By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Columnist
This week's tournament in the desert isn't unlike the duels in the Old West; that is, there is always one man standing in the end. In golf, the weapons of choice are irons and putters; the targets are flagsticks, fortunately. But having the quickest trigger isn't among the skills necessary to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. It's all about pulling that trigger the fewest times.
This year-long feature has revealed many nuances of victory on the PGA TOUR. For example, par-4 scoring demands our attention and respect in all events, while bogey avoidance is merely a by-product of a collaboration of individual angles, all of which require attention. This is to say that generalizing any by-product may save time, but there can be different paths toward the same destination, and each is worth examination.
A theory with which I entered this project was that shootouts must follow the linear progression of success from tee to green. While distance off the tee rarely hurts -- but in most cases is irrelevant, including at TPC Summerlin -- the idea was that the more birdie opportunities one gathers, the more birdies one converts. Yet, the data among the winners in events boasting the lowest scoring averages has unequivocally tilted toward the camp that classifies shootouts as putting contests. We're treated to more proof of that this week.
Since TPC Summerlin slipped into the role of hosting solo in 2008, all five winners ranked inside the top 20 in strokes gained-putting; three cracked the top six. Only one -- defending champion Ryan Moore -- finished the top 10 in both greens in regulation and SG-P; he was T4 in GIR last year. Kevin Na took a bite out of the notion that greens hit is preferred when he ranked T40 en route to his breakthrough victory in 2011. (He placed sixth in SG-P.)
Martin Laird enjoyed the road less traveled when he won his first PGA TOUR event here in 2009. He was T3 in GIR (tops among the five winners), but a class-low 19th in SG-P and a seriously mediocre T25 in par-4 scoring (as compared to the other four champs that ranked a respective T1, second, T4 and second in the stat, much more indicative of winners of all tournaments).The Scot also ranked a set-worst T15 in bogey avoidance. On cue, his 19-under 265 (shared by playoff losers Chad Campbell and George McNeill) is the highest aggregate among the quintet of champions.
To further emphasize the importance of holing putts, as a group, Marc Turnesa (2008), Laird, Jonathan Byrd (2010), Na and Moore went 306-for-332 in conversions inside 10 feet. That's a clip of 92.17 percent. Standing over opportunities to break par is the constant -- last year's field averaged 13.24 greens in regulation per round -- so the deciding factor is how many putts drop in.
The touring professionals may assume this to be true all of the time, but the game on paper supports the belief.