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Justin Rose is the best ball striker on tour. Here's the data that proves it

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

BOSTON -- Who's the best ball-striker on the PGA Tour?

That question gets debated often -- at least a few times annually -- and the answer usually depends on who you ask. Some people look at accuracy stats. Others at distance figures. Some just size it up themselves using the proverbial "eyeball test."

Lucius Riccio, a professor at Columbia University, takes a slightly different approach.

Speaking Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Riccio presented his findings from a paper he had been working on entitled "Quantifying Long Approach Ball Striking." His research involved analyzing every shot hit on tour in 2012 on a par 4 from between 150 and 225 yards.

Related: Golf's data revolution is ready to take on new ground

The verdict? Justin Rose came out ahead among his peers, his greens-in-regulation percentage regressing at a far slower pace from further away relative to fellow competitors on tour. Lee Westwood, however, hit it closer than anyone else on average the further back he moved.

Bubba Watson, whose consistently high placement on the GIR ranking is usually attributed to having closer approach shots because of his driving distance, still preformed highly, while Tiger Woods performed phenomenally well, Riccio said.

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This was all no surprise to instructor Sean Foley, who was among those in the crowd (he's slated to be a presenter with Mark Broadie on Saturday) and has worked with Rose, Westwood and Woods.

"There are so many things that can be drawn from this," Foley said, speaking broadly of the increased use of data in golf. "I think for the amateurs, and even for the guys on tour I work with, it helps people manage their expectations."

Riccio was presenting at the conference because his paper won last year's CDW Shotlink Intelligence award, a contest hosted by the PGA Tour. The tour agreed to turn over all the data it collected from tournament play to entrants with the caveat that the papers that result from it will be appropriately attributed.

"For a long time, golf was anti-analytical," Riccio said. "For a stats nerd like me, this is just like heaven."

Other interesting findings from Riccio's presentation:

  • Of the 26-stroke difference between someone who shoots 69 and someone who shoots 95, 18 strokes are lost on full shots, and just eight on the greens.
  • What's the penalty of hitting it into the rough? About 25 percent of a stroke in regular tour events, and about 50 percent of a stroke in the U.S. Open.
  • Missing a GIR from the fairway will cost a player about 50 percent of a stroke.
  • In 2012, Rory McIlroy played the par 5s one stroke worse per round than the year before.

Riccio's full presentation:


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News & Tours

Tiger Woods' wild tee shots put PGA Tour Shot Tracker to the test

By Alex Myers

"Army golf" is a go-to phrase of Tiger Woods when he's missing "left, right, left, right." He took that to the extreme during Friday's second round of the Honda Classic.

Related: Our favorite 'Tigerisms'

Woods hit two of the most wayward 3-woods of his career on back-to-back holes at PGA National, sending one way right on No. 11 and then yanking one just as far left on No. 12. Thanks to PGA Tour Shot Tracker, we can see just how inaccurate the two shots were. Here's No. 11:

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And here's No. 12:

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The tee shot on No. 11 was so far right that it didn't show up on Shot Tracker until Woods was playing the 13th hole. Woods managed to make a bogey and a par on the two holes to help him make the cut on the number.

The good news (we guess?) for Woods? His misses of late mainly have been to the left. Don't worry, he's got a name for those too. He dubbed them "hot pulls" during his last tournament in Dubai.

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News & Tours

A second course for Chambers Bay?

By John Strege

Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., which will host the U.S. Open in 2015, is not for everyone, given its difficulty quotient and the fact it's a a walking-only course. But is a more accommodating second course in its future?

A Los Angeles development company, Sonnenblick Development, has entered into a preliminary agreement with Pierce County, which owns Chambers Bay, to build a 220-room hotel there, according to the News Tribune, which also reported that a second 18-hole golf course is included in the agreement.

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Robert Trent Jones II, who designed the Chambers Bay course, said it is premature to reach any conclusion. "We're doing a study on behalf of [Sonnenblick Development]," Jones said from Chambers Bay on Friday. "He [Robert Sonnenblick] has an opportunity to build a hotel there and he would like to see more golf.

"But the whole thing is up in the air. There may or may not be [a golf course], but it won't be anything like Chambers Bay. It would be more like a family course."

