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Culp's Corner

Best of 2018 on the PGA TOUR

by Josh Culp

With a holiday break in the golf action, now is a good time to look back at the year in golf. 

Sticking to a stat-heavy approach, let's have a look at some Top 10 lists to see who recorded the best rounds of 2018, find out who performed best on particular putting surfaces, or performed best in certain parts of the country. 

Best Opening Round of 2018

Brandt Snedeker's round of 59 at the Wyndham Championship which beat the field by 9.712 strokes and gave him a commanding four-shot lead. 

Notables:
-Henrik Stenson's 64 in R1 of the API, beat the field by 8.200 strokes. 
-Patrick Reed's 64 in R1 of the HSBC Champions, beat the field by 8.286 strokes. 
-Marc Leishman's 61 in R1 of the Byron Nelson, beat the field by 8.564 strokes. 
-Jordan Spieth's 66 in R1 of the Masters, beat the field by 7.793 strokes. 
-Webb Simpson's 61 in R1 of the Greenbrier, beat the field by 8.340 strokes. 
-Kevin Na's 62 in R1 of the Fort Worth Invitational, beat the field by 7.760 strokes. 
-Joaquin Niemann, Hideki Matsuyama, and Abraham Ancer's rounds of 65 at the Memorial, beat the field by 7.558 strokes. 
-John Peterson's 65 in R1 of the Wells Fargo, beat the field by 7.833 strokes. 

Tony Finau didn't have any Top 10 performances in R1 but he had the most rounds in the Top 100 opening-round performances. Might be worth watching him the FRL markets next year. Five of his opening rounds ended in the Top 100. The next closest was Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele, and Kyle Stanley who all had three rounds each in the Top 100.  

Best Overall Round of 2018

Tommy Fleetwood's closing round of 63 at the U.S. Open, +9.179 strokes over the field. It nearly won him the tournament, falling one shy of Brooks Koepka

Notables: 
-Tony Finau and Daniel Berger's R3 66s at the U.S. Open. These rounds would be the best on paper at +9.328 strokes better than a strong field but they were also aided by the morning vs afternoon scoring splits. 
-Brandt Snedeker's opening 59 at the Wyndham, +9.712 strokes over the field. 
-Ricky Barnes's 61 in R2 of the Safeway Open, +9.611 strokes over the field. 
-Rory McIlroy's 64 in R4 of the API, +8.455 strokes over the field en route to victory. 
-Trey Mullinax's 62 in R3 of the Valero Texas Open, +8.925 strokes over the field. 
-Thomas Pieters' 64 in R2 of the WGC-HSBC Champions, +8.896 strokes over the field. 
-Patrick Reed's 66 in R2 of the Masters, +8.563 strokes over the field. 
-Webb Simpson's 63 in R2 of THE PLAYERS, +8.273 strokes over the field. 
-Charl Schwartzel's 63 in R4 of the WGC-Bridgestone, +8.183 SG over the field. 
-Justin Thomas' 62 in R3 of the WGC-Mexico, +8.281 SG over the field.
-Peter Uihlein's 62 in R3 of the Wells Fargo, +8.368 strokes over the field. 

Total Strokes Gained in 2018

Dustin Johnson
Tony Finau
Justin Thomas
Webb Simpson
Bryson DeChambeau
Justin Rose
Rickie Fowler
Patrick Cantlay
Emiliano Grillo
Tommy Fleetwood

Note: Adjusted to the strength of field each golfer played against. 
 

Strokes Gained per Round in 2018

Dustin Johnson
Justin Rose
Justin Thomas
Tommy Fleetwood
Tiger Woods
Jason Day
Tony Finau
Rickie Fowler
Bryson DeChambeau
Brooks Koepka

Note: Adjusted to the strength of field each golfer played against. Minimum of 30 rounds played. 

 

Steady-Round Percentage

This looks at the percentage of rounds that a golfer beat the field by one stroke. 

Justin Rose (71%)
Justin Thomas (70%)
Dustin Johnson (66%)
Jason Day (66%)
Tiger Woods (65%)
Webb Simpson (64%)
Tommy Fleetwood (64%)
Brooks Koepka (62%)
Tony Finau (62%)
Henrik Stenson (62%)

Notes: It's no surprise to see Rosey at the top of this list. He was a top-20 machine this year. Seeing Stenson on the list was somewhat surprising. He had a ho-hum season and was battling elbow injuries for much of the summer. He's not getting any younger but his stats have yet to truly fall off a cliff. The downside? He does only play the minimum of 15 PGA TOUR events per season. 

 

Go-Low Percentage

This looks at the percentage of rounds that a golfer beat the field by three strokes. These rounds are crucial if you want to rack up wins. 

