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New World Order: With numbers in, turns out Donald was pretty good

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist

Donald and Rory McIlroy size up each other and the Dubai trophy headed into Thursday's round. (Getty Images)  
Donald and Rory McIlroy size up each other and the Dubai trophy headed into Thursday's round. (Getty Images)  

ORLANDO, Fla. -- As a famous man almost said, "There are lies, damned lasers and statistics."

The PGA Tour season in 2011 consisted of 45 events staged over 53 different venues and 936 different golf holes.

The total purse was $277,464,153.78. We're not sure where the 78 cents went, but it's a safe bet world No. 1 Luke Donald has it jangling around in his pocket after topping the money list.

Pretty clearly, over a volatile 10-month arc, there had to be some fairly memorable and forgettable occurrences, which is where the tour's Shotlink laser tracking system not only is illuminating, but entertaining.

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Shotlink doesn't include every single hole -- majors and all courses used at multiple-venue events are not as comprehensibly measured -- but the margin of error is tolerable enough from a statistical standpoint. A few days back, the tour issued a crazy compendium of Shotlink data that, for the arithmetically inclined, will generate both gee-whizzes and giggles.

For this week's New World Order list, here's a smattering of 2011 splatterings, courtesy of the army of weekly volunteers who dutifully point those orange lasers at dimpled white balls over the majority of the 17,754 rounds that were played last season. And that's just in stroke play.

Putting on the ritz

A total of 159 players four-putted a green last season, which for some, meant they were only getting warmed up. Seven players had a five-putt green, but the king of whacks was rookie Brendan Steele, who seven-putted the 18th at Riviera. He won a few weeks later in Texas. He uses a belly putter, by the way.

The tour's newest stat is called strokes gained putting, which measures how many shots were picked up relative to other players putting under the same general circumstances. Nobody was surprised when Donald topped the category. In fact, when old numbers were run from 2009 and 2010, he was first in those years, too.

The deadly Donald topped the tour by making more putts between 5-10 feet than anybody, converting at a 68.8 percent clip. No real shocker. It's a bit more alarming to learn that the guy who ranked last in the same category, at 47.1 percent, is world No. 7 Dustin Johnson. Guess the criticisms about his short game are accurate, unlike his stroke.

The single-event record for most mileage was set by Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, who canned a staggering 530 feet of putts while finishing T4 at the Bridgestone Invitational. So it's a bit less surprising that he completely tanked the following week at the PGA Championship when the putts stopped falling. He missed the cut after rounds of 85-72.

Donald went 483 holes in PGA Tour play without a three-putt green, the most by any player since 2003. Then he three-whacked holes in consecutive rounds at the season finale at Disney World, which has some of the flattest, smoothest greens on tour.

Incredibly, Kevin Na was credited with making all 676 of his attempts from inside three feet. Which means he didn't whiff a single putt all year, unlike with his driver.

Webb Simpson lost the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average to Donald, but nonetheless led the tour in scoring on par-4 (3.97 strokes) and par-5 holes (4.48). Darned impressive for a guy not considered a long hitter.

Monster mashers

Speaking of which, Dustin Johnson is already one of the biggest hitters on Earth. But when he hit a cart path several times on the seventh hole at TPC Boston this year, his drive traveled 463 yards. Lucky for him it's a par-5, or he'd have been playing backwards toward the flag. It was the biggest poke of the year.

In 2000, only two players averaged more than 290 yards off the tee. This year, 105 players did. For you purists and traditionalists out there, please direct your barf to an appropriate receptacle. Like USGA headquarters.

At the Bridgestone Invitational this year, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy hit 14 measured tee shots and every one of them traveled over 300 yards.

The worst driver on tour in 2011 was Anthony Kim, who found the fairway only 46.99 percent of the time. Makes me wonder how crooked he'd be hitting it if he didn’t choke up two inches on every club in the bag.

The lowest number of fairways hit by a winner came at a predictable venue, Royal St. George's. British Open winner Darren Clarke found 42 percent of the fairways, which makes all of the media criticism of the capricious, humpy, bumpy fairways seem warranted and then some.

Green machines

Former Ryder Cupper Boo Weekley led the tour in greens found in regulation, locating the short grass a sterling 74.68 percent of the time. Unfortunately, he then was required to pull out his putter at that point. He ranked dead last in strokes gained putting, lost his card, and failed to regain it this week at Q-school. He also was worst on tour in three-putts and putts per round. Not the triple crown to which most guys aspire.

What constitutes a good wedge shot? The tour average for proximity to the pin from between 100-125 yards was 18 feet, 11 inches. Steve Stricker topped the game in that regard, averaging exactly 15 feet. Being one of the best putters in the game, you can bet how that usually turned out.

Graeme McDowell made a birdie a tour-best 24.53 percent of the time when hitting from the rough. Webb Simpson made birdie a tour-best 28.74 percent of the time when hitting aproaches from the fairway. Yeah, that pre-2010 grooves change made a real difference, huh?

Aussie lefty Greg Chalmers led the tour in scrambling percentage, saving par 65.17 percent of the time when he missed a green, which is no surprise if you have watched the Australian Open and PGA Championship on TV. He goes for the triple crown -- the good kind, unlike with Weekley -- next week at the Aussie Masters.

Et cetera and esoterica

Pretty much everybody grasps that Tiger Woods' lengthy drought has opened the door for others, and that seven players won two times in 2011. But with longtime top-10 fixtures like Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk mostly skidding around -- they combined for one official win this year -- the array of winners was a kaleidoscopic. This season, 21 of the 45 events were won by players ranked outside the world top 100 at the time. The average rank of the 2011 winners was 119.9, in fact. Moreover, nine players ranked outside the top 200 won tournaments this year. Meanwhile, players ranked inside the top 10 claimed only seven titles. Stricker and Donald were the only top-five players to record a U.S. win.

While it was another poor year for the Americans at the majors, the Yanks nonetheless won 31 of 45 official events.

The easiest hole in regular use on the tour is the downhill, par-5 first at Riviera, which was pillaged to the tune of a 4.26 strokes. In most places, they call that a decent par-4 hole. You know, like the opening hole on Riveira's back nine.

The toughest three-hole finishing stretch this year was at Atlanta Athletic Club, site of the PGA Championship, where players averaged .92 strokes above par. Guessing that Jason Dufner would not argue that premise. More impressively, it makes Keegan Bradley's win that much more impressive, since he was five strokes back with those fateful three holes left to play.

Baseball, at its crux, is about who scores the most runs. It doesn't matter how, or whether they are unearned. Which is why my favorite stats of the year include Donald and Simpson, who finished 1-2 in scoring average and earnings. Donald and Simpson ranked second and third in birdie average and first and second in bogey average. In other words, they nearly made the most birdies and absolutely recorded the least bogeys, on average. That's truly how it's supposed to be done, folks, and damn the rest of the numbers. No laser required, either.


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