Stats Can Prove Anything: PGA Tour Player Of The Year

Ask any politician, doctor or sports journalist and they will tell you that statistics can be used to prove almost anything.

Whilst it appears a lock that at 5pm ET on Friday Tiger Woods become PGA Tour Player Of The Year for a record 11th time, I thought it would be fun to use stats to debate why each of the five nominees should, and should not, win the Jack Nicklaus Award.

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Matt Kuchar

Why he should win?

‘Kuch’ has solidified himself as one of the game’s most consistent performers, and flew under-the-radar for most of the 2013 season. The 35-year old has more top-10 finishes than anyone over the last four seasons with 37. Since 2009 he has finished in the top-10 39% of the time he tees it up.

None of the other POTY nominees have more top-10s than Kuchar this season.

Top-10s Since 2009

Matt Kuchar 37
Luke Donald 34
Steve Stricker 29
Brandt Snedeker 28
Dustin Johnson 28

He had two big, strong-field wins at the WGC Accenture Matchplay and The Memorial giving Kuch his first multiple-win season on Tour. He also finished second at Colonial and the Canadian Open.

Adding to his wins and runner-up finishes were 11 further top-25 finishes. In fact, Kuchar finished in the top-25 in 15 of the 23 events he played, a higher number and percentage than any of the other 4 POTY nominees.

2013 Top-25 Finishes

Matt Kuchar 65.2%
Tiger Woods 62.5%
Adam Scott 62.5%
Henrik Stenson 55.6%
Phil Mickelson 52.4%

Finally, what says consistency more than cashing in week after week. Kuchar has the Tour’s longest consecutive cuts made streak, having currently finished in the money in 27 straight events.

Why he shouldn’t win?

Consistency is great, but they don’t give out awards for consistency. Kuchar didn’t perform well enough in the big events: one major top-10 at the Masters and a poor finish T24th-T26th finish to the Playoffs.

His driver seemed to evade him most of the year. Kuch’s total driving rank was 163rd (116th in distance, 124th in accuracy), his worst mark for 5 years.

Kuchar needed a Stenson-like Playoff run to compete for the Jack Nicklaus award and it didn’t happen. His consistency is undeniable, but he needs to find himself in the hunt on Sunday more often, especially in the majors.

His odds: 500/1.

Enjoy the free bar Kuch and keep smiling, you’re not gonna making any acceptance speeches anytime soon.

Phil_Mickelson2-1200

Phil Mickelson

Why he should win?

Phil thrilled as always. Falling in love with a driver early in the year, then playing the remainder of the year with no driver, he notched up another great season. He won at Scottsdale early in the season following an incredible opening-round 60, that could, perhaps should, have been a 59:

He followed up his Waste Managment title with a memorable major victory at Muirfield. Whilst not a PGA event, Mickelson did become the first player to win the Scottish Open and then go on to win the Open Championship in the same year.

In true Phil-fashion he entertained throughout the year, almost winning at Merion, getting up and down from everywhere, hitting some spectacular shots and leading the Tour with 4.22 birdies per round. No player on Tour had more top-3 finishes than Phil with six.

Why he shouldn’t win?

Take away the Claret Jug from Mickelson (good luck!) and his season was fairly average. He struggled, as always, to find a consistent run of form posting consecutive top-10s only once all year.

His average finish throughout the season (30.9) was outside the top-30 for the first time in five years. He had more missed cuts (3) than all the other nominees had combined (2).

A lack lustre Playoffs saw Mickelson post just one top-10 and go largely unnoticed after his Open victory.

Odds: 25/1.

Thumbs up on a memorable year Phil, but don’t go shifting the Claret Jug on the mantelpiece, there won’t be any more silverware coming your way this season.

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Adam Scott

Why he should win?

Seen as the Player Of The Year is voted on by the players and not single ladies, Scott’s chances may not be as strong, however his year has been extremely impressive.

Following a heartbreaking 2012, a historic win at Augusta and victory at the first Playoff event showed that Scott’s new, focused schedule is paying off.

Adam Scott’s Scoring Average:

2013: 69.34
2012: 69.53
2011: 69.87
2010: 70.47
2009: 71.72

In the majors, he was second to none. He was one of only 13 players to make the cut in each of the four majors, finishing in the top-5 three times and for the second straight year his cumulative score was the lowest (tied this year with Jason Day).

Having struggled to live up to his potential in recent seasons, Scott seems to now have the game and temperament to contend in, and win, several more majors.

Why he shouldn’t win?

