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Top 5 Shots of the Week | Genesis Open

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Top 5 Shots of the Week | Genesis Open
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Check out the top 5 shots of the week from the 2018 Genesis Open and Chubb Classic, featuring Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rocco Mediate, Derek Fathauer and John Daly.

The Genesis Open is contested at Riviera Country Club in California. In 2017, Dustin Johnson took home the trophy as he finished at 17-under 267 and became the No. 1 golfer in the world.

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Bubba Watson

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Bubba Watson

LOS ANGELES – Like any great Hollywood stage, Riviera Country Club is where superstars mix with bit-part players. For every Dustin Johnson or Phil Mickelson who wins here, so too does a John Merrick or a Rory Sabbatini. The 2018 Genesis Open at Riviera promised a star turn thanks to an impressive cast that included not just Mickelson and Johnson, but Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

And amid all of those more polished icons, Bubba Watson stole the show.

Watson claimed his third win at the Genesis Open, shooting a Sunday 69 to edge Kevin Na and Tony Finau by two strokes to earn $1,296,000. His 12-under 272 total brought his first victory since the Genesis in 2016 and his 10th overall on the PGA Tour, a mark that he once famously said was a goal that might prompt thoughts of retirement.

On Sunday he made clear that he won’t be riding off into the sunset any time soon.

“You have to remember, my goal was very simple: make the PGA Tour. When you get to the Tour, you want to win,” he said. “Double-digit wins? I am thrilled. Nobody thought Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida, could ever get to 10 wins. Let’s be honest. No lessons. Head case. Hooking the ball. Slicing the ball. Can’t putt. Somehow we’re here.”

“I have to set a new goal,” he added, laughing.

The two-time Masters champion admitted that he considered quitting as he battled issues with his health and game for the past two years

“I was close. My wife was not close.” he said. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. I was focusing on the wrong things. You know, pitiful me, not on how beautiful my life was.”

Watson is a player who has his safe spaces. Of his 10 Tour victories, two came at Augusta National, another two at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands and now three at Riviera, where the highly-strung left-hander is uncommonly relaxed. Perhaps that owes to a wealth of extra-curricular activities that allow Watson’s childlike exuberance to blow off steam. His schedule during the week included participating in the NBA All-Star Game festivities, appearing on a car show with Jay Leno and catching a taping of Big Bang Theory. Somewhere in there he found time to play four rounds of quality golf.

“It gives me something else to do,” he said. “It freed me up where I don’t think about the negative. I get to think about hanging out with cool people.”

The coolest guy in the field at Riviera drew huge galleries for the first two days, but rounds of 72-76 meant Woods spent the weekend at home in Florida. That’s where McIlroy headed after his final-round 68 to tie for 20th. Like Woods, McIlroy is playing a home game at this week’s Honda Classic at PGA National.

“It will be nice to get home and sleep in my own bed for a couple weeks,” he said.

Mickelson made a strong run at winning a third Genesis Open of his own Sunday, but was derailed by back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16. He finished T-6. A third consecutive top-10 was cold comfort to a man whose victory drought has lasted almost five years.

“I think it will be important for me, if I want to go into Augusta with the expectation of winning again, that I win before then,” he said.

Like Mickelson, Watson’s mind is also turning toward Georgia in April.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m trending in the right direction,” he said. “I always feel like I have a chance at Augusta.” Gwk

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Matt-Kuchar

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Matt-Kuchar

Talk long enough about sports statistics, and “Moneyball” invariably drifts into the conversation. For a lot of people, Michael Lewis’ 2003 book about the 2002 Oakland A’s baseball season, which became a movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, was an introduction to the world of sports analytics.

An interesting article about Luke Donald by Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard reminded me of one of my favorite portions of that story. It revolves around the idea that when a great player leaves a team, replacing that talent does not necessarily mean finding one person who can do everything just as well as the player who left. If other players can each pick up a little of the slack, teams can make up for deficiencies, “in the aggregate.”

