The Local Knowlege


Imagine how good Rory McIlroy could be if he was a great putter

In an era of such great depth, few thought any golfer could come along and dominate quite like Tiger Woods did during his peak. But Rory McIlroy has come pretty darn close in the last calendar year.

Related: Golf's all-time greatest seasons

After his rout at Quail Hollow, McIlroy has won five times on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour during the past 12 months. In that span, he's won two majors, two World Golf Championships and had a seven-shot blowout. He has finished outside the top 25 just once in the past two seasons on the PGA Tour and inside the top 10 in 75 percent of his events.

Now imagine how good he'd be if he was a great putter.

Even after a strong showing on the greens at Quail Hollow, McIlroy currently ranks 69th in strokes gained/putting on the PGA Tour. That has been offset by McIlroy easily leading the way in strokes gained/tee to green, thanks in large part to his prodigious driving.

When Woods dominated, he relied a lot more on his putter. The PGA Tour didn't keep track of strokes gained/putting until 2004, but he was second that year and was out of the top 10 just once through 2009. We'll assume the man considered by many to be one of the greatest putters ever would have ranked pretty high during 2000 as well.

Related: Rory's first 10 wins are more impressive than you think

The good news for McIlroy is he seems to be improving in this area. He was ranked 145th on tour his rookie season in strokes gained/putting at -.226 before improving to -.128 in 2011 and jumping to .088 and being ranked No. 82 in 2012. He regressed to 117th during his slump year of 2013, but bounced back to have his best putting season in 2014 at .273 and ranked 41st.

McIlroy has worked with putting coach Dave Stockton on putting to a spot and keeping the back of his left hand going toward the target during the stroke. Kinda like he does in this video of him making 55 consecutive eight-footers in practice at last year's Tour Championship.

Stockton started working with Rory just a few weeks after McIlroy's meltdown at the 2011 Masters, and the 10 PGA Tour titles and four majors McIlroy's won in the four years since have been impressive. But if he keeps getting better on the greens, who knows how good the next four years can be.

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Why Rory McIlroy's first 10 PGA Tour wins are even more impressive than you think

On Sunday, Rory McIlroy joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers in the modern era with 10 PGA Tour wins before turning 26. But while McIlroy took longer to reach that mark, his 10 titles easily top the wins by Nicklaus and Woods when it comes to quality.

McIlroy doesn't just win PGA Tour events, he wins big PGA Tour events. Of course, the two men who have combined for 32 major titles did a lot of that as well, but not with the exclusivity that McIlroy has to this point in his career.

Related: Golf's all-time biggest phenoms

Of McIlroy's 10 wins, four are major championships, two are World Golf Championships, and two are FedEx Cup Playoff events. His two least prestigious wins weren't too shabby, either. His first career PGA Tour victory was a come-from-behind win over Phil Mickelson when he shot a Sunday 62 at Quail Hollow in 2010. And he got win No. 3 at the 2012 Honda Classic when he overcame a final-round 62 by Tiger Woods.

Woods, by comparison, had just one major win -- his historic rout at the 1997 Masters -- among his first 10 PGA Tour titles. His next two biggest wins in that stretch were a pair of victories at the Western Open (1997 and 1999) and wins at the 1999 Memorial and 1997 Byron Nelson. His first two career wins came in Las Vegas and Disney World -- although winning anywhere on the PGA Tour at age 20 is obviously impressive -- and you probably don't remember him holding off Jay Don Blake at the 1998 BellSouth Classic or beating Billy Ray Brown by two at the 1999 Buick Invitational.

As for Nicklaus, his first pro win was the 1962 U.S. Open, but he followed that up with victories at the Seattle World's Fair Open and Portland Open Invitational later that year. Did they really need "Open" and "Invitational" in that official tournament title?

Nicklaus counted three majors among his first 10 wins -- two more than Tiger, but one fewer than McIlroy. Nicklaus didn't have the luxury of competing in World Golf Championships and those events weren't around at the beginning of Woods' career (he made up for lost time by winning 18 of them, 15 more than anyone else). Of course, both those guys didn't have the FedEx Cup Playoffs starting out either.

But both did have the same opportunity to win in dominant fashion and neither quite matched McIlroy. Yes, Woods had the 12-shot win at the 1997 Masters, but that was the only time he won by more than three shots in his first 10 victories. Nicklaus also only won by more than three once in his first 10 wins, a five-shot victory against a small field in the 1963 Tournament of Champions. McIlroy already has three wins by wide margins, including two eight-shot romps in majors.

