Category archive: Nick Watney

Putter hurting Fowler, Snedeker, Watney

February, 18, 2014

Maintaining status as one of the sport's elite players is a rare achievement in the world of golf. Gravity remains undefeated, in both life and the Official World Golf Ranking. What goes up must come down.

Ask former world No. 1 Lee Westwood, who's 32nd in the ranking this week. Or Bo Van Pelt, who was 23rd to open up 2013 but is now 78th and without a line in this year's WGC-Accenture Match Play bracket.

Trivia question

Tiger Woods is the only player to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play in back-to-back years (2003-04). Who is the only player to finish runner-up in back-to-back years? Answer below

Several of the game's stars are off to rough starts this season. We at Numbers Game examine what's plaguing three elite players as the golf world's attention turns to Dove Mountain.

Rickie Fowler
There are three unquestionable truths regarding Fowler: an ostentatious wardrobe, appeal to young fans everywhere and stellar iron play. The third trait might be the least famous of the three, but the numbers support the claim -- Fowler ranks sixth or better on tour in approach shot proximity on shots between 100-125, 125-150 and 150-175 yards.

But Mr. Flatbill has missed each of his last three cuts. Granted, he's recently started working with a new swing coach, Butch Harmon, but last year he never once missed the cut in back-to-back PGA Tour starts. Fowler's short game is the biggest reason for his struggles this year, as his scrambling percentage ranks outside the top 100 on tour in all denominations of the statistic (from inside 10 yards and between 10-20 yards and 20-30 yards).

It's his putter, however, that's the biggest culprit. So far this season, the numbers say that Fowler has regressed from an average putter to an abysmal one.

In 2013, Fowler ranked 24th on tour in strokes gained putting. He's 175th this season. On putts inside 10 feet, Fowler has dropped from 79th to 161st.

All of this spells trouble for Fowler coming into the Match Play, where he's been bounced in the first round each of the last two years. Oh, and Fowler's first-round matchup? Match play dynamo Ian Poulter.

Brandt Snedeker
A knee injury suffered last fall that involved a motorized scooter will take the brunt of the blame for Snedeker's slow start to the season. Snedeker has no top-10 finishes and just one top-25 in six starts so far this year.

At first glance, it seems like his full swing isn't the issue. Snedeker's ballstriking and driving accuracy ranks have improved this year. And he actually has the exact same PGA Tour rank in greens in regulation percentage this year (79th) that he did last season.

Not all GIRs are created equal, though. Snedeker ranked T-13 last year on tour in average approach shot proximity. He's 172nd so far this season in the stat.

Snedeker's trademark elite putting has diminished significantly early on this season. In 2012, he led the PGA Tour in both strokes gained putting and one-putt percentage. Last year, he was fourth and sixth in those statistics, respectively. This year? He's 58th in strokes gained putting and tied for 103rd in one-putts.

In particular, Snedeker's putting between 10 and 15 feet has really hurt him. When Snedeker led the tour in strokes gained putting in 2012, he made more than 38 percent of his putts from that distance. So far this year, he's making about 22 percent -- tied for 150th on the PGA Tour.

Snedeker draws David Lynn in the first round of match play, he of one career appearance at Dove Mountain (2013, where he lost in first round). Regardless of his opponent, though, Snedeker will need to play much better this week if he hopes to climb through the Jones Bracket.

Nick Watney
He's made the cut in five of six starts so far this season, but with no top-25 finishes, Watney is struggling by his own high standards. Once again, it's the flat-stick that has dictated this decline.

When Watney ascended into the top 10 in the world back in 2011, it was largely because he became an elite putter. That season, Watney ranked in the top 12 on tour in strokes gained putting, birdie-or-better conversion percentage and putting inside 10 feet. This year, Watney is outside the top 100 in each of those statistics.

Trivia answer

Question: Tiger Woods is the only player to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play in back-to-back years (2003-04). Who is the only player to finish runner-up in back-to-back years?

Answer: Paul Casey, 2009-10

How significantly do putting numbers affect one's ability to score? Watney's tour ranks in greens in regulation percentage (59th) and approach shot proximity (T-34) are actually better this season than they were in 2011 (T-54th and T-68th), but his scoring average rank is 93 spots lower -- down from fifth to 98th.

Watney faces Louis Oosthuizen in an 8-vs.-9-seed first-round matchup. He's gotten out of his first match in all four career starts at this event, but his recent putting woes say not to bet on it happening again.

Deutsche Bank Champ. experts' picks

August, 29, 2012
Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass.

Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, senior golf writer: Jason Day
He could be this year's golfer to go from starting the playoffs outside the top 100 (113th) in the FedEx Cup standings to the Tour Championship (top 30). Coming into the playoffs, he had only 13 starts on tour this year, with three missed cuts and a W/D, but a strong Sunday finish (65) just so he could qualify for the Deutsche Bank leads him to a course where he finished third last year, and was one of only four players to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer: Vijay Singh
At the TPC Boston, the 49-year-old Hall of Famer is a combined 38-under par in his two wins at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Bob Harig, senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
TPC Boston is another place where Woods has performed well over the years. In seven appearances, he's been out of the top 11 just once, and he won in 2006.

Kevin Maguire, senior golf editor: Brandt Snedeker
Looking to solidify a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team as a potential captain's pick, the man who leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting posted a pair of top-5 finishes in his past two starts at the Deutsche Bank Championship. And what Ryder Cup captain wouldn't want the best putter on tour on his team?

Birdie Buster

Michael Collins: Nick Watney
In 2011 he had two victories, but before winning last week at The Barclays, he had only three top-10s this year, with eighth place his highest finish. Not the year the Butch Harmon student was planning for himself, but there's something to be said for getting hot at the right time. Even though this will be his fifth week in a row teeing it up, when you're rollin' . . . don't stop rollin'! And if Bill Haas won the big money Fed Ex Cup prize last year, it only would be fitting if his stunt double Watney put himself in a prime position to take it this year.

Farrell Evans: Bud Cauley
At The Barclays, the 22-year-old rookie out of the University of Alabama got his fourth top-10 in his past five starts.

Bob Harig: Nick Watney
He just showed how important a win is in the FedEx Cup playoffs, jumping from 49th in the standings to the top spot with his victory at The Barclays.

Kevin Maguire: Steve Stricker
A T-54 at last week's Barclays probably isn't the way Stricker wanted to start his playoffs, but the likely Ryder Cup captain's pick does own a pair of career victories in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He seems to relish playing at this time of year, so expect that to continue this week at TPC Boston.

Super Sleeper

Michael Collins: J.B. Holmes
After making seven cuts in a row, it's almost a blessing in disguise that he missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship. Holmes has played himself into a position to make the Tour Championship with a good week, and the last time he played this week's course, in 2010, he finished 10th. It's a bomber's course and he is still a bomber.

Farrell Evans: Jason Day
The 24-year-old Australian got a tie for third in Boston last year. In a disappointing 2012 season, Day comes into this week 88th in the standings. He would love to make it back to the Tour Championship, where he finished last year in a tie for sixth.

Bob Harig: Martin Flores
He missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship and at The Barclays last week, dropping him 12 spots to the 100th and final qualifying position for the Deutsche Bank Championship. He clearly needs to get something going if he wants to prolong his playoffs.

Kevin Maguire: Dicky Pride
Talk about playing with house money. Pride clinched his tour card for 2013 behind the strength of three top-10 finishes this year. He hadn't had one previously since mid-2009. And at 96th in the FedEx Cup standings, a strong week gets him into the third leg of the PGA Tour playoffs, a spot he likely couldn't have imagined at the beginning of the season.


Michael Collins: Rory McIlroy
Because he wasn't a member of the tour last year, he wasn't eligible for the playoffs. He did compete in 2010, with a 37th-place finish at the TPC Boston. He has two more years of experience and two majors under his belt, and I expect a very good week on a course that sets up well for his style of golf. With a tour scoring average of 69.02, if he just holds his average, it'll be an easy top 10. I expect much more than that this week.

Farrell Evans: Brandt Snedeker
The former U.S. Amateur Public Links champion finished second at The Barclays. He's playing this week in Boston hoping that a great tournament will get him a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Last year, the former Vanderbilt star finished in a tie for third at the Deutsche Bank.

Bob Harig: Adam Scott
Save for his near-miss at the Open Championship, it's been a quiet year for the Aussie, who won his first PGA Tour event nine years ago at TPC Boston. A victory this week puts him near the top and in the running for the FedEx Cup.

Kevin Maguire: Jason Day
Never underestimate motivation. The Aussie, who's finished T-3 and T-2 in his previous two outings at TPC Boston, is currently on the outside looking in at next week's BMW Championship. Without a strong finish, his playoffs could end Saturday. Don't expect the new dad to get some extra time off on the holiday weekend.

Three on the tee for Memorial

May, 31, 2011

With the all the negative news in Columbus, Ohio, this week, sports fans in the area (especially those who cheer for the scarlet and gray) should be elated to have a diversion on the way. The state's most treasured athletic figure -- the great Jack Nicklaus -- hosts one of the best events on the PGA Tour this week.

