Ten Open numbers to know

July, 17, 2012
Over the past few years, the Open Championship probably has been the most unpredictable of the four majors.

Trivia question

Who are the only Open Champions since 1955 to win in their debut? (Answer below)

The last three champions were 33rd, 54th and 111th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Tom Watson almost won it at age 59 in 2009. And since 2004, we've seen three Opens decided by playoff, but also have seen blowouts of four, five and seven shots.

While unpredictability is the new norm at the Open, we at Numbers Game will do our best to prepare you for this week. Here are the 10 most important numbers to know at Royal Lytham:

205: Official number of bunkers at Royal Lytham
The first thing that fans will notice about the course is the sheer quantity of bunkers (205 is the number the R&A is going with this week). They'll undoubtedly be a major storyline start-to-finish.

With that in mind, it's worth noting that some prominent names in the Open field are among the top 15 in sand saves this year on the PGA Tour. Among that group are Lee Westwood (T-3), Jim Furyk (7th), Luke Donald (10th), Justin Rose (11th) and Matt Kuchar (13th). Not to be outdone, 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen leads the European Tour this year in scrambling.

T-35th: That's the 36-Hole position of 2001 winner David Duval at this course
The last time the Open was played at this venue, major championship history was made. Duval entered the third round tied for 35th, the worst 36-hole position by a major champion in history.

If that fact sounds familiar, it's because we just saw something similar at the U.S. Open in June. Webb Simpson was tied for 29th entering the weekend at Olympic Club -- the second-worst 36-hole position by any major winner.

There have been five PGA Tour winners in 2012 who entered the final round trailing by six or more strokes. With all that in mind, is another remarkable weekend charge on the horizon?

9: Consecutive first-time major champions
Before the 2010 U.S. Open, there had never been a streak of more than six first-time major winners in the modern era. Well, Graeme McDowell started the streak at Pebble Beach two summers ago, and we're at nine and counting.

Among that group of nine, eight of them were 33 or younger, with the exception being last year's Open champion, 42-year-old Darren Clarke. Only Rory McIlroy (8th) was ranked inside the OWGR top 10, while two were ranked outside the top 100. The average world ranking of the group: 43.3.

For what it's worth, the major-less Mark Wilson is ranked 43rd in the OWGR this week, and he tees off Thursday at 8:10 a.m. ET. Given recent major championship history, would anyone be shocked if that seemingly random name won the Open?

7: Lee Westwood's career top-3 finishes in majors (no wins)
If you aren't buying that name-out-of-a-hat theory, one believable name to win the Open this week is Westwood. His seven career top-3 finishes in majors are the most by any player in the modern era without a win, and all of those have come since 2008.

Westwood has a staggering eight top-10 finishes in majors since the 2009 Open Championship. Five times since the 2010 Masters, he's been in the top six entering the final round of a major. Westwood hasn't been knocking on the door, he's been pounding on it with a 7-iron.

3: Players to win a major while OWGR No. 1
Donald has not played well at the Open in his career. In 11 starts, he has more missed cuts (six) than made ones (five), and just one top-10 (T-5 in 2009).

If you need another reason to not wager on No. 1 this week, consider this: Since the inception of the OWGR in 1986, 16 players have been ranked in the top spot. Only three of them won a major while No. 1: Ian Woosnam (1991 Masters), Fred Couples (1992 Masters) and Tiger Woods (11 times).

On the other hand, there's a reason Donald has been so successful in non-majors the past few years -- he has one of the best short games on the planet. In 2012, Donald leads the PGA Tour in scrambling from 10-20 yards and in scrambling from the rough, both things that players are going to have to do well if they plan on winning this week.

4: Americans could win four straight majors for first time since 2003-04
After Clarke won last year's Open at Royal St. George's, American golf was being battered by critics. The U.S. had gone six straight majors without a win, while tiny Northern Ireland had won three in that same span. Non-Americans claimed the top four spots in the OWGR, and Woods -- the former incumbent dominator -- was nowhere to be found.

Fast-forward to today, and the Yanks are looking for the first stretch of four straight major winners from the same country in almost a decade. The last time it happened was the stretch from the 2003 U.S. Open to the 2004 Masters (Americans Furyk, Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and Phil Mickelson).

2: Phil Mickelson's career top-10 finishes at the Open
Mickelson finished T-16 at last week's Scottish Open, but before that, Lefty's last three PGA Tour starts read like this: WD, T-65, missed cut. Over that span, he hit just 50 percent of his fairways.

Of course, Mickelson has never been the most accurate player, but he's at least had a modicum of tee box control when he's won. In 39 of his 40 PGA Tour wins (and all four of his major titles), he's hit at least half of his fairways. And considering the brutal reviews of the rough at Royal Lytham in recent days, that could spell trouble for Lefty this week.

4: Missed cuts for Rory McIlroy since winning Honda Classic
It's often been asked recently: What's wrong with Rory?

After a stretch of 12 worldwide starts where McIlroy didn't finish worse than T-11 and racked up nine top-3 finishes, Caroline Wozniacki's boyfriend has as many missed cuts (four) as top-10s. And with accuracy off the tee vital this week, it's impossible to ignore Rory's ranks in driving accuracy (147th on the PGA Tour, 215th on the European Tour).

McIlroy also missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month, but keep this in mind: His last competitive round was a 67 on Sunday at the Irish Open on July 1, his best round in nearly two months.

68: Rickie Fowler had three rounds of 68 or better at the last two Opens
Excluding a first-round 79 at the blustery 2010 Open at St. Andrews, Fowler has a scoring average of 69.29 in his two-start career in this event. And that total of three rounds of 68 or better is the most of anyone over the last two Open Championships.

Fowler nearly broke through with his first win at the Open last year, but he bogeyed two of his last five holes and finished tied for fifth. As one of the best young ball-strikers in the sport, few would be shocked to see Fowler in the mix again.

36: Only four players have won four or more majors after turning 36
Those players are Ben Hogan (six), Sam Snead (five), Jack Nicklaus (four) and Gary Player (four). Woods has won three times this year, but the 14-time major champion's success is always -- rightfully so or not -- measured against history, not his current competition. Woods, of course, trails Nicklaus' major championship record by four.

Woods said this week that the rough at Royal Lytham is "almost unplayable" in some places. Tiger has, for the most part, succeeded when he's hit it in the fairway this year. En route to victory at the Memorial, he hit 76.8 percent of his fairways, his highest total in any event in two years.

In contrast, his numbers on shots out of the rough aren't good -- Woods is outside the top 60 in average approach shot proximity from the rough almost any way you slice it (see the chart for the specifics).

Trivia answer

Question: Who are the only Open Champions since 1955 to win in their debut?

Answer: Tony Lema (1964), Tom Watson (1975) and Ben Curtis (2003).

Despite those bad numbers from the rough, Woods is 11th on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation -- his highest position in that category since 2008. What does all this mean? For one, fans should expect Tiger to opt against using the driver most of the time this week. Consistency off the tee is the No. 1 ingredient to Woods' success this week.

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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