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New World Order: The most eye-opening statistical performances of season

by | Senior Golf Columnist

Bubba Watson somehow won a green jacket by dominating Augusta's par-3 holes. (Getty Images)  
Bubba Watson somehow won a green jacket by dominating Augusta's par-3 holes. (Getty Images)  

For some of us, opening up the sports section of the morning fishwrap this week has been about as fulfilling as eating oatmeal.

Sure, what's in front of us fills a certain void, but something is clearly missing.

We're talking about the absence of box scores for MLB, which is on a four-day break as the All-Star Game is played in Kansas City. Now, for a few of us who like sports beyond golf that use sticks and balls, this time of year is like going cold turkey.

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No making fun of Tim Lincecum's stratospheric earned-run average, the fact that Rickie Weeks is still batting below the Mendoza line or that Cliff Lee didn't record his first victory until a couple of days ago.

The home office of New World Order has hatched an emergency plan to help with the detoxification process.

Centuries old or not, golf is not a sport that traditionally has lent itself to hardcore statistical data, but that shortcoming has been slowly evolving in the laser and digital era. A decade ago, when the PGA Tour began rolling out its Shotlink scoring system, it promised that someday we could determine which player knocked it closer with his 7-iron than any other, measured with an aggregate number over an entire season, to within an inch.

We're not quite there, but we're in the neighborhood. The tour employs a crew that tracks the database, including graphic manager Alex Turnbull, and occasionally, that treasure trove yields some very illuminating data about winners and losers during particular weeks on the PGA Tour.

Granted, some of this stuff is for golf's serious dimpleheads, but every so often, it's interesting to note the difference-making attributes of a player over a 72-hole week, not merely the hero shot he hit on the final hole.

Speaking of which, last week, lefty rookie Ted Potter won his first tour title at Greenbrier with an eagle-birdie finish in regulation, becoming the first player since Charley Hoffman at the 2007 Bob Hope Classic to play the final two holes in 3 under. Sure, it was a 9-iron on the last hole, but the context is what makes Potter's finish really pop.

But that's merely scratching the surface. With seven weeks left before the FedEx Cup series begins, here are 10 of our favorite bits and bytes from the tournament winners along the first six months of the 2012 season. Some of this stuff is so nuanced, you would never find it in a baseball box score, either.

For reasons of seasonal flow and continuity, it's listed purely in chronological order, and not by perceived studliness by the winners highlighted.

Johnson Wagner
Sony Open in Hawaii

Tiger Woods routinely led the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring, with an annual average of roughly 4.5 strokes. That ought to help frame the performance by Wagner on the three-shot holes, which was downright otherworldly. The mustachioed one made birdie or eagle on seven of the eight par-5 holes at Waialae Country Club, a par-70 venue, and was 9 under for the week. His scoring average on the par 5s was a ridiculous 3.88 shots.

Kyle Stanley
Phoenix Open

A week after he gave away his maiden title at Torrey Pines, Stanley made sure nobody stole the title this time around. He went an incomprehensible 60 for 60 on putts inside eight for the week. Why does this matter? The PGA Tour lists 184 players in its database in the crucial strokes-gained/putting category, the yardstick by which the best with the short stick are measured. Stanley entered the John Deere Classic this week ranked ... 182nd.

Phil Mickelson
Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Where did this guy disappear to? Mickelson, paired alongside career foil Tiger Woods, played one of the greatest final rounds of his career after starting the day six shots off the lead. Lefty shot 64, the best score of the day by three strokes and a remarkable 7.71 shots better than the field average (adjusted par for the day, if you will). He hit 13 fairways, the most in two years. He made three puts from beyond 20 feet and 146 feet of putts in all on Sunday.

Bill Haas
Northern Trust

Billy (The Belly) Haas certainly made the biggest bomb of the week when he needed it most. After Keegan Bradley and Mickelson had drawn roars by making birdies on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Hass, who had finished earlier, ended things in a hurry. On the 10th hole at Riviera, a tricky par-4, Haas dumped his approach shot to 43 ½ feet and made it. For context, it was the longest putt of the week on that diabolical hole by 17 ½ feet. Since Shotlink came online in 2003, in the 4,211 rounds played at Riviera, Haas was only the fifth player to make a putt from outside 40 feet on the 10th.

Rory McIlroy
Honda Classic

Next time McIlroy passes Jack Nicklaus in the hallway at the Bear's Club in South Florida, he might wanna drop this fact: Nicklaus' infamously brutish redesign of PGA National had put the hurt on plenty of players in the past, including McIlroy. But this year, McIlroy was the only player in the entire field who played the final five holes -- which includes the dreaded stretch called the Bear's Trap -- without making a single bogey.

Luke Donald
Transitions Championship

This will neither shock nor surprise you. Donald has led the tour in the strokes gained/putting category every season since 2009 and outdistanced the Transitions field by 10 shots with his putter for the week by that metric. It marked the ninth time since 2004 that Donald led the field in that category, which tied for first on the PGA Tour over that stretch.

Tiger Woods
Arnold Palmer Invitational

It was the week that Woods, and millions of fans, had been waiting for. Despite U.S. Open conditions, Woods found 57 greens for the week, leading the field in that regard for the first time since 2007 Tour Championship. Two months later, Woods won the Memorial Tournament and, you guessed it, led the field in GIR for the second time this spring.

Bubba Watson
Masters Tournament

Screw the driver and those circus recovery shots we so vividly recall. Watson won his first major with the short clubs, plain and simple. Entering the week, Watson ranked T-159 in scoring on par-3 holes, but nobody had a better week at Augusta on the one-shotters. He led the field at 4 under par -- which was six shots better than the field average. It was the best mark on the par-3s by a Masters champion since 1995 winner Ben Crenshaw finished with the same tally.

Rickie Fowler
Wells Fargo Championship

This will make his pal Bubba jealous. In winning for the first time on tour, the diminutive Fowler averaged 305.9 yards off the tee (to rank 13th) and hit 62.5 percent of the fairways (T-2). Fowler played the par-5 holes in 14 under, a full 10 strokes better than the field average on the three-shot holes. Take that, Bubba.

Jason Dufner
Byron Nelson Championship

Sometimes, it is all about the hero shot. Dufner faced a birdie putt of 25 feet, 5 inches on the 72nd hole to win the title outright over Dicky Pride and canned it. Since Shotlink began tracking in 2003, only seven players had managed to make longer putts on the 72nd hole.


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