WHO SHOULD BE NO. 1 at CONGRESSIONAL?

If you waste time caring about what the OWGR’s think makes the best golfer, you’re just wasting a lot of time.

The more important question is, “When the world’s best golfers step onto the Tee at Congressional next week, who will be the best?”

That’s an interesting question. For one, you could spend most of the remaining time until next Thursday debating Tiger’s health and actual level of skill right now. Luckily, he did us all a favor and withdrew.

That leaves the question, “What makes the best golfer in the world?”

Is it success at a major? Hot recent play? Big clutch finishes? A course that suits a given player? Overall skill?

Despite that every golf “pundit” says success at a major should be a defining skill, it doesn’t really have much value. The world’s best players play the same at non-majors as they do at majors. Almost every exception (Phil Mickelson: above average; Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk: below average) can be explained by variance. Furthermore, players (Y.E. Yang, Rich Beem, etc.) who have won majors, don’t seem to improve in future majors or even players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson seem to play well below average (the same as everyone else) when they have a pressure tee-time on Sunday at a major. Overall I don’t think success at majors really means too much.

On a similar token, recent play and good course form can mean good things, but isn’t hugely important. It may be enough to tip the scales between close players, but an average PGA Tour golfer coming off two top-10 finishes or with a good couple of weeks at Congressional is still, shocker, an average PGA Tour golfer.

It turns out the most important thing is basically, just plain old, boring overall skill. And you can pretty much go back further than you think and it turns out the same. Here is a two-year top-10:

 

Player

score

1

Tiger Woods

-0.79156

2

Lee Westwood

-0.71558

3

Steve Stricker

-0.70427

4

Matt Kuchar

-0.62817

5

Luke Donald

-0.56608

6

Phil Mickelson

-0.5334

7

Martin Kaymer

-0.5152

8

Rory McIlroy

-0.50265

9

Jim Furyk

-0.4986

10

Hunter Mahan

-0.48225

And from 5-years:

1

Tiger Woods

-1.0518

2

Steve Stricker

-0.6440

3

Phil Mickelson

-0.6432

4

Jim Furyk

-0.6368

5

Luke Donald

-0.5674

6

Ernie Els

-0.5084

7

Sergio Garcia

-0.4889

8

Padraig Harrington

-0.4864

9

Lee Westwood

-0.4776

10

Vijay Singh

-0.4720

As you can see, a little more fluctuation over two-year period, especially for young and old guys, but basically the same players.

I think that pretty clearly puts Stricker and Donald as the two best players coming into this week. Neither have really had a ton of success at majors (Donald: -.44; Stricker: -.52 in last six years), but it’s hard to argue with their overall talent over the last five years.

In the group right behind them, I think you have to throw Phil (Still talented, strong history at majors) Kuchar and Westwood (both on really hot 2-year runs). After that, you have to consider Sergio, whose last year seems to be an aberration, some of the young guys like Kaymer and McIlroy and Furyk. My rankings for next week (right now) might look something like this:

  1. Steve Stricker
  1. Luke Donald
  2. Phil Mickelson
  3. Lee Westwood
  4. Matt Kuchar
  5. Martin Kaymer
  6. Sergio Garcia
  7. Rory McIlroy
  8. Jim Furyk
  9. Paul Casey
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