Category archive: Spencer Levin

Southern California, you've got a tough act to follow this week.

After a tremendous weekend at Pebble Beach that ended with a brilliant final round by Phil Mickelson, the Tour moves to historic Riviera CC this week for the Northern Trust Open.

Trivia question

Top-ranked amateurs Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth will be in the field this week at Riviera. Who is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event? (Answer below)
If the tournament's field is any indication, though, it may be able to provide a fitting follow-up to Pebble. Four of the top 10 players in the world (including world No. 1 Luke Donald) will be in the field, as well as 14 different major champions.

Numbers Game this week will primarily focus on the week ahead at Riviera, but we would be remiss if we didn't delve a bit into the numbers surrounding Sunday's polarized pairing of Mickelson and Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach. Polarized in terms of the scores posted, that is.

A few of the key numerals that stood out:

7: On Saturday, Woods was a perfect 14-for-14 on putts of 10 feet or shorter. Sunday, Tiger missed seven of those putts (16-for-23). Tiger's "strokes gained  putting" total on Sunday was a staggering minus-5.23. Phil Mickelson's, by comparison, was plus-4.78. This means that on the putting surface alone, Phil was an amazing 10 full strokes better than Tiger on Sunday -- something your eyes alone probably deduced.

13: In Tiger's two starts this year at Abu Dhabi and Pebble, he had a legitimate shot on Sunday at closing the deal and snapping his winless drought (which now stands at 27 official worldwide events, and 22 PGA Tour starts). And each of those Sundays, he was beaten by his playing partner. Robert Rock shot 70 (Woods, 72) at Abu Dhabi, and Mickelson a sparkling 64 at Pebble Beach (Woods, 75). A 13-stroke difference when you combine the two.

5: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have played together five times in the final round of a tournament since 2007. In all five of those rounds, Mickelson shot the lower score. Phil's total "margin of victory," if you will, in those five rounds, is 19 shots (11 of which came Sunday).

The most important two numbers from Sunday, though: zero, which is how many bogeys Mickelson made Sunday, and 40, as in Phil becoming the ninth member of the PGA Tour 40-win club.

Three on the tee has plenty to choose from in an elite field this week. How about an amateur to keep an eye on? Numbers Game calls to the tee:

PATRICK CANTLAY Last year, the lowest score shot on the PGA Tour came from an amateur. Patrick Cantlay's 60 (10-under) at the Travelers Championship last June was the highlight of his PGA Tour season, but it might not have been his most impressive feat. The UCLA junior made the cut in all five of his starts, and finished in the top 25 in four of them.

Cantlay, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world (according to the R&A), will have company in the prodigy department this week, though. World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, a freshman at Texas, will make his fourth career PGA Tour start this week at Riviera. Spieth has helped lead the Longhorns to four straight team victories and a No. 1 ranking.

By the way, the Division I men's golf championship will be held at Riviera beginning May 29. Expect Cantlay and Spieth to be fighting for that title.

LUKE DONALD: Last year's PGA Tour Player of the Year makes his 2012 debut this week. Donald's last PGA Tour season was brilliantly consistent: He finished in the top 10 in 14 of 19 events last year en route to winning the scoring average title (68.86). Donald's flat stick make him his money -- in addition to leading the circuit in earnings and scoring, he was first on Tour in "strokes gained  putting," putting average, and 3-putt avoidance.

Donald's worst score on the PGA Tour in 2011 came in the second round of the Northern Trust. An 8-over 78 gave him his first and only missed cut of the year. In his next start, though, he never trailed in any match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play en route to victory.

For the world No. 1, though, 2012 will be about his performance in majors. Donald only had 12 rounds (out of 67) over par in sanctioned PGA Tour events last year. Six of those 12 rounds came in major championships.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: The world's 10th-ranked player will tee it up for the fifth straight week (that includes his withdrawal back at the Humana Challenge). Though he finished tied for fifth last weekend at Pebble Beach, maybe the bomber could use a week off.

Johnson is a combined 18-under in the first round over the past three events. That number is 1 under in the second round, 1 over in the third round, and 2 over in the final round. Is Johnson's repaired knee possibly still nagging him as these tournaments progress? It's something to keep an eye on this week at Riviera, especially if he goes low early.

Trivia answer

Question: Top-ranked amateurs Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth will be in the field this week at Riviera. Who is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event?

Answer: Phil Mickelson, 1991 Northern Telecom Open

Don't be surprised if you see a lot of low numbers early on in rounds this week at Riviera.

The first hole at Riviera, a 503-yard par 5, was the easiest hole on the PGA Tour in 2011. In fact, it's ranked among the three easiest holes on Tour in each of the past three seasons. There have been 90 eagles made on the first hole at Riviera since 2009. That's 18 more than any other hole on Tour in that span.

