Each week on my blog, I pick 10 players to win the PGA Tournament at hand. This is based on historical data as to what type of players the particular golf course favors along with three-year, five-year and 10-year averages in order to determine what holes are most critical to having success in the tournament and what players are most likely to play those holes the best. With the picks, I list the actual Vegas odds of the player being the outright winner of the tournament.

A couple of weeks ago in an interview with Matt Adams on his “Fairways of Life” show, he asked me to pick a winner and a dark horse for the Tampa Bay Championship. I selected Adam Scott as the favorite who was at 14:1 odds to win the tournament. But, the data suggested that Kevin Streelman was likely to play well at the tournament and I mentioned that he was my dark horse pick who was at 200:1 odds. Streelman went on to make me look really smart by winning his first PGA Tour event of his career and his first win in any tournament in five years since he won his local club championship in Arizona.

While there are some courses that certain golfers just seem to play well because the course fits their eye, it is very obvious that certain courses tend to favor players with certain strengths in their game. This week’s Shell Houston Open favors bombers as the course is fairly forgiving off the tee and each of the par-5s are very long. A course like Pebble tends to favor putting (Brandt Snedeker won) because the greens are so difficult to putt on. And a course like Innisbrook tends to favor driving and what I call “danger zone” play (shots from 175-225 yards); both of which Streelman has done exceptionally well this year.

However, as I continued to make picks I started to notice that Vegas’ odds were fairly accurate. There would be times that the data would heavily favor a certain player and when I would look up his odds, they would end up being a long shot to win and then he would put forth a poor performance. It’s the old mantra of “Vegas knows something we don’t.”

Eventually, I started to see what Vegas favors when it comes to making odds: performance in previous events.

While it is not the most accurate way to pick winners, I think that if a person can get a good idea of the style of game a course favors and the player’s performance in previous events, that person can better pick players for a fantasy golf leagues. I also think it gives a good idea of how important confidence and momentum is to a golfer’s success on Tour.

First, here’s a look over the last five years of the tournament winners and what they did in the tournament the previous week (made cut, missed cut or did not play).

Table 1

I did not count winners who played a WGC event in the previous week since there is no cut in those tournaments. I did count the first event of the FedEx playoffs, which is usually the Wyndham Championship. But, I did not count the rest of the playoffs since the design of the playoff system would skew the data.

With that said, we still see these results:

Made Cut Prior Week: 64 out of 166 players (38.6 percent)

Did Not Play Prior Week: 79 out of 166 players (47.6 percent)

Missed Cut Prior Week: 23 out of 166 players (13.9 percent)

There are few interesting parts here. For starters, 86.2 percent of the winners in the last five years on Tour either made the cut or did not play in the prior week’s tournament. The other is that the winners were more likely to have not played in the previous week’s event than to have made the cut in the previous week’s event. Lastly, many of the winners that did miss the cut in the previous week’s event won at a minor event like the Puerto Rico Open or they missed the cut in a major and won the following week.

I think this shows how important confidence and momentum can be for a player’s success on Tour. That is why Steve Stricker’s limited schedule makes sense. A golfer can struggle in a tournament, take a week or two off to regroup and have better odds of winning the next tournament than if he plays in a tournament and continues to miss cuts. And if you’re a player who has made a cut in a tournament, you probably should look to continue to ride that streak as it may lead to victory.

I also found another commonality in winners on Tour in that they have played in that tournament at least once before. Here’s a look at the winners from the past five years and whether or not they had played in the tournament previously.

Table 2

For regular Tour events, I only looked at tournaments where the same course was played in the previous year. For Majors, I counted any player who had played in that Major before. But once again, 86.2 percent of the winners over the past five years have previous experience in the tournament they won.

With that, over the last five years there was less than a 2 percent chance that a winner would be a golfer who had no tournament experience and missed the cut in the previous week’s tournament.

Therefore, I believe winning on Tour has a lot to do with getting a course that suits a player’s strengths, a player that has been playing fairly well recently and a player who has some sort of experience playing the tournament before. Mix in a little bit of luck and great things can happen.

But, for those of you who like to play in fantasy golf leagues or play the Vegas odds, I think this gives a general guideline of what players to avoid picking.

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  1. Really interesting article. I always suspected your methodology would be a safe bet, but have never had the time or wherewithal to get all those tidbits… Any good sites that provide concise summaries of lesser known player’s strengths/weaknesses? Maybe another that gives info about the course, it’s tournament setup, and changes to the layout from year to year?