By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Columnist
There's an age-old debate whether shootouts are putting contests or tournaments won by the golfer that creates the most birdie opportunities. After all, you'd think the former wouldn't exist without the latter. Well, the Travelers Championship offers plenty of evidence to refute that theory.
Focusing on the last six editions of this event to coincide with the FedExCup era, the average winning score in relation to par is 17.167 under. That covers a range from Kenny Perry's tournament-record 22-under par in 2009 to a pair of 14-under 266s, the more recent of which turned in by defending champion Marc Leishman. Not surprisingly, all of the winners were ranked inside the top 11 in par breakers during the weeks they won. Three led their fields and two others ranked T4.
Working back from the cup, four winners ranked either first or second in strokes gained-putting. Three of those four cracked the top 10 in conversion percentage inside 10 feet. (Freddie Jacobson tops the list when he led his field in 2011, going 60-for-63.) Hunter Mahan ranked T24 inside 10 feet en route to victory in 2007, but he was perfect on 60 attempts from inside eight feet.
Meanwhile, the greens-in-regulation numbers aren't as impressive. Only Mahan (T10) and Perry (T3) ranked inside the top 25 in GIR. Perry was one of the three to finish first in par breakers, so there's no mystery why he in the record books as low man over 72 holes. Anyone watching that week will recall that he was unconscious.
While the data supports hot putting over an aerial assault, it's worth circling the breakthroughs by Bubba Watson (2010) and Leishman. Watson was all-or-nothing, leading his field in distance off the tee, par breakers and par-5 scoring, but ranked outside the top 30 in accuracy off the tee (a stat we can often dismiss in birdie-fests), GIR, strokes gained-putting, scrambling and conversion percentage inside 10 feet. He survived a playoff with Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank, but it wouldn't be wrong to say that Watson overpowered TPC River Highlands.
Leishman finished outside the top 10 in every relevant split except par breakers (T4) and par-5 scoring (1st). He ranked 12th-T15 in distance, fairways hit, proximity and scrambling, but that he emerged with the victory was still a surprise. The Aussie started the final round six strokes back of the co-leaders and played in the 14th-to-last pairing. He then closed with a career-best 62 to win by one.