The question is whether there is enough room on the Chambers Creek property to the south of the existing course to accommodate another course. Jones suggested that in the event there isn't enough room that a nine-hole course with different sets of tees that would allow it to be played like an 18-hole course is an option.

Related: Laudable Audible

"There's a whole resort golfer community who won't play [Chambers Bay] right now because they don't walk 18 holes," Sonnenblick told the News Tribune.

A hotel has long been planned for the site, but a previous developer was unable to secure financing and the project was put off until after the U.S. Open.

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News & Tours

Phil Mickelson's first start at PGA National leaves him shaking his head

By Dave Shedloski

Honda-Rd2-Phil-Mickelson.jpgPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Phil Mickelson waited a long time to make a short stay at this PGA Tour event in South Florida.

 
With the 10-year anniversary of his first of three Masters wins approaching, Mickelson hasn't quite found the kind of form in 2014 that facilitated his charge to the British Open title a year ago at Muirfield. Despite soft breezes and preferred lies from the fairways, Mickelson could manage no better than a one-over 71 Friday morning at PGA National, after shooting 70 Thursday. At day's end, Mickelson had missed the cut by one stroke at the Honda Classic.
 
"I had a hard time making birdies today," said the No. 5 player in the World Ranking, shaking his head. "I don't know what it was. When I hit a reasonable shot, I missed the putt, and, I don't know, I just had a hard time making birdies."

Related: What a difference a year makes for Rory McIlroy at the Honda


Mickelson completed 36 holes at the Champion Course in one-over 141 after converting just four birdies. He missed several good chances coming in, including a nine-foot birdie try at the eighth hole, his 17th of the day. He last missed a cut in July at The Greenbrier Classic.
 
Since winning the Open Championship, however, Mickelson has just one top 10, at The Barclays, last season's first playoff event. His 2014 starts include a withdrawal at the Farmers Insurance Open because of a back injury followed by finishes well off the pace in Phoenix and at Pebble Beach.

Related: What you can learn from Phil's quest to be a great driver


"I drove the ball well. I hit 75 percent of my fairways. That's a good thing for me," Mickelson pointed out. "I'm starting to drive the ball well.  What I normally do well on my iron play, distance control, was off. It just wasn't sharp, and I didn't putt as well as I had expected. I didn't putt bad but I didn't putt great."
 
The Honda Classic had not been on Mickelson's schedule since 2002 when it was held at TPC Heron Bay, and he was playing in the event for just the third time. He wasn't sure what he was going to do to busy himself this weekend; he remained committed to playing in the popular Pro-Member at nearby Seminole Golf Club on Monday before heading to Miami for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral.

(Getty Images photo)

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Style

SkyCaddie Linx watch isn't your ordinary sundial

By Ryan Herrington

The upside with SkyCaddie watches has always been they are more than distance-measuring devices. They also feature fitness functions like a stopwatch, pedometer and calorie counter. The downside, though, was that to take full advantage of its course-mapping features, you had to pay an annual fee.


STIX0226.01.01.linx.jpgWith the SkyCaddie LINX ($250, available in March), there are no charges for access to basic distances on more than 34,000 courses (yardages to the front, center and back of greens via its GPS technology). Users can upgrade their LINX ($50 for a year) to track stats and view green shapes and distances to up to 40 additional hazards/carries per hole.


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The LINX comes in seven colors and is Bluetooth-enabled to sync with a complementary app for iPhone and Android.
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News & Tours

Kudos to Calcavecchia: 53, portly, still grinding on PGA Tour

By John Strege

It will otherwise merit almost no notice, unless he makes a weekend move on the leaders at the Honda Classic, but Mark Calcavecchia's performance warrants mention because, well, because he's Mark Calcavecchia. Oh, and he's 53 and somewhat portly these days.

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Calcavecchia is self-deprecating, honest to a fault, and always entertaining, as this anecdote illustrates:

"June 12, 1995, my birthday," he said several years ago, recalling that he lost $1,000 to Phil Mickelson in a practice round prior to the start of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. He missed six four-foot putts, he said. "That was the day my putter left me. And I've putted like crap since."

If his putter hadn't left him, he might be in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Calcavecchia has 13 PGA Tour victories, including a British Open. The unofficial standard, based on Fred Couples' induction, is 15 wins, one major. Calcavecchia has finished second 27 times.