Related: Rory McIlroy launches a counter-attack on Spieth

McIlroy's "old" age relative to Nicklaus (24) and Woods (23) at the time of their 10th career PGA Tour titles also doesn't stand out as much when factoring in his other wins around the world. In addition, McIlroy has five European Tour wins, including a victory in that tour's flagship event, the 2014 BMW PGA, to go along with a dramatic win over Adam Scott at the 2013 Australian Open. Woods had an additional two European Tour wins at the time of his 10th PGA Tour title, while Nicklaus had zero.

Yes, any way you look at it, McIlroy, who turned 26 on Monday, is well behind the winning pace set by Nicklaus and Woods, who had 17 and 29(!) wins, respectively, by that age. In an era where racking up wins seems more difficult than ever, though, McIlroy's relatively-quick trip to double digits is even more impressive than it looks. And the quality of his first 10 wins is second to none -- no matter how long they took him to get.

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Career records show Jason Day is the current king of match play -- but it's close

This week's WGC-Cadillac Match Play is one of the most fun, but unpredictable events of the PGA Tour season. Thanks to Adam Sarson, though, we at least have the complete match-play records of all 64 players in the field to help with our educated guesses. That includes their record in this event as well as in singles at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup and their records in other events like the Volvo World Match Play on the European Tour. So who are the best golfers in this format?

Three players, Anirban Lahiri, Marc Warren and Tommy Fleetwood, actually have perfect records (Watch out for Anirban Lahiri!). But since they've combined to win a total of five matches, we're not going to count them (OK, maybe don't watch out for Anirban Lahiri).

Related: How to fill out your match play bracket

Of players with at least 10 matches played, Jason Day, leads the way with a 79 winning percentage. The bulk of Day's 15-4 record comes from his 14-3 record in the WGC Match Play, which he won last year. Day is 1-1 in President Cup singles play.

Right behind Day is another former WGC Match Play champ, Matt Kuchar, at 69 percent. Kuchar, a former U.S. Amateur winner as well, is 17-4 in the event, but his overall record is brought down by a 1-4 mark in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup singles.

Graeme McDowell is third on the list at 68 percent. McDowell has a 3-1 Ryder Cup singles record, but has actually done most of his match play damage at the Volvo World Match Play, where he's gone 18-5. Surprisingly, he's just 9-8 in the annual WGC event.

Hunter Mahan (66 percent) is next on the list followed by some familiar European Tour Ryder Cup names: Ian Poulter (64 percent), Rory McIlroy (63 percent), Victor Dubuisson (58 percent), Martin Kaymer (55 percent), Paul Casey (55 percent), Henrik Stenson (52 percent) and Sergio Garcia (52 percent).

Thongchai Jaidee (57 percent), Rickie Fowler (54 percent) and Jim Furyk (51 percent) are the only other players with at least 10 matchest that have a winning percentage higher than 50. In other words, it's tough to have a great match-play record as a pro, which is why we've seen Tiger Woods win this event three times, but also lose to players like Nick O'Hern (twice!) and Peter O'Malley.

Speaking of Woods, his 45-15-2 record would give him the second-highest winning percentage (73) behind Day. With three U.S. Amateur titles and three U.S. Junior titles, it's tough to argue Woods isn't the best ever in match play, but his low world ranking has him out of this week's field. Phil Mickelson and his modest 23-21-3 record qualified for the event, but has withdrawn for personal reasons.

Related: Pictures of PGA Tour wives and girlfriends

So who isn't particularly good in match play? Two members of the victorious 2014 European Ryder Cup team, Stephen Gallacher and Jamie Donaldson, have the worst records of anyone with 10-plus matches. Gallacher is a near-impossible 1-10, while Donaldson is 2-7-2. Of course, one of those two wins for Donaldson came in his Sunday singles match against Keegan Bradley to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe. Clutch!

Notable U.S. players with poor records include Dustin Johnson (4-7), Bill Haas (1-6) and Bradley (1-6). Not so clutch.

What does it all mean for this week's WGC-Cadillac Match Play? It's tough to say. There will be a new group-play format that will feed into the bracket and the tournament will be played at Harding Park for the first time after eight years in Arizona.

Online bookmaker Bovada lists McIlroy and Masters champ Jordan Spieth (3-3 in match play as a pro) as the co-favorites (9/1). Sarson's numbers say Day (14/1) is the better pick, but there's still a better chance of him losing to Anirban Lahiri than repeating as champ.