With a green jacket in his wardrobe, many believed Scott would put together a Tiger-esque season, perhaps picking up a second major. He held a solo-lead at the Open on the back-nine for the second straight year, and was in the hunt Sunday at the PGA Championship, but wasn’t able to convert either chances.

His win at The Barclays was impressive, but his POTY chances faded along with his game over the final three weeks, failing to mount a charge for the Fedex Cup.

Ranking outside the top-100 in Scrambling (119th) and Strokes Gained Putting (102nd) dented his chances of more success.

Odds: 10/1.

Adam, you have permission to go surfing on the day the Player Of The Year is announced. Your name won’t be called. Nice jacket though.

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Henrik Stenson

Why he should win?

Imagine I told you at the start of the year that Henrik Stenson was getting serious POTY coverage? Yet now, he deserves every inch of the columns being written about him. He is a statistical machine.

He ranks inside the top-5 in All Round Ranking, Total Driving, Greens In Regulation, Scoring, Ball Striking, Top-10s and Wins.

Known as a loose cannon, both in his game and his personality, Stenson has had immense focus this year. This is no more evident than in his improvement in finding fairways:

Henrik Stenson’s Driving Accuracy Rank:

2013: 7th
2012: 41st
2011: 186th
2010: 192nd
2009: 184th
2008: 197th

There is little doubt he is the hottest player in golf at the moment (take a look at his earnings since teeing it up at the Scottish Open on July 11th).

In the last 10 weeks of the season , Stenson played eight events, registered six top-3 finishes, picked up two Playoff event wins and took home the Fedex Cup and a bonus cheque for $10m.

If players decide to vote on “what have you done for me lately?” then Stenson might have yet another piece of silverware to add to his new trophy cabinet.

Why he shouldn’t win?

Stenson had one of the finest ball striking years in recent memory, yet he didn’t join the winner’s circle until the 3rd to last weekend of the season?

Too often his putter let him down and he wasn’t able to convert top-10s into wins.

Only 3 times in 23 years the player with the most wins not won the Player Of The Year. If we were talking two wins compared to three, or even four, it may be a debate. Truth is 5 is a whole lot more than 2.

Odds: 10/1.

Solid year for a guy ranked 231st in the world in February last year. There’s a good chance Stenson will take home the European Race To Dubai later this year, so I don’t think he’ll care too much too miss out on PGA Tour Player Of The Year.

World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational - Final Round

Tiger Woods

Why he should win?

5 wins.

Do you need more?

Tiger played fewer events than anyone else (not named Steve Stricker), yet won more than double the events anyone else (five players with two wins).

His game seemed to clicked along with his putter as he dominated in five impressive wins: Players, 2 WGC events, Arnie’s Invitational and Torrey Pines.

For the sixth time in his career Tiger won more than $2,000 for every shot he struck throughout 2013, the only player on Tour to do so this season.

Tiger’s Earnings Per Shot On The PGA Tour
(POTY = Player Of The Year)

2013: $2,040
2012: $1,312
2011: $359
2010: $405
2009: $2,462 (POTY)
2008: $4,191
2007: $2,621 (POTY)
2006: $2,782 (POTY)
2005: $2,078 (POTY)
2004: $1,069
2003: $1,414 (POTY)
2002: $1,473 (POTY)
2001: $1,087 (POTY)
2000: $1,773 (POTY)
1999: $1,268 (POTY)
1998: $360
1997: $366 (POTY)

I know, I know, why didn’t he just hit more shots!?

Why he shouldn’t win?

Majors.

Seems amazing that a player with 14 majors could have so much pressure to win 15. Truth is that 22 majors have past since Tiger limped to victory at Torrey Pines at the US Open and more it seems majors have become the only benchmark for his success.

He was in the hunt Sunday at the Masters and The Open, but failed to mount a late Tiger-charge on either occasion. He hasn’t registered a top-3 in a major in over four years.

Looking back on his season, I wonder just how costly his accuracy on the 15th at Augusta was. Had his ball not struck the flag, he likely would have made birdie. Instead the shot, and resulting penalty drop, cost him four shots – the same number of shots he finished out of the eventual playoff.

He also seems to have lost his ‘aura of invincibility’. Forever known as the man who couldn’t be beaten with the lead (previously 14-for-14 when holding or sharing the 54-hole lead in a major), he has shown an inability to finish or challenge late in events, including this year.

Tiger’s 2013 Scoring Average Rank

1st Round: 2nd
2nd Round: 2nd
3rd Round: 48th
4th Round: 95th*

*Tiger only broke 70 twice in final rounds in 2013.

