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January 23 2012

7:30 PM

For Wagner, it's the short game

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Johnson Wagner is fifth on the PGA TOUR in scrambling in 2012.

Forget the mustache. The real story with Johnson Wagner isn't his facial hair -- it's the regulation-length putter he uses. It's alive and well, and flourishing in the hands of Wagner, who has holed putts from every corner of the green in 2012.

Whether or not Wagner can keep up his torrid pace likely hinges on how well he can keep beating the world's best. In short, he's putting like Luke Donald, and the ShotLink stats argue that he'd putting even better than the world No. 1 did in 2011.

Coming into the 2012 season, Wagner had just seven top-10s in five full seasons. His entry in the PGA TOUR media guide noted that two of the seven top-10s were victories, which meant one thing: Wagner would get hot about once a year and threaten to win.

Already in 2012, he's threatened to win in each of the three weeks, mainly because he has putted better than anyone else:

2012 Tournament Wagner's Strokes Gained-Putting
Hyundai Tournament of Champions plus-5.9 (ranked 2nd)
Sony Open in Hawaii plus-6.4 (ranked 3rd)
Humana Challenge plus-5.2 (ranked 1st)

After Wagner won the Sony Open, it was easy to assume he'd miss the cut at the Humana Challenge, as he'd done for most of his career. Like a lot of places, he'd never had a top-10 at the desert event.

And Wagner didn't hit the ball great last week, but his performance on the greens was striking: He led the field in Strokes Gained-Putting (see above), picking up 5.2 shots on the field to lead the event in that category. He averaged a mere 25 putts per round, and his bogey-free 65 on Sunday vaulted him all the way into a tie for second. It was the first time in his career that he'd had two weeks in a row that remotely approached what he'd done on TOUR.

His trio of top-10s have him in the FedExCup points lead , and he's so far ahead in point that he'd assured to have the points lead after the Farmers Insurance Open even though he's not entered this week at Torrey Pines.

Wagner said on Sunday that he hoped to crack the top 64 in the Official World Golf Ranking, which would get him into the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship for the first time in his career. His tie for second vaulted him to 68th, and he's gained more World Golf Ranking points this year than anyone in the world:

Player World Golf Ranking Points gained in 2012
Johnson Wagner 68th 66.39
Branden Grace 92nd 55.85
Mark Wilson 40th 46.95
Steve Stricker 5th 39.41
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