Masters success spill into Hilton Head?

April, 14, 2010
The field this week at the Verizon Heritage includes several players who were in Georgia last week for the Masters, including K.J. Choi and Ricky Barnes -- both of whom finished in the top 10 at Augusta. But is performance at Augusta a harbinger of success at Hilton Head?

Trivia question

Phil Mickelson isn't in the field this week at Hilton Head. Only two players have ever won the Verizon Heritage and the Masters in the same year. Can you name them? (Answer below.)

The event has been held the week after the Masters since 1983. Only twice in that span has the winner placed even in the top 10 the previous week. The two instances: in 1988, when Greg Norman finished tied for fifth, and -- trivia spoiler alert -- Bernhard Langer, who won both tournaments in 1985.

Only twice since 1995 has the winner at Hilton Head even placed in the top 20 at the Masters the previous week. In that same span, the winner either missed the cut or did not qualify for the Masters on seven occasions.

So, does Masters success translate to Hilton Head? In a word, no.

When pertinent, we at Numbers Game like to revisit the "Almost Index," a formula concocted in an attempt to determine the best player in the world who has never won a major championship. A dubious title, indeed, and the 2010 Masters runner-up is finding himself subject to it more and more.

Lee Westwood slept on the 54-hole lead at Augusta last week in what has been his best chance to get himself out of this discussion. Let us not forget, either, that Westwood had a chance on the 72nd hole at the 2008 U.S. Open to join Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods in the Monday playoff that decided that event. He has been almost there -- and basically that is the definition of a player on the list.

But is he really the world's best without a major? First, a refresher on the formula: It takes into consideration PGA Tour and European Tour career accomplishments, with a heavy emphasis on finishes in majors. Because our junior high school algebra teacher made sure we always showed our work back in the day, the formula breaks down as such:

(2 + [PGA Tour top-10 pct.]) + (1 + [European Tour top-10 pct.]) + PGA Tour wins + (Euro Tour wins x 0.5) + ([top-10 pct. in majors x 100] x .25) + (major points x 0.1) = Almost Index

Major points are collected like this: Players are awarded points for every major in which they finish in the top 10, on a scale from 1 to 9. A second-place finish is worth 9, a T-2 is worth 8.5, a third amounts to 8 and so on, with the scale ending at T-10 (0.5 points).

Entering the 2009 PGA Championship, Westwood was third, trailing leader Sergio Garcia and Kenny Perry. Westwood's finishes at the PGA and the Masters, though, have seen him vault in the standings. I'm sure he's thrilled. Where we stand today:

Another big mover on this list was Rory McIlroy -- in the downward direction. His placement near the top wrinkled the brows of some folks in the comments section, but when sticking to the formula, his mark of fifth at the time was accurate. This was due largely in part to a very high top-10 percentage in majors. A less-than-sparkling showing at the Masters has seen his index drop to 13.150, from 17.413 back in February.

In each of the last three majors, Westwood has equaled or improved upon his best career finish. The 2010 U.S. Open will be held at Pebble Beach, where in 2000, when it was also held there, Westwood finished T-5th. One wonders if he'll be able to shed that "almost" thing for good.

One of the oldest, most common sayings in golf is, "drive for show, putt for dough." But if you want to win on the PGA Tour -- and at Augusta -- the most important statistic apparently is linked to the approach shot. The results spell it out: Greens in regulation is the most important statistic in golf, and when tracking Masters champions over the last decade, it's the most consistent harbinger of success at Augusta.

First, let's look at PGA Tour winners in 2010. Of the 12-stroke-play, non-alternate-field events -- this excludes Puerto Rico and Mayakoba, which occur during the same time frame as bigger events, and therefore have a diluted field -- eight of the winners finished in the top three in greens in regulation for the week. Every winner of those tournaments this year has ranked among the top 10 in greens in regulation for the week.

The same can't be said about other statistics: Hunter Mahan won the Waste Management in Phoenix finishing 54th in putts per GIR. Ben Crane was 62nd in total putts the week he won at Torrey Pines. Four different winners on tour this year have finished 20th or lower in fairways hit during the week of their victory.

It's widely held that green jackets are won with the flatstick. Still, although no one in contention at the Masters can afford an off day with the putter, recent years tell us that overall putting numbers for the week don't consistently predict who has the best chance to win on Sunday.

Only twice in the last 11 years has the Masters champion not ranked among the top four in greens hit in regulation. Four times in the last 11 years, the winner led the field in GIR percentage. Only once during that same span has the winner finished that high in the field in putts per GIR, twice in total putts, and three times in fairways hit.

Trivia answer

Phil Mickelson isn't in the field this week at Hilton Head. Only two players have ever won the Verizon Heritage and the Masters in the same year. Can you name them?

Answer: Jack Nicklaus (1975) and Bernhard Langer (1985).

At the 2010 Masters, champion Phil Mickelson finished 10th or lower in the field in the three other key statistics listed, yet hit 75.0 percent of greens in regulation, tying for third-best in the field. Tiger Woods is no exception to this rule. In fact, he reaffirms it. Woods has finished either first or second in the Masters field in GIR five times in his professional career. Four of those times, he won the green jacket.

Last weekend, Woods hit 68.1 percent of greens in regulation, T-16th in the field. His total of 49 GIR hit for the tournament was five fewer than the lowest number he hit in any of his four Masters victories.

On Sunday, Woods hit 10 of 18 greens in regulation. ESPN analyst Andy North said that Tiger would need to get out to a fast start in order to win at Augusta. Woods then missed the first five greens in regulation.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to





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