Related: 10 Rules From Mark Calcavecchia

At any rate, when he won the Bell Canadian Open in 2005, he was lamenting his inability to compete with the younger set. "I was just trying to figure out how I was going to make it to 50," he said then. "I'm hoping they lower the age for the Senior Tour down a couple of years. I really don't enjoy playing against Ryan Moore and Chuckie Howell and all of those 23-year-old young guys that hit it 30 yards by me."

So, that as the background, consider this: Calcavecchia, who first played the Honda Classic in 1982 -- or more than seven years before leader Rory McIlroy was born -- has invoked his career money list exemption to play PGA Tour events this year.

Now he has a reasonable chance to make the cut in his third straight tournament by following an opening-round of one-under-par 69 with an even-par 70. He is tied for 48th at the moment. Not bad for a Champions Tour player who couldn't wait to leave the PGA Tour behind.

(Getty Images photo)

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Style

Impact: The Honda Classic's inaugural champion

By Alex Holmes

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"My game never has been too bad. It's all just a state of mind.
That's all it is for any of us."
-- Tom Weiskopf

In February 1972, Weiskopf claimed the fourth of his 16 career PGA Tour titles with a victory at the inaugural Jackie Gleason's Inverrary Classic (now Honda Classic), beating his long-time nemesis Jack Nicklaus by one stroke.

Photo: AP Images (1977)
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Health & Fitness

Fitness Friday: Your clubhead speed (fantasy vs. reality)

By Ron Kaspriske

A time-honored tradition in golf is to make driving-distance claims well beyond your capability. Sure, there was that time last June that you hit a sprinkler head on a downwind, downhill hole and your ball ended up inside the 100-yard marker on that 350-yard par 4. But let's be honest, most golfers aren't carrying the ball 250 yards off the tee. Most aren't carrying it 200. And it has little to do with your current fitness level, says Justin Padjen of TrackMan Golf (@trackmangolf).

Rather than look at a person's physique, athleticism or strength, a more accurate determiner of how far you hit the ball is your Handicap Index, he says. And he's got proof. Padjen's company has the data on driver swings of more than 15,000 golfers of all skill levels (including close to 300 PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players). What they found is a direct correlation between swing speed and handicap (see the chart below). The average Handicap Index for a man is currently 14.6, according to the Golf Handicap and Information Network (ghin.com). Padjen says data strongly suggests those golfers typically swing the driver at 93.4 mph, carry the ball 192 yards, and drive it 214 yards including roll. Sobering news, right?

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If you're not familiar with TrackMan, the company developed a type of radar system that can tell you exactly how fast you're swinging and how far you're hitting the ball. It does a lot more than that, but for the purposes of this article, swing speed and distance were of primary interest.
 
"The data shows that there are very strong correlations between club speed and skill level," Padjen says.
 
And when you think about it, that makes sense. The better you get at golf, the better you understand what it takes to deliver the clubhead into the ball at higher speeds. So when it comes to training in the gym to hit the ball farther, learning how to swing the club faster only matters if you have a good understanding of how to make a consistently effective swing at that speed.
 
Most amateurs would be better served in the gym learning how to improve muscular coordination versus trying to train to swing faster. This past summer, I talked to one of the best drivers on the PGA Tour--Hunter Mahan--about what holds amateurs back. He has played with his fair share of regular golfers in pro-ams all over the world. Mahan, who is among the best on tour in combining distance and accuracy off the tee (a stat known as total driving), says he sees uncoordinated swings that make it difficult to hit the ball in the center of the clubface.

"Solid contact beats a fast swing almost every time," he says. "The closer amateurs can get to hitting it in the sweet spot, the more distance they will get."

So how do you improve muscular coordination to learn how to hit the ball farther. There are a lot of ways, but one simple exercise is to simulate a golf swing while throwing a medicine ball. Here you will see PGA Tour fitness trainer Jeff Fronk (@fitnessbyfronk) and tour pro Bud Cauley (@budcauley) demonstrate it (click on the video below).




Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.



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News & Tours

What a difference a year makes for Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic

By Dave Shedloski

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Well, poetic justice has amazing timing.

