Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter

January, 13, 2009
Many 2008 champions who played on the forgiving fairways of the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort in Maui last week have island-jumped to Honolulu for the Sony Open at the beautiful Waialae Country Club. These players are in for quite a contrast off the tee. Kapalua was the easiest driving course in 2008, with players hitting 80.16 percent of fairways, but wasn't quite as forgiving this year, with players hitting just 72.37 percent of fairways. This dropoff in accuracy is nothing compared to what players can expect this week at the more traditionally designed 7,060-yard, par-70 Waialae.

Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter

Every golfer and golf fan knows the sport is a game of numbers. One of the most distinct characteristics of golf is that any player's efforts are summarized by an absolute and final statistic: the score. However, as any visitor to the 19th hole knows, the story of the game cannot be told in full by the tally at the end of the round.

"Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter" is your weekly source of insight into the numbers that make a difference in golf, focusing on the PGA Tour. Whether you're looking to wow your buddies in your Saturday foursome or get a little extra help for your fantasy team or are just a stats junkie, this blog is for you.

Every week, this sliver of the Internet will be your one-stop shop for the unique and significant golf stats that best tell the stories beyond the scores.

Waialae (pronounced why-LIE) ranked third most difficult out of 52 courses on the PGA Tour for hitting fairways in 2008. Players were able to find the short grass just over half the time last year, at 50.78 percent. To put this into perspective, Waialae's fairways were more difficult to hit in 2008 than Royal Birkdale (at the British Open) and Torrey Pines (during the U.S. Open), where players found the short grass 51.01 percent and 52.17 percent of the time, respectively. Not surprisingly, Waialae was one of the most difficult tracks in rough tendency, with 41.54 percent of drives finding the primary rough.

• Where are the scoring opportunities? There are going to be a lot fewer par-breakers this week on the PGA Tour. Waialae boasts only one par-5 on each nine. The much more traditional course ranked 28 out of 54 courses in 2008 scoring, with players averaging +0.123 over par. This is a stark contrast to the Mercedes-Benz Championship last week, at which players averaged -2.485 relative to par (more than a 2.5 stroke difference!)

Historically, the 477-yard, par-4 13th hole has been the most difficult at Waialae. At the Hawaiian Open, this hole was played as a par-5. The course was redesigned in 1992 by Desmond Muirhead, allowing for this to be played as a par-4. In 2008, the field recorded 0 eagles, 27 birdies, 257 pars, 130 bogeys, 9 doubles and 0 others. The hole yielded a +0.286 scoring average.

The 506-yard, par-5 9th hole has been the best opportunity for birdie at the Sony. Though the hole is often influenced by a strong left-to-right wind, it is very reachable for these players in two. In 2008, players recorded 15 eagles, 244 birdies, 147 pars, 15 bogeys, 2 doubles and 0 others. It yielded a -.603 scoring average.

• Who you got? Time for some picks. The old sports cliché "He's the champion until someone beats him" usually isn't that applicable to golf. Given the course, the champ's game and his recent play, I like 2008 Sony Open champ K.J. Choi. Choi didn't have his best showing last week at the Mercedes, but he finished T-15th with fan favorite Boo Weekley.

What stands out is that Choi finished third in driving accuracy by hitting nearly 82 percent of the fairways. As stated, hitting the fairway will be a premium this week. Over the past several years at the Sony, the player leading the field in driving accuracy at worst finished in the top 15. Historically, distance hasn't been a premium on this track; past champs include Jeff Sluman, Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon. Corey Pavin won this event back-to-back before the redesign in 1992.

Choi's accuracy, mental game and patience are often not given enough credit, but those of you who watched him take home $415,000 and the 2008 LG Skins title saw a clutch performance and victory over Rocco Mediate, Phil Mickelson and two-time defending champ Stephen Ames.

The "Big Easy," Ernie Els, looked awesome out the gate last week. However, his putter failed him a bit, and on moving day he shot an even-par 73, a net loss of -3.85 strokes on the field. Els bounced back Sunday with a 67 and finished T-6.

Els' knee finally appears healthy and, most importantly, he looks like he trusts it. His swing is shortened, his balance improved and his tempo is smooth as ever. May I remind you that he also won this event back-to-back in 2003 and 2004? And Els has never finished worse than fifth at Waialae.

Geoff Ogilvy: I am not going out on much of a limb with this pick, but did you see this guy dominate a fantastic field last week at the Mercedes-Benz Championship? The scoreboard told the story, with four rounds in the 60s and a commanding 6-shot victory. But seeing is believing, and Ogilvy was in complete control of his game, from mastering the difficult grain on the putting surfaces to dancing darts around the hole with his wedges. (Check out his stats from Monday's blog entry.)

What also stood out were Ogilvy's consistent tempo and trajectory control. His mental toughness came through Sunday as well. After stomaching a two-hour weather delay, he started his round with consecutive bogeys. He settled down a bit, but then recorded consecutive bogeys again on Nos. 7 and 8. This didn't faze the Aussie, as he bounced back with an eagle on the par-5 9th, and followed that up with birdies on five of the next six holes. That sort of firepower, confidence, and resilience won't likely disappear in one week, even in this fickle game of golf.

• Root, root, root for the home team: And last but not least, there are a couple of notable Honolulu natives in the field. If you are looking to dig deeper to fill out your fantasy squad and are at a loss for who to pick this week, why not have a little fun and cheer on the hometown players? Parker McLachlin is a lesser-known 20-something out on tour who secured his card through 2010 by picking up his first PGA Tour victory at the 2008 Reno Tahoe Open.

McLachlin is very familiar with Waialae and is a graduate of Punahou High in Honolulu. This "home cookin'" helped lead Parker to a 10th-place finish at last year's Sony Open. But what has gotten the most media attention is that not only did McLachlin graduate from the same high school as President-elect Barack Obama, but McLachlin's father was also Obama's high school basketball coach.

Over the Christmas holiday, Parker had the opportunity to not only spend time with Obama, but also to guard the 44th commander in chief while playing some pickup ball with another Punahou alum.

And remember the name Tadd Fujikawa? This Honolulu native made a splash in the golf world by qualifying for the 2006 U.S. Open at 15, the youngest golfer to do so since 1941. Fujikawa has received much criticism for turning pro at the age of 17. He just celebrated his 18th birthday Jan. 8. Though just 5-foot-1, what a great story it would be for Fujikawa to stand tall and play the weekend in his hometown. And he got into the field after shooting a 67 in a Monday qualifier at Turtle Bay's Palmer Course, a 7,128-yard, par-72 layout.

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