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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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Club Junkie

Club Junkie Review: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch5 Pro Golf Edition

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Technology has been playing a larger part in golf for years and you can now integrate it like never before. I don’t need to tell you, but Samsung is a world leader in electronics and has been making smart watches for years. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is the latest Samsung wearable running Google’s Wear OS operating system and it is more than just a golf watch.

The Watch5 Golf Edition is a full function smartwatch that you can wear every day and use for everything from golf to checking your text messages. For more details on the Golf Edition made sure to check out the Club Junkie podcast below, or on any podcast platform. Just search GolfWRX Radio.

Samsung’s Watch5 Pro Golf Edition has a pretty large 45mm case that is made from titanium for reduced weight without sacrificing any durability. The titanium case is finished in a matte black and has two pushers on the right side to help with navigating the pretty extensive menu options. The case measures about 52mm from lug to lug and stands about 14mm tall, so the fit on smaller wrists could be an issue. I did notice that when wearing a few layers on colder days the extra height did have me adjusting my sleeves to ensure I could swing freely.

The sapphire crystal display is 1.4 inches in diameter, so it should be very scratch resistant, and is protected by a raised titanium bezel. The Super AMOLED display has a 450 x 450 resolution with 321ppi density for clear, crisp graphics. Inside the watch is a dual-core 1.18Ghz Cortex-A55 CPU, 16GB + 1.5GB RAM, and a Mali-G68 GPU to ensure your apps run quickly and efficiently.

I do like that the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition’s white and black rubber strap has a quick release system so you can change it out to match or contrast an outfit. The Golf Edition strap is very supple and conforms to your wrist well, holding it in place during multiple swings.

Out on the course the Watch5 Pro golf Edition is comfortable on the wrist and light enough, ~46g, where it isn’t very noticeable. I don’t usually wear a watch on the course, and it only took a few holes to get used to having it on my left wrist. Wearing a glove on the same hand as the watch doesn’t really change much, depending on the glove. If you have a model that goes a little higher on the wrist you could feel the watch and leather bunch a little bit. Some of my Kirkland Signature gloves would run into the watch case while I didn’t have an issue with my Titleist or Callaway models.

The screen is great in direct sunlight and is just as easy to read in overcast or twilight rounds. The images of holes and text for distances is crisp and has a bright contrast agains the black background. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition comes with a lifetime membership to Smart Caddie for your use on the course. Smart Caddie was developed by Golfbuddy, who has been making rangefinders and GPS units for years. I didn’t sign up for the Smart Caddie app as I did not buy the watch and have logins for multiple GPS and tracking apps. Smart Caddie looks to be extremely extensive, offering a ton of options beyond just GPS and it is one that works seamlessly with the Galaxy watches.

I ended up using The Grint as it was an app I have used in the past and was already signed up for. Getting to the app to start a round was very simple, needing one swipe up and one tap to start The Grint app. The screen is very smooth and records each swipe and tap with zero issues. I never felt like I was tapping or swiping without the Watch5 Pro acknowledging those movements and navigating the menu as I desired. The GPS worked flawlessly and the distances were accurate and consistent. With The Grint’s app you did have to keep the phone in your pocket or in the cart close enough for the Bluetooth connection. For most that is’t a big deal and the only time I noticed it was when I used my electric cart and drove it well in front of me down the fairway.

Overall the Samsung Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is a great option for golfers who want one device for everyday wear and use on the course. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition still has all the fitness and health options as well as being able to  connect to your email, text messages, and social media apps. With the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition you won’t have to worry about buying a device just for golf or forgetting to bring your GPS to the course.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why modern irons don’t make sense to me

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One of the things that really bothers me about most of the newer iron models that are introduced is the continued strengthening of the lofts — I just don’t see how this is really going to help many golfers. The introduction of driver and hybrid technologies into the irons – thinner faster faces, tungsten inserts and filling the heads with some kind of polymer material – is all with the goal of producing higher ball flight with lower spin. But is that what you really want?

I’ll grant you that this technology makes the lower lofts much easier to master, and has given many more golfers confidence with their 5- and 6-irons, maybe even their 4- and 5-. But are higher launch and lower spin desirable in your shorter irons? I’ve always believed those clubs from 35 degrees on up should be designed for precision distance control, whether full swings are when you are “taking something off,” and I just don’t see that happening with a hollow, low CG design.

Even worse, with lofts being continually cranked downward, most modern game improvement sets have a “P-club” as low as 42-43 degrees of loft. Because that simply cannot function as a “wedge”, the iron brands are encouraging you to add in an “A-club” to fill the distance void between that and your gap wedge.

But as you ponder these new iron technologies, here’s something to realize . . . and think about.

Discounting your putter, you have 13 clubs in your bag to negotiate a golf course. At one end, you have a driver of 10-12 degrees of loft, and at the other end your highest lofted wedge of say, 58 to 60 degrees. So, that’s a spread of 46 to 50 degrees. The mid-point of that spread is somewhere around 35 degrees, the iron in your bag that probably has an “8” on the bottom.

Now consider this: From that 35-degree 8-iron downward, you have a progression of clubhead designs, from the iron design, to hybrids, to fairway woods to your driver, maybe even a “driving iron” design as a bridge between your lowest set-match iron to your hybrids. At least four, if not five, completely different clubhead designs.

