Stenson's balanced game yields Players victory

May, 10, 2009
05/10/09
1:06
PM ET

Henrik Stenson played at a high level across the board all week to beat an elite field at the 2009 Players Championship. The Swede's solid play reached its pinnacle Sunday; his bogey-free 66 at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was a thing of beauty.

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The victory gives Stenson his second PGA Tour win, $1.71 million for the victory, and moves him to No. 5 in world rankings. This week, the stats blog breaks down the 2009 Players Championship, focusing on a comparison between Stenson and Tiger, the numbers that show Woods might still be recovering from ACL surgery, the importance of tee times and timely scoring, plus how the signature 17th hole was tamed this year.

Stenson rock solid; Tiger shaky, but scoring
Stenson's most impressive statistic this week was his weekend driving. The Swede hit 26 of 28 fairways on the weekend (92.9 percent), ranking him first for the final two rounds.

This was quite an improvement compared to Round 1, when Stenson found the short grass on only 5 of 14 occasions (35.7 percent). Despite this start, Stenson still finished T-11 in driving accuracy and sixth in ball striking. This bucks two very strong trends among recent Players champions: Three of the past four winners led the field in both driving accuracy and greens hit.

Stenson did not join the company of Sergio Garcia (2008), Stephen Ames (2006), and Fred Funk (2005) in these ball-striking statistics. Stenson compensated for it with a very solid short game, making 91.4 percent of putts inside 10 feet and scrambling at a 69.6 percent clip on a course that became increasingly more difficult each day.

Here is a more complete breakdown of how Stenson compared with Woods and the field:

Stenson vs. Tiger vs. the field

Stenson (rank *) Woods (rank *) Field avg.
Driving accuracy % 73.2 (T-11) 53.6 (T-62) 63.1
GIR % 68.1 (T-12) 61.1 (T-40) 63.9
Ball striking ** 20 (6) 97 (56) 68
Proximity to hole 35' 5" (T-20) 35' 0" (15) 36' 10"
Scrambling % 69.6 (8) 53.6 (42) 53.7
Putting < 10 feet 91.2 (T-6) 85.6 (47th) 85.9
Avg. Distance of putts made 73'4" (37) 75'9" (33) 72' 11"
Birdie:Bogey ratio 19:8 (1) 17:13 (T-21) 0.94 : 1
Par 3 scoring Even (T-13) +2 (T-38) +2
Par 4 scoring -4 (T-2) +1 (T-20) +5
Par 5 scoring -8 (T-8) -8 (T-8) -4
* -- Ranks out of the 70 players played four rounds.
* -- Ball striking is the player's total driving dank added to the player's GIR rank.

As the table above shows, Stenson really had no glaring deficiencies this week. He bested Woods almost across the board. Both players attacked the par-5s and finished at 8 under on them, but Stenson was exceptional on the par-4s, finishing second in par-4 scoring.

The numbers that stand out for Tiger are his weak ball-striking stats and his putting inside 10 feet. Woods came in to the week making 91.94 percent of his putts inside 10 feet, giving him the unofficial PGA Tour lead in this category.

Although Tiger was 60-of-60 from 5 feet and in, he struggled from 5-10 feet, making only 2 of 11 (18.2 percent). Coming into The Players, Tiger had converted 20 of 34 from this range (58.8 percent.) Woods was particularly poor in one of the most important categories at the Stadium Course: driving accuracy. Tiger ranked 62nd out of 70, hitting only 53.6 percent of his fairways. It's a testament to Tiger's grinding ability and mental game that he still finished T-8.

There are a couple of points of interest with these numbers in relation to Tiger's recovery from ACL surgery.

First, Tiger's upper body was noticeably more buff after he came back from surgery. Putting is powered by your shoulders and given feel through your hands; Tiger now has broader shoulders and stronger hands. The quickening greens at TPC Sawgrass might have exposed that Tiger hasn't been able to mentally adjust yet to these physical changes.

