Stuart Appleby lit up the Old White Course at Greenbriar yesterday for a winning 59.

As is usually the case, Appleby’s 59 was more of a result of playing well in the right conditions. The course on Sunday played to an average of 67.2 strokes. At that average, and a field of 70 players there is almost a 20% chance that someone would shoot 59.

Now, This isn’t to totally degrade Appleby’s play. In fact, his round probably rates among the best ten all season on the PGA Tour. It’s just Appleby shoots a number that happens to be “59” and it overshadows other rounds that were less sexy.

Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow was 10.7 shots better than the field average. Paul Goydos at the John Deere Classic was over 10 shots better than the field average. Stuart Appleby, on Sunday, was only 8.2 shots better than the field.

As with the British Open, comparing a 59 to 67 just by the numbers is completely meaningless if given drastically different conditions. Stuart Appleby played very well in relation to the field and was lucky enough to get fortunate conditions that allowed 59 to be a real possibility. On the other hand, if he had played the same way teeing off with Rory McIlroy in the second round of the British Open his score might have been a 70.

That leaves an important question: If only three 59’s have been shot before this year on the PGA Tour, is there anything to that trend? My first reaction would be randomness, but I compared the scoring averages from this year to 2008 to see if there were any differences.

Across similar regular (not majors) PGA Tour events the scoring average is down about a half a stroke. That doesn’t sound that significant until you consider that’s over approximately 12,000 rounds. Like Global warming, (No, this change in scores wasn’t made up by Al Gore) small changes over a big scale can make a big difference.

In 2008 about 20% of these rounds were played with a course average of less than 70 strokes and 15% played to an average of 73 or more strokes. Fast forward 2 years and 27% of rounds have been played in under 70 strokes, while only 9% have played at harder than 73 strokes.

That has a pretty big effect on the odds of shooting a 59. Here is a breakdown of the two years and chances of a 59 occurring given the scoring averages over 12,000 rounds(Approximately, what’s been played so far):

2010 2008
0 71.710% 85.336%
1 23.847% 13.533%
2 3.965% 1.073%
3 0.439% 0.057%
4 0.037% 0.002%
5 0.002% 0.000%

There were roughly the same number of good rounds in 2008. Unfortunately they players who shot them then had no where as close a chance as shooting a 59 as this year. So, if you’re wondering why the recent slew of 59’s, it’s a combination of good luck and easier scoring conditions.


1 Comment

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One response to “THE NOT SO MAGICAL 59

  1. N.

    I wonder if you’ve considered Ishikawa’s 58.

    It was 13 shots below the 4th round field average. (Compare to Karlsson’s 11 shots in that amazing round in May you called probably the best all year.) Looks like a true sub 60 to me, even taking into account the lower quality of play on the Japan Golf Tour.

    Ryo’s round was better than Stuart’s!

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