Age just a number on PGA Tour

April, 20, 2010

What's the most dominant number in golf this year? It might be 39.

After all, a 39-year-old Jim Furyk won his second PGA Tour event of the year last week at Hilton Head, less than a month after taking first place at the Transitions Championship. The previous week, 39-year-old Phil Mickelson won his third green jacket. Lefty played his last 10 holes at Augusta in 39 shots, while Lee Westwood played his in 42. Mickelson won by 3 strokes.

Trivia question

Last year, Andres Romero was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard during his attempt to win this event in back-to-back years. Jerry Kelly will try to repeat this week at the New Orleans. Who was the first player to successfully defend his title in this event, and what year did he do it? (Answer below.)

This is the third time in Jim Furyk's career he's won more than once in a calendar year on the PGA Tour. Furyk turns 40 on May 12, while Mickelson will reach his fifth decade June 16, the day before the opening round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

The world No. 2 (Mickelson) and No. 5 (Furyk) will join No. 7 Ernie Els as a 40-something; the Big Easy celebrated his 40th birthday in October.

As that miniature trend indicates, the current Official World Golf Rankings aren't currently abundant with youth at the top. In fact, once the calendar turns to 2011, no one in the current top seven will be younger than 34 years old. Anthony Kim, who doesn't turn 25 until June of this year, and Martin Kaymer, who turns 26 in December, are the only players in the OWGR top 10 who are under 30 years old.

A further scroll down the world rankings reveals a bit more youth in spots 11-20, but not much. Camilo Villegas (12), Rory McIlroy (13) and Hunter Mahan (18) are the only 20-somethings in those spots. In all, the current top 20 in the world consists of just as many players who will be 40-plus in January 2011 (five) as players who will be in their 20s.

The winners on the PGA Tour this year follow a similar pattern. This year, there have been 17 regular events held on the tour so far. Seven times, the victor has fallen into the nearly 40-plus category. Only five times was the winner in his 20s, and five times in his 30s. Your defending champion this week? Jerry Kelly, age 43.

Now, the Numbers Game understands that these things are cyclical, and that all things considered, this is not an overwhelming indication of the dearth of youth in professional golf's upper echelon. Still, an interesting set of numbers to think about.

Mad genius Pete Dye has a knack for concocting nightmarish stretches on a golf course. We submit to you the "Triangle of Doom," a trio of lengthy par-4s on the front nine at TPC Louisiana.

Holes 4, 5 and 6 played to a combined average of nearly half a shot above par last year, with a birdie percentage of just 11.5 percent. Compare that to 293 scores of bogey or worse on this stretch of three holes -- or 21.7 percent.

When it comes to the "Triangle," Dye saved the most trying hole for last. The toughest hole on the course this week at TPC Louisiana is the par-4 sixth, a 476-yard behemoth that played to nearly a quarter of a shot over par last year at this event.

The second shot is a 90-degree dogleg to the left, and depending on the wind, some players end up hitting fairway woods into the green. There were only 30 birdies on the hole a year ago, the fewest on the course.

Dropping a shot on No. 6 is commonplace -- there were 82 more bogeys or worse than birdies on the hole last year -- but a chance to get it back immediately follows: the seventh hole plays as the easiest on the course by far.

When Andres Romero won the Zurich Classic two years ago, many people thought the young man from Argentina was on his way to becoming a star. After all, he had finished third at the Open Championship the previous year, firing a final-round 67 at Carnoustie.

However, full-time status on the PGA Tour hasn't been too fruitful for Romero, as he's yet to find himself even close to the winner's circle for a second time on tour.

In 39 starts since his win at Avondale in 2008, Romero has only finished in the top 10 five times. In that same span, he's missed the cut or been disqualified (as he was last year as the defending champion at this event) 13 times.

In 2009, his best finish came at the Northern Trust Open, where he finished T-5. Only one of his past seven rounds on tour has been below par, and since the beginning of March 2009, he has just two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.

At the same time, Romero won't turn 30 until May 2011, and already has established a nice résumé in major championships. He has four top-10 finishes in majors, and five of his 10 best results in official PGA Tour events have come in majors. What path Romero's career takes next will be an interesting one to follow in the coming months and years.

It wasn't a big surprise to those who follow the sport closely when Tiger Woods committed to Quail Hollow next week. But where else will Woods play leading up to the U.S. Open? Let's handicap the nominees, event by event, leading up to Pebble.

May 6-9: The Players Championship
Regarded as golf's "fifth major" by the PGA Tour brass, it's almost a certainty that Tiger will play at TPC Sawgrass. Woods has won the event once (2001) in 12 starts, and finished eighth a year ago. When healthy, he's played the event every year since turning professional. In 2008, when Sergio Garcia won the event, the first person he thanked was Woods for not being there.

May 13-16: Valero Texas Open
This event was a Fall Series tournament until last year, so its history with Tiger is a bit misleading. Even so, he hasn't played the event since 1996, and Woods is not likely to play three straight weeks. Very slim odds he shows up in San Antonio.

May 20-23: HP Byron Nelson Championship
The tour stays in Texas the following week, going to the TPC Four Seasons just outside Dallas. Woods last played the event in 2005, and won it in 1997. In his career, he's played the tournament nine times, including once as an amateur. There's a higher likelihood he plays here, but it's probably not going to happen.

May 27-30: Crowne Plaza Invitational
Not too far away from the previous week's venue, this one's at Colonial in Fort Worth. Tiger hasn't played here since 1997. In all, he hasn't played in one of the regular Texas events since the Nelson in 2005.

June 3-6: The Memorial
Pretty much a certainty he shows up to defend his title at Jack Nicklaus' tournament. Tiger has won there four times, and hasn't missed it when healthy as a professional. Pencil him in for this one, as he will get very heavy odds to win. All things considered, it would not be surprising if this was his first win of 2010.

Trivia answer

Question: Last year, Andres Romero was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard during his attempt to win this event in back-to-back years. Jerry Kelly will try to repeat this week at New Orleans. Who was the first player to successfully defend his title in this event, and what year did he do it?

Answer: Byron Nelson, in 1945 and 1946.

June 10-13: St. Jude Classic
The event in Memphis has never seen Woods participate. It won't happen in 2010, either.

Our prediction? Tiger plays The Players Championship and the Memorial in addition to Charlotte before the U.S. Open in mid-June. One wild card would be at the Byron Nelson in Irving. In his career in those four events, Tiger has won six times, and finished in the top 10 55.6 percent of the time.

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



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?