Odds: 1/10.

Spoiler Alert: Tiger will win his 11th Jack Nicklaus Award and become the fourth Player Of The Year in the last five years to win despite not winning a major.

So there you have it, the nominees: Kuchar was the most consistent, Scott had the biggest win, Mickelson had the most memorable win, Stenson was the best statistically, and Tiger had the most wins.

Any player who’s played 12 or more official PGA Tour events has a vote. Voting ends Thursday and the 2013 Player Of The Year will be announced Friday.

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About jamieonsport

My name is Jamie and I have been addicted to sports since I was 6. As a method of self-prescribed medication for the illness, I thought it would be good to detail my thoughts on the sporting world. So welcome to the workings of my inner-monologue. Join in, ignore, share, laugh, cry, be offended, be inspired, take my ranting however you will, but thanks for checking in.
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6 Responses to Stats Can Prove Anything: PGA Tour Player Of The Year

  1. Joe Farinella says:

    Jamie, very good and informative article. My comment is directed at the $2000 per shot average that Tiger attained this year for the sixth time in his career. Your last line was ” I know, I know why didn’t he just hit more shots”. The fact is that to average a higher $ avg would be to hit fewer shots not more. For example, playing in 15 tournaments and averaging 70 strokes per round and winning say $5,000,000, his avg $ per stroke would be $1190. However, if he were to avg 68 strokes per round his $ per stroke avg moves to $1225. At the extreme, if he he averaged 67 strokes per round he would probably win $10,000,000 an his stroke avg would be $2487.
    Sometimes less is more.

  2. Golf is putting the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Golf is a competitive game of stroke average. Hardly anyone on most golf sites seems to know this. Very little talk of SA.

    Tiger is the all-time SA leader in PGA Tour history. He posted 14 straight seasons (1996-’09) with SA’s in the 60’s, until he hit the hydrant in ’09. Jack had only 4 non consecutive seasons in the 60’s out of his 24 year winning stretch (1962-’86). Tiger has the all-time most Vardon and Nelson awards for seasonal stroke averages, and I’m certain Tiger is the only pro golfer with a career scoring average less then 70. He also has the most individual total wins, highest win %, most POTY awards, most money earned by any athlete of any sport (Forbes Magazine 2009 reported Tiger as first and only $Billionaire athlete).

    Tiger’s also the only player to break the scoring record in all 4 majors, the only player to win 3 US Junior Amateur Championships in a row, followed by being the only player to win 3 US Amateur Championships in a row, and the only player to win 4 pro majors in a row. But, in spite of all of these superlatives by the still prime age of 37, Tiger is not enthusiastically recognized as the GOAT. Everyone seems to be waiting until he gets to 19 majors. I believe 14 is the new 18 after all the “Tiger-Proofing” by Augusta and many other venues in a multi-year attempt to slow Tiger’s winning and protect parity. Jack had a clear path to 18. Tiger’s the GOAT now. Do you agree?

    • jamieonsport says:

      Some great points/stats in there Michael.

      I will say that the money and equipment in the game have aided Tiger’s success. Taking nothing away from his ability, he has been able to overpower courses he likes more, and more often, than Jack. Clearly Stroke Average is an accurate benchmark for a player’s ability, it is essentially his grade at the end of the day.

      Had it not been for injuries and “transgressions”, I do believe Tiger would be close if not at 19 majors right now. It has been well documented, but No.15 will certainly be the hardest one for him to get. He is starting to lose distance and his putting has been inconsistent in recent seasons. His game goes as his putter goes. Often he becomes frustrated with what is happening on the greens and forces that on his long game.

      I stay away from comparing Tiger to Jack. Both were clearly the best of the generation and I am happy with that. Equipment, courses, money, competition and media have changed the game in recent decades, making comparisons less and less viable.

  3. I agree, and thanks for replying. I often read that accurately comparing athletes from different generations is virtually impossible. Nevertheless, no one can deny that comparing athletes from different eras is a daily obsession of sports writers, announcers, columnists, fans and interested observers in all sports. It can’t be done, but everyone does it constantly. Although there is no perfect comparative measuring stick, I believe that stoke average in golf is the best of all of the imperfect performance indicators.

    I’m just amazed that the Richest and most Famous Athlete ever is a golfer, especially since golf is the least popular, least appreciated, least understood by players and rules officials, and the least lucrative (no money guarantees/must make the cut to be paid) of the major sports. A golfer!

  4. Sabine Poisson says:

    Tiger deserves to win. Regardless!

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