Trivia question

Jack Nicklaus' last PGA Tour victory came at the 1986 Masters Tournament. What was his second-to-last win? (Answer below.)

The Memorial will feature an excellent field -- including new world No. 1 Luke Donald, six of the world's top 10, and reigning Masters winner Charl Schwartzel making just his second stateside start since winning the Green Jacket.

Now is no time to dwell on the negative, Ohio. Sure, your former native son has led his new team to the NBA Finals. And all right, maybe your beloved Buckeyes have been eviscerated by scandal this week. You've still got Jack -- and based on the recent timeline of events in the career of Tiger Woods, Mr. Nicklaus looks like he'll be hanging on to that major championships record a little while longer.

Three on the tee is a look at a trio of intriguing players to keep an eye on. The LeBron-free "big three," if you will. With no further ado, the starter calls to the tee:

Phil Mickelson: It took Lefty until his seventh start at the Memorial before he finally cracked the top 10. Now, he's finished there three of the past four times he's played the tournament. There's something to be said for experience being a prerequisite at Jack's event as no rookie has ever won the event. The average career start at the Memorial for the past nine winners has been 9.4. Defending champion Justin Rose is basically the aberration to that -- and he had made five previous starts at the event before winning last year.

There's a lot to like about the top-ranked American player in the world entering this week. He's still hitting it a mile -- 16th on tour in driving distance. He's tied for third in birdie average, and 14 of his past 16 rounds on tour have been par or better dating back to his win in Houston. He's never won here before, but 2011 might be the year for Mickelson.

Matt Kuchar: In this world, count on three things: death, taxes and Kuchar finishing in the top 10. Kuchar is tied for the tour lead in such finishes this season with seven, a year removed from leading the tour in them with 11. Kuchar has three straight top-10 finishes in this event, and each of his past seven rounds here have been under par.

Kuchar trails Steve Stricker by .04 shots for the lead in actual scoring average on tour this year, though he has played 22 more rounds than Stricker.

Nick Watney: Not far behind Kuchar in the top-10 finishes category over the past two years is Watney, who has seven in 2011 as well, and 15 since the beginning of 2010. Watney is coming off a pair of top-10 finishes in a row, and seems to have played the best in the deeper fields this year. For example: T-4 at the Players Championship, T-9 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and a win at Doral.

Is taking Watney a bit of a flier this week though? Based on his experience at the Memorial, you might say so. Watney missed the cut here last year, and has never finished higher than T-14 in the event.

Still, it's tough to pick against someone who has putted so well this year. Watney is seventh in total putting and in the top-20 on tour in strokes gained -- putting and putting average.

Across the pond last week, we were treated to a playoff between Lee Westwood and Luke Donald -- with the winner being awarded not just one of the European Tour's most prestigious trophies (at the BMW PGA Championship), but the title of world's No. 1 player.

When Donald won on the first sudden-death hole, he became the third player to hold the No. 1 spot in 2011. We're not even to the U.S. Open yet, and that's already one shy of the record for the most different names atop the OWGR in a calendar year. That happened in 1997, when four men were on top at different points in the year: Greg Norman, Tom Lehman, Ernie Els, and Tiger Woods.

Donald became the first golfer since 2005 to win a tournament that automatically assured he would become the No. 1 player in the world. That was Woods, who won the 2005 Masters to assure the top ranking.

You might be saying, what about Westwood's win at the Indonesian Masters this year? Well, Luke Donald had a chance to become No. 1 with a win later that day at The Heritage. A technicality, yes, but when it comes to walk off to No. 1, we at Numbers Game have made that distinction.

Fans of the PGA Tour are getting spoiled in 2011.

After last weekend's playoff at the windy HP Byron Nelson Championship, won by Keegan Bradley, the tour has had five playoffs in the plast six weeks. In seven straight weeks, that week's PGA Tour event has been decided by either a playoff or by a single stroke. That's the longest such streak on tour since a seven-event stretch in early 2009.

Trivia answer

Question: Jack Nicklaus' last PGA Tour victory came at the 1986 Masters Tournament. What was his second-to-last win?

Answer: The 1984 Memorial Tournament.

And before that came the Masters Tournament, which was one of the most exciting Sundays at a major championship in recent memory.

If we see another playoff this week at the Memorial, though, it will snap a lengthy streak for the event. The Memorial currently holds the distinction of the longest playoff drought on the PGA Tour. The last playoff at the event came in 1992, when David Edwards defeated Rick Fehr.

We've seen 10 playoffs on tour in 2011 in all. The record is 16, which happened in both 1988 and 1991.

Numbers Game is a weekly stat-centric look at the PGA Tour.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to