Three on the tee for Doral

March, 8, 2011

Each of the top 50 players on the planet are in the field this week at TPC Blue Monster for the newly-sponsored WGC-Cadillac Championships. With a tournament jam-packed with the best names in the sport, we at Numbers Game see no sense in waiting to take our first swing.

Trivia question

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the cinematic release of "Tin Cup." What is the name of the golfer Don Johnson plays in the movie? (Answer below.)

Three on the tee is a glance at three players in the field this week at Doral, using numbers that will amaze, enlighten and undoubtedly delight your senses. Prepare yourself for life-altering links wisdom.

Tiger Woods: His PGA Tour starts-without-a-win mark has reached an unofficial tally of 16 -- which would tie his longest drought without a victory in his career. We say unofficial because the WGC-HSBC Champions event held in China was marked as "unofficial" in 2009, but hazily was decreed "official" in 2010. We at Numbers Game are counting the 2010 tournament as a start without a win, but not 2009.

Regardless, it means he's still not the Woods we knew for so long. It seems like every week we're providing numerical evidence to say "this could be the week!" for Woods to return to form, but believe us this time, will you?

Tiger has won the WGC-Cadillac (or CA, or American Express) six times in his career -- two shy of Sam Snead's mark for most wins of a single PGA Tour event (Greater Greensboro Open). Just one of those have come since the event made Blue Monster its home, but Tiger also won the Ford Championship at Doral twice. Combined, he's 100 under par, with 25 of 28 rounds better than par at Doral in his tour career. In seven career starts in PGA Tour events at Doral, Woods has never finished outside the top 10.

Now that the obligatory Tiger talk is out of the way ...

Ernie Els: The Big Easy ended a two-year victory drought on the PGA Tour here last year with a 4-stroke victory over fellow South African Charl Schwartzel. Els became the third player to win the same WGC event more than once, along with Woods and Geoff Ogilvy (two-time winner of the Match Play).

Els has just one top-10 on the PGA Tour since last year's U.S. Open -- a tie for seventh at the Tour Championship last September. He did, however, win the South African Open in December, edging out Retief Goosen.

There might not be a better course for Els to regain his stateside stride: He's on an eight-round streak of par or better at Doral, and 30 of his last 37 rounds at the course have been at par or better.

Bubba Watson: Is Bubba the best American golfer right now? It's debatable, but Watson is certainly in the conversation. Some notes on Bubba's successful start to 2011:

• He's first on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage (76.8). That's an 11.2 percent increase over his mark in 2010.
• He's second on the money list to Mark Wilson, with a win at Torrey Pines and a fourth-place finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
• His only round over par this year came in the first round of an event he withdrew from because of injury.
• He's first on tour in driving distance, seventh in birdie average and third in ball striking.

The "best American right now" title is an open competition, to be re-evaluated weekly until further notice.

The 18th at TPC Blue Monster is one of the most famous finishing holes on the PGA Tour. The 467-yard beast is gorgeous from a blimp shot above, but distinctly less attractive if your vantage point is the tee box.

Last year, though, No. 18 was downright tame compared to years past, playing to an average score of 4.210 during the '10 WGC-CA Championship. That was the easiest the hole had registered in tournament play since 2003.

Granted, the brutal scoring standard set in years past at the 18th is tough to live up to, but consider the following numbers from last year: there were 36 birdies made at 18 a year ago -- 25 more than in 2009. In fact, the birdie/bogey differential on the hole was -40 (the field made 40 more bogeys or worse than birdies) for the week. In 2009, that number was -114.

Any kind of ability to breathe at 18 is an aberration, though. In 2009, the 18th was the toughest closing hole on the PGA Tour. In 2007, the scoring average was a staggering 4.625 -- which wasn't just the toughest closing hole on tour, it was the toughest altogether, regardless of hole number.

Winners aren't exempt from the hole's wrath: Not scoring well on the 18th doesn't preclude you from winning the tournament. Over the last 10 years, only three times has the winner at Doral played the 18th under par for the week. In 2007, Woods played it to +2 and still won by two shots. The hole is always a source for great entertainment, especially if it becomes the backdrop for drama Sunday.

Trivia answer

Question: This year marks the 15th anniversary of the cinematic release of "Tin Cup." What is the name of the golfer Don Johnson plays in the movie?

Answer: David Simms

From the age-is-just-a-number file: Peter Senior -- he of 51 years, 7 months of age -- has qualified for this week's event. And with that, he will hold the distinction of being the oldest player to ever tee it up in the now-named WGC-Cadillac, and the second-oldest to ever play in a WGC event of any kind.

At the 2005 Bridgestone Invitational, Jay Haas was 51 years, 8 months and 19 days old, which is the record for oldest player in a WGC event. Senior becomes the third player over 50 to qualify for a World Golf Championship event -- Haas did it six times after turning 50, and Fred Funk did it twice.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to



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