Putter hurting Fowler, Snedeker, Watney

February, 18, 2014

Maintaining status as one of the sport's elite players is a rare achievement in the world of golf. Gravity remains undefeated, in both life and the Official World Golf Ranking. What goes up must come down.

Ask former world No. 1 Lee Westwood, who's 32nd in the ranking this week. Or Bo Van Pelt, who was 23rd to open up 2013 but is now 78th and without a line in this year's WGC-Accenture Match Play bracket.

Trivia question

Tiger Woods is the only player to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play in back-to-back years (2003-04). Who is the only player to finish runner-up in back-to-back years? Answer below

Several of the game's stars are off to rough starts this season. We at Numbers Game examine what's plaguing three elite players as the golf world's attention turns to Dove Mountain.

Rickie Fowler
There are three unquestionable truths regarding Fowler: an ostentatious wardrobe, appeal to young fans everywhere and stellar iron play. The third trait might be the least famous of the three, but the numbers support the claim -- Fowler ranks sixth or better on tour in approach shot proximity on shots between 100-125, 125-150 and 150-175 yards.

But Mr. Flatbill has missed each of his last three cuts. Granted, he's recently started working with a new swing coach, Butch Harmon, but last year he never once missed the cut in back-to-back PGA Tour starts. Fowler's short game is the biggest reason for his struggles this year, as his scrambling percentage ranks outside the top 100 on tour in all denominations of the statistic (from inside 10 yards and between 10-20 yards and 20-30 yards).

It's his putter, however, that's the biggest culprit. So far this season, the numbers say that Fowler has regressed from an average putter to an abysmal one.

In 2013, Fowler ranked 24th on tour in strokes gained putting. He's 175th this season. On putts inside 10 feet, Fowler has dropped from 79th to 161st.

All of this spells trouble for Fowler coming into the Match Play, where he's been bounced in the first round each of the last two years. Oh, and Fowler's first-round matchup? Match play dynamo Ian Poulter.

Brandt Snedeker
A knee injury suffered last fall that involved a motorized scooter will take the brunt of the blame for Snedeker's slow start to the season. Snedeker has no top-10 finishes and just one top-25 in six starts so far this year.

At first glance, it seems like his full swing isn't the issue. Snedeker's ballstriking and driving accuracy ranks have improved this year. And he actually has the exact same PGA Tour rank in greens in regulation percentage this year (79th) that he did last season.

Not all GIRs are created equal, though. Snedeker ranked T-13 last year on tour in average approach shot proximity. He's 172nd so far this season in the stat.

Snedeker's trademark elite putting has diminished significantly early on this season. In 2012, he led the PGA Tour in both strokes gained putting and one-putt percentage. Last year, he was fourth and sixth in those statistics, respectively. This year? He's 58th in strokes gained putting and tied for 103rd in one-putts.

In particular, Snedeker's putting between 10 and 15 feet has really hurt him. When Snedeker led the tour in strokes gained putting in 2012, he made more than 38 percent of his putts from that distance. So far this year, he's making about 22 percent -- tied for 150th on the PGA Tour.

Snedeker draws David Lynn in the first round of match play, he of one career appearance at Dove Mountain (2013, where he lost in first round). Regardless of his opponent, though, Snedeker will need to play much better this week if he hopes to climb through the Jones Bracket.

Nick Watney
He's made the cut in five of six starts so far this season, but with no top-25 finishes, Watney is struggling by his own high standards. Once again, it's the flat-stick that has dictated this decline.

When Watney ascended into the top 10 in the world back in 2011, it was largely because he became an elite putter. That season, Watney ranked in the top 12 on tour in strokes gained putting, birdie-or-better conversion percentage and putting inside 10 feet. This year, Watney is outside the top 100 in each of those statistics.

Trivia answer

Question: Tiger Woods is the only player to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play in back-to-back years (2003-04). Who is the only player to finish runner-up in back-to-back years?

Answer: Paul Casey, 2009-10

How significantly do putting numbers affect one's ability to score? Watney's tour ranks in greens in regulation percentage (59th) and approach shot proximity (T-34) are actually better this season than they were in 2011 (T-54th and T-68th), but his scoring average rank is 93 spots lower -- down from fifth to 98th.

Watney faces Louis Oosthuizen in an 8-vs.-9-seed first-round matchup. He's gotten out of his first match in all four career starts at this event, but his recent putting woes say not to bet on it happening again.