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Opinion & Analysis

Who will win the 2016 FedEx Cup, and why?

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Last week the GolfWRX Editors asked me, “Are there any statistical similarities between the FedEx Cup winners since the advent of the Playoff format?” Lot’s of work to do but, if I do it, could I use it to predict this year’s winner?

Background

The PGA Tour’s unique FedEx Cup playoff system, and large $10 million prize, was devised in 2005 specifically to incentivize Tiger Woods to play in more events. Tiger’s immense popularity had divided the PGA Tour into two tours: the Big Tour, made up of the events in which Tiger played, and the rest. Evidently, there was a large enough divide in TV ratings that it was hard to lure sponsors to non-Tiger events. Launched in 2007, the strategy worked! Tiger complied, and won two of the first three FedEx Cups.

Post-Tiger, the FedEx Cup continues to serve its purpose. Top players plan their schedules to finish in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup rankings and play in enough events to qualify for The Playoffs, but also conserve energy for the grind of the four-event, five-week playoff series. This year’s addition of the Ryder Cup in Week 6 no doubt played a role in Jordan Spieth’s decision to skip both the Olympics and his defense of the John Deere Championship.

My Research

Yes, there are some similarities in the FedEx Cup winners.

Players don’t need to win the Tour Championship in order to win the FedEx Cup, but it helps. Seven of the nine won the Tour Championship (the final event) to win the Cup. Exceptions occurred in 2009, when Tiger finished second in the Tour Championship but won the Cup, and in 2008, when Vijay Singh finished 22nd in the final event but still won the Cup. Vijay had won the first two playoff events (The Barclays and the Deutsch Bank Championship), giving him enough points to win WITHOUT even playing in the final event. The next year, a rule change was made to prevent that from happening again.

A prior win in their winning FedEx Cup season is evidently important.

  • Eight of the nine had at least one PGA Tour win prior to the Tour Championship. Jordan Spieth had a phenomenal 2015 with five prior wins, and Tiger showed exactly why the FedEx Cup was created with six prior wins in each of his winning years.

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 12.07.35 PM

It helps to be ranked near the top in FedEx Cup points going into the Tour Championship. Six of the nine winners were ranked first or second, except:

  • Jim Furyk was ranked No. 11 in 2010.
  • Bill Haas was ranked No. 25 in 2011.

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 12.01.50 PM

What about performance ranking in the two major parts of the game going into the final event?

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 12.00.56 PM

  • Strokes Gained Putting: On average 40 percent of the game.
  • Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green: The other 60 percent of the game, or everything other than putting.
  • Seven of nine winners were ranked in the top 5 or better on the PGA Tour in one or more of these stats leading into the Tour Championship.

My Prediction

I am guessing that one needs to be in the top 15 in FedEx Cup points heading into this week’s Tour Championship to be in a position to win it all. OK, I get it that Bill Haas was No. 25 going in and won. This was a fluke. Heck, if he does not have that last-ditch, miraculous save from the water, he does not win.

First, let’s exclude the three players that did not have a win in the 2015-16 season.

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 11.59.38 AM

Next, eliminate those not in the top-10 in one of the two major Strokes Gained performance rankings going into this week’s Tour Championship.

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 11.58.48 AM

This leaves FIVE players that fit all the criteria, but only one can win. Here are my reasons for selecting the winner (Jordan Spieth) as well as my thinking on the other four.

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 11.57.36 AM

Click to enlarge.

Won’t the Tour Championship be interesting to watch this year? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

For a Strokes Gained analysis of your game, log onto www.shotbyshot.com.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Guia

    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    JD

  2. ooffa

    Sep 20, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Hopefully anybody other than Patrick Reed. Oh and Bubba, Anyone else would be fine.

  3. Justin

    Sep 20, 2016 at 11:35 am

    I was thinking along similar lines Peter. I think Spieth would be an “out of nowhere” pick for some people (even though he’s won twice this year) because he wasn’t nearly as dominant this year as last year. It’s very difficult to keep up a string of dominance and that makes Tiger’s run even more remarkable. But I think the time is right for Jordan and he wants it the most. I think Spieth, DJ, Day finish 1,2,3 in that order. The absolute dream scenario for the Tour is that those 3 finish top 3 in any order. Very rarely do your stars all come together to battle it out to the end. It doesn’t happen in any other major sport unless your team happens to make it, and I think that’s why golf is so great.

    • cwt

      Sep 21, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Haven’t looked at the stats, but it seems like Spieth doesn’t play as well when Day or Dustin are playing well. It kinda feels like he gets overpowered by those two when they are on their games and it gets in Spieth’s head. Certainly would like to see Spieth pull if off with one of those two in contention, but if Spieth is paired with one of them in the last group on Sunday, good luck.

  4. matt

    Sep 20, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Appreciate the analysis but what about no player has ever won back to back FEC. I think Patrick Reed wins it.

  5. Peter Sanders

    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Fun to watch. While I like Rory, he has struggled badly with his putting all year. His new putting coach fixed him and obviously pumped his confidence but let’s see if it continues. As you say Spieth has been inconsistent thru this year but I believe very motivated and working into form.

  6. Redx

    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Thank you for the analysis Peter.
    Personally I think DJ looks great. Seems to be dismissed only as it’s difficult to win back to back, however, in this case after the week rest the fatigue / expectation factor that usually intrudes in a quest for back to back wins is not present here. DJ Has great claims.

    Likewise I expect J-Day to be ready to go.
    Who knows which Rory will turn up and on these smaller greens complexes Scotty could fire up as a one off

    Personally I think it’s wide open. Can’t wait.

    Overall I think it’s wide open

    • Peter Sanders

      Sep 20, 2016 at 8:35 am

      Redx, very good point about the week off. I considered it and, as you say, chose to dismiss it. Bottom line, I think Jordan is the best putter on Tour.

  7. desmond

    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:02 am

    I see Rory over Spieth — Rory changed everything about his putting; Jordan is consistently inconsistent this year. At the same time, I like Spieth, but …

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros

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I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.

The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.

There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.

Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.

What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).

Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.

If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?

It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.

Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.

So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.

Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.

We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.

There’s a lesson for all of us in that.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win

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Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.

Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.

It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.

McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.

When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.

If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!

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Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!

Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.

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