Marc Leishman's putter stays hot, Adam Scott's putter goes ice cold and Jason Dufner makes an appearance
Conventional wisdom, at least among the stats nerds, is that putting is by far the most volatile statistic in golf, and thus impossible to predict on a weekly basis. Through 13 rounds this fall, Marc Leishman has proven to be the exception to this rule.
First came the Fortinet Championship at Silverado, where the Big Aussie gained a ridiculous 7.1 strokes with the flat stick en route to a T-4 finish. Of course, he was also exceptional tee-to-green and on approach that week, which certainly helped. His very next PGA Tour start at the Shriners Hospital Open, though, Leishman wasn't as sharp on approach, but a +7.5 strokes gained/putting performance saw him finish T-3, giving him back-to-back top-five finishes.
Predictably, the putter did cool off at the CJ Cup (Leishman lost a whopping 0.4 strokes on the greens), but in Thursday's opening round of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open, he was back to his make-everything-he-looked at ways. After holing a 43-footer at the brutal 514-yard opening par-4 first at Memorial Park, Leishman was off and running, holing five more birdies on the day, three of them outside of 10 feet. He made only one bogey on his final hole, finishing with a five-under 65 to tie for the lead with three others when play was suspended for darkness (rain showers delayed the start of the round on Thursday).
By gaining 2.61 strokes on the greens Thursday, Leishman has now been a plus-putter in 11 of 13 rounds he's played this fall. If you go back to the Sony Open last year, where Leishman tied for fourth, he's gained strokes putting in 11 of his last 17 measured events, per Fantasy National.com. Naturally, that incredible stretch on the greens is what he partly credits his post-pandemic turnaround for.
"So probably for about six months I feel like I've been playing OK," Leishman said Thursday. "Just not getting anything out of it. Worked on my wedge game, everything inside 150. And I started making putts, really that's the difference."
Simple enough. Of course, even though the putter has been the most reliable club in his bag, he's still aware that could change at any second.
"It can be a crazy game. It can get you down and you can play really well and not have a good score and play mediocre golf and have a really good score. You have to try and not let that get to you and just to -- I think a fresh season, a new start was pretty good for me. Got me to knuckle down and just really focus and been playing some good golf."
Adam Scott's putter ... yeah, not so much
If you just watched Adam Scott's tee and approach shots during the first round in Houston, you would have left thinking A) That was a typical tee-to-green masterclass from Adam Scott, and B) He had to have shot 65, minimum. You'd be very wrong on B, because Scott was only able to manage a two-under 68 despite leading the field in strokes gained/off-the-tee and tee-to-green. Leishman with the putter, this fellow Aussie is not.
The thing is, Scott has been better on the greens over the last few years, particularly last season when the 41-year-old (how did that happen?!?) finished 18th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/putting. His bad putts often show up at the worst times, though, like on the 72nd green at the Wyndham Championship in August. Or, Thursday at Memorial Park, where Scott nearly lost two strokes on the greens, spoiling a wildly impressive round from tee to green. He missed back-to-back putts of less than eight feet at Nos. 8 and 9, then missed four putts inside of 18 feet on the back nine, including one for birdie at the final hole. Spin zone? It can only get better on the greens from there (we think), and if it does it's hard to see him not contending late into the weekend.
Jason Dufner has made an appearance in Houston
Speaking of bad putters, Jason Dufner has shown his face at the top of the leader board in Houston. OK, that was uncalled for.
Unlike Scott, though, Dufner rolled it nicely on Thursday, opening with a four-under 66 that has put the 44-year-old (how did that happen?!?) just one off the lead. That had to be a nice change of pace for the former PGA champ, who has arguably left a ton of wins on the table in his career due to a balky putter.
"I thought I played pretty well," said Dufner, playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption. "I was pretty happy for the most part everything I did, but a couple key parts kind of in the middle of the round a couple times helped kind of glue that round together and maybe turned a 70, 69, 68 into a 66. So I'll take those two shots or three shots with those saves and look to improve on my ball-striking."
The great news for Dufner is that he may not have to replicate that putting round to have a chance to win. With Memorial Park being the toughest course these guys have seen all fall, the five-time PGA Tour winner likes his chances to hang in there until the very end—even if his best finish in 2021 is a T-18 at the John Deere Classic, his only top-20 finish on the PGA Tour in his last 51 starts dating back to July 2019.
"It's a tough golf course. The scores aren't going to run away from you, we're not going to be in the 20s winning this week. If I can keep it in that 2 to 4 under every day, I think I'll be right around there on Sunday."