Beyond the numbers from 2011

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
3:24
PM ET
There was really no shortage of storylines on the PGA Tour in 2011.

Rory McIlroy's rise, then fall, then meteoric rise. Luke Donald's staggering consistency. The world-No. 1 shuffle. A playoff worth over $11 million dollars. Sunday at Augusta.

Trivia question

Keegan Bradley (108th) and Darren Clarke (111th) were both ranked outside the top 100 when they won majors this year. What year produced the highest combined rankings of two major champions since the rankings began in 1986? (Answer below)

And we haven't even mentioned Tiger Woods.

The compelling stories were plentiful this year -- numerous, if you will. We at Numbers Game present the most significant numbers in golf in 2011:

5 -- Career major championships won by Seve Ballesteros
Though numbers are the forte of this blog, there are some men in sports who can't be best described with statistics. Seve Ballesteros, who the world lost in 2011, is certainly one of those men.

Seve's five majors, 50 European Tour victories (most all-time), and 91 total professional wins would be more than enough to cement his legacy as one of the most accomplished golfers of the last 50 years. But Seve's flair for the dramatic and charismatic personality are what separates him in the annals of golf.

Seve won three Open Championship titles -- since 1959, only Tom Watson has won more. Seve's five major victories trail only Harry Vardon and Nick Faldo for most by a European player. Seve won 20 Ryder Cup matches in his career (tied for third all-time), and was the youngest Masters champion ever until Tiger Woods came along in 1997.

18 -- Record number of playoffs on PGA Tour
Free golf was everywhere this year. In 2011, we saw more playoffs -- 18 -- on the PGA Tour than in any other year in the circuit's history. So it was fitting that both the year's final major and the Tour Championship were decided in extra holes. Also fitting was the man who won that Tour Championship playoff, Bill Haas, has lost twice in playoffs already over the course of the season -- to Jhonattan Vegas at the Bob Hope, and to Scott Stallings at the Greenbrier Classic.

2 -- Seven players tied for most wins (2)
The last time we saw 16 or more playoffs in a year was 1991. That same year was also the last time no player on the PGA Tour won more than twice.

Seven players won twice on the PGA Tour in 2011 to tie for the lead. In 1991, eight players shared the lead with two wins, including the likes of Nick Price, Fred Couples and Ian Woosnam.

Fans can take that statistic a couple of different ways. The pessimist might say that golf is starving for a star to dominate and captivate fans like Woods in his prime. The purist might say that the parity makes every tournament more interesting and dramatic.

1 -- World No. 1 Luke Donald's ranking in several PGA Tour statistics
While Donald still seeks his first major, the word "first" applies to several positive things involving his game in 2011. He ranked first in the Official World Golf Rankings, and was first on the PGA Tour this year in scoring average, final round scoring average, money earned, and the new statistical metric -- strokes gained -- putting. And let's not forget first in voting for PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Possibly the most amazing number for Donald this year wasn't "1" though, it was 14. As in 14 top-10 finishes in 19 PGA Tour starts in 2011. That's three more than 2010 tour leader Matt Kuchar had last season, and Kuchar played in 26 events. With the consistency and shot-making acumen Donald displayed this year, many believe it's a matter of time before he claims his first major title.

111 -- World ranking of Darren Clarke the week of his Open Championship win
Entering the 2011 Open Championship, if you were to bet on one European player to win it, Donald would have been a logical selection. Darren Clarke? Not so much.

Clarke's world ranking of 111th the week of his Open victory was the fifth-lowest of any major champion since the rankings began in 1986. At age 42, he became the first player to pick up his first major title after age 40 since Mark O'Meara at the 1998 Masters. And by following countryman Rory McIlroy's win at the U.S. Open, Northern Ireland became the first country -- outside of the U.S. -- to have different men win consecutive majors since 1910. That year (as I'm sure you're aware), Scotland's Alex Smith and James Braid won the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

6 -- Majors played without an American winner until Keegan Bradley's PGA Championship victory
As unlikely a champion as Clarke was, maybe no major champion in the last several years was as out-of-the-blue as the man who snapped the longest American major drought ever, PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.

The 25-year-old rookie became the first player since Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open Championship to win his first career start in a major championship. Even more remarkably, he's the first since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open to win his first major championship start on U.S. soil. The unlikely champion also became the first player to win a major the year after graduating from the Nationwide Tour.

-16 -- U.S. Open record score in relation to par for Rory McIlroy at Congressional
Whereas Bradley's performance came from left field, McIlroy's dominating display at the U.S. Open was a player becoming what the world anticipated.

At just 22 years, 46 days, McIlroy became the second-youngest major champion since World War II. Only Woods at the 1997 Masters was younger. En route to becoming the first wire-to-wire (no ties) winner since Tiger in 2002, McIlroy shattered the U.S. Open record for lowest score to par (-16, four shots better than Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach).

McIlroy did it with amazing accuracy -- his 62 greens in regulation hit were the most by anyone in a U.S. Open since 1980, when folks started keeping track of such things.

4 -- Consecutive birdies made by Charl Schwartzel to win Masters
Where each major of 2011 was memorable for different reasons, no atmosphere was more electric than what we saw Sunday at Augusta.

Sunday at the Masters this year, eight different players held the lead at some point. But the man to hold it when the dust settled, Charl Schwartzel, got there in legendary fashion. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Schwartzel was the first player in the last 20 years to play the last four holes of the Masters in 4-under par.

Schwartzel became just the third player to make the Masters his first career PGA Tour victory -- joining Bernhard Langer in 1985 and Claude Harmon in 1948.

Trivia answer

Question: Keegan Bradley (108th) and Darren Clarke (111th) were both ranked outside the top 100 when they won majors this year. What year produced the highest combined rankings of two major champions since the rankings began in 1986?

Answer:2003 -- Ben Curtis (396th) and Shaun Micheel (169th)

Masters Sunday began with McIlroy seemingly preparing to win that first major -- but his final round score of 80 was tied for the worst by a 54-hole leader in Masters history, joining Ken Venturi in 1956 and Sam Snead in 1951.

749 -- Days between wins of any kind for Tiger Woods
No, it wasn't an official win. Yes, the field had just 18 players. But the clutch putting (birdies on the final two holes to win it) and the subsequent fist-pump celebration looked like the old Woods.

The victory itself isn't what was significant for Woods at the Chevron World Challenge, but more what the victory seems to promise. That the Tiger of old may be lurking in 2012.

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, Tex., with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com or follow him on Twitter @JRayESPNGolf.

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