To succeed at the Northern Trust, taking advantage of the first hole is a must. Each of the last three winners of this event have eagled the first hole at least once during the tournament. Since 2006, the winners of this event have played the first hole to a combined score of 25 under par.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to

Three players to watch at Pebble Beach

February, 7, 2012
Few courses around the world can match the beauty of Pebble Beach Golf Links.

"Beautiful" isn't the adjective one would use to describe some of Bill Murray's wardrobe choices.

Trivia question

Before Spencer Levin last week, who was the last player to lose a 6-shot lead with 18 holes to play on the PGA Tour? (Answer below)

Regardless of Murray's choice of headwear last year, he left with the trophy. The "Caddyshack" star teamed with D.A. Points for a 2-stroke victory over Hunter Mahan at the 2011 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Three on the tee fails to include Carl Spackler this week, but does give you the numbers behind three players to watch this week at Pebble:

SPENCER LEVIN: For every great reclamation story in sports, there's a player or team on the other side that takes the brunt end of defeat. In the PGA Tour career file of Kyle Stanley, that dubious description belongs to Levin, who frittered away a 6-shot lead he held entering the final round of last week's Waste Management Open.

Levin's blown 6-stroke advantage is tied for the largest 54-hole lead lost in PGA Tour history. Before Levin, it had been done five other times -- most famously at the 1996 Masters by Greg Norman.

Could we see another redemption story this weekend? Levin will be in the field at Pebble Beach, where he has just one top-10 finish in three starts in this event, but has scored very well. Ten of Levin's 11 career rounds in the Pro-Am have been below par, and he's a combined 21-under here in three starts.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Pebble Beach has been the site of two of Johnson's greatest accomplishments on the PGA Tour -- victories in this event in 2009 and 2010. It was also the site of his most regrettable front nine. At the 2010 U.S. Open, Johnson started the final round with a 3-shot lead. He was 6-over through his first four holes, and before he knew it he had carded a final-round 82.

The world's 10th-ranked player (he's the highest in the field this week) has struggled a bit on the greens in his return from offseason knee surgery. Through two completed events, Johnson is 146th in strokes gained -- putting, 135th in total putting and 152nd in putting inside 10 feet. A familiar venue (and another week playing at full speed) could be the recipe to get him back on track this week.

HUNTER MAHAN: After missing the cut last week in Qatar, the 21st-ranked player in the world will look for his third straight top-10 finish in official PGA Tour events this week. Mahan finished tied for sixth at Torrey Pines in his season debut, and closed 2011 with a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship.

Mahan was exceptional in his runner-up finish at this event a year ago, finishing tied for fourth in the field in greens in regulation (53-for-72, 73.6 percent). Mahan's track record here isn't great -- 2011 was his only top-10 finish in this event -- and he missed the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open.

Tiger Woods makes his 2012 PGA Tour debut this week at Pebble Beach, a place he undoubtedly has some fond memories of. Woods of course had one of the most impressive displays in major championship history at the 2000 U.S. Open, when he won by 15 shots. It's the largest margin of victory for anyone in a major.

This will be Tiger's first start at this event since 2002. The winless streak for Woods in official worldwide events since his last victory (remembering that December's Chevron isn't in the "official" category) is now 26 events. His PGA Tour winless streak now stands at 22.

Tiger has been exceptional at Pebble Beach on the weekend during his career, with a career scoring average of 68.92 (at this event and in the two U.S. Opens he played held at Pebble). Eight of his career 13 PGA Tour weekend rounds have been below 70, including five rounds of 67 or lower.

Compare that, though, to his weekend numbers during the winless stretch on this tour. Since Tiger's last PGA Tour victory at the 2009 BMW Championship, his third- and fourth-round scoring average is 70.80. Of his 35 weekend rounds during that span, just 12 have been in the 60s (34.3 percent). Only four of Tiger's 12 weekend rounds on the PGA Tour last year were sub-70.

Should Woods snap his drought in his home state of California, it would be a familiar sight for Golden State golf fans. Tiger has won 13 times on the PGA Tour in California. That's his highest total in any state, with Florida coming in second (12 wins). Woods has won 11 times in Ohio and seven times each in Georgia and Illinois.

Trivia answer

Question: Before Spencer Levin last week, who was the last player to lose a 6-shot lead with 18 holes to play on the PGA Tour?

Answer: Sergio Garcia at the 2005 Wachovia Championship.

In 15 full seasons of the PGA Tour, Tiger has won his season debut six times, and finished in the top 10 in 13 of those starts. However, this will be the first time in Woods' career that he has opened his PGA Tour season at Pebble Beach.

Woods has opened his season eight times at the then-named Mercedes Championships, and five times at Torrey Pines, including last year. Pebble is the fourth different course to host Woods' PGA Tour season debut over the past four years. The other events since 2009: the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Masters and the aforementioned Torrey Pines.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to