But in the other direction, from 35 degrees to that highest lofted wedge, you likely only have two designs – your set-match irons and your wedges, each of which all essentially look alike, regardless of loft.
I feel certain that no one in the history of golf ever said:

“I really like my 6-iron; can you make me a 3-wood that looks like that?”

But do you realize the loft difference between your 6-iron and 3-wood is only 12-14 degrees, even less than that between your 6-iron and “P-club”? So, if you can’t optimize an iron design to perform at both 28 and 15 degrees, how can you possibly expect to be able to optimize the performance of one design at both 28 and 43 degrees?

And you darn sure won’t get your best performance by applying 6-iron technology to an “A-club” of 48 to 50 degrees.

This fact of golf club performance is why you see so many “blended” sets of irons in bags these days, where a golfer has a higher-tech iron design in the lower lofts, but a more traditional blade or “near blade” design in the higher lofts. This makes much more sense than trying to play pure blade long irons or “techy” higher lofts.

Most of my column posts are oriented to offering a solution to a problem you might have in your game, but this one doesn’t. As long as the industry is focused on the traditional notion of “matched sets,” meaning all the irons look alike, I just don’t see how any golfer is going to get an optimum set of irons without lots of trial and error and piecing together a set of irons where each one works best for the job you give it.

If you want to see how an elite player has done this for his own game, do some reading on “what’s in the bag” for Bernhard Langer. Very interesting indeed.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Hero World Challenge: Betting Tips & Selections

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The Hero is the only full 72-hole tournament left of the year stateside, and the one many golf fans were excited for due to the expected return of Tiger Woods.

Unfortunately, on Monday, Woods withdrew from the event citing plantar fasciitis – pain in the base of his foot, leaving a hole in the event but we still have some big names floating about in the limited field.

I wrote last week about the context of the short-priced favourite Cameron Smith at the Australian PGA.

Comparing him with Jon Rahm when he was 9/4 for his home Open, the most recent Open Championship winner looked fair at 7/2. It was a bit of a scare, but in the end, Smith showed the undoubted class gap, sauntering home down the stretch.

This is crucial in assessing this week’s favourite, Rahm.

Neither Jordan Smith or Justin Thomas have threatened strongly to win here, Xander Schauffele has seen his finishes get progressively worse since a debut 8th, Matty Fitz looked tired in contention in Dubai, and defending champ Viktor Hovland had won twice in 2021 before winning here, that pair of victories including the week before at Mayakoba.

Now for the favorite.

2022 starts with a runner-up to Smith in Hawaii at the similarly stacked Tournament of Champions, before eight straight cuts lead to a victory in Mexico. In a disappointing season for majors, Rahm’s 12th at the U.S Open is the best he can record in the biggies, but it’s another in a series of weekends that leads to T5, T8 and T16 at the three Fedex play-off events. 7

Hardly a disastrous season, but Rahm will have felt a degree of dismay at a season bereft of a gold medal and that saw him slip outside the world’s top five, that without the likes of Dustin Johnson and Smith, both off to unranked LIV.

However, that ‘failure’ seemed to act as a genuine spur, with both him and fellow anti-LIV player Shane Lowry, exploding through the third and final round of the weather-affected prestigious BMW Championship, before winning by a street in Spain, stumbling at the wrong time when fourth at the CJ Cup, and last time proving far too good for a stellar field at the DP World Tour Championship.

For those (including myself) that felt his rant against the OWGR points distribution would count against him, being wrong was painful, but we have the chance to turn it around this week.

Simply, there is no Rory McIlroy or Cam Smith, probably the only other two players that can hold claim to being the current best in the world; the Spaniard’s current form reads 1/4/1/2; his tee-to-green figures average over plus-10 in his last three outings; Rahm ranks top three for scrambling when he misses the green; has been outside the top eight for putting just once in his last six starts, and he’s been first and second in two tries at Albany!

Sure, neither he nor Smith had such a talented field to beat at their ‘home’ events, but they both landed short prices. For me, Rahm has even greater claims, and at anything bigger than 4/1, is a must bet.

The only other player of interest is in-form Tony Finau, one of three to be beaten by a single shot by Rahm in Mexico.

The 33-year-old has always had the ability to do what he has done over the last four months, but, for whatever reason, he is now fulfilling some lofty opinions, winning three times since July.

Beaten four shots by Rahm on his debut in 2018, an opening 79 was always going to hurt any ideas he had about revenge a year later. However, he bounced back from being 18th after round one with three rounds of 68, 69 and a closing 65 to finish inside the top-10, before finishing 7th last year after a stellar opening 68,66.

Big Tone closed with a best-of-the-day 64 at the Tour Championship before looking rusty at Mayakoba, his first outing for over two months. That certainly brought him on as he waltzed home at the Houston Open, the four-shot winning margin half of what it could have been had he not taken his foot off the pedal very early on Sunday.

Finau has always been a strong tee-to-green gamer, but now he’s added confidence with the flat-stick, expect him to challenge at all the biggest events through 2023.

Having been all over Finau to do a double-double and back up his win at the RSM Classic, the ‘injury’ withdrawal was tough to take, but he’ll suit the relaxed nature of this week’s challenge and should be one of the strongest challengers to his old foe.

Recommended Bets:

  • Jon Rahm – WIN
  • Tony Finau – WIN
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