Breaking down the best drivers, ball-strikers and putters in golf for 2016

With another golf year coming to a close, let's look back on this past 2015-16 PGA Tour season and check out the best golfers in a handful of categories. I'm always curious to see which guys reign at the top of specific disciplines and how it informs the way we view those golfers when evaluating their overall games.

I picked these four categories to study: Strokes gained off the tee, from tee to green, around the green and putting. I added strokes gained total at the end to tie it all together.

Strokes gained is the best stat when looking at a singular discipline (driving, putting etc.). It is simply how much better you were than the field average per round. How many strokes did you gain against the field? This is a tremendous, thorough explanation.

It eschews traditional stats in favor of more modern, non-traditional ones. For example, it has been proven that driving accuracy is overrated when it comes to scoring. This might go against our intuition, but it's true.

Let's take a look at a few of these.

Strokes gained off the tee (per round)

  1. Rory McIlroy: 1.2
  2. Dustin Johnson: 1.1
  3. Bubba Watson: .98
  4. Sergio Garcia: .74
  5. Justin Rose: .68

This is not really a surprising group (although I did not expect Garcia to be that high). What stands out, though, is how much better McIlroy, Johnson and Watson are than everyone else. There is more distance in strokes gained per round between No. 1 McIlroy and No. 4 Garcia than there is between No. 4 Garcia and No. 55 Whee Kim.

Strokes gained on approach shots (per round)

  1. Adam Scott: 1.49
  2. Kevin Na: .79
  3. Hideki Matsuyama: .77
  4. Webb Simpson: .73
  5. Phil Mickelson: .73

Again, the names here are not necessarily surprising, but the Adam Scott number is astounding. It is the best non-Tiger Woods number in the strokes-gained era. These are all elite ball-strikers, though. I was more surprised to see some of the big guns (McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth) not in the top 20. Some of the reason for that is because they have less to gain on approach shots because of how far their tee shots are.

For example: McIlroy, Johnson and Watson all finished in the top five in strokes gained from tee to green, but the bulk of that was created by their drivers. Scott finished No. 1 in this category, but he doesn't drive it as far so his main success was found with his irons.

Strokes gained around the green (per round)

  1. Steve Stricker: .54
  2. Bryce Molder: .50
  3. Retief Goosen: .46
  4. Luke Donald: .43
  5. Brendon Todd: .41

The only surprise here is that Stricker played enough rounds to qualify. When asked recently which skill he would take from another player, McIlroy said on the No Laying Up podcast that he really admires Stricker's short-yardage shots.

"I would choose Steve Stricker's wedge game," said McIlroy. "He's one of the best wedge players I've ever seen."

Strokes gained putting (per round)

  1. Jason Day: 1.13
  2. Jordan Spieth: .76
  3. Kevin Kisner: .67
  4. Andrew Landry: .65
  5. Steve Stricker: .62

As this chart over at AdamSarson.com shows, Day's 2016 putting performance was so much better than Spieth's that it makes the rest of the measured putting performances in the strokes-gained era look almost silly. It's also pretty shocking to think about Spieth having a better putting season in 2016 than he did in 2015.

Strokes gained total (per round)

  1. Jason Day: 2.12
  2. Dustin Johnson: 1.99
  3. Adam Scott: 1.89
  4. Rory McIlroy: 1.68
  5. Jordan Spieth: 1.57

Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey and Phil Mickelson just missed out here. But this paints a pretty realistic picture of who the best golfers in the world were in 2016. Day was over two strokes better than the field average per round in 2016. Johnson was right there as well. From what I witnessed throughout the year, this seems about right. These five also make up five of the top six in money earned (Patrick Reed is the other).

Spieth, Day and Johnson were also in the top 10 in 2015, and McIlroy didn't play enough events to qualify.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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