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Opinion & Analysis

A statistical comparison of McIlroy vs. Spieth in 2015

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Last week, I showed the metrics for Jordan Spieth and what makes him so great. In response, I had a lot of readers asking for a side-by-side comparison with Rory McIlroy. In light of the news that McIlroy will miss the Open Championship due to injury, I think it is pertinent to show that while Spieth and McIlroy have two different styles of play, the loss of McIlroy helps Spieth’s chances of winning his third major in a row.

Scoring Data

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Obviously, McIlroy is a threat to Spieth because he ranks second in Total Adjusted Scoring Average. He does this by ranking first in both Adjusted Par-4 and Adjusted Par-5 Scoring Average. He has been noticeably weaker on the par-3’s this year. When looking at the past three Open Championships at St. Andrews, however, the par-5s (Nos. 5 and 14) are far more critical in terms of success than the par-3s (Nos. 8 and 11) as there is a greater deviation in score on the par-5s than the par-3s at the Old Course.

Driving Data

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The most noticeable difference in terms of style of play between the two is McIlroy hits it much farther than Spieth. People often say to me, ”When I look at their average driving distance, Player A is only 5 yards farther than Player B.” I advise against looking at the actual averages when trying to get an accurate depiction of how far players hit the ball compared to each other, however, because other metrics give a more accurate picture.

Measured drives is the old fashioned method of measuring distance; that is where players are almost always using the driver off the tee. Currently, McIlroy ranks ninth in measured driving distance versus Spieth’s ranking 73rd. So Rory is far longer than Spieth when both players are using a driver off the tee. Spieth makes up for that difference because he is more precise than Rory and hits driver more often and lays-up off the tee less. Rory is not conservative off the tee by any measure, as he ranks 68th out of 202 players in Tee Shot Aggressiveness.

If McIlroy were playing in the Open Championship, his weakness versus Spieth would be his precision (Avg. Distance to Edge of Fwy, Hit Fairway Bunker and Missed Fairway – Other percentage), but he is roughly as accurate (hit fairway percentage) as Spieth and much longer off the tee. Therefore, if McIlroy was able to improve his precision at St. Andrews, he could have had a sizeable advantage over Spieth and the rest of the field.

The other part is that most of the par-4s at St. Andrews are fairly straight. While Spieth has been very good on straight away par-4s, Rory has been flat out incredible this year… although one of the critical holes on the course is the infamous Road Hole, No. 17, which is more of a dogleg-right design. That would tend to favor Spieth over McIlroy.

Approach Shot Data

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While Spieth’s all-around performance on his approach shots is amazing, McIlroy is better than him in the Yellow (125-175), Red (175-225) and 225-275 Yards Zones. What sticks out is that Spieth is far better from the Green Zone. Typically, courses with few par-5s create a situation where par-5s become more critical in tournament play. While Spieth is an excellent player on the par-5s, we can see why Rory is the No. 1-ranked player on the par-5s. He hits it long and effectively off the tee, and he’s the best player from 225-275 yards and the third best player from the Red Zone. This could have presented a problem for Spieth.

With that being said, my research data shows that when the wind speeds pick up the Green Zone tends to become more important. The numbers indicate that this may be due to drives being knocked offline and the player having to hit more recovery shots into the Green Zone. Golfers then have to save par from that distance range. However, this research was applied to only golf courses in the U.S. I do not have any data for European courses, but I would garner that if it were to get windy out, the conditions would favor Spieth over Rory.

Short Game Data

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The Short Game is where both McIlroy and Spieth have made their largest strides. The greenside bunker shots stat is interesting, although it does not account for the length of the bunker shot. But, at a course like St. Andrews, we have to wonder what type of advantage McIlroy may have had if it came down to him and Spieth.

