Keeping an eye on this rookie class

January, 10, 2012
The Sony Open is the first full-field tournament of the 2012 PGA Tour season, meaning myriad new names will be all over the leaderboard this weekend.

Trivia question

Who is the last player to win in his first start as an official member of the PGA Tour? (Answer below)

Tour rookies can make an enormous impact -- just ask the record six rookies who racked up seven total victories in 2011, including a major championship.

We at Numbers Game would like to numerically introduce you to some of the kids to look for this year.

Three on the Tee, rookie edition:

Bud Cauley: What a week for the former member of the University of Alabama golf team. Monday night, his football team won the BCS National Championship Game. Thursday, he plays his first round as an official member of the PGA Tour.

As a non-member last year, Cauley made $735,150 in eight PGA Tour events after turning pro in June. That total would have been 116th on the money list last year, meaning Cauley earned his tour card for 2012 without going through Q-school. He's just the sixth player to accomplish that feat, joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Gary Hallberg, Justin Leonard and Ryan Moore.

Seung-Yul Noh: Noh, who is just 20 years, 7 months old, is the youngest rookie on the PGA Tour in 2012. Corey Pavin (52), who is in the field this week at Sony, had won seven times on the PGA Tour before Noh was born.

Noh was just a teenager when he won the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2010. In March of that year, he won the Malaysian Open by one shot over PGA Tour stalwart K.J. Choi. He finished tied for third at Q-school this past December, shooting a 64 in the third round.

Jonas Blixt: With three runner-up finishes and eight top-10 finishes last year on the Nationwide Tour, the 27-year-old from Sweden was one of the most consistent performers on the circuit in 2011. Blixt was best with the putter, finishing second on the Nationwide Tour in putting average and putts per round.

If he manages to put his extremely unique name on a trophy, though, it will be without having done so on his previous tour -- Blixt has 14 career top-10 finishes and seven top-3 finishes on the Nationwide Tour but no victories.

Sports fans around the world are always fascinated with who and what is coming next. Golf is no exception, with talk of the PGA Tour's young guns blanketing media coverage and promotional campaigns alike.

Steve Stricker is neither young nor flashy. So excuse him as he continues on as the highest-ranked American golfer in the world at the spry age of 44.

Monday, Stricker won for the ninth time on the PGA Tour since turning 40. Though quite an impressive total, Stricker has a long way to go before reaching the all-time record for most victories after a 40th birthday -- a staggering 22 by Vijay Singh.

Stricker now has eight tour wins since the beginning of 2009. That's the highest total of any player over that span. Despite not winning an official event since late in 2009, Woods is still second in that span with six victories. Stricker is the only player on the PGA Tour with multiple victories in each of the previous three years.

Stricker won at Kapalua on Monday in his typical fashion -- with the putter. He led the field at the Tournament of Champions in putts per round and was second in putts per green in regulation. Stricker's "strokes gained -- putting" number has improved significantly in each of the previous three years. In 2009, he was 61st; in 2010, 22nd; and last year, he was second, trailing only Luke Donald.

The biggest question left for Stricker is whether he can reach the winner's circle on his sport's biggest stage. Stricker will have been 45 years old for a couple of months when the year's first major begins at Augusta in April. At 42, Darren Clarke became the oldest player in 20 years to pick up his first major win at last year's Open Championship.

But it's been more than 50 years since someone 45 or older has won his first major championship. That man was Jerry Barber, who was 45 when he won the 1961 PGA Championship in a playoff at Olympia Fields.

Woods announced that his 2012 PGA Tour debut will be at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, beginning Feb. 9. Tiger has had some of the most memorable performances of his career at Pebble Beach but hasn't played in the tournament since 2002.

Woods' performance at the 2000 U.S. Open is regarded as one of the most dominating in the history of major championships. That week, Tiger set a tournament record for shots under par by finishing 12-under (since eclipsed by Rory McIlroy last year.) Woods finished the week as the only player under par in the entire field -- Ernie Els and Miguel Jimenez tied for second at 3 over.

Trivia answer

Question: Who is the last player to win in his first start as an official member of the PGA Tour?

Answer: Henrik Stenson, at the 2007 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

As is typical when looking at Tiger's past, Woods' numbers in his first PGA Tour stroke-play event of the year are very impressive. Since 1997, Woods has won six times in his first PGA Tour stroke-play event of a calendar year and finished in the top 5 11 of 15 times.

What was his only finish outside the top 10 in those events? The answer to that question is more indicative of his recent history.

It was last year at Torrey Pines.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to or follow him on Twitter @JRayESPNGolf.





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