DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS … ALMOST

Want to know why the World Golf Championship Match Play Championship shouldn’t count in the rankings.

Simple. Almost every other event in the world is a stroke play event and there are lot of other variables in match play. Like, how your opponent plays.

Below, is a list of my top-10 and bottom-10 players from this week based on a simple ranking. Birdie percentage. How many birdies did the player make. Then they are standardized based on how the field average (23.90%) would do for the number of holes the player played for the week. That’s why Westwood (30.49% over 82 holes) is ahead of Manassero (33.33% over 33 holes).

Player (Top 10)

Bird %

Holes

St. Dev.

Wins

Hunter Mahan

36.46%

96

2.886

6

Martin Laird

33.82%

68

1.920

3

Lee Westwood

30.49%

82

1.400

4

Matteo Manassero

33.33%

33

1.271

1

Graeme McDowell

35.29%

17

1.102

0

Peter Hanson

29.51%

61

1.028

3

Keegan Bradley

31.25%

32

0.975

1

Rickie Fowler

33.33%

18

0.939

0

Rory McIlroy

27.72%

101

0.902

5

Dustin Johnson

29.17%

48

0.856

2

 

Player (Bottom 10)

Bird %

Holes

St. Dev.

Wins

Tiger Woods

16.67%

36

-1.017

1

Greg Chalmers

12.50%

16

-1.069

0

Sang-Moon Bae

17.91%

67

-1.149

3

K.J. Choi

11.76%

17

-1.173

0

Aaron Baddeley

11.76%

17

-1.173

0

Kyung Tae Kim

6.67%

15

-1.565

0

Robert Rock

11.76%

34

-1.659

1

Jason Dufner

5.88%

17

-1.742

0

Fredrik Jacobson

0.00%

13

-2.020

0

Francesco Molinari

6.06%

33

-2.403

1

This isn’t perfect, because it’s possible in the short term for someone to do something like make 8 birdies and 8 bogeys in a round (Gary Woodland was close). However, over the longer run, good players shoot lower scores. There is not a tradeoff between a player who makes a lot of birdies making a lot of bogeys also.

The basic point is golf is mostly a sport about what your individual skill can do on the course. When you play match play, it often becomes more about what your opponent does, which isn’t really meaningful to anyone.

Here’s a look at the final 8 finishers and their “defense” for the tournament.

Player

Bird %

Holes

St. Dev.

Hunter Mahan Opponent

21.88%

96

-0.464

Martin Laird Opponent

25.00%

68

0.213

Lee Westwood Opponent

26.83%

82

0.623

Peter Hanson Opponent

14.75%

61

-1.674

Rory McIlroy Opponent

18.81%

101

-1.198

Matt Kuchar Opponent

20.97%

62

-0.541

Mark Wilson Opponent

21.52%

79

-0.495

Sang-Moon Bae Opponent

23.88%

67

-0.003

As you can see, most of them played fantastic defense for the tournament. Rory McIlroy, for the first four rounds, and Peter Hanson were particularly tenacious around the hole. They simply did not allow their opponents to make birdies.

Take a look at Rory’s first four matches compared to Steve Stricker’s first three:

Round

Player

Birdies

Holes

Delta

1

George Coetzee

3

18

-1.30134

2

Anders Hansen

2

16

-1.82342

3

Miguel Angel Jimenez

2

17

-2.06238

4

Sang-Moon Bae

1

16

-2.82342

Total

Rory McIlroy Opponent

8

67

-8.01056

The Delta Column is the difference between the number of birdies Rory’s opponents made and the number of birdies they would be expected to make going by the field average. I know: It’s quite possible Rory’s birdie defense is explainable partly because none of those players are above the field average for this event.

Round

Player

Birdies

Holes

Delta

R1

Kevin Na

4

17

-0.06238

R2

Louis Oosthuizen

3

18

-1.30134

R3

Hunter Mahan

9

15

5.41555

Total

Steve Stricker Opponent

16

50

4.05182

Hunter Mahan had more birdies against Stricker in 15 holes than all of Rory’s opponents before Sunday had against him.

Player

Bird. %

Holes

Delta

Steve Stricker

28.00%

50

2.052

Steve Stricker Opponent

32.00%

50

4.052

Rory McIlroy

22.39%

67

-1.011

Rory McIlroy Opponent

11.94%

67

-8.011

Stricker had the fourth most birdies in the field on Friday when he lost to Mahan. So, it’s totally his fault that he ran into a buzzsaw. He should probably work on his ability to deny his opponents birdies.

So Striker birdied more holes, had a lower score for the first three days and ends up with a lot less OWGR points than Rory. How does that make sense?

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