As to the driving accuracy item, this might also be rehab-related. Giving further analysis to Tiger's driving, he ranked dead last in the field in right rough tendency at 24.5 percent (13 of 53). Right rough tendency is the percentage of times a tee shot comes to rest in the right rough on laser-measured drives. The tendency for Tiger to miss right might be a result of his not fully trusting his surgically repaired knee, or it might be a carryover effect from the swing changes he made before surgery to minimize the torque on his knee.

Timing is everything
An interesting way to break down scores is to compare a player's score to the field average that day. That way, one gets a better idea of just how good a closing-round 66 might be or that a final-round 73 might be better than most.

Round and round we go

Stenson Field diff. Woods Field diff. Cejka Field diff. Field avg.
Round 1 68 -4.08 71 -1.08 66 -6.08 72.08
Round 2 69 -3.38 69 -3.38 67 -5.38 72.38
Round 3 73 -0.61 70 -3.61 72 -1.61 73.61
Round 4 66 -7.46 73 -0.46 79 +5.54 73.46
Total 69.00 -3.69 70.75 -1.94 71.00 -1.69 72.69

The final analysis above shows that Stenson's 6-under 66 on Sunday was 7.46 shots below the field average. Looking at Tiger's numbers, his biggest move was on moving day when he shot -3.61 below the field average to move up 20 spots on the leaderboard.

Another timing item worth looking into is the early/late scoring by round. It was quite warm in Florida this week, and the grounds crew allowed the course to dry out as the day and week progressed.

Not surprisingly, it was more difficult to play late in the day each round at the 2009 Players Championship. This is of particular note on the weekend when you consider that the early players began the day at the bottom of the field and they still bested the players at the top.

Time and time again

Early Late Difference
Round 1 71.69 72.92 +1.23
Round 2 72.37 72.39 +0.02
Round 3 73.46 73.76 +0.30
Round 4 73.00 73.91 +0.91
Total 72.46 72.92 +0.46

This analysis supports the idea that the course was drying out and becoming more difficult; however, it also needs to be noted that there is also much less pressure on the players ranked 36th to 70th (early tee times) than the top 35 (late tee times).

The signature hole
The 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course is one of the most recognizable patches of ground in the world of golf. Nice weather with low winds took some bite away from the teeth of this short but difficult hole.

Pete Dye's signature hole had less than half as many balls in the water this year compared to 2008, and less than one-third the water visits of 2007.

Waterlogged

Year Balls in the water
2009 30
2008 64
2007 93
2006 57
2005 68
2004 30
2003 29

On the week, the hole played to an average of 3.025, the easiest it has played in the past five years.

Notables
• Stenson is the first Swedish-born player to win The Players and joins Sandy Lyle (1987) and Garcia (2008) as the only Europeans to win in the tournament's 35-year history. Stenson continues an impressive record at The Players: T-23rd, T-10th, T-3rd, 1st.

• Alex Cejka, one week removed from an epidural, held the largest 54-hole lead in the tournament's history at Sawgrass. Despite his Sunday struggles (79), Cejka still managed his best 2009 finish this week at T-9. He had hit 83.3 percent of his fairways entering Sunday, but managed just 7 of 14 in the final round.

• The third-round leader/co-leader has won 14 of 19 events (74 percent) on the PGA Tour this season. Last year, the third-round leader/co-leader won only 22 of 46 events (48 percent).

• Tiger Woods is now 8 of 21 (38 percent) when entering the final round second or tied for second. This was the 22nd time Tiger has entered a final round 5 shots back; he has won two of these, most recently at Bay Hill this year.

• Geoff Ogilvy (T-22) maintains the top spot in the FedExCup standings for the 11th consecutive week. His 1,431 points lead second-ranked Phil Mickelson, who owns 1,377 points.

• Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jim Furyk's T-5 finish is his third top-5 at The Players in his past six starts.

• Jeff Klauk, whose father is the former superintendent of the Stadium Course, had the best showing of 19 first-time competitors, finishing T-14.

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com. Information from the PGA Tour was used in this report.

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