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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 Reviews: L.A.B. Mezz.1 Max Putter

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L.A.B. Golf pushes the limits of putters and putting to try and help as many golfers as they can make more putts. Lie Angle Balanced putters are different because the face of the putter is always pointed towards your target. We all know L.A.B.’s famous Directed Force 2.1 putter. However, a lot of golfers didn’t like the looks and size of it. So L.A.B. developed the Mezz.1 putter that has a more traditional mallet look that so many golfers use, but with Lie Angle Balanced technology engineered into it. This year, the Mezz.1 Max putter was introduced to make a great putter even better. The Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent larger than the original Mezz.1 and offers more forgiveness and stability.

I have played the Mezz.1 this year and think it is a great putter, so to be honest, I wasn’t that excited to try the Mezz.1 Max at first. That changed pretty quickly once my putter showed up. To start, getting fit for a putter is one of the last things we golfers think about. L.A.B. has a very unique and effective remote fitting process if you cannot get to a fitter in person. You email a short video to them using your current putter and they use their internal genius to get your specs processed. The remote fitting video took me about seven minutes from start to submission.

Once you have your putter specs, you can then order a stock or custom Mezz.1 Max. I went down the custom path of various head colors, alignment aids, shafts, grips, and even a headcover to build my putter. My original Mezz.1 is black, and I wanted to go with some color to change things up and, for whatever reason, the cappuccino color kept grabbing my attention. The cappuccino color online looks more gold, and I was pleasantly surprised that in person the color is more brown and muted than I expected. The color goes well with the matte white Accra shaft and Press II 1.5-degree smooth grip.

Headcovers are now becoming big accessories, and the brown headcover I chose is kind of retro-looking while feeling high quality. Overall, I love the look and my Mezz.1 Max stands out without being too flashy and distracting.

As soon as I got the putter out of the box, I rolled a few putts on the carpet here at the office, not expecting much difference. From the first couple of putts, I could immediately tell something was a little different with this putter. The weight and balance through the stroke is more stable and you get an even better feeling of the putter wanting to keep the face pointed at the target. The other interesting find is that I didn’t even notice the 20-percent larger size that the Mezz.1 Max has over its older sibling. Maybe if I had them both side-by-side I would notice the size difference more, but the Mezz.1 Max on its own looks normal to my eye.

The first putts I hit on the carpet were great feeling and the Mezz.1 Max felt like it wanted to stay on its path regardless of how your hands tried to manipulate it. The same feeling was present on the putting green, and it was far stronger to me than the standard Mezz.1 felt. When you put the Mezz.1 Max on a target, the putter just wants to hit the ball at that target. The other interesting note is that, to me, the new Max has a softer and more solid feel compared to the smaller head. The sound at impact was more muted and had a lower pitch to it, even on mishits. Just like the original, the grooved face puts immediate forward roll on the ball and reduces almost all skipping.

L.A.B. says this Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent more stable, and I don’t think that is just some marketing talk. I have been in this putting funk where I have been making contact on the toe of the putter regularly. This miss has caused me to miss more than a few putts this year, and I hit a few with the new putter as well. Those toe misses still went straight and I wasn’t losing much speed. Those putts left the toe of the putter and either came up just short or just missed my intended line by a small amount. Those misses are a great improvement over the traditional blade that has been my gamer all summer. The biggest problem I had with the original Mezz.1 is that it took me awhile to get used to longer lag putts. This wasn’t the case with the Max, as I felt much more comfortable from long range and was able to get putts closer and reduce the 3-putt chances by a good amount.

Overall, if you’re searching for a new flatstick, the new L.A.B. Golf Mezz.1 Max putter is something to check out. You have a putter that can truly help you make more putts thanks to the Lie Angle Balanced technology, additional forgiveness, and stability.

For more information on my Mezz.1 Max putter review, listen to the Club Junkie podcast, which is available below and on any podcasting service.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A Tale of Two Misses

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It seems like I somewhat “touched a nerve” with last week’s post ‘A Defense of Blades’, based on the scoring you all gave my take on that controversial topic.

I do appreciate it when you take the time to score your reaction to my work, as it keeps me tuned in to what you really want me to pontificate about. Before I get into today’s topic, I request that any of you who have a subject you’d like me to address please drop me an email at [email protected], OK?