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9 Lydia Ko stats that will make your jaw drop

Lydia Ko turned 18 on Friday during a tournament she would wind up winning -- for a second year in a row. That alone should be enough to amaze golf fans, but with Ko, that's just the start. Here are nine other achievements by the precocious Ko that will blow your mind.

Related: Golf's all-time biggest phenoms

7 -- Career LPGA Tour victories for Ko following her playoff win over Morgan Pressel at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. To put this in perspective, Michelle Wie, 25, only has four.

15 -- Age (15 years and four months) at which Ko became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour event when she claimed the 2012 Canadian Women's Open. She broke Lexi Thompson's record by 15 months.

17 -- Age when Ko became No. 1 in the world ranking, the youngest male or female to hold the top spot by nearly four years. Tiger Woods (21) previously held the record, and Jiyai Shin (22) was the previous youngest female.

130 -- Weeks Ko already had been ranked the top amateur in the world before turning professional in November 2013 at 16.

29 -- Number of consecutive rounds under par Ko had shot early in the 2015 season, tying Annika Sorenstam's LPGA Tour record.

Related: Golf's greatest streaks

50 -- Career cuts made by Ko on the LPGA Tour. Why is this so impressive? Because that's also how many LPGA Tour starts she's made as either an amateur or a pro.

58 -- Ko's career percentage of finishing in the top 10 (29 of 50). She's improved that to 88 percent (7 of 8) to start the 2015 season.

69.594 -- Ko's scoring average thus far in 2015, the best on the LPGA Tour.

2,997,843 -- Career earnings by Ko in less than a year and a half. Again, this doesn't count her two wins and other high finishes as an amateur. It also doesn't count the $1 million bonus she pulled in for claiming the first season-long Race to the CME Globe in 2014.

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Freddie Jacobson's record-breaking streak of avoiding three-putts dates back to before the Super Bowl

The date was January 23rd. "Deflategate" was the hottest topic in sports and we were still more than a week away from Super Bowl XLIX.

That was also the last time Freddie Jacobson had a three-putt on the PGA Tour. The 40-year-old Swede made the mistake on the 16th hole during the second round of the Humana Challenge -- and he hasn't made another one since.

Related: Golf's all-time greatest streaks

In the second round of last week's RBC Heritage, Jacobson broke Luke Donald's tour record (the stat has been kept since 2003) of 483 and then kept going. He finished the tournament (T-37) with his streak intact, running the total up to 524 holes without making a three-putt. To put that in perspective, Jacobson has posted more photos of himself hanging out with Rihanna at the Super Bowl in the past three months than he's three-putted on a golf course.


Of course, it helps that Jacobson wasn't in the Masters field, thus avoiding some of the toughest greens in the world. Even Jordan Spieth three-putted three times at Augusta National.

Still, his putting has been incredible. Jacobson is first in three-putt avoidance at .65 percent (the tour average this season is three percent) and he's third in strokes gained/putting. Unfortunately, is Jacobson being ranked 173rd in strokes gained/tee to green.

Related: 8 eye-popping stats from the PGA Tour

When Donald set the record in 2011, he won PGA Tour Player of the Year and was the world's top-ranked player. Jacobson, however, ranks just 147th on the FedEx Cup list and has just one top-30 finish this season. But hey, he's got the record now -- and that photo with Rihanna.

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Winning the Masters doesn't guarantee a big year (or career), as 7 recent first-time victors can attest

Winning the Masters makes any golfer's year a great one, but it doesn't necessarily lead to more immediate success. Since 2000, there have been nine first-time Masters champs and only two of them even won another PGA Tour event the rest of that season.

This is probably true for a couple of reasons. For one thing, once you slip on that green jacket, you instantly become a star. Have you seen the whirlwind tour of New York City Jordan Spieth has been on since Monday morning? Sure, it's fun, but it's tiring -- and distracting.

Related: The 15 most revealing moments from the Masters

"The media attention, the atmosphere; even a year later, you're excited about your win," said Bubba Watson, who wasn't comfortable hosting the Champions Dinner in 2013. "Sometimes you get away from your routine or you just use your energy in a different way."

Secondly, once someone is a Masters champion, the expectations of them soar.

