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You probably didn't notice: Hunter Mahan's remarkable ball-striking streak

Hunter Mahan's win at the Barclays was his first on the PGA Tour in more than two years, but it certainly wasn't just a one-week burst of good play. Following a near five-month stretch in which he finished no better than a T-24 at Congressional, Mahan has been on a ball-striking tear in his last three tournaments.

The Grind: Mahan's big win and Win McMurry's big Ice Bucket Challenge fail

At Ridgewood Country Club, Mahan hit 58 of 72 greens (80.56 percent) to easily lead the field. He hit 15 greens in three of the rounds, including during Sunday's 65 that delivered him a two-shot win. But his play from tee to green was just as impressive in his previous two starts, even if his results didn't show it.

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Mahan tied for the lead in greens hit at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he finished T-15, as well as at the PGA Championship, where he finished T-7. That's three weeks in a row of leading a PGA Tour field in greens hit.

To put that in perspective, no other player on tour in 2014 has led the field in GIR in more than two events total. And Mahan's 78.7 percent clip in his last three starts outpaces the red-hot Rory McIlroy (73.6) in that span by more than 5 percentage points.

Related: Hunter Mahan and the power of positive thinking

The recent stretch has Mahan back to 28th in GIR for the season, which shows how far he had fallen during his slump, and his overall stats from tee to green are closer to what we're used to seeing in recent years. Mahan is eighth in total driving (he was eighth last year and second in 2012) and 12th in ball-striking (he was 11th last year and third in 2012).

Mahan is hoping to be one of Tom Watson's captain's picks for next month's Ryder Cup. Watson has said he's going to look a lot at "gut factor," or the ability of a player to play under pressure. We're not sure where Watson ranks Mahan in that category, but it will be hard to not take a long look at a guy consistently hitting greens at this rate.

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News & Tours

Rickie Fowler's year in golf's majors was even better than you think and why it reminds us of Phil Mickelson

By Alex Myers

By now, you're probably sick of hearing about how Rickie Fowler joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to finish in the top five at all four majors in a single season. Sorry. But Fowler's impressive run at golf's four biggest events -- despite now holding the distinction of being the only player to pull off the feat and not win one -- actually compares more with Phil Mickelson's 2001 season.

Related: The winners and losers from the PGA Championship

With an aggregate score of 1,108 in the four events, Fowler matched Mickelson's total from 2001. Remarkably, the two are tied for the third-best combined score in major championship history and yet neither player took home one of golf's most coveted titles during those seasons.

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Fowler finished T-5 at the Masters, runner-up at both the U.S. and British Opens, and T-3 at the PGA Championship. Amazingly, they are his only top-five finishes of the season. At Valhalla, Fowler had his closest call, leading on the back nine before being caught and passed by Rory McIlroy.

Similarly, Mickelson's best chance of winning in 2001 came at the season's last major when he lost to David Toms at Atlanta Athletic Club by a shot. He also finished third at the Masters, T-7 at the U.S. Open and T-30 at the British Open.

The 1,108 total by both Fowler and Mickelson was just one shot higher than David Duval's aggregate score in 2001, when he claimed his only major title at the British Open. The best total in the four majors was achieved by (surprise!) Tiger Woods in 2000. That year Woods won both Opens and the PGA and needed just 1,095 shots to complete all four majors -- 35 shots better than his nearest challenger, Ernie Els.

Related: The winners and losers from the PGA Championship

Fowler led all players in that category this year (32 under!), topping even McIlroy by five shots. Of course, that's of little consolation to him since he now trails the fellow 25-year-old McIlroy by four majors after his back-to-back wins.

But Fowler should look to his final-round playing partner at Valhalla for inspiration. When Mickelson finished his 2001 season, he was 31 and still searching for a first major breakthrough. Not fully capitalizing on such great play is disappointing, but as Phil, now a five-time major champ at 44, showed on Sunday, there's plenty of time for more chances.

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Stats

You probably didn't notice: Putting has become a strength for Sergio Garcia

By Alex Myers

The putts didn't drop for Sergio Garcia on Sunday at Firestone. With a chance to win his first World Golf Championship, Garcia made only one birdie in the final round and was surpassed by Rory McIlroy.

Same old story for Sergio, right? Eh, not really.

Garcia has a reputation of being a great ball-striker but a poor putter. His performance on the greens is always cited as the main reason why the 34-year-old Spaniard has won 19 times on the PGA and European Tours combined but is still in search of a first major championship. It's a fair assessment, but only to a certain point.

