Golf fans were rewarded Sunday with another battle between the best players in the world, not only for the WGC title, but also for the in-reality-meaningless #1 world ranking. Sergio began the day three strokes up on Rory with around a 70% chance to win, but three straight birdies for McIlroy to open and a pair of missed 6 footers for Sergio gave Rory the lead after only three holes. The rest of the round merely served as a coronation for Rory. On a day where soft, wet conditions allowed players to fire at pins, Sergio generated only four birdie looks from ten feet in – missing each one. He applied no pressure at all on the back-nine, allowing Rory to bomb drives, hit greens, make pars, and ultimately win by two strokes.
Rory entered the day looking to secure the #1 world ranking with a win and an outside the top five finish by Adam Scott. His hot start propelled him into the lead and Adam Scott played poorly down the stretch to fall to 8th. He loses the #1 ranking he held since May, but him and McIlroy remain in a virtual dead heat in my rankings. These two have clearly been the best in the world all spring and summer.
CBS’s golf team raved about Rory’s driving all day on Sunday and rightfully so. His display of power and control on his drives was almost super-human; he was out-hitting Sergio by ~25 yards all day and avoided trouble all weekend. I have an adjusted driving stat that shows by how each golfer is performing on each hole relative to the rest of the field. Anything above 15 yards is elite. Rory was at 28 yards for the weekend, better even than Bubba Watson.
Rory’s always been a long hitter though, what stood out Sunday was the control he exerted over his drives. He hit 61% of his fairways for the week, only slightly better than average, but he avoided trouble on every single one of his 56 drives this week. I track how often a player is unable to play towards the green on a par 4 after their drive (a recovery shot). Typically this happens just less than once a round, and is a major cause of bogeys because the player is forced to get up-and-down from >50 yards. Rory was one of only three players who didn’t face a single recovery shot all week (Sergio and J.B. Holmes were the others). Not only was he longer than everyone, but he never once faced any trouble from the rough or trees.
All that adds up to the best driving performance of the season per Mark Broadie’s strokes gained stats. Broadie has Rory as by far the best driver on Tour this season, gaining nearly 1.5 strokes/round on the field just off the tee. For comparison, only 18 others have played that well OVERALL this season. This combination of power and control is pushing the boundaries of what is even possible in professional golf.
Tiger Injured Again:
Tiger’s injury Sunday was a huge let-down to anyone who wanted to see what he could do next week. He had been hitting full shots for a month as of this week and while he hadn’t looked particularly good in nine rounds since he returned, he was at least healthy and able to work on his game. This injury should put a halt to that. Tiger’s calendar is now clear of commitments until at least late October. It’s possible if he WDs this week that we won’t see him in action until his tournament in December or at Torrey Pines in January.
I’ll reiterate that I see no reason why a healthy Tiger can’t return to the best-in-the-world peak he enjoyed in 2012 and 2013.
All the talk this week has to be about whether Rory will take home another major title at Valhalla. There was some talk about how Valhalla “fits his game” – apparently it is forgiving off the tee and rewards high ball hitters. I’m hoping to touch on “course fits” in my preview, but the course doesn’t impact a tournament much week to week. Rory is the favorite, clearly, though Adam Scott, Justin Rose, and Sergio are all very close – I’d give odds of 16-1 for Rory and Adam Scott and 25-1 for Rose and Sergio. Remember that all three of those guys finished top ten this week, two of them finished top five at The Open Championship, and Justin Rose has won twice in his last four starts.
As for others who looked good this past week, Charl Schwartzel and Hideki Matsuyama finished 2nd/3rd best in non-putting performance (all strokes but putts). I like to look at that because putting has been shown to be extremely random in small samples. If there is carry-over next week, those are an obvious pair to look at.