"The thing is, you obviously know what your good golf entails and you know you've been able to showcase that on the biggest stage in the game. That adds a little bit of pressure from the standpoint of why am I not doing that all the time," 2008 champ Trevor Immelman told the Augusta Chronicle in 2013.

Trevor Immelman was on top of the world once too.

But not only have these recent winners not played great golf on a weekly basis, some, like Immelman have struggled for years since. Here's a closer look at the last seven first-time Masters champs (We omitted Vijay Singh in 2000 because he had already won eight PGA Tour titles and a major by then and Phil Mickelson in 2004 because he had already won 23 PGA Tour titles at that point) and what they've done since claiming the green jacket.

Adam Scott, 2013
Remaining major finishes that year: T-45, T-3, T-5
PGA Tour wins that year after the Masters: 1
Career PGA Tour wins since: 2
PGA Tour wins/year since: 1.0

Bubba Watson, 2012
Remaining major finishes that year: MC, T-23, T-11
PGA Tour wins that year after the Masters: 0
PGA Tour wins since: 3
PGA Tour wins/year since: 1.0

Charl Schwartzel, 2011
Remaining major finishes that year: T-9, T-16, T-12
PGA Tour wins that year after the Masters: 0
PGA Tour wins since: 0
PGA Tour Wins/year since: 0.0

Angel Cabrera, 2009
Remaining major finishes that year: T-54, T-24, T-63
Wins that year after the Masters: 0
Wins since: 1
Wins/year since: 0.167

Trevor Immelman, 2008
Remaining major finishes that year: T-65, T-19, MC
PGA Tour wins that year after the Masters: 0
PGA Tour wins since: 0
PGA Tour wins/year since: 0.0

The Grind: Jordan Spieth's kiss seen around the world

Zach Johnson, 2007
Remaining major finishes that year: T-45, T-20, MC
PGA Tour wins that year after the Masters: 1
PGA Tour wins since: 9
PGA Tour wins/year since: 1.125

Mike Weir, 2003
Remaining major finishes that year: T-3, T-28, T-7
PGA Tour wins that year after the Masters: 0
PGA Tour wins since: 2
PGA Tour wins/year since: 0.167

That's a total of 17 wins in 42 seasons, with Zach Johnson providing more than half of those titles. And of the seven players, only one seriously contended at another major that same season (Adam Scott at the 2013 British Open) and only one, Bubba Watson, has won another major.

Of course, none of these guys were 21 when they won the Masters. And the last time someone that age won a green jacket, we seem to recall him going on to have a pretty good career.

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How Jimmy Walker's five wins in 17 months stack up to some notable PGA Tour careers

Jimmy Walker didn't win on the PGA Tour until his 187th career start at the Open in October 2013. That almost doesn't seem possible now.

In the 17 months and 37 starts since that breakthrough victory, Walker has quickly run his win total to five, the last of which came in dominant fashion over the weekend at the Valero Texas Open. That's two more PGA Tour titles than anyone (Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed are tied for second with three wins) since the start of the 2013-2014 season.

Related: Golf Digest's My Shot with Jimmy Walker

These days on the PGA Tour, five wins in that short of a span by anyone is impressive. But coming from such a late bloomer -- Walker's first win came at age 34 -- makes the accomplishment even more remarkable. In fact, Walker's past year and a half stacks up pretty well with some pretty good careers. Yes, careers.

Did you realize that Walker's five wins have pulled him even on the all-time PGA Tour victories list with former World No. 1s Tom Lehman and Luke Donald? How about with players like John Daly, Jesper Parnevik and Billy Mayfair?

Walker's five victories have him just behind current big names like Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and Padraig Harrington, and just two behind Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Retief Goosen. If Walker keeps up his torrid pace of winning every three months, he would catch all those guys by the end of this season.

Related: Meet Erin Walker and other PGA Tour WAGs

You'd also probably be surprised by how many marquee names Walker has already passed on the wins list. Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler just to name a few. Again, Walker has more PGA Tour titles than all of these guys in just his last 37 starts!

Of course, Walker's next challenge is breaking through at a major championship. Considering he had his first three top-10 finishes in those four events last year (he only had six previous starts in majors), though, Walker taking that next step might not be too far off.

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You probably didn't notice: The one part of Rory McIlroy's game that's really holding him back right now

Coming off a win and a runner-up on the European Tour to start 2015, Rory McIlroy's performance on the PGA Tour's Florida Swing was a bit disappointing. McIlroy missed the cut at the Honda Classic and had T-9 and T-11 finishes at Doral and Bay Hill, where he was never a factor on either Sunday.