Related: Sergio Garcia knocked a diamond out of a fan's engagement ring

You see, Garcia has actually been a pretty -- dare we say very -- good putter for the past three seasons. He currently ranks No. 15 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/putting, was a career-best eighth last year and checked in at 26th in 2012 -- all the way up from a dismal 144th in 2011 and 159th in 2010.

The difference has been Garcia's claw or pencil putting grip that he's gotten more comfortable with since starting to use it in 2011. Garcia made the switch after being told by putting guru Dave Stockton that he was using too much right hand in his stroke. Garcia first experimented with a left-hand-low grip before settling on the claw to lesson the impact of his right hand on putts.

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The area where he's improved the most is in the 10-15 foot range. Garcia ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour in that category this season, converting an incredible 43.55 percent of the time. We saw him make a few from that length during Friday's incredible stretch of 11(!) straight one-putts that led him to a back-nine 27.

OK, so we shouldn't ever expect to see Sergio -- or anyone -- put on a putting exhibition like that (4.558 strokes gained/putting on Friday). But we also shouldn't expect to see Garcia struggle on the greens as he did in the final round (-1.829 on Sunday).

Some might argue it was the pressure of being in contention at a big event that got to Garcia, now ranked third in the Official World Golf Ranking. Perhaps, but it certainly didn't seem to bother him during his Sunday 66 at the British Open two weeks before.

No, we're going to chalk it up to him simply having a bad day on the greens. And believe it or not, that's a rare occurrence these days.

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News & Tours

You probably didn't notice . . . Golf's latest long-driving sensation is a 23-year-old Canadian

By Alex Myers

Meet Taylor Pendrith. The 23-year-old Canadian is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and he can hit a golf ball farther than you can. A LOT farther.

Pendrith made his PGA Tour debut at last week's Canadian Open and finished T-43 to grab low amateur honors. The recent Kent State graduate garnered attention for an opening 65, but he turned more heads for how he attacked Royal Montreal GC.

Related: Jim Furyk is really, REALLY good at finishing runner-up

On Thursday, Pendrith posted the four longest drives of anyone in the field. He wound up with seven of the longest 30 drives for the week, and finished second overall in driving distance to Patrick Rodgers. When counting all drives and not just the two holes per day that are officially measured at PGA Tour events, Pendrith was first with an average of 306.9 yards.

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If those numbers seem relatively low, that's because hitting driver at the tight track wasn't always the best plan of action. But Pendrith managed to poke a 365-yard drive on the eighth hole in the first round and hit 16 drives of at least 330 yards over four days.

Before being a two-time Mid-American Conference Golfer of the Year while at Kent State, Pendrith won the Canadian Junior Long Drive Championship with a 349-yard clout and had his ball speed measured at 190 mph (The average for a PGA Tour pro in 2013 was 167). The Ontario native's biggest win to date was a five-shot rout at the 2013 Porter Cup.

Pendrith plans on turning pro in the fall after the circuit of big amateur tournaments conclude. When he does, his prodigious power should make him a crowd favorite -- even when he's not playing in his home country.

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News & Tours

Jim Furyk is really, REALLY good at finishing runner-up

By Alex Myers

You'd think moving ahead of one of your most successful contemporaries (Vijay Singh) and within one of two others who happen to be all-time greats on any list (Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) would be cause for celebration. But for Jim Furyk, it's just another reminder of what could've been.

Furyk finished runner-up at the Canadian Open by a shot to Tim Clark on Sunday for the 28th second-place finish of his great -- probably Hall of Fame -- career on the PGA Tour. However, his 16 wins pale in comparison to the 155 combined victories by those three giants of this era.

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No one is saying Furyk is as good as those other three guys, although he seems to be when it comes to finishing second. But 28 runner-ups and just 16 wins? Something doesn't add up.

Related: Why Jim Furyk (and Jordan Spieth) should have more PGA Tour wins

This season, although a success overall, has to be particularly painful for the 44-year-old Furyk. Three runner-ups since May (plus a solo fourth at the British Open) have Furyk up to No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking -- the highest he's been since the start of the 2011 season. The difference is that then Furyk was coming off a three-win season in 2010 that ended with him winning the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.

Furyk has continued to pile up high finishes, but he hasn't won since the 2010 Tour Championship. In nearly four years, he's added six runner-ups and three third-place finishes, and that doesn't even count the 2012 U.S. Open, in which he had the lead before bogeying two of the final three holes at Olympic Club to finish T-4. Even a 59 in the second round of last year's BMW Championship wasn't enough to put Furyk over the top.