So, in somewhat of a follow-up to last week, let’s talk today about misses. Those too frequent shots that move your scores in the wrong direction.

Early in my life, I was always part of “the group” of low-handicap players who had various kinds of “money games”, but that put me in touch only with other low-handicap players who were highly competitive. Just as I was getting fully engaged in the golf equipment industry in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of a group at my club called “The Grinders”. We had standing tee times every day…so if you could get away, you played. There were about 35-40 of us who might show up, with as many as 6-7 groups going off on Fridays and Saturdays.

These guys sported handicaps from scratch to 20, and we threw up balls to see how we were paired, so for twenty years, I had up close and personal observation of a variety of “lab rats.”

This let me observe and study how many different ways there were to approach the game and how many different kinds of mishits could happen in a round of golf. As a golf industry marketer and club designer, I couldn’t have planned it any better.

So back to a continuation of the topic of last week, the type of irons you choose to play should reflect the kinds of misses you are hoping to help. And the cold, hard truth is this:

We as golf club designers, engineers and fitters, can only do so much to help the outcome of any given shot.

Generally, mishits will fall into two categories – the “swing miss” and the “impact miss”.

Let’s start with the former, as it is a vast category of possibilities.

The “swing miss” occurs when the swing you made never had a chance of producing the golf shot you had hoped to see. The clubhead was not on a good path through impact, and/or the clubface was not at all square to the target line. This can produce any number of outcomes that are wildly wrong, such as a cold skull of the ball, laying the sod over it, hard block to the right (for a right-hand player), smother hook…I think you get the point.

The smaller swing misses might be a draw that turns over a bit too much because you rotated through impact a bit aggressively or a planned draw that doesn’t turn over at all because you didn’t. Or it could be the shot that flies a bit too high because you released the club a bit early…or much too low because you had your hands excessively ahead of the clubhead through impact.

The swing miss could be simply that you made a pretty darn good swing, but your alignment was not good, or the ball position was a bit too far forward in your swing…or too far back. Basically, the possible variations of a “swing miss” are practically endless and affect tour pros and recreational golfers alike.

The cruel fact is that most recreational golfers do not have solid enough swing mechanics or playing disciplines to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a consistent manner. It starts with a fundamentally sound hold on the club. From there, the only solution is to make a commitment to learn more about the golf swing and your golf swing and embark on a journey to become a more consistent striker of the golf ball. I would suggest that this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game and encourage anyone who loves golf to go down this path.

But today’s post is about “mishits”, so let’s move on the other and much smaller category of misses…the “impact miss”. As a 40-year golf club designer, this is the world in which I function and, unfortunately, to which I am limited.

The “impact miss” is when most of the elements of the swing pretty much fall into place, so that the club is delivered pretty accurately to the ball…on the right path…face square to the target line at impact…but you miss the sweet spot of the club by just a bit.

Finding ways of getting better results out of those mishits is the singular goal of the entire golf club industry.

Big drivers of today are so much more forgiving of a 1/8 to ½ inch miss than even drivers of a decade ago, it’s crazy. Center strikes are better, of course, with our fast faces and Star Wars technology, but the biggest value of these big drivers is that your mishits fly much more like a perfect hit than ever before. In my own launch monitor testing of my current model driver to an old Reid Lockhart persimmon driver of the mid-1990s, I see that dead center hits are 20-25 yards different, but mishits can be as far as 75-80 yards apart, the advantage obviously going to the modern driver.

The difference is not nearly as striking with game improvement irons versus a pure forged one-piece blade. If the lofts and other specs are the same, the distance a pure strike travels is only a few yards more with the game improvement design, but a slight mishit can see that differential increase to 12-15 yards. But, as I noted in last week’s article, this difference tends to reduce as the lofts increase. Blades and GI irons are much less different in the 8- and 9-irons than in the lower lofts.

This has gotten a bit longer than usual, so how about I wrap up this topic next week with “A Tale of Two Misses – Part 2”? I promise to share some robotic testing insights that might surprise you.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: World Long Drive! Go Mu!

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In this week’s podcast we discuss Wisdom In Golf Premium, new ways to help and fun talk about rules and etiquette.

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