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Modified Stableford system benefits aggressive player

The Modified Stableford scoring system is used just once during the PGA Tour season, at this week's International at Castle Pines GC outside Denver. Points are awarded on every hole -- eight for double eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus-one for bogey, minus-three for double bogey or worse.

This format would appear to benefit the aggressive player, the presumption being that since birdies and bogeys are not weighted evenly, a player who makes more birds would not sweat the odd bogey. Going for the green percentage and birdie conversion percentage would be the two statistics I would look at when trying to determine a winner.

Going for the green is the percentage of times a player goes for the green with his second shot on a par 5 or goes for the green off the tee on a par 4 when it is a viable option. Most of the long hitters enjoy success in this category -- Tiger Woods, John Daly, Phil Mickelson and J.B. Holmes are the tour leaders.

Of those four, only Mickelson and Holmes are in the field. Mickelson won this tournament in 1993 and 1997 and was second in 1998 and 2000. However, the format has been tweaked a little since then. In the past, a set amount of players would miss the cut each day, and scores of the players who made it to the next round would see their scores revert to zero.

At various times during the history of the event this happened after every round, or after three rounds. This meant a player could play conservatively if he was safely inside the cut zone, knowing he would be even with everyone else the next day. That is no longer the case as points are added to the prior days total for all four rounds, meaning safe play has few rewards. One other thing to note: Even when a player goes for the green and misses, he averages a better score than when he lays up.

Long hitters also dominate the tour's birdie conversion percentage leaders, though relatively shorter hitters David Toms (the 1999 winner) and Jonathan Byrd rank fifth and sixth, and both are in the field this week. An even more telling stat for this course that measures more than 7,500 yards is birdie conversion percentage on approach shots of more than 200 yards, where Duval, Tim Clark and Tom Lehman excel among players in the field this week. Length off the tee, however, shouldn't be much of an issue for anyone – Castle Pines is more than a mile high, meaning most players can average 300 yards with the driver.

One interesting thing about the International is that no player has ever won in back-to-back years. Why is that? Defending champ Retief Goosen thinks he knows why. "It's all about making birdies and getting those points on the board," he said. "You can shoot 69 and the other guy can shoot 71. But he'll probably have more points than you than because he's made more birdies or eagles. You lose less points for making bogeys than what you gain for making birdies. That's probably why [no one has won] back to back. It could be the format."

Goosen also praised the greens as being as good as they get. "If your putter gets hot, you can make a lot of putts," he said. "Probably coming back the next year, you're not making as many as you made the year before."

The fearsome foursome
Ernie Els: Els has an interesting history at Castle Pines. He has finished first, second, third, fourth (twice), fifth, sixth and seventh in the tournament. He's never missed the cut in 14 starts. He's also coming off his best finish of the year, a third at the British Open.

Daniel Chopra: A hunch pick, really, but one based on stats. He was T-15 here a year ago, but his 2006 numbers impress. He's second on tour in putting, seventh in birdie average and third in birdie conversion percentage.

Lucas Glover: The pressure to make the Ryder Cup team might be getting to Glover, who struggled in the final round at last week's Buick Open. But he has all the makings for a good week at the International -- distance, an aggressive approach, and a nice putting stroke from four-to-eight feet. That adds up to birdies on the scorecard. Plus, he won't have stress over a final-round pairing with Woods.

Brett Quigley: An average player in all of the tour's statistical categories, Quigley is, nonetheless, having a stellar season with five top-10s in his last eight non-majors. There is concern that the game that played so well at the Warwick Hills, one of the shorter courses on tour, might not play so well at one almost 500 yards longer.

John Antonini is a senior editor for Golf World magazine