Putting Data

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Spieth has been the better overall putter this year, but he has mostly accomplished that through impeccable putting from outside 15 feet. McIlroy has putted much better from 3 to 15 feet, but has had a lapse on putts from 5-10 feet. When it comes to making putts, virtually nobody on Tour consistently ranks high in making putts outside 20 feet. Even ranking high from outside 15 feet is somewhat rare. The strongest correlation to Putts Gained resides on putting from 3-15 feet. So this may come back to haunt Spieth in the end if he cannot putt better from inside 15 feet. And if McIlroy had played in the Open Championship, his superior putting from inside 15 feet may have provided him with the advantage he needed to be a repeat champion.

Another interesting aspect is the difference in how McIlroy and Spieth putt when looking at their rankings in par+ versus birdie putts from 5-15 feet. McIlroy is superior on the birdie putts, but Spieth is far better on the par putts. That changes when the putts get outside 15 feet, as those are usually for birdie and Spieth is the best on Tour at making those.

Final Synopsis

The book on Spieth has been that he is “not great anything, but average at everything.” We have seen how that is a false notion, as Spieth is spectacular at the major facets of the game. On the other hand, McIlroy is often referred to as “being able to do things that Spieth cannot do when McIlroy is at the top of his game.” I tend to feel that this is a more accurate depiction, as McIlroy is an incredible all-around performer who hits the ball much farther. If he is on his “A Game,” the numbers show that he may be virtually unbeatable.

Either way, the golf world hopes that Rory comes back from his injury to his old form. This should provide a historical rivalry between these two great golfers for the next 15 years. And the game of golf will win in the end.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. MikeA

    Jul 14, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    May be time to start tracking Rory’s injury stats for future comparison to Tiger’s injuries. The way Rory is bulking up (much like Tiger), he just might follow Tiger’s frequent trips to the clinic.

  2. Martin

    Jul 12, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    Thanks for the comparison! Bravo!

  3. Steve

    Jul 12, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Rich,
    Is your pic a selfie? In a bathroom? I think Chris Hanson is looking for you.

  4. snowman

    Jul 11, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    Yes I agree that when Rory is at his best he is almost unbeatable… The thing is this: Speith at this point is much more consistent and how often will Rory play his best? Jordan’s
    “A” game seems to show up more often and that seems to be good enough for him. Speith will be the Arnie to Rory’s Jack…. He’ll get much more love from the fans because he’ll be the gritty underdog.

  5. dwc

    Jul 10, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    I’m not to sure about your comment that Rory at his A game is unbeatable. He is certainly very, very good. But remember Spieth at Augusta. I don’t know if that is his A game or not, but he tied Tiger’s all time record for under par and did it on a course that is probably 1,000 yards longer than when Tiger did it. He made it look easy.

  6. Mike

    Jul 10, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    If Spieth is 3rd from 15-25 feet, who is 1 and 2?! I can’t imagine anyone else making more putts from that distance then Spieth this year.

  7. jakeanderson

    Jul 10, 2015 at 3:36 am

    this is a very good article because it shows clearly that mcilroy is the best golfer in the world and spieth is really not that good.

  8. Chance

    Jul 9, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    I love Spieth and obviously am biased towards him, but it looks like the way Spieth is playing seems to be working out for him. I think consistency is what keeps you at the top.

  9. Pat M

    Jul 9, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    They are both great players but Rory is too inconsistent including personally erractic.
    I hope Rory does not end up like Georgie Best.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: How To Overcome The Mid-Season Golf Blues

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Every Year around this time, golfers start getting tentative because they have missed a few too many golf shots and they immediately start to blame the faulty wires on the Pinocchio.

Of course, we are here to tell you that is not the case.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship: Outright Betting Picks

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With the PGA TOUR regular season in the books, it’s time to begin the 2022 FedEx Cup playoffs.

Previously known as the St. Jude Classic and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, the event will now serve as the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and is named the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

While the name of the event and the spot on the PGA TOUR schedule has changed, the course remains the same. TPC Southwind is located in Memphis, Tennessee and has been a regular TOUR stop since 1989.

