Expect higher scores this year at Colonial

May, 26, 2009

The final week of the revamped Texas leg of the PGA Tour comes to one of the more historic and acclaimed courses with the Crowne Plaza Invitational at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Tex.

Colonial has been host since 1946 and is distinguished by several unique traditions: an official Scottish-tartan plaid jacket is worn by past champions, a champions dinner is hosted the night before the tournament begins, and the first tee is framed by the Wall of Champions, which bears the engraved names and scores of all the players that have won here dating back to the U.S. Open in 1941.

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.

The wall has quite a recognizable list, including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Julius Boros, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

The Colonial attracts a solid field, and this year is no exception. There are four of the top 10 players in the world -- Paul Casey(3), Geoff Ogilvy (6), Kenny Perry (7) and Vijay Singh (9) -- 17 major champions, eight previous Colonial champions -- including the return of Ian Baker-Finch (1989) -- and 11 players who have already won in 2009. This week the stats blog looks at what stats have been historically important to success at Colonial, and makes some predictions as to how the course redesign will impact this year's event.

The track
The 7,204-yard par-70 course will play its longest ever. The key components of the course redesign include a lengthening of 150 yards, repositioning fairway bunkers for today's big hitters, and reshaping some holes.

Early feedback on the redesign from the players is very positive. Rory Sabbatini -- who is coming off a victory last week at the Byron Nelson and won at Colonial in 2007 -- and Baker-Finch both commented that they really like what has been done here. Both players gave the course great reviews even though it's expected to play two to three shots more difficult each round. Last year, Colonial ranked 25th out of 54 courses in scoring difficulty, with an average of 70.33 (+0.33). The field average here is usually right around par, but expect higher scores this year.

The Colonial Country Club has been in the middle of the pack in most of the course profile statistics. One of the rankings that stands out from last year is driving distance. On measured drives in 2008, players averaged 300.4 yards off the tee. Colonial was one of only five courses on tour last year to reach the 300-yard average drive plateau, so even shorter hitters should see an increase in distance this week off the tee.

Also, Colonial is one of the easier courses for sand saves. The field averaged par or better from greenside bunkers 56.5 percent of the time to rank fifth-easiest of 52 courses on the PGA Tour.

Where the course has its teeth is in its tightness. Colonial ranked 11th most difficult in driving accuracy percentage at 54.9 percent, and the course had the second-highest ranking in left rough tendency at over 20 percent. Left rough tendency is the percentage of time a tee shot comes to rest in the left rough, regardless of club used.

This is a slight disadvantage for players like Kenny Perry, Dustin Johnson, and Steve Stricker who regularly play a draw off the tee. Their preferred right to left ball flight can make for some difficult approaches from the left hand rough. That said, those guys are all top notch players that could be picked almost any week.

Perry has struggled here recently (T-46, MC, T-37 the past three years) but he has also won here in 2005 and 2003, and was runner-up in 2002. What is interesting, though, is that Perry's finishes have dropped recently and the left rough tendency has increased. There is definitely some correlation here, but you can never count Perry out. He is playing the best golf of his career as he nears his 49th birthday.

Fantasy foursomes
The Colonial has been historically known as more of a shot-maker's course than a power player's track. The key stats to success here have been proximity to hole and scrambling. GIR is always a key, but the top performers recently have been able to get away with missing some greens. The course has favored accuracy over power, but the redesign and additional 150 yards in length will make a push to change this.

Former champions also have history on their side this week. Ten players have won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial multiple times: Ben Hogan (5 wins), Julius Boros, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Bruce Lietzke, Nick Price, Phil Mickelson, Corey Pavin and Perry (2 each). Only Hogan has won the tour stops in Fort Worth and Dallas in the same year. Sabbatini will try to match Hogan this week at Colonial.

For the fantasy picks this week, favor the former champs, players who rank high in proximity to the hole, scrambling, and/or par-4 scoring. It's also a good idea to consider some of the hottest players on tour, such as Sabbatini, Casey, and Brian Davis.

Paul Casey: Coming off a huge win at Wentworth, Casey has surged to No. 3 in the world and is the highest-ranked player in the field. Casey is noticeably more fit this year, and his balance and stability are exceptional. Casey ranks sixth in birdie average, and he is in the top 25 in GIR, ball striking, putting and birdie conversion percentage. He has finished in the top 20 or better in five of his six 2009 PGA starts. Though he has never played at Colonial, he is a solid pick.

Jim Furyk: Furyk has a solid record at Colonial that includes two runner-up finishes and five top-10 finishes in 13 starts. Furyk ranks in the top 30 on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, putting average, birdie average, scoring average, proximity to the hole, sand saves and scrambling. Furyk is also T-8 in par-4 scoring this year. An interesting side note: Furyk has the longest streak on tour this year for consecutive sand saves, with an amazing 15 in a row.

Rory Sabbatini: Sabbatini is a former champ here that absolutely sizzled last week. He ranks third on tour in putting average, fifth in birdie or better conversion percentage, T-14 in par-4 scoring average. He is also in the top 25 in scoring, birdie average, and all-around ranking. His putter should keep him in the tournament even if he is wayward off the tee (driving accuracy: T-120 at 59.3 percent.)

David Toms: Toms is very quietly having an excellent year. He is second in scoring average and driving accuracy and third in par-4 scoring average. Toms is also in the top 25 in all of the following: total driving, all-around ranking, proximity to hole, scrambling and putting average. This solid play has led Toms to five top-10 finishes in 12 starts this year. He has a decent history at this track with four top-10s in 11 starts, including a runner-up finish in 2002.

Briny Baird: Baird is coming off a solid T-8 last week at the Byron Nelson and he has five top-25s in 15 starts this year. He is leading the tour in GIR at 71.2 percent and he is in the top 20 in all of the following: driving accuracy, ball striking, all-around ranking, proximity, scoring average, and total birdies. Baird has made all six of his cuts at the Colonial, with two top-25 finishes.

Sean O'Hair: Last year was O'Hair's first time at Colonial, and he finished a respectable T-26. He is 9-of-11 in making cuts this year, but each made cut has resulted in a top-25 finish, including a win at Quail Hollow and a runner-up finish at Bay Hill. O'Hair leads the tour in scoring average and all-around ranking, he is fifth in GIR, and T-14 in par-4 scoring average. His rise should continue.

Ben Crane: Crane has been one of the more solid "C" players this year with four top-25 finishes in 13 starts. Crane has been great at Colonial as well: His past three finishes are solo fifth, T-4, and T-17. Crane is in the top 25 in driving accuracy, all-around ranking and par-4 scoring. He leads the tour in average length of putts made per round at 83 feet, 3 inches.

Charlie Wi: His first year here was 2008, and he cashed in with a T-15. Wi ranks in the top 25 in scoring, birdie average, all-around ranking, proximity to hole and putting average, and he is T-8 in par-4 scoring average. Wi has five top-25s in 13 starts this season, and he showed signs of life last week after firing a 64 on moving day.

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com. Information from the PGA Tour was used in this report.





You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?