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October 30 2013

4:23 PM

Stats suggest: WGC-HSBC Champions

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Putting yourself in scoring position on the par 4s at Sheshan International GC will be key.

By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Insider

One of the reasons we conducted the Stats Suggest project this year was to illustrate the proverbial axiom that numbers never lie. At the top of what I've learned is that I've been undervaluing par-4 scoring for years. Logically it makes sense since 10 of 18 holes on customary layouts feature par 4s, but there are any number of other angles that you'd think anecdotally (and laid out in this space) are critical en route to success. Context and nuance are important to the discussion as well, so it's not a conversation that can be neatly wrapped.

But what about how the numbers can fool you? Even better, how they can fool a champion of a tournament held on this week's course? As I've analyzed Sheshan International Golf Club, site of the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, distance off the tee is irrelevant (as it is most weeks) and hitting fairways is a non-starter, but landing greens in regulation and sinking putts are imperative. Those are basic requirements, but as Sheshan compares to other tracks, setting up and converting on scoring opportunities is the ticket.

Yet, Martin Kaymer, who won at Sheshan in 2011, said the following of the course on EuropeanTour.com today: "It's a fairly long golf course with a couple of really big holes and you have to hit fairways. There are a lot of holes where you have to hit over the water for your second shot into the par fives so accuracy from the tee is important." He added that the green complexes require a premium on managing misses and a deft touch.

Consider that Kaymer shares the tournament course record of 20-under 268. That aggregate alone implies that even if guys are finding fairways, they still need to score. Meanwhile, he also acknowledged that the greens are "big," so the obvious takeaway is that even when golfers are hitting approaches from lies off the fairway, the margin for error is greater because the targets are larger. To be blunt, the numbers support guys airing it out with long, straight hitters having an edge.

At this tournament in 2011, Kaymer ranked 18th in distance off the tee (287.0 yards), 29th in fairways hit (34 of 56), 11th in greens in regulation (55 of 72) and fourth in putts per GIR (1.624). When Francesco Molinari went wire-to-wire in 2010, he bunted his way to an average of 270.5 yards (68th) but split 43 fairways (eighth). Where he and Kaymer are similar is on the greens. The Italian ranked second in putts per GIR at 1.572 and took a field-low 100 putts.

Then there's Phil Mickelson, champion of the inaugural edition of this tournament as a WGC in 2009. He hit only half of his fairways to rank 70th and averaged a beefy 299.9 yards off the tee. Like the two winner since, the lefty fared best on the putting surfaces, submitting a putting clip of 1.656, good for 14th-best that week.

Interpreting how a golfer describes a course can help shape opinion, but it's always eyebrow-raising when words fall in direct contrast with the numbers.

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