TPC Southwind is a Par 70 measuring 7,244 yards. The course features Bermudagrass greens and rough. With 94 bunkers and 10 water hazards, there is potential trouble on almost every hole.

The FedEx St. Jude Championship will play host to the top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings with the top 65 and ties making it through to the weekend.

FedEx St. Jude Championship Outright Bets

Matt Fitzpatrick (+2200)

Typically, the FedEx Cup playoff events are won by players who have been among the best overall players for that season. Matt Fitzpatrick is having the best season of his career and is undoubtedly one of the most impressive golfers of the year. For the 2022 season, the Englishman ranks third in Strokes Gained: Total, which trails only Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler.

Had it not been for Fitzpatrick’s incredible U.S. Open victory, TPC Southwind would have been a spot that I’ve always thought could be the perfect break through spot for the 27-year-old. Now that he’s won and gotten his first victory in the United States out of the way, it only increases his chances of being able to win a FedEx Cup Playoff event.

Talent was never the concern for Fitzpatrick. The former top ranked amateur in the world exploded onto the professional golf scene at nineteen years old and never looked back. Despite having eight European Tour victories by the time he’d hit his mid-twenties, many people questioned why he couldn’t win on American soil. Now that he’s a U.S. Open champion, there’s reason to believe the floodgates will open.

Fitzpatrick has had plenty of success at TPC Southwind in the past. In three starts at the course, “Fitz” has two top-six finishes including a fourth-place finish in 2019.

His success at the track isn’t all that surprising considering how well his skill set aligns with what’s required to compete at the course. It’s important to hit fairways, which is something he does at a high clip. He also is one of the best in the sport at limiting mistakes and ranks third in the field in Bogey Avoidance.

A FedEx Cup Playoff victory would add to what is already the best season of Fitzpatrick’s career and give him a chance to make a run at a being the FedEx Cup champion.

Will Zalatoris (+2500)

For the past few weeks, we’ve seen Will Zalatoris near the top of the odds board. Despite being one of the most talented players in the field, there was nothing about Detroit Golf Club or Sedgefield Country Club that made me interested in betting him at those spots. The opposite is true about TPC Southwind.

When targeting Will Zalatoris for an outright bet, it’s most prudent to look for spots on the schedule where his immaculate ball striking can set him apart from the rest of them field.  The Rocket Mortgage Classic rewarded driving distance and wedge play. The Wyndham Championship rewarded the best putters and most accurate drivers.

This week, the FedEx St. Jude Championship will favor the best iron players who can ball strike their way to the top of the leaderboard. In the past, Strokes Gained: Putting hasn’t been a strong indicator of who will play well at TPC Southwind; which is great news for Zalatoris, who often struggles with the putter.

As evidenced by his three top-six finishes including two runners-up at major championships in 2022, Zalatoris can absolutely compete in the strongest of fields. In fact, I believe his chances to win in a star-studded event are higher than they are to win a lesser event on TOUR. The 25-year-old is a big game hunter who does his best work when the stakes are high.

The first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs is an excellent time for “Willy Z” to finally break through for his inevitable maiden PGA TOUR victory.

Sungjae Im (+3500)

As frustrating as it was being a Sungjae Im backer on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, his overall performance and current hot streak can’t be overlooked.

The South Korean has now finished in a share for second place in back-to-back starts. In those two events, Im has gained an average of 8.5 strokes Ball Striking on the field, which includes both Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach. At a course where ball striking is the most important factor, he should be in store for another strong showing.

Im had his best Strokes Gained: Approach day on Sunday at the Wyndham, gaining 2.0 strokes on the field in the fourth round alone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the putter going and lost 2.2 strokes putting while Tom Kim gained 4.5 on the day. If it weren’t for Kim’s unconscious effort with the putter, there’s a good chance that Sungjae would have notched another PGA TOUR victory.

