Late comebacks litter '12 PGA Tour season

March, 13, 2012
03/13/12
8:46
AM ET
Justin Rose's final-round 70, coupled with Bubba Watson's front-nine implosion -- he carded a 39 -- on Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship continued a running theme this year on the PGA Tour.

Trivia question

The Copperhead course at Innisbrook, site of this week's Transitions Championship, played as the seventh-toughest closing three-hole sequence on the PGA Tour a year ago. What ranked as the most difficult? (Answer below)

Last year, the tour had more playoffs (18) than in any other season in its history. This year, the players aren't always waiting around for extra holes to let the dramatics unfurl.

In six of the last seven weeks, a winner on the PGA Tour started the day multiple shots off the lead. The only week it didn't happen, Rory McIlroy held off Tiger Woods and Woods' lowest career final round as the Northern Irishman became the world No. 1.

How's that for entertainment?

Consider this: Over the last eight PGA Tour stroke-play events, there have been nine different players with a share of the 54-hole lead (Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley were tied entering the final round at Riviera). Only two of those players went on to win -- McIlroy and George McNeill, who won in Puerto Rico on Sunday.

Those two were also the only ones in the group to break par in their final round. The other seven players were a combined 10-over in their final rounds.

Each of the winners of those eight events had final-round scores below par. And their combined score? Try 35-under. Everyone but Rose broke 70, and four shot 67 or lower.

There have already been four players in 2012 who entered the final round trailing the leader(s) by six strokes or more, only to come back and win. In the previous three years combined, only three players completed such a comeback. In 2009, it didn't happen even once.

With hopes for continued theatrics this week at Copperhead, "Three On The Tee" calls:

Luke Donald: The former world No. 1 carded back-to-back 69s this past weekend to pick up his first top-10 finish of the year. Since the beginning of 2011, Donald has 15 top-10 finishes in just 22 starts on the PGA Tour. Webb Simpson has the second-most top-10s in that span (14), but he needed 31 starts to get to that number.

Donald has a knack for making a charge on Sundays to earn a bigger paycheck. In each of his last eight top-10 finishes on tour, he broke 70 on Sunday to get there. Only once in those 14 stroke play top-10 finishes (the win at last year's match play makes 15) did Donald fail to break par in the final round.

I suppose that's how you lead the tour in final-round scoring average -- which Donald did in 2011 (68.06).

This week marks the fourth time Donald will play in the Transitions Championship. He last played the event in 2010, finishing tied for sixth.

Charl Schwartzel: Look who appears to be rounding into form -- just in time to defend his Masters title. Schwartzel has posted back-to-back top-five finishes at Doral and the Honda Classic, the first time he's ever done that on this tour.

Schwartzel is making his hay on par-5s. At Doral, he played them in 11-under, moving his par-5 season scoring average (granted, it's a small sample size) to 4.33. Only Rory McIlroy has a better such number this year.

And don't look now, but Schwartzel has reached sixth in this week's Official World Golf Ranking -- the highest he has been in his career. Charl's 21.06 ranking points earned at Doral were the most for him in any tournament since his Masters victory.

Gary Woodland: Defending Transitions Championship winner Gary Woodland has had a tough start to 2012 as he's undergoing some swing changes with new coach Butch Harmon. Woodland's had just one top-25 finish in six PGA Tour starts but that shouldn't deter you from following him this week.

Trivia answer

Question: The Copperhead course at Innisbrook, site of this week's Transitions Championship, played as the seventh-toughest closing three-hole sequence on the PGA Tour a year ago. What ranked as the most difficult?

Answer: Atlanta Athletic Club, site of the PGA Championship

The bomber provided one of the more memorable Sunday back-nine performances by a PGA Tour winner last year at this event -- his par on the 18th hole was his only one on the back nine (five birdies, three bogeys).

Woodland is known for his distance off the tee (ranked top-five in driving distance on tour in both 2009 and 2011), but he'll look to bottle up the putting display he put on en route to victory here last year.

Woodland, who is 146th this year on tour in strokes gained -- putting, was just 142nd in the statistic a year ago. But at this event last year, Woodland was third in the field in SGP, gaining a staggering 4.5 strokes on the field in the final round alone. Woodland was, incredibly, 17-for-17 on putts inside 20 feet on Sunday here a year ago.

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 Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

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