In that clip, if Brad Pitt has substituted strokes gained for on-base percentage, he would be describing the challenge that faces Donald and every other short-hitting golfer who wants to be elite.

The chart below uses data from the 2016-17 season, and it shows there is a very clear relationship between PGA Tour driving distance average and strokes gained.

Infogram/David Dusek/Golfweek

Infogram/David Dusek/Golfweek

Among the 19 players who had a strokes gained total that was higher than 1.00 last season, only three – Francesco Molinari, Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar – were shorter off the tee than the PGA Tour’s average driving distance of 292.5 yards. The combined average driving distance of all 19 players was 300.8 yards, while the average driving distance of all the golfers who had an average strokes gained total last season of less than 1.0 was 291.9 yards.

Pros who hit the ball a long way but who are feeble on the greens can occasionally catch lightning in a bottle and make a few extra putts. When they do, players such as Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia or Kyle Stanley make winning look easy. Conversely, outstanding putters who tend to be short off the tee do not suddenly get hot with their driver and start piping 310-yard tee shots. I’m looking at you Graeme McDowell, Brandt Snedeker and Michael Thompson.

Kuchar, who averaged 285.4 yards per tee shot last season, was 30 yards shorter than Dustin Johnson, and last season he trailed the world’s No. 1 player in strokes gained total 1.905 (1st) to 1.049 (16th).

Johnson’s edge in strokes gained over Kuchar came solely from his performance off the tee and from the fairway. Kuchar had the edge around the green and in putting, but as the table below reveals, Kuchar’s prowess with wedges and his putter could not overcome Johnson’s woods and irons.

Kuchar Strokes Gained Johnson Advantage
0.215 Off-the-Tee 1.002 0.787 (Johnson)
0.193 Approach-the-Green 0.702 0.509 (Johnson)
0.39 Around-the-Green 0.104 0.286 (Kuchar)
0.25 Putting 0.096 0.154 (Kuchar)
1.049 Total 1.905 0.856 (Johnson)

Kuchar, who turns 40 in June, is not going to get significantly better off the tee as he gets older. If he wants to make up ground on Johnson, statistically, he needs to improve the other areas of his game. To quote “Moneyball,” he has to match Johnson’s edge in the aggregate.

Assuming Kuchar’s driving average stays the same this season, if he improved his other strokes gained stats by 0.285 each, he could match Johnson’s level. That would mean his strokes gained: approach-the-green average would need to go up to 0.478, his strokes gained: around-the-green average would improve to 0.675 and he his strokes gained: putting average would lift to 0.535.

That is a lot easier said than done, but it is the challenge facing golfers who do not possess a modern, power game.

To help them take on that challenge, many players are turning to analytics experts such as a company I recently spoke with at the PGA Merchandise Show, Every Ball Counts. Based in West Palm Beach, Fla., Every Ball Counts evaluates golfers and provides a service to numerous professional and elite amateurs that breaks down their game to the granular level. Working with coaches, the service reveals what areas of the game players should improve in order to see the greatest impact.

Jordan Spieth proved last season that golfers who don’t lead the Tour can, in fact, keep up with the big hitters. His driving average was 20 yards shorter than Johnson’s, but as the table below shows, from the fairway, around the green and with his putter, he made up for nearly all of Johnson’s advantage off the tee last season.

Spieth Strokes Gained Johnson Advantage
0.276 Off-the-Tee 1.002 0.726 (Johnson)
0.906 Approach-the-Green 0.702 0.204 (Spieth)
0.37 Around-the-Green 0.104 0.266 (Speith)
0.32 Putting 0.096 0.224 (Spieth)
1.871 Total 1.905 0.034 (Johnson)

So it can be done, but in order for mid-length and shorter-hitting golfers to overcome the advantage big hitters enjoy off the tee, they need to be solid and efficient in every other area of the game. Gwk

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