scoring standard set in years past at the 18th is tough to live up to, but consider the following numbers from last year: there were 36 birdies made at 18 a year ago -- 25 more than in 2009. In fact, the birdie/bogey differential on the hole was -40 (the field made 40 more bogeys or worse than birdies) for the week. In 2009, that number was -114.

Any kind of ability to breathe at 18 is an aberration, though. In 2009, the 18th was the toughest closing hole on the PGA Tour. In 2007, the scoring average was a staggering 4.625 -- which wasn't just the toughest closing hole on tour, it was the toughest altogether, regardless of hole number.

Winners aren't exempt from the hole's wrath: Not scoring well on the 18th doesn't preclude you from winning the tournament. Over the last 10 years, only three times has the winner at Doral played the 18th under par for the week. In 2007, Woods played it to +2 and still won by two shots. The hole is always a source for great entertainment, especially if it becomes the backdrop for drama Sunday.

Trivia answer

Question: This year marks the 15th anniversary of the cinematic release of "Tin Cup." What is the name of the golfer Don Johnson plays in the movie?

Answer: David Simms

From the age-is-just-a-number file: Peter Senior -- he of 51 years, 7 months of age -- has qualified for this week's event. And with that, he will hold the distinction of being the oldest player to ever tee it up in the now-named WGC-Cadillac, and the second-oldest to ever play in a WGC event of any kind.

At the 2005 Bridgestone Invitational, Jay Haas was 51 years, 8 months and 19 days old, which is the record for oldest player in a WGC event. Senior becomes the third player over 50 to qualify for a World Golf Championship event -- Haas did it six times after turning 50, and Fred Funk did it twice.

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

Phil Mickelson has had a busy and, at times, trying year. Who can blame the guy for needing a break?

Mickelson, who in April won his third Masters championship -- and with it a berth in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf -- has announced he will sit out the year-end event to rest and spend time with his family.

A hectic late-season schedule and a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis were cited in Mickelson's decision to skip the Grand Slam (though he still plans to compete in next month's Ryder Cup). He also took a break from the tour last year after both his wife and mother were diagnosed with cancer.

The 28th Grand Slam of Golf -- a 36-hole tournament featuring the season's four major winners -- will be the first of its kind since 1994 to include four international players. Ernie Els, who won the 1997 Grand Slam, will replace Mickelson in the event, which will be held Oct. 18-20 at Port Royal Golf Course in Bermuda.

Mickelson's absence not only removes any American element from the tournament, but also a compelling plot line. In 2004, Mickelson won his first Masters and wrapped the season by firing a record-setting 13-under-par 59 at the Grand Slam event -- a figure that also tied the lowest-ever score posted in a PGA event.

Jason Langendorf is an editor for

Age just a number on PGA Tour

April, 20, 2010

What's the most dominant number in golf this year? It might be 39.

After all, a 39-year-old Jim Furyk won his second PGA Tour event of the year last week at Hilton Head, less than a month after taking first place at the Transitions Championship. The previous week, 39-year-old Phil Mickelson won his third green jacket. Lefty played his last 10 holes at Augusta in 39 shots, while Lee Westwood played his in 42. Mickelson won by 3 strokes.

Trivia question

Last year, Andres Romero was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard during his attempt to win this event in back-to-back years. Jerry Kelly will try to repeat this week at the New Orleans. Who was the first player to successfully defend his title in this event, and what year did he do it? (Answer below.)

This is the third time in Jim Furyk's career he's won more than once in a calendar year on the PGA Tour. Furyk turns 40 on May 12, while Mickelson will reach his fifth decade June 16, the day before the opening round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

The world No. 2 (Mickelson) and No. 5 (Furyk) will join No. 7 Ernie Els as a 40-something; the Big Easy celebrated his 40th birthday in October.

As that miniature trend indicates, the current Official World Golf Rankings aren't currently abundant with youth at the top. In fact, once the calendar turns to 2011, no one in the current top seven will be younger than 34 years old. Anthony Kim, who doesn't turn 25 until June of this year, and Martin Kaymer, who turns 26 in December, are the only players in the OWGR top 10 who are under 30 years old.

A further scroll down the world rankings reveals a bit more youth in spots 11-20, but not much. Camilo Villegas (12), Rory McIlroy (13) and Hunter Mahan (18) are the only 20-somethings in those spots. In all, the current top 20 in the world consists of just as many players who will be 40-plus in January 2011 (five) as players who will be in their 20s.

The winners on the PGA Tour this year follow a similar pattern. This year, there have been 17 regular events held on the tour so far. Seven times, the victor has fallen into the nearly 40-plus category. Only five times was the winner in his 20s, and five times in his 30s. Your defending champion this week? Jerry Kelly, age 43.

