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What’s Wrong With Justin Rose?

I’ve rated Justin Rose as a top five golfer in the world since 2013, but his awful start to the season has dropped him to 11th in my ratings – the lowest level since his re-emergence as a star in 2012. Rose has missed the cut in three of his four PGA Tour starts in 2015, only staying to play the weekend at the no-cut WGC event at Doral where he was a non-factor and finished 55th. He’s always relied on a combination of great iron play and one of the pre-eminent short games in the world to contend, hitting it close to generate birdies and scrambling really well when he missed the green. Putting has always been circumspect (normally at or below PGA Tour average in Strokes Gained Putting), but the rest of his game has been so good it hasn’t mattered.

Rose PGA Tour stats

Well, this season it hasn’t worked. Rose would rank 178th on the Tour in scoring average if he had enough rounds to qualify, and instead of the top five Tee to Green game he’s had the past three years, he’s fallen to PGA Tour average. Looking at his stats, it’s easy to identify the main culprit in his collapse this year. His Strokes Gained Putting is just completely awful; he’s losing over a stroke per round with the putter – similar to what you would expect from Boo Weekley or Lucas Glover. His misses have mainly been focused on the short putts (4 to 12 feet), so that’s where he should be making adjustments. I’ve made the case the putting is subject to extreme fluctuations in small samples (Rose has only 9 rounds tracked this season), so it’s likely that his putting will rebound to his career levels in the coming tournaments. That’s not a significant concern in my mind.

What is concerning is the state of the rest of his game. I’ve charted his results across a wide range of shot types between 2014 and 2015 below. Adj. Dist measures his driving distance on all holes relative to the field. Rel. Accuracy measures how much more accurate he’s hitting his drives than the field; +20% is Jim Furyk level elite and -20% is Andrew Loupe level wild. Other Drives measures the number of par 4/5 tee shots that end up in water/out-of-bounds/trees/desert/etc. Hit Greens measures how many more greens he’s hitting relative to the average Tour pro on his par 4 2nd shots. The rest are measuring strokes gained relative to the field on each shot type.

Rose SG Stats

Rose’s decline has been spread across a number of shots. His SG on drives has declined, his SG on short game shots has fallen from elite to awful, and he’s lost a ton of ground on par 4 approach shots. In other words, his strengths last year (short game and par 4 approach shots) have turned into weaknesses. Now is the time to state again that this is only 9 rounds. In fact, right before this stretch of misery, Rose played back-to-back tournaments in the Middle East and finished T12 and T13. However, this is a guy who has missed six cuts in three years; this is as close to panic as it’s likely to get for Rose.

One interesting thing that pops out of his numbers is that Rose is hitting more greens with his 2nd shots than last year, but he’s not hitting anything close to the hole to generate birdie looks. That’s not good with the Masters looming; at Augusta simply bailing out and hitting the greens won’t be enough. If Rose isn’t able to hit his spots with his irons, he’ll be facing a bunch of long, slippery chances and likely racking up the three putts. That’s just the way it is on those huge, undulating greens. I’m very interested to see how he’s playing in Houston this week after two weeks off to reassess his game. Ignore his putting results and how many greens he’s hitting; focus instead on how often he’s able to get it inside 20 feet and set-up birdie.