Keep an eye on Graham DeLaet

April, 22, 2014

A year ago entering the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the golf world knew Billy Horschel was on the brink of breaking through.

Despite going his first 60 PGA Tour starts without a victory, Horschel was coming off consecutive top-10 finishes in Houston, San Antonio and South Carolina. In those three events, he had carded just one round worse than par, good for a combined score of 29 under.

Entering Sunday at TPC Louisiana, Horschel was 2 shots behind D.A. Points. He proceeded to fire a final-round 64 -- a round that included a stretch of six straight birdies -- and finished with a 1-shot win.

Horschel would then parlay that performance into a memorable U.S. Open week at Merion that June. Horschel was tied for the 36-hole lead with Phil Mickelson before finishing tied for fourth, just 4 shots back of champion Justin Rose.

Trivia question

The last player to win on the PGA Tour without making a bogey over 72 holes did it at the Greater New Orleans Open. Which player did it and in what year? Answer below

Horschel's maiden title in New Orleans last year was nothing new for this event. Six of the past nine champions here made this their first PGA Tour title -- including Nick Watney in 2007 and Jason Dufner in 2012.

So, which players are in the best position to get their first title? We at Numbers Game examined the field and found the three most interesting candidates to claim their inaugural PGA Tour victory.

Graham DeLaet: With a Presidents Cup appearance, three runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour and his first three major championship appearances all coming since last summer, there is perhaps no player knocking on his first win's door louder these days than DeLaet.

He has racked up 12 top-10 finishes on tour since the beginning of 2013. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only two players with more top-10s in that span are Matt Kuchar (16) and Jordan Spieth (14). In just eight non-major stroke-play events this season, DeLaet has finished in the top 10 five times already.

DeLaet's ballstriking is what has lifted him among one of the game's most consistent performers. For the second consecutive year, DeLaet is ranked third on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage. In fact, the Canadian is the only player on tour to have hit at least 70 percent of his GIR in each of the past two seasons.

For DeLaet to make the move from top-10 machine to PGA Tour winner, however, his putting numbers will have to improve. This season, DeLaet has made just 64 of 106 putts between 4 and 8 feet. That mark of 60 percent is 183rd on tour this season -- a drop of 164 spots from where he finished 2013. DeLaet is also ranked 124th on all putts inside 10 feet -- he ranked 14th in the statistic last season.

DeLaet ranks 85th this season in strokes gained putting, but his best performances have come when he has found his stroke with the flatstick. In his two runner-up finishes this year, at the Farmers Insurance Open and Waste Management Open, he ranked 11th and sixth in the field in strokes gained putting, respectively.

Andrew Loupe: A native of Baton Rouge, PGA Tour rookie Loupe drew the ire of golf fans when they got their first good, long (note: really long) look at him when he contended in San Antonio. Loupe's exaggerated pre-shot routine took, by one Golf Digest measurement that week, 1 minute and 15 seconds. On average, it took 39 seconds. In comparison, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy's pre-shot routines hover around 20-25 seconds.

Slow play aside, Loupe has hit his stride since the beginning of February. After missing his first five cuts of the season, Loupe has made four of his past five. He has started very strong in that span, carding five straight opening rounds better than par, good for a combined score of 20 under.

The rookie has been putting like a seasoned veteran, as well. Loupe ranks 19th this season in strokes gained putting, 15th in one-putt percentage, and fourth on putts between 10 and 15 feet.

Bud Cauley: He had a stellar amateur career, being named a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan Award (given to the nation's best college player) three consecutive years. He also racked up eight top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour before his 23rd birthday. But the 2013-14 season has not been kind to Cauley: nine starts, six missed cuts, no top-25 finishes. Ouch. And Cauley, who climbed as high as 53rd in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2012, has fallen outside the top 300.

Trivia answer

Question: The last player to win on the PGA Tour without making a bogey over 72 holes did it at the Greater New Orleans Open. Which player did it and in what year?

Answer: Lee Trevino in 1974.

We at Numbers Game are an optimistic lot, however, so let's look at the bright side for Mr. Cauley. First of all, he's only 24 years old. Reigning PGA champion Dufner got his first PGA Tour win in New Orleans two years ago -- at age 35.

In two of his past three starts, spanning the and PGA tours, Cauley has finished in the top 30. And TPC Louisiana might be able to foster some confidence for Cauley this week; each of the past two years, the course has ranked in the top third among PGA Tour courses in terms of easiest greens to hit in regulation. That could be good news for Cauley, who is 134th in GIR percentage this season.