At the Canadian Open, Furyk had a three-shot lead through 54 holes, but Clark's final-round 65 clipped him by four. According to Adam Sarson, Furyk now has a dismal 37-percent success rate with 54-hole leads (9 of 24). Comparing him again to Woods (89 percent), Mickelson (67) and Singh (64) in that category isn't pretty.

The funny thing about that stat is that if you take out Furyk's current streak of seven straight failures, you could argue he was once pretty good at closing out tournaments, with a 9-of-17 record between 1994-2010.

Related: Check out this week's Golf World

But it's easy to say Furyk should have more career wins. In fact, after Furyk's runner-up at the Players two months ago, we argued he should have anywhere between 20 and 24 tour titles based on how many times he's finished in the top three. His 27-percent win rate in those situations isn't awful (Luke Donald's 17 percent is, for instance), but it's below average and well below the marks of Woods (61), Mickelson (44) and Singh (44). The numbers say that even bad "finishers" will win if they put themselves in position to do so enough times.

Of course, finishing second these days on the PGA Tour has its perks. Furyk made $615,600 for his latest close call to push his 2014 on-course earnings to more than $4 million. But at this point in his career, he's much more concerned about trophies than his bank account.

"I'm definitely disappointed not to get over the hump," Furyk said Sunday. "It's been a long time since I've won, and it stings to finish second again."

Again. For the 28th time. Hang in there, Jim, it's bound to happen. No one should be this good at coming in second.

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News & Tours

You probably didn't notice. . . Brendon Todd has been the PGA Tour's best golfer the past two months

By Alex Myers

A year ago, part-time PGA Tour player Brendon Todd missed the cut at the John Deere Classic to fall to No. 273 in the Official World Golf Ranking. This year, Todd, now the PGA Tour's hottest player, is skipping the event to prepare for his first British Open.

Related: The Dufners had a GREAT July 4th weekend

So how did we get to this point? Let's review Todd's amazing past couple of months. 

Todd picked up his first PGA Tour win at the HP Byron Nelson Classic in May, which vaulted him from No. 136 to No. 63 in the ranking. The 28-year-old followed that up with a T-5 at Colonial and a T-8 at the Memorial. He then opened with rounds of 69 and 67 at Pinehurst to get into Saturday's final group at the U.S. Open. A third-round 79 put a quick end to his hot stretch, but then Todd bounced back with a Sunday 69 to finish T-17 in his first major championship.

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Since then? Merely a T-5 at the Quicken Loans National and a T-4 over the weekend at the Greenbrier. Todd has made more than $3 million this season -- $2 million in just the past two months -- and is currently No. 9 in the FedEx Cup standings. He has seven top 10s and has made 19 of 22 cuts. 

So what has been the key to the tour's biggest turnaround?

"Eliminating the one bad shot that might cause a double bogey or might prevent you from maintaining momentum," Todd said at the U.S. Open. 

In his last 24 rounds, Todd has shot in the 60s 17 times and his worst score other than his U.S. Open meltdown is a 72. Todd's play has surprised many, but not the man who was a four-time All American at the University of Georgia.

"I saw it coming. I only got 10 starts on the PGA TOUR last year. And I had five top 20s, and was a shot away from four top 10s," said Todd, who was ranked as low as No. 649 early in 2013. "I feel like I should have done it last year. I just couldn't get it done. And this year I've just been able to take that momentum and put it to work."

Related: How to predict the PGA Tour's next surprise winner

If he rides this momentum any longer, you'll see Todd representing the U.S. at the Ryder Cup this fall. He's currently No. 10 on the points list, one spot away from automatically qualifying. 

The man with two first names isn't exactly a household name just yet, but he's getting close. 

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News & Tours

You probably didn't notice . . . Kyle Stanley is on pace for the worst putting season of ALL TIME

By Alex Myers

OK, so when we say "ALL TIME" we really mean since 2004 when the PGA Tour started keeping track of strokes/gained putting. Nevertheless, Kyle Stanley's performance on the greens this season has been remarkably bad. 

Stanley currently ranks last on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/putting at -1.607. That's last out of 191 qualified players. 

Related: The numbers say Henrik Stenson is REALLY close to winning a major

Yes, someone always has to be ranked last, but never before has the gap between the last guy and the next-to-last guy been so pronounced. Lucas Glover is second worst in the category at -1.196. That's more than a 34 percent difference between the two!

