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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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News & Tours

Drive for dough: Why distance has been especially crucial on the PGA Tour in 2014

By Alex Myers

If you were ever under the impression that distance on the PGA Tour only goes, well, so far, we direct you to the first 17 events of 2014. J.B. Holmes is the latest example of driving distance being a big separator in the first part of the year. During his win at the Wells Fargo Championship, which came with a check for $1.242 million, Holmes led the field in driving distance by far with an average of 333.9.

Related: J.B. Holmes completes his remarkable comeback with win at Quail Hollow

That continued a trend of power paying off on tour in 2014. In 17 full-field, stroke-play events this year, Holmes is the fourth winner to also lead that week in driving distance, joining Bubba Watson at the Masters and Northern Trust Open and Jimmy Walker at the Sony Open. At three other tournaments, the longest hitter in the field for the week wound up finishing runner-up.

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Compare that to 2013 in which the best finish for the entire year by a player leading the field in driving distance was a solo fourth by Bubba Watson at the Travelers Championship. A 2014 resurgence by Watson, who leads the tour in driving distance for the year at 315.4 yards per poke, has helped, but this goes beyond the biggest bombers.

The average rank in driving distance this year by winners in those 17 events is 16.7. The average rank for the first 17 events in 2013 was nearly double at 33.3. 

Of course, you don't have to be Bubba or J.B. long to win on tour, but it seems like it's getting tougher to succeed if you're not at least one of the longer hitters. This year, only twice has the winner ranked outside of the top 30 in driving distance for the week. Matt Kuchar has been the shortest hitter to win when he ranked 56th at Hilton Head, a course that has always rewarded precision over power.

By contrast, 2013 saw eight of the first 17 winners rank outside the top 30 in driving distance. Brian Gay won the Humana Challenge despite being ranked 75th out of the 81 players who made the cut. And even Tiger Woods, always one of the longest hitters on tour, only ranked 49th during his win at Doral, hitting fewer drivers to find more fairways. This year's winner there, Patrick Reed, played more aggressively and ranked fourth in the stat.

Related: 19 things you should know about Bubba Watson

Back to driving for dough, it hasn't just been the winners in 2014 benefitting from distance. Dustin Johnson is second in driving distance for the year and third on the money list. Rory McIlroy has three straight top 10s. Among other examples, Gary Woodland is  24th on the money list and Jason Kokrak is enjoying a breakout season.

Parity has ruled the PGA Tour this year with the absence of a dominant golfer. But having some pop might separate the winners from the pack more than ever these days.

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News & Tours

You probably didn't notice: Michelle Wie has been the best player on the LPGA Tour this year

By Alex Myers

Remember when Michelle Wie was overhyped? That's not the case anymore.

Wie may have snapped a 79-event winless drought on Sunday with a victory at the Lotte LPGA Championship in Hawaii, but the breakthrough was inevitable. Wie, 24, hasn't just been playing well in 2014, she's played the best of anyone on the LPGA Tour.

Related: Michelle Wie's career in pictures

Don't believe our hype? Let's examine the numbers. Wie is first on the money list at $615,555 in seven starts. She's first in scoring average at 69.57, more than .3 ahead of Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park. And she's first in greens in regulation at an eye-popping 81 percent (No one has cracked the 80-percent barrier for a season since the LPGA officially started keeping track of the stat in 1992).

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Even Wie's putting -- weird stance and all -- has improved. She ranks only 70th in putting average, but that number is skewed because of the high number of greens in regulation she hits (Again, 81 percent!). More telling is Wie ranking 17th in putts per greens in regulation (Unfortunately, the LPGA doesn't keep strokes gained/putting). She ranked 119th in that category just two years ago.

Wie's four top 10s in 2014 are one fewer than what she had in the past two seasons combined, and her worst finish so far was a T-16 at the Kia Classic last month. She also finished runner-up to Lexi Thompson at the year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Related: Golf's all-time biggest phenoms

After starting the year at No. 61 in the Rolex Rankings, Wie has moved all the way up to No. 13 with three terrific months of golf. At this rate, she'll be knocking on the door of the top five soon. Believe it.

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News & Tours

You probably didn't notice: Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson haven't three-putted in months. Literally

By Alex Myers

Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson are known for hitting golf balls ridiculous distances -- and they are still doing just that. But improvements in how they're handling the game's shortest shots have gone a long way in determining their recent success.

Photos: A frame-by-frame look at Dustin Johnson's swing

We were surprised to discover these two bombers off the tee currently have the two longest streaks of avoiding a three-putt on the PGA Tour (through the WGC-Cadillac Championship). Bubba's streak has lasted 237 holes over seven tournaments, while Johnson's has spanned 217 holes over six events. Ben Martin is No. 3 and well back at 129.

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Not surprisingly, Watson and Johnson are well on their way to having career years. Watson has a win and two runner-ups in his past three stroke-play events, and Johnson has made more than $3 million in the five stroke-play events (all top 10s) he's played in the 2013-14 PGA Tour season.

Of course, there's more to that than just not three-putting, and both players' improved overall putting statistics are more eye-catching than the 318.6 yards Watson is averaging per tee shot (Johnson is No. 2 at 309.7). Watson is currently 26th in strokes gained/putting (.473). That might not sound that impressive until you realize he was 119th last year and has been no better than 117th in that stat the past four seasons, bottoming out at No. 157 at -.285.

Johnson has putted even better. He's 10th in strokes gained/putting (.715) this season, up from No. 117 last year and 171 in 2011, where he was losing half a shot per round to the field.

Photos: The year in Dustin Johnson and Paulina Gretzky

Add it all up and Johnson (69.043) and Watson (69.247) rank first and second in scoring average on tour right now. New statistical analysis may challenge the old saying, "You drive for show and you putt for dough," but we can all agree that doing both well is a winning formula.

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