Now, the Numbers Game understands that these things are cyclical, and that all things considered, this is not an overwhelming indication of the dearth of youth in professional golf's upper echelon. Still, an interesting set of numbers to think about.

Mad genius Pete Dye has a knack for concocting nightmarish stretches on a golf course. We submit to you the "Triangle of Doom," a trio of lengthy par-4s on the front nine at TPC Louisiana.

Holes 4, 5 and 6 played to a combined average of nearly half a shot above par last year, with a birdie percentage of just 11.5 percent. Compare that to 293 scores of bogey or worse on this stretch of three holes -- or 21.7 percent.

When it comes to the "Triangle," Dye saved the most trying hole for last. The toughest hole on the course this week at TPC Louisiana is the par-4 sixth, a 476-yard behemoth that played to nearly a quarter of a shot over par last year at this event.

The second shot is a 90-degree dogleg to the left, and depending on the wind, some players end up hitting fairway woods into the green. There were only 30 birdies on the hole a year ago, the fewest on the course.

Dropping a shot on No. 6 is commonplace -- there were 82 more bogeys or worse than birdies on the hole last year -- but a chance to get it back immediately follows: the seventh hole plays as the easiest on the course by far.

When Andres Romero won the Zurich Classic two years ago, many people thought the young man from Argentina was on his way to becoming a star. After all, he had finished third at the Open Championship the previous year, firing a final-round 67 at Carnoustie.

However, full-time status on the PGA Tour hasn't been too fruitful for Romero, as he's yet to find himself even close to the winner's circle for a second time on tour.

In 39 starts since his win at Avondale in 2008, Romero has only finished in the top 10 five times. In that same span, he's missed the cut or been disqualified (as he was last year as the defending champion at this event) 13 times.

In 2009, his best finish came at the Northern Trust Open, where he finished T-5. Only one of his past seven rounds on tour has been below par, and since the beginning of March 2009, he has just two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.

At the same time, Romero won't turn 30 until May 2011, and already has established a nice résumé in major championships. He has four top-10 finishes in majors, and five of his 10 best results in official PGA Tour events have come in majors. What path Romero's career takes next will be an interesting one to follow in the coming months and years.

It wasn't a big surprise to those who follow the sport closely when Tiger Woods committed to Quail Hollow next week. But where else will Woods play leading up to the U.S. Open? Let's handicap the nominees, event by event, leading up to Pebble.

May 6-9: The Players Championship
Regarded as golf's "fifth major" by the PGA Tour brass, it's almost a certainty that Tiger will play at TPC Sawgrass. Woods has won the event once (2001) in 12 starts, and finished eighth a year ago. When healthy, he's played the event every year since turning professional. In 2008, when Sergio Garcia won the event, the first person he thanked was Woods for not being there.

May 13-16: Valero Texas Open
This event was a Fall Series tournament until last year, so its history with Tiger is a bit misleading. Even so, he hasn't played the event since 1996, and Woods is not likely to play three straight weeks. Very slim odds he shows up in San Antonio.

May 20-23: HP Byron Nelson Championship
The tour stays in Texas the following week, going to the TPC Four Seasons just outside Dallas. Woods last played the event in 2005, and won it in 1997. In his career, he's played the tournament nine times, including once as an amateur. There's a higher likelihood he plays here, but it's probably not going to happen.

May 27-30: Crowne Plaza Invitational
Not too far away from the previous week's venue, this one's at Colonial in Fort Worth. Tiger hasn't played here since 1997. In all, he hasn't played in one of the regular Texas events since the Nelson in 2005.

June 3-6: The Memorial
Pretty much a certainty he shows up to defend his title at Jack Nicklaus' tournament. Tiger has won there four times, and hasn't missed it when healthy as a professional. Pencil him in for this one, as he will get very heavy odds to win. All things considered, it would not be surprising if this was his first win of 2010.

Trivia answer

Question: Last year, Andres Romero was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard during his attempt to win this event in back-to-back years. Jerry Kelly will try to repeat this week at New Orleans. Who was the first player to successfully defend his title in this event, and what year did he do it?

Answer: Byron Nelson, in 1945 and 1946.

June 10-13: St. Jude Classic
The event in Memphis has never seen Woods participate. It won't happen in 2010, either.

Our prediction? Tiger plays The Players Championship and the Memorial in addition to Charlotte before the U.S. Open in mid-June. One wild card would be at the Byron Nelson in Irving. In his career in those four events, Tiger has won six times, and finished in the top 10 55.6 percent of the time.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to