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But the numbers get worse for Stanley as we mentioned. If the season ended today, the 26-year-old would have the worst strokes gained/putting average on record. By far.

Only six times has someone finished the season with a strokes gained/putting worse than -1. Those players were Darron Stiles (2007), Ricky Barnes (2009), Billy Mayfair (2010), Boo Weekley (2011 and 2012) and Kyle Thompson (2012). 

Of those campaigns, Barnes' 2009 is the gold standard for green struggles with a -1.219. Again, Stanley is currently at -1.607! On the flip side, the tour's leader in the category is Aaron Baddeley at 1.012 meaning Stanley loses more than 2 1/2 strokes to the Aussie per round.  

Putting has always been a weak point for Stanley, who ranked 175th, 189th and 174th in SGP for his previous three full years on tour. But he's picked a particularly bad time to have a historically bad putting season. 

With his two-year PGA Tour exemption for winning the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open about to run out, Stanley, currently 165th on the money list, is in danger of losing his tour card. At least, he knows what part of his game to work on.

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News & Tours

You probably didn't notice. . . Henrik Stenson is getting REALLY close to winning a major

By Alex Myers

OK, so it would have been tough for anyone to catch Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open last week. But if anyone could have at least given the German a scare, it should have been Henrik Stenson.

Related: The winners and losers from Pinehurst

No one came close to scoring like Kaymer at Pinehurst, but not even he struck the ball as well as the Swede. For the week, Stenson hit 54 greens in regulation for a sensational 75 percent clip -- nearly 20 percent better than the field average and a higher rate than Graeme DeLaet's season pace of 72 percent, which leads the PGA Tour.

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Stenson, who also hit 78 percent of his fairways, hit five more greens than anyone else in the field at the U.S. Open and nine more than Kaymer on his way to a T-4 finish. Yet in spite of those 54 birdie chances, Stenson only converted 11 of them during the week, including just two in each of the last two rounds.

Still in search of his first major title, Stenson showed his frustration Saturday when he declined to meet with the media after his round. Not that his struggling on the greens should be too surprising. For the season, Stenson ranks 157th on tour in strokes gained/putting, a number that probably won't get any better after his week at Pinehurst.

Even so, there's a lot to like about the state of Stenson's game right now, especially if he can finish in the top five of a major championship playing what he described as just "average golf" following Sunday's round. In fact, the World No. 2 has been the No. 1 performer at the majors over the past 12 months. His four finishes (second at the 2013 British Open, T-3 at the 2013 PGA, a T-14 at this year's Masters and now a T-4 at the U.S. Open) add up to just 23, eight better than Adam Scott, who has the second-best total in that span.

Related: Yeah, but what's going to happen to NBC's U.S. Open theme song?!

Even more encouraging for Stenson? Those were the four best finishes the 38-year-old has ever had in each of those four majors.

"I haven't been very, very close that many times, but I've had some good finishes," Stenson said. "And the more times you're up there, you get experience and you learn something every time and sooner or later I'm sure I'll get my chance."

At that rate of improvement, it shouldn't be too much longer.

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News & Tours

These PGA Tour winners aren't so random. Here's how to predict who'll be next

By Alex Myers

Brendon Todd's win at the HP Byron Nelson Championship made him the eighth first-time winner through 27 events of the 2013-'14 PGA Tour season. The influx of first-timers has made predicting a tour winner as difficult as it's ever been, but that won't stop us from trying. We took a closer look at this year's breakthrough champions to try to uncover any subtle trends, then based on those, we identified the players most likely to be next.

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1. He can come from way down the world ranking
Eight first-time winners isn't an off-the-charts number (there were 12 last year), but this year's crop has been particularly under the radar. The average Official World Golf Ranking of the eight winners is 139.4! Take out Steven Bowditch, the real outlier at No. 339 when he won the Valero Texas Open, and the average still comes out to 110.
Prime candidate: Martin Flores (No. 145), who finished third at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Related: Why distance has been especially important on the PGA Tour in 2014

2. He doesn't have to be a bomber
We've seen a trend of big hitters winning on the PGA Tour this season, but among the first-time winners, that hasn't been the case. Seung-Yul Noh was T-3 in driving distance during his recent win in New Orleans, but even factoring that in, the eight first-timers averaged to rank 29th in driving distance the weeks they won.
Prime candidate: Shawn Stefani (No. 28 in driving distance on tour), who finished fifth behind first-time winner Matt Jones in Houston.