If the 24-year-old can get the flat stick going this week, we may have back-to-back South Korean winners on the PGA TOUR.

Tyrrell Hatton (+6000)

It appears as if Tyrrell Hatton is trending toward a victory, as he’s playing arguably the best golf of his 2022 season. He finished 11th at the Open Championship and followed it up with an impressive performance at Wyndham, finishing eighth. In addition to his top-10 finish, the Englishman was impressive with his approach playing and gained 5.3 strokes on approach, which was good for sixth in the field.

Hatton got hot in his final round last week, shooting a 64. Oftentimes we see golfers who go low on the previous Sunday carry the momentum into the following tournament. Hatton is a much better player than he’s shown thus far in 2022, and it seems as if he’s found something ahead of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

If he has, TPC Southwind should be a good course for him as he finished in 17th last year and was in contention prior to a fourth round 72 that took him out of the running.

Russell Henley (+6000)

It’s fair to wonder whether Russell Henley can close out a victory on the PGA TOUR after witnessing him blow leads at last season’s Wyndham Championship and this season’s Sony Open. Considering that the FedEx Cup St. Jude Championship will be comprised of a much stronger field than either of those events makes it perfectly reasonable to question it even further. However, at his number, I’m willing to give it one more shot.

Henley is in the best form we’ve seen him in this season. In his past two starts, the 33-year-old has finishes of 10th and fifth and has gained 11 and 9.7 strokes from tee to green in those events. At the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Henley ranked seventh in the field in approach, and at the Wydham Championship, he ranked first.

TPC Southwind is a course that should fit Henley’s game to a tee. With a premium on iron play and hitting greens in regulation, the former Georgia Bulldog is a perfect fit. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a course where he doesn’t have to gain a bunch of strokes with the putter to win.

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Equipment

Davis Love III was still using a persimmon driver in 1997?!

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The revolution of metal drivers was happening quickly in the early-to-mid 1990’s, but Davis Love III was set on sticking with his Cleveland Classic Oil Hardened RC85 persimmon driver. He wasn’t oblivious to the emerging technology, though. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“The Cleveland has been in my bag since 1985,” Love III wrote in his 1997 book, “Every Shot I Take.” “It was given to me by a good friend, Bob Spence. I experiment with metal drivers often; I find – for me, and not necessarily for you – they go marginally longer than my wooden driver, but they don’t give me any shape. I find it more difficult to create shape to my drives off the metal face, which is important to me. …I also love the sound my ball makes as it comes off the persimmon insert of my driver.

“I’m no technophobe,” he added. “My fairway ‘woods’ have metal heads … but when it comes to my old wooden driver, I guess the only thing I can really say is that I enjoy golf more with it, and I think I play better with it…golf is somehow more pleasing to me when played with a driver made of wood.”

Although his book came out in 1997, Love III switched out his persimmon driver for a Titleist 975D titanium driver in the same year.

It was the end of an era.

During Love III’s 12-year-run with the persimmon driver, though, he piled on four wins in the year of 1992, including the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open — now known as the Wyndham Championship.

Love III, who’s captaining the 2022 Presidents Cup United States team next month at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., is playing in the 2022 Wyndham Championship in nearby Greensboro. In celebration, we took a look back in the archives to see what clubs Love III used for his win in 1992 for an article on PGATOUR.com. We discovered he was using a Cleveland Classic persimmon driver, in addition to a nostalgic equipment setup.

In our latest Two Guys Talking Golf podcast episode, equipment aficionado and co-host Brian Knudson, and myself (GolfWRX tour reporter Andrew Tursky), discuss Love III’s late switch to a metal-made driver, and why he may have stuck with a wooden persimmon driver for so long.

Check out the full podcast below in the SoundCloud embed, or listen on Apple Music here. For more information on Love III’s 1992 setup versus his 2022 WITB, click here.

 

 

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