One theme prevails from Zurich Classic's history

April, 21, 2009

The PGA Tour travels 14 miles outside the "Big Easy" this week for the Zurich Classic at the TPC Louisiana.

Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter

Every golfer and golf fan knows the sport is a game of numbers. One of the most distinct characteristics of golf is that any player's efforts are summarized by an absolute and final statistic: the score. However, as any visitor to the 19th hole knows, the story of the game cannot be told in full by the tally at the end of the round.

"Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter" is your weekly source of insight into the numbers that make a difference in golf, focusing on the PGA Tour. Whether you're looking to wow your buddies in your Saturday foursome or get a little extra help for your fantasy team or are just a stats junkie, this blog is for you.

Every week, this sliver of the Internet will be your one-stop shop for the unique and significant golf stats that best tell the stories beyond the scores.

This marks the second consecutive week the tour will play a Pete Dye track. Built in 2004, TPC Louisiana is a much more modern design than last week's venue, Harbour Town Golf Links. The TPC Louisiana features more generous greens and fairways than those seen at Hilton Head.

The TPC Louisiana has only hosted the Zurich Classic three times: in 2005, '07 and '08. The '06 tournament was contested at English Turn after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area. There has been a constant over the past four years: Each winner has claimed his first PGA Tour win: Tim Petrovic ('05), Chris Couch ('06), Nick Watney ('07) and Andres Romero ('08.)

This golf course has some extremes, featuring very difficult holes as well as quality par-breaking opportunities. The front nine features an ominous stretch of three long par-4s nicknamed the "triangle of doom," as Nos. 4-6 measure 482, 428, and 476 yards respectively. The finishing leg of this triangle was in the top 3 percent of the most difficult holes on tour in 2008, yielding only 19 birdies and 121 bogeys.

Along with this difficult stretch, there are two other par-4s over 480 yards, and the par-3s here average 210 yards. That said, there are definitely scoring opportunities, as last year the course ranked 31st out of 54 courses in scoring, and the average winning score here has been nearly 14 under par. The easiest hole on the course is the 561-yard, par-5 7th hole, yielding 192 birdies and only 22 bogeys last year.

In just three events at TPC Louisiana, there have been a variety of ways to get it done. Last year's champ, Andres Romero, drained many long putts and really cranked up his iron play. Romero made 10 putts longer than 10 feet last year (T-1 in the field). The Argentine missed only six of his last 46 greens after failing to connect on 12 of his first 26. In 2007, Watney's iron play was key as he finished T-9 in GIR and T-5 in proximity.

In 2005, the TPC Louisiana's inaugural host year, Petrovic's short game proved crucial to his victory. He converted over 77 percent of his scrambling opportunities (7th in the field) and finished T-5 in putting average.

There is another constant among these champs: Not one of them had a good week driving the ball accurately. None of these champions ranked in the top 30 in driving accuracy, and Petrovic ranked third to last in the field during his win, hitting only 41.1 percent of his fairways. There are many ways to get it done here, and the cost of rough is low enough to allow for several wayward tee shots.

The one statistical category that stands out at the TPC Louisiana the past two years is average distance of putts made. This stat measures the sum of the length of all putts a player makes for the round. Dye's course has ranked fourth and sixth most difficult out of more than 40 courses in each of the past two seasons.

Hitting fairways will not separate you from the field here, but a hot putter from long range definitely will, as Romero discovered. His average distance of putts made each round was 110 feet, ranking him first in the field. His average distance of putts made surpassed the field average by more than 40 feet per round.

Kenny Perry : Can he?
Kenny Perry is playing the best golf of his career. He has won 10 times on tour since turning 40. Last year alone, Perry claimed three victories. He is the oldest player in PGA Tour history to win that many times in a single season. The most interesting storyline this week is: How will he respond after the heart-wrenching experience at Augusta two weeks ago?

Even after his runner-up finish at the Masters, Perry has moved all the way up to No. 5 in the world, the highest ranking of his career. After his win at the FBR Open earlier this year, Perry led the PGA Tour money list for the first time.

As for his record at TPC Louisiana, Perry hasn't done anything special, finishing T-23 and T-66. This week, he's the only player in the top 10 of the world rankings in the field. He leads the tour in scoring adjusted average, stands fourth in ball striking and is 10th in scrambling.

Perry openly admits that setting the goal of making last year's Ryder Cup team was the first time in his career he set any goal. His new focus: 20 PGA Tour victories. He currently sits at 13 wins, and we should not bet against him. His 14th win might not come this week -- he might not even make the cut -- but would any of us really be surprised to see him flourish after his Masters adversity?

Fantasy Foursomes
The field this week is without many of the top-ranked players. We'll pick the hottest players on tour and the early-season standout performers for this week's Fantasy Foursomes.

• John Merrick is proving to be one of the best players under 30 without a victory. His T-6 at the Masters was his third top-10 in 11 starts; he has only missed two cuts in 2009. His only standout statistics are driving distance (11th) and total birdies (8th). He has found a way to get it done at the TPC Louisiana, finishing T-7 and T-18 in the past here.

• Nick Watney isn't getting enough credit for how well he is playing. He has made the cut in all nine appearances this year, including eight top-25s. The former Zurich Classic champion currently ranks fourth in FedExCup standings and is fourth on the money list.

Watney is not only averaging more than 300 yards off the tee (No. 8), he is second in scoring average, 14th in scrambling and 15th in total putting.

• Rory Sabbatini is coming off a top-10 at the Verizon Heritage and a T-20 at the Masters. He has made eight of nine cuts this year, including five top-25s. His best statistical category is his putting average, at ninth. Sabbatini is a notoriously streaky player, and lately he's had a good thing going.

• Scott Piercy just might be the first-time winner the Zurich Classic is looking for. In his rookie season, he has recorded five top-25s in 10 starts. Piercy ranks seventh in driving distance and is tied for ninth in birdie average.

• Other than Perry, Steve Stricker is the next best world-class player in the field. Stricker is tied for ninth with Piercy in birdie average, is second in scrambling and first in actual scoring average. Stricker has made seven of nine cuts this year, each time finishing in the top 25.

• Watch out for Ian Poulter this week as he has made three of four cuts, each time finishing in the top 25.

• Charles Howell III has played rock-solid this year, making nine consecutive cuts. Howell already had amassed four top-25s and two top-10s and ranks 11th on the PGA Tour in scoring average.

The Starters: Kenny Perry, Nick Watney, Rory Sabbatini, Ian Poulter
Next in line: John Merrick, Scott Piercy, Steve Stricker, Charles Howell III

Other notables
• This week marks the last opportunity for players to move into the top 10 in the FedExCup standings and qualify for The Players Championship in two weeks. Any player in the top 58 of the FedExCup standings could potentially qualify this week.

• Danny Lee, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, will make his professional debut in the Zurich Classic.

• Patrick Sheehan looks to equal Paul Stankowski's 1996 record of winning on the Nationwide Tour one week and on the PGA Tour the following week. Sheehan won last week's Athens Regional Foundation Classic and will be competing this week at the Zurich Classic.

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Information from the PGA Tour was used in this report.





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