Rory McIlroy resumed his plundering of the Champion Course at PGA National Resort on Thursday afternoon in the opening round of the Honda Classic, shooting a 7-under-par 63 to take a one-stroke lead over Russell Henley.

Related: Rory McIlroy takes lead while Tiger Woods struggles

Just one year after quitting midway through the second round after shooting 7 over par through 8 holes, McIlroy was bogey-free in firing his lowest score on the PGA Tour since a 64 in the 2012 BMW Championship. The score was three strokes lower than any of the four rounds he posted in 2012 when he won the Honda Classic by two shots.

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"Golf's . . . a very fickle game, because when you're on and you're playing the way I'm playing right now and feeling very comfortable with everything, you wonder how it ever felt so uncomfortable," said McIlroy, who had girlfriend, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, watching every shot. "And then when it feels so uncomfortable, you wonder how it ever felt so comfortable. And it's just a tiny thing that needs to click."

McIlroy, 24, of Northern Ireland, was having a ho-hum steady round of 2 under at the turn, but stuck his approach to 8 feet at the 10th for an easy birdie and then ran in a 45-foot birdie at the tough 11th hole. He was on his way, and he finished with an up-and-down from a greenside bunker for a final birdie at the par-5 18th.

Last year's meltdown now has been exorcised, or so it seemed. Not that he much acknowledged it, which was probably the right attitude.

Related: A year after a WD, McIlroy is in a better place

"It's not like I was out there thinking about what had happened last year or what had happened the year before that when I won," McIlroy said. "It's a new tournament. It's on a tough golf course, and you know, I need to focus all my energy and thoughts into playing these 18 holes. You can't really let any other thoughts creep into your mind because it is such a tough golf course. ... You've got to sort of stay on point the whole time."

And he proved that point quite well.

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News & Tours

Zach Johnson pulls a Zach Johnson, perseveres after a tough start

By Dave Shedloski

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- He spotted Tiger Woods four shots and then beat the No. 1 player in the world by eight over the last 16 holes. Zach Johnson usually relishes his regular underdog role, but he took it a bit too far Thursday in the opening round of the Honda Classic.

With a quadruple bogey on the par-4 11th hole, his second of the tournament, you could say Johnson put himself behind the 8-ball with an 8-ball. From there until the finish, he didn't miss a green in regulation, missed only two fairways, converted seven birdies, and posted a 3-under-par 67 at PGA National Resort. That left him four clear of Woods and just two off the early pace set by Will McGirt and Rory Sabbatini.

Related: The best (and worst) of the West Coast Swing

No. 7 in the world and winner of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to begin 2014, Johnson submitted his second eye-raising performance in the company of Woods in the last three months. In December at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, Johnson rallied from four down with eight holes left to force a playoff and then defeated Woods on the first extra hole. Of course, everyone remembers how Johnson holed out for par to stay alive after rinsing his approach on the 72nd hole.

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"Not surprising knowing how tough this guy is," said Woods, who couldn't get his putter going and opened with a 1-over-71 on the Champion Course. "He was pretty stoked about what he did, and he [talked about] Comeback Player of the Year and all that kind of stuff, and he definitely had a comeback player of the day award."

Johnson, who turned 38 on Monday, could recall only one other occasion when he rallied from such a poor start. It was during the second stage of the PGA Tour National Qualifying Tournament at the Hombre Course at Panama City. "I hit the ball eight times without a penalty shot and ended up finishing second by a shot," Johnson said.

"I like patient rounds where you have to persevere."

Johnson said he turned things around when he sank a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 13th after a poor wedge shot. He also birdied the final three holes of the back nine to get back to even par and then simply continued his steady play from there.

"Yeah, no one ever likes that quad word," he said with a grin. "I feel good about it. I feel great about how I righted the ship. I feel good about my approach after that. Frankly, the approach wasn't any different this week or after that bad hole. It was the same thing I've been doing forever."

Related: Zach Johnson's tips for cashing in on par 5s

Especially lately. Since he lost to Jordan Spieth in a playoff at the John Deere Classic last July, Johnson has added nine top-10s -- not including his playoff victory over Woods -- and wins in Hawaii and at the BMW Championship.

"I've been playing well," he said, clearly redefining what it means to persevere.

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