The good news for the World No. 1? It seems that only one part of his game is holding him back.

Related: McIlroy among golf's all-time biggest phenoms

In his 10 PGA Tour rounds this year, McIlroy's iron play has been the main culprit. While those 10 rounds -- just one of which was in the 60s -- aren't enough to qualify him officially, his statistics stand out in several categories.

Starting with greens in regulation, McIlroy's 67.22 percent would rank him only No. 80 on tour. Last season, he ranked sixth at 69.44 percent. The numbers get much worse, though, for proximity to the hole. McIlroy's average of 38' 10" would have him tied for 178th on tour. Last year, he ranked 31st.

Those are two key stats that have his strokes gained/tee to green down more than a full shot from last season when he led the tour at 1.993. And his scoring average is nearly two shots worse -- despite his putting and driving numbers remaining nearly identical -- from his tour-best 68.827 during his player of the year campaign that saw him win the season's final two majors.

Related: 8 wacky PGA Tour stats from last season

With 2015's first major approaching, McIlroy has decided not to play any more events before heading to Augusta National, where he'll have his first crack at completing the career Grand Slam. At least, he knows what to work on before he gets there.

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You probably didn't notice: Even with a rough Sunday, Derek Ernst had the second-best finish of his PGA Tour career

The 2015 Valspar Championship will be remembered as the tournament where Jordan Spieth picked up an inevitable second PGA Tour title. But it also included two unlikely breakthroughs.

If you watched Sunday's telecast, you're probably familiar with Sean O'Hair's story. Once a rising star, O'Hair had fallen on hard times and all the way down to No. 401 in the Official World Golf Ranking with just one top 10 (a T-10 to be exact) in his previous 65 PGA Tour events.

Related: 13 PGA Tour winners who were regular working stiffs

O'Hair, 32, lipped out a birdie putt on the second playoff hole that could have earned him total job security for the next two years. Still, his T-2 brought him up to No. 188 and it should get him into a lot more tournaments than having to rely on special exemptions like the one he received last week for being a past champion at Innisbrook.

Another guy who is running out of playing privileges had a chance for plenty of final-round TV time as well, but had a tough day. Derek Ernst trailed only Spieth and Ryan Moore after 54 holes, but he bogeyed No. 2 and doubled No. 7 to tumble off the leader board.

Ernst wound up falling 14 spots with a 75 to finish T-17, but like with O'Hair, there is a silver lining. "Feels good to get the competitive juices going again," Ernst said on Saturday evening.

For the man with one of the oddest PGA Tour resumes ever, this was actually just the second top-25 finish in 62 career events. The other, of course, was his shocking victory at the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship, when he won as the 1,207th-ranked player in the world, giving him an exemption on the tour through this season.

But after seven missed cuts in 11 starts in 2014-15 -- with his best finish being a T-54 at the McGladrey Classic -- a 67-70-69 start on a stout Copperhead Course gives Ernst hope that better golf is ahead. So does the fact that the UNLV product doesn't turn 25 until May.

"Golf is so mental and this week I just flipped the switch and started believing in myself and had some positive affirmations I've been telling myself," Ernst said.

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You probably didn't notice: Adam Scott's stellar week with his new short putter

OK, so you may have noticed this one. If you were following the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, you probably heard about Adam Scott ditching his long putter. And if you saw where the Aussie ended up on the leader board (T-4), you probably figured he putted pretty well with his new short one.

But just how well did Scott fare on the greens? We took a closer look.

Scott wound up with a strokes gained/putting average of .765 to finish 12th in the field. Not bad for his first week using a standard-length Odyssey putter with the anchoring ban set to go into effect in January.

Related: Is the anchoring ban overrated?

In fact, since Scott switched to the long putter in early 2011, he's only had eight events in which he finished with a better strokes gained/putting average for the week than he did at Doral. Again, that's eight events in four years.

Over 72 holes at Doral, Scott only three-putted once, and he made 87 percent of his putts from inside 10 feet. That included a perfect 52 of 52 from five feet and in -- a range where anchoring, in theory, helps a golfer. But Scott was good from any range as evidenced by his daily average of holing more than 84 feet worth of putts, which put him 15th in the field.

Any way you look at it, Scott's return to a regular putter was a success -- not that we should be too surprised. The farthest back the PGA Tour goes with its strokes gained/putting stat is 2004. Leading the category that year? Adam Scott.

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