The best players on the Florida Swing
February 24, 2021
By Justin Ray, The 15th Club for PGATOUR.COM
- February 24, 2021
PGA TOUR – The CUT
WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession
This week’s World Golf Championships-Workday Championship at The Concession presents a new venue for the world’s best, with the beautiful but difficult Jack Nicklaus/Tony Jacklin co-design hosting a TOUR event for the first time. It’s the first of a four-week stay in Florida for the PGA TOUR.
That’s good news, because the Florida Swing has brought no shortage of highlights.
Corey Pavin and Fred Couples dueled at The Honda Classic in 1992. Flashbulbs popped in the dark as Tiger Woods drained a putt to win the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. And of course you can’t beat THE PLAYERS Championship tension on the weekend at TPC Sawgrass.
So, who are the best performers, both historically and now, on the TOUR’s Florida Swing? 15th Club went through more than three decades of round-by-round data to break down who succeeds, who overperforms, and what types of players fare best in Florida.
TOUR events in Florida are typically more demanding ball-striking tests than average. That makes sense, given the courses on the Florida Swing. PGA National (Champion) and Innisbrook (Copperhead) annually rank among the most difficult non-major venues in several key statistics. Since 2010, the average Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green field rank of tournament winners in Florida is 6.3. The PGA TOUR average in that stretch is 7.3.
Driving accuracy proves to be less vital in Florida than normal – the average fairways hit ranking of winners in Florida since 2010 is 22.0, compared to the TOUR average in that span of 18.8. Iron play is where players can separate themselves from the pack: the Strokes Gained: Approach average rank of winners is 11.8, compared to the TOUR average of 13.5.
Tiger Woods’ historic dominance
It’s only fitting, then, that the best iron player of his era has been so successful here. Tiger Woods has 16 wins in Florida in his storied career. Since 1960, only one player has even half as many wins as Woods in the Sunshine State: Jack Nicklaus, with 10.
From the 1999 Disney Classic through the end of the 2003 season, Woods played 14 official TOUR events in Florida. He picked up six wins and finished worse than third only three times. From 1999 through 2003, Woods was 203-under-par in his TOUR starts in Florida, 31 strokes better than any other player. Davis Love III was second-best at 172-under-par.
Since 1990, there are 568 players with at least 30 TOUR rounds played in the state of Florida. Not only is Woods the only player with a scoring average under 70.0 in that group, coming in at 69.8, but he is the only player under 70.5. Woods’ mark is a full 0.82 strokes better than any other player with 30 or more rounds (Justin Thomas, 70.64), and 0.83 better than anyone with 100 rounds played (Rory McIlroy, 70.65).
Woods’ margin over his peers in birdie average is even more startling. In Woods’ 239 career rounds in Florida, he has averaged 4.44 birdies-or-better per round. Of the 393 players with 60 or more rounds played in Florida since 1990, that is 0.35 more per round than anyone else. (McIlroy, again, is second at 4.08.) The gap between Woods and McIlroy on the list is equivalent to the gap between McIlroy and number 25, Bob Tway (3.73).
Incredibly, even as Woods has reached the later stages of his career, he has remained dominant in Florida. Since 2010, he is the only player with 50 or more rounds to average 2.0 or more Strokes Gained: Total per round (2.08). McIlroy has the second-best average, at 1.46. When isolating just the previous five years – a period in which Woods has not won a tournament in Florida, mind you – he still comes out on top. Woods has averaged 2.10 Strokes Gained: Total per round in Florida events in that stretch, best of any player with 20 or more rounds played.
Sungjae Im loving it in Florida
Florida isn’t just the site of Sungjae Im’s first TOUR victory, the 2020 Honda Classic. In six career TOUR starts in Florida, Im has four top-5 finishes. He leads all players in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green in Florida over the last three seasons, racking up 2.10 per round. Im and Woods are the only players in the last five seasons to average 2.0 Strokes Gained: Total per round or more at Florida TOUR stops. In 22 career rounds in Florida, Im has beat the field average 18 times.
Sungjae Im's winning highlights from Honda
Fleetwood flourishes, too
He hasn’t yet won on TOUR, but maybe this year’s Florida Swing is where Tommy Fleetwood breaks through. Since 2018, Fleetwood is one of five players with a scoring average in the 60s in Florida. He ranks second behind Im in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green per round in that span (+1.92) and third in Strokes Gained: Total (+2.09). Fleetwood is fourth in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee on the Florida Swing the last five seasons, trailing only Bryson DeChambeau, McIlroy and Bubba Watson.
Scott great in the Sunshine State
Since 2010, among players with 50 or more rounds in Florida, no player has averaged more Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green per round than Adam Scott (1.53). Scott ranks third in Strokes Gained: Total in that same span (1.37), and third in birdie average (4.08) going back to 1990. He’s one of six players with three or more TOUR victories in Florida since 2004, along with Woods, Stephen Ames, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, and Luke Donald.
‘Burns’-ing the greens
Sam Burns threatened to become the youngest player to win The Genesis Invitational since 1975, and the first wire-to-wire winner of the event since 1969. He isn’t in the field at The Concession, but keep this in mind going forward: Burns is a savant when putting in Florida. Since 2010, players make 68.7% of their putts from 4 to 8 feet on the Florida Swing. Burns makes 79% of those putts.
In 31 PGA TOUR rounds in Florida, Burns is averaging a ridiculous 1.31 Strokes Gained: Putting per round. Over the last five years, he is the only player to gain an average of a full stroke or more per round on the greens. Burns is normally a very good putter – 2020-21 is his third consecutive season ranked in the top 30 in Strokes Gained – but he takes it to another level in Florida.