Why Fowler-Wolff aren’t huge underdogs at Seminole
Breaking down the key areas for Sunday’s TaylorMade Driving Relief match
May 14, 2020
By Justin Ray, 15th Club for PGATOUR.COM
- May 14, 2020
Funniest moments: McIlroy, DJ, Fowler and Wolff
Four of the most exciting players in the game today – Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler - will usher in golf’s unofficial return to action Sunday at Seminole Golf Club with the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins match.
On paper, casual fans may see this matchup as a bit lopsided. If you only compare the career resumes, that’s undoubtedly the case: Rory and DJ have combined for 38 PGA TOUR wins and 192 weeks at world No. 1. Rickie and Matthew’s added totals are six wins and zero weeks in the top spot.
But a closer look at the numbers says that these two teams aren’t all that far apart.
15th Club took the strokes gained data from every PGA TOUR event since Wolff turned professional and compared the performances of the four players at a granular, detailed level. There are 151 different players with 30 or more ShotLink-measured rounds since Matthew’s pro debut at the 2019 Travelers Championship. Here’s how the two sides match up statistically during that span.
Off The Tee
ADVANTAGE: McILROY & JOHNSON
The dream driving duo of Rory and DJ is almost impossible to top. In the time frame selected, Rory leads all players in average distance of all drives (307.6 yards), while Johnson is ranked fourth (305.7). McIlroy has averaged 0.90 strokes gained off the tee during that span, too, second-best on TOUR. Only Wolff’s old college teammate, Viktor Hovland, has a better number off the tee in that stretch (0.91 per round).
That’s not to say Rickie and Matt will be blown off the course with the driver – both players are well above average in terms of distance. Wolff ranks 20th on TOUR in distance of all drives since turning pro (297.7 yards) while Fowler is 53rd (291.6). Wolff is also averaging more than one-third of a stroke gained off the tee, good for 34th of 151 players.
Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson long-drive compilation
ADVANTAGE: McILROY & JOHNSON
Although Rory and DJ get the nod here, it isn’t a large gap between the teams. DJ has uncharacteristically struggled with his iron play in recent months, averaging -0.33 strokes gained approach per round since last summer -- ranked 134th of 151 players. For comparison’s sake, Collin Morikawa leads the TOUR in that stat during the time span, at 1.13 strokes gained approach per round.
Rickie and Matt combine for a neutral performance, of sorts – when you combine the two, you get a number close to zero – no shots gained, or lost, to the field on approach play. Wolff has an average approach shot proximity of just under 35 feet since turning pro, best of these four players in that span. But thanks to Rory, ranked 14th on TOUR during this stretch, the DJ-McIlroy side has a slight advantage.
Around The Green
Known throughout his career more for the longest club in his bag, has Rory become a savant around the greens, too?
This is the third consecutive season McIlroy has been ranked in the top-20 on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green, a statistic he was outside the top-100 in back in 2010 when he broke through with his first win. And since last summer, he’s averaged 0.36 SG: Around-the-Green per round, 11th-best on TOUR in that span.
While this statistical exercise is focusing on the time since Wolff turned pro, there’s history on the side of Rickie Fowler. In the 2016-17 season, Rickie had a sand save percentage of 68.7 percent, the best anyone had recorded on TOUR in 16 years. He ranked 15th on TOUR in strokes gained around the green just three seasons ago and was 11th in that statistic the season before that. This one is too close to call.
ADVANTAGE: FOWLER & WOLFF
Rickie is averaging more than 80 feet of putts made per round since last summer, ninth-best on TOUR in that span and well ahead of the other three players Sunday. The 2017 TOUR leader in Strokes Gained: Putting, Fowler is statistically the strongest on the greens among these four.
Putting is the worst ranking Rory has of the Strokes Gained categories in our selected time frame, but that isn’t saying much. McIlroy is averaging 0.43 strokes gained putting per round since last summer, putting himself firmly in the top-30 on TOUR.
DJ, on the other hand, has struggled a bit with the putter in recent months. He’s lost, on average, about 0.31 strokes gained putting per round since last June – ranking 128th of 151 players. This is the area of the match where Fowler and Wolff can try to make up for their opponents’ advantage off the tee.
Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff highlights
ADVANTAGE: McILROY & JOHNSON … narrowly
Rory’s recent performance metrics are, unsurprisingly, reflective of the No. 1 player in the world and defending FedExCup champion and PGA TOUR Player of the Year. Since last summer, Rory leads the TOUR in Strokes Gained: Total, distance of all drives and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. His Strokes Gained average in that stretch – 2.33 per round – is more than one-third of a shot better than anyone else in that span (Jon Rahm is second, at 1.98).
Fans unfamiliar with Wolff’s game, though, are in for a treat this weekend. His unconventional swing has produced big results in fewer than 20 career TOUR starts. At last year’s 3M Open, he became the second-youngest winner on TOUR since World War II. Wolff is well above average in almost every Strokes Gained category since he ended his amateur career last June.
McIlroy and Johnson are the rightful betting favorites, but the Oklahoma State Cowboys connection should not be ignored this weekend in Florida.
Justin Ray is the Head of Content for data-driven 15th Club.