Flatstick key between Lefty, Tiger at Doral

March, 15, 2009
03/15/09
10:41
AM ET

Golf is such a crazy game. Just a few weeks ago, everyone was wondering what was wrong with Lefty.

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.

After his rough start to 2009, Phil Mickelson quickly silenced his critics, winning two events before Augusta for the third time in his career, the most recent being his first WGC title. Mickelson regained the No. 2 spot in the world golf rankings with the win, and he is now closer than ever to taking over the top spot from Tiger Woods.

This week's stats blog examines just how clutch Phil's short game was at Doral, and just how bad Tiger's putter was despite his great ball striking.

Mickelson's putting stats to start this event were ridiculous: just 42 putts on his first 36 holes. Not surprisingly, he led the tournament at 13-under going into the weekend. His putt totals by round were 20, 22, 28 and 29.

Mickelson's putting stats were aided by his four hole outs, and his 99 putts for the tournament tied his career-low showing at the 1998 MCI Classic.

Runner-up Nick Watney's putter was nearly as impressive, as he totaled just 100 putts. The PGA Tour record for fewest putts in four rounds is 92, by David Frost in the 2005 MCI Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Tiger had a much different outcome on the greens at Doral. Woods struck the ball spectacularly all week, but he had no luck rolling the rock. His putts by round were 28, 28, 31 and 26. Woods' total of 113 putts is a staggering 14 more than Mickelson's, even though Tiger had two hole outs himself.

Tiger finished eight shots back of Phil at 11-under; his T-9 finish equals his worst showing at the WGC-CA Championship in 10 appearances. Although Tiger's putting frustrations were obvious (he choked and flipped his putter multiple times), he has to feel great about his ball striking during the tournament.

With that, let's take a look at some of the more compelling stat comparisons between Phil and Tiger at Doral:

Comparing Tiger and Phil at Doral

Stat Category Phil's Rank Tiger's Rank Phil's Stats Tiger's Stats
Total Putts 2nd T-42 99 113
Putting avg. 4th 74th 1.587 1.816
Avg. distance of putts made 63rd 79th 65' 8" 51' 1"
Birdies 1st 34th 27 16
Birdie or better conversion % 1st 66th 52.17% 28.57%
Par breakers 1st T-35 37.50% 22.22%
GIR 33rd 12th 63.88% 68.06%
Proximity to hole 35th 7th 37' 11" 34' 0"
Driving accuracy T-38 11th 51.79% 60.71%
Total driving T-13 1st 47 21
Ball striking 19th T-2 46 13
Scrambling T-11 4th 76.92% 82.61%
• More PGA Tour statistics

There are some numbers that really stand out here. For Mickelson, 27 birdies is a huge number. And the most telling statistic in his victory is birdies or better conversion percentage. This stat measures a player's ability to make birdie when he hits a green in regulation. Phil was able to capitalize on 52.17 percent of birdie opportunities, whereas Tiger was successful just 28.57 percent of the time.

Tiger hit three more greens in regulation than Phil for the tournament, but Mickelson made 11 more birdies. By comparing both player's GIR and birdie conversion rate, you get an overwhelming sense of how timely and clutch Phil was in his birdie efforts. To give this stat further context, Phil ranked seventh on the PGA Tour in 2008 in birdie conversion rate at 31.42 percent. He surpassed this high ranking number by more than 20 percent this week.

Tiger's numbers show just how phenomenal his ball striking was: He led the field in total driving (sum of the ranks in driving distance and driving accuracy) and he tied for second in ball striking (sum of the ranks in total driving and GIR). However, Woods was fifth-worst in the field in putts per GIR at 1.816.

Another telling stat is average distance of putts made. This is the sum of the lengths of all putts made for the event, averaged out on a per-round basis. In each round of the tournament, a player has 18 putts that go into the hole, whether it's their first putt attempt, second or (cringe) third.

The sum length of Tiger's 72 putts at Doral averaged out to 51 feet and 1 inch per round. Woods ranked dead last in the field in this category, and on a per-hole basis the average length of his putt made was 2 feet, 10 inches. Basically, this stat reveals that Tiger had a lot of short putts for par after missing on his birdie attempts. The leader in average distance of putts made for the tournament was Richard Finch; on a per-hole basis, his average putt made was over 6 feet in length.

One final stat of note is proximity to hole. This number averages the distance from the hole at which the ball stops following a player's approach shot. It gives you a rough idea of how dialed in a player was with his irons, and also assists in quantifying just how legitimate or realistic a player's birdie opportunities might have been. Granted, this is only one number and it doesn't describe how good or bad a player's misses are in relation to the landscape of the course. But over larger samples, it's a reliable indicator of approach-shot accuracy.

Mickelson was in the middle of the pack in proximity, finishing 35th at 37 feet, 11 inches; Woods ranked 7th at 34 feet. On average, Tiger was 4 feet closer than Phil on his approaches, yet Woods made eleven fewer birdies for the week.

Notables
• The par-4 18th hole at Doral isn't just the toughest finishing hole on the PGA Tour, it's the tour's most difficult hole so far this year. For the event, the hole played to an average of 4.479 strokes and allowed only 11 birdies. By contrast, the 529-yard par-5 opening hole at Doral played the easiest of any hole on tour relative to par, at -.804 strokes, allowing 213 birdies and 25 eagles.

• In six events this year, Watney has made every cut and turned in five top-25 finishes. With his win at the Buick and his second-place finish at Doral, Watney already has earned a career-best $1,991,570 so far this year. This surpasses his total in 2007, when he played in 27 events and picked up his first PGA Tour win at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. Overall, Watney has made his last 11 cuts.

• Woods' T-9 finish gives him a top-10 finish in all 10 of his appearances at the WGC-CA Championship; he has 25 total top-10s in 29 WGC events, including 15 wins.

• Mickelson's victory is the ninth win by a player from the U.S. in 12 PGA Tour tournaments so far this season. Also, the third-round leader has won 10 of 11 stroke-play events on tour this year.

• Jim Furyk is playing some very solid golf. He played all four rounds at Doral in the 60s (68-68-69-67) to finish third. His back-nine Sunday total of 5-under 31 was just one shot higher than his closing-nine 30 in his victory at Doral in 2000.

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com.

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