Stats Report
  • Instruction

    Hidden stats that differentiate Woods, McIlroy, Spieth and Thomas

    Superlatives you didn’t know about the four contestants in The Match

  • Instruction

    Rory McIlroy | Swing Theory | Driver, iron, wedge

When the latest iteration of The Match begins under the lights at Pelican Golf Club on Saturday (TNT, 6 p.m.) it will feature four of the most prolific winners of the PGA TOUR’s modern era.

Of the five youngest players to reach 10 career TOUR wins since World War II, four of them will be playing: Tiger Woods (age 23), Jordan Spieth (23), Rory McIlroy (25) and Justin Thomas (26). Jack Nicklaus (24) is the fifth name on that list. The four who will tee it up at Pelican have combined for 24 major championship wins and nearly a quarter-billion dollars in official PGA TOUR earnings. They’ve won a combined seven of the 16 FedExCup trophies ever contested. All four have reached the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Their on-course accomplishments are well known, but a deeper dive into their statistics can illuminate an underlying trend that many fans may not be aware of.

Something you might not know about: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s name will permeate the age-related section of golf’s record books for generations to come. When he won the 2013 John Deere Classic, he was the first teenager to win a PGA TOUR event since 1931. By age 21 he was a two-time major champion, the youngest player to do that in the men’s game since Gene Sarazen. Among players in the modern era, only Spieth and Nicklaus have accumulated three professional major wins before age 24.

For fans watching Spieth during those early seasons – especially in 2015 – it felt like he made every putt he looked at from 20 feet. Your eyes weren’t deceiving you: that season, Spieth made 27.2% of his putts from 15 to 25 feet away. The overall make percentage from that range on TOUR that season was just 16.0%. In the seasons since, no player with enough rounds to qualify has sniffed a 27% make-rate or better from that distance.

Highest Single Season Putt Make Percentage Since 2015 (15 to 25 Feet)
Season Player Make Percentage
2015 Jordan Spieth 27.2%
2020 Kris Ventura 26.7%
2015 Jamie Donaldson 26.3%

But consider this: In 2015, Spieth actually gained more strokes with his approach play (40.78) than he did on the greens (37.67). In Spieth’s brilliant 2015 season, he was the only player on TOUR to make 25% or more of his putts from 15 to 25 feet and average half-a-stroke gained per round or more with his approach shots. There’s only been one player to replicate the feat over an entire PGA TOUR season since.

Something you might not know about: Justin Thomas

Perhaps nobody in the game can go super-low like JT. At the 2017 Sony Open in Hawaii, he peppered the PGA TOUR record books with numbers that have stood up for more than five years. At Waialae Country Club that week, he opened with 59, recorded the lowest opening 36-hole total score in TOUR history (123), and finished with the lowest 72-hole total ever shot in an official TOUR event (253).

Justin Thomas PGA TOUR Ranks - Last 10 Years
Category Amount Rank
Rounds of 61 or lower 5 1st
Rounds of 62 or lower 9 T1
Rounds of 63 or lower 20 1st
Rounds of 64 or lower 38 1st

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. Thomas has shot 63 or lower a staggering 20 times in his PGA TOUR career. Since the beginning of 2015, that’s six more such rounds than any other player – McIlroy is second with 14. Thomas has five rounds of 61 or lower in his TOUR career, and 38 rounds of 64 or lower. In both cases it’s most of any player over the last decade. It’s fitting, then, that a player who can go crazy-low holds a major comeback record: At the 2022 PGA Championship, Thomas won despite being seven shots back to begin the day. That’s the largest final round deficit overcome to win a major since Paul Lawrie was ten back at the 1999 Open Championship.

Something you might not know about: Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is often heralded as the best driver in the world. Statistically, it’s justified: Since the beginning of 2014, McIlroy has averaged 0.96 Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee per round, the best of any player with 100 or more rounds played on the PGA TOUR In that span. Although his hypnotic excellence with the driver can sometimes overshadow the other wonderful things he does, McIlroy is obviously no one-trick pony.

Take this, for example: Since the inception of Strokes Gained tracking on the PGA TOUR, McIlroy has put together nine different rounds in which has gained at least a full stroke in each of the four key disciplines: Off-the-Tee, Approach the Green, Around the Green, and Putting. No other player has more than six such rounds. In 2022, both he and Thomas did it on two occasions; they were two of just four players with multiple such rounds this year.

Something you might not know about: Tiger Woods

You would think that with Woods so limited it would be difficult to unearth and celebrate statistics about him not readily shared in the past. The reality is that as time passes his seemingly limitless list of accomplishments grows even more ridiculous. When the immensely talented players of today accomplish lofty tasks, the question isn’t whether Tiger did it before them, the question is usually how many times he did it before them.

When McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship by eight shots, he joined Woods as the only players in the last 100 years to win multiple majors by eight strokes or more. Woods has done it three times (1997 Masters, 2000 U.S. Open, 2000 Open Championship). When McIlroy successfully defended his title at THE CJ CUP in South Carolina in the fall, it marked his second back-to-back of 2022 on the PGA TOUR (RBC Canadian Open). McIlroy was the first player to do that twice in a calendar year since Woods in 2007 – the sixth different year Woods had done it.

Arguably the greatest stretch of golf ever played was by Woods when he won four consecutive majors, the Tiger Slam, at the turn of the century. Expanding this window from the 1999 Memorial Tournament presented by Workday through the 2001 Memorial Tournament, Woods won a ridiculous 20 times in 40 official PGA TOUR starts. But what if I told you that years later Woods would have another similar run of greatness?

While the Tiger Slam era is rightfully heralded as the halcyon peak of Tiger’s play, it’s not the only time he had a run of 20 wins in 40 PGA TOUR starts. From the 2005 WGC-American Express Championships through the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods made 40 official PGA TOUR starts. Again, he won 20 of them.

Tiger Woods - Peak Stretches on PGA TOUR
Category 1999 Memorial through 2001 Memorial 2005 WGC-American Express through 2008 U.S. Open
Starts 40 40
Wins 20 20
Top 5s 32 28
Combined margin of victory 69 56
Pct of rounds led/co-led 34.9% 31.0%
Scoring average 68.45 68.86
Cumulative score to par -472 -332
Majors won 5-for-8 3-for-8

When comparing the two runs of dominance, the younger Woods still takes the crown, but the numbers within that later run are nothing to scoff at, either. Woods had a combined margin of victory of 69 strokes in the earlier stretch, and 56 strokes in the later one. Five majors won in eight starts for young Tiger, three in eight starts for the early 30’s Woods. The percentage of rounds led or co-led is close, too: 34.9% to 31.0%.

Think of it this way: Over the last 40 years, five players besides Woods have won 20 or more times on the PGA TOUR over the course of their entire careers. Woods twice won 20 times in 40 starts, which is something unlikely to happen ever again just once, let alone twice.