3. But he does have to hit a lot of greens
Distance hasn't been a major factor in recent breakthroughs, but seven of the eight winners (everyone but Todd) finished in the top 15 in greens in regulation the weeks they won and six finished in the top 10. (Todd, by the way, finished T-51 in GIR and only 75th in driving distance. Wait, how did he win?! Well, leading the field in strokes gained/putting and scrambling helped.) Not counting Todd, the seven first-timers averaged finishing seventh in GIR during their wins.
Prime candidate: Andrew Svoboda (No. 7 in GIR on tour), who finished runner-up to Noh at the Zurich Classic.

4. He should be around 30 years old
Noh's N.O. victory came at 22, but none of the other first-timers were particularly young -- or old. Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler and Matt Jones tied for oldest at 34 and the average age of the eight came out to 30.
Prime candidate: Daniel Summerhays (age 30), who had a T-2 behind Bowditch at the Valero.

Related: Statistical proof that Jim Furyk should have more wins

5. It helps if he attended the University of Georgia
In addition to being the eighth first-time winner on tour this year, Todd became the fifth Georgia product to win on tour this season, joining Bubba Watson, Harris English, Russell Henley, and Chris Kirk.
Prime candidate: Brian Harman (UGA, class of 2009), who finished T-3 at the Northern Trust Open and seems to be the only former Bulldog without a PGA Tour title this season.

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News & Tours

Statistical analysis shows why Jim Furyk (and Jordan Spieth) really should have more PGA Tour wins by now

By Alex Myers

At last week's Players, Jim Furyk and Jordan Spieth got nearly as much attention for not winning as Martin Kaymer did for capturing golf's "fifth major." Furyk finished runner-up on the PGA Tour for a second straight week, and Spieth failed to pull out a win as a 54-hole co-leader at a second straight marquee event.

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The lone knock on both players is that they have shown an inability to close the door on Sundays when in serious contention. But is that a fair assessment?

Related: The future belongs to Spieth -- just not yet

We'll start by defining "serious contention." For this study, we'll define it as a player finishing first, second or third in a PGA Tour event. Sure, players can back into those positions -- or have a good chance to win, but finish lower -- but in general, if you're in the top three, you had a legitimate chance of winning that week.

blog-top-20-stats-0516.jpgWe looked at the current top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking and broke down those golfers' top-three finishes. In total, those 20 players had 231 career wins and 580 top threes (including their wins). That comes out to them winning 40 percent of the time they finish in the top three. 

Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods skews the numbers with his 79 wins in 127 top threes for a 61 percent clip. Take him out of the mix and the overall percentage of these top players drops to 34 percent. Let's use this number for our comparisons.

Related: A unauthorized history of Tiger's jeans

Of the 19 players not named Tiger, the majority fall within the 27-35 percent range. In other words, it seems most top players have very similar success rates when they're near the top of the leader board. 

That might lead us to believe there is no real skill in closing out tournaments, and that if you're in the top three, you have about as good of a chance of finishing first as you do third. The numbers do indicate that the ability to "close" is overrated, but saying such an ability doesn't exist seems silly considering the record of all-time players like Woods (61 percent) and Arnold Palmer (49 percent), and Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, and Vijay Singh -- who all check in at 44 percent. Those golfers were all better at winning. 

But let's get back to Spieth and Furyk. Of course, it's very early to knock anything about a 20-year-old star, but in his brief career, he has one win and five runner-ups. That comes out to a winning percentage when he's in serious contention of roughly 17 percent, which is tied for the lowest of the top 20 with Luke Donald (curiously, Lee Westwood, ranked 26th in the world, has an even worse success rate at 15 percent). Turn just one of Spieth's runner-ups into another win, though, and he'd be just around the average at 33 percent, so it's tough to label him one way or the other just yet.

Related: Our favorite 'Tigerisms'

Furyk, on the other hand, has a huge sample size from nearly two decades on tour, and his 27-percent success rate underscores how many opportunities he's let slip. His runner-up at the Players was the 27th of his career, matching Singh and placing him just two behind Woods and Mickelson. Those three other players however all have at least double Furyk's 16 career wins, with Woods having nearly five times as many victories. 

So, why hasn't Furyk won more and how many wins should he have? Using the 34-percent average means Furyk should have claimed 20 tour titles, while using the 40-percent number and rounding up yields 24 wins. Either way, Furyk should have a few more trophies on his mantel.

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