Dustin Johnson (50%)
Justin Rose (42%)
Rory McIlroy (40%)
Justin Thomas (35%)
Bryson DeChambeau (35%)
Brooks Koepka (33%)
Jon Rahm (33%)
Rickie Fowler (33%)
Jason Day (32%)
Tommy Fleetwood (30%)

Notes: Based on these numbers, you could actually say DJ underperformed when it came to finding the winner's circle last year. At times it also seemed that Rory fell off a cliff in 2018 but on paper he still takes it deep with the best of them. I would expect him to win at least twice in 2019 as he sets his full attention on playing Stateside. 

Time for a coffee break and then we'll look at some split stats... 

~

 

Performance in Major Championships

First let's look at the total number of strokes gained in the majors this year...

Justin Rose (36.91 Strokes Gained Total)
Rickie Fowler (35.91 SG Total)
Brooks Koepka (35.80 SG Total)
Patrick Reed (34.07 SG Total) 
Tony Finau (33.91 SG Total)
Tommy Fleetwood (33.91 SG Total)
Jordan Spieth (33.40 SG Total)
Francesco Molinari (32.91 SG Total)
Webb Simpson (29.91 SG Total)
Dustin Johnson (27.46 SG Total)

Notes:For as bad of a season that Spieth had, it's impressive to see him show up in the top 10 here as he finished T12 or better in three of the four majors. He should be in for a big bounce-back year in 2019. 

Now let's look at a Per Round basis, with a minimum of THREE majors played in. 
 

Brooks Koepka (2.98 SG per RD)
Patrick Reed (2.43 SG per RD)
Jordan Spieth (2.39 SG per RD)
Justin Rose (2.31 SG per RD)
Rickie Fowler (2.24 SG per RD)
Tony Finau (2.12 SG per RD)
Tommy Fleetwood (2.12 SG per RD)
Francesco Molinari (2.06 SG per RD)
Dustin Johnson (1.96 SG per RD)
Webb Simpson (1.87 SG per RD)

Notes: Koepka was only third in TOTAL strokes gained but he dominates on a per-round basis. We need to remember that he missed the Masters due to a wrist injury. Talk about dominance after that return.

Stewie Cink was the only golfer that got cut here for missing the 3-start threshold. He would have been 6th on this list but he only played in two majors (T24 at The Open and T4 at the PGA Championship). 

 

California Love

The West Coast Swing happens early in the season and a particular type of golfer usually plays well on the Left Coast. Who was the King of Cali in 2018? 

Kevin Streelman (29 SG Total)
Phil Mickelson (29 SG Total)
Kevin Chappell (26 SG Total)
Jason Day (25 SG Total)
Jon Rahm (25 SG Total)
Patrick Cantlay (23 SG Total)
Kevin Na (23 SG Total)
Tony Finau (22 SG Total)
Troy Merritt (22 SG Total)
Adam Hadwin (22 SG Total)

Notes: Streelman earned this badge through volume, playing all five Cali events, finishing top 30 in four of the five including a 6th place finish at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. 

It's fun to see the overall theme of this list as everyone on it has ties to Arizona, California, Idaho, Utah, or Nevada. The exception might be Jason Day but even Day spent a good chunk of his January at the Vintage Club so he was well prepared for the grasses and climate.

 

Florida's Finest

As the winter comes to an end, the Florida events hit the calendar and that means a return to bermuda and also a return to courses with lots of bunkers and water in play. 

Tiger Woods (38 SG Total)
Webb Simpson (35 SG Total)
Justin Rose (30 SG Total)
Luke List (29 SG Total)
Tommy Fleetwood (27 SG Total)
Jamie Lovemark (26 SG Total)
Alex Noren (25 SG Total)
Justin Thomas (24 SG Total)
Adam Scott (23 SG Total)
Patrick Reed (23 SG Total)

Notes:This is when Tiger really started to assert his dominance, finishing 12th or better in all four Florida events he joined. He beat the field average in ALL 16 Florida rounds he played, beating the field by 2+ strokes in nine of them. 

 

Texas Toast

Heading to the Lone Star State before the summer heats hits, let's see who played well in Texas... 

Jimmy Walker (29 SG Total)
Keith Mitchell (26 SG Total)
Emiliano Grillo (25 SG Total)
Kevin Tway (23 SG Total)
Kevin Na (21 SG Total)
Ben Crane (20 SG Total)
Andrew Putnam (20 SG Total)
Justin Rose (20 SG Total)
Joaquin Niemann (20 SG Total)
Jordan Spieth (19 SG Total)

Notes: Spieth started to snap out of his early-season funk but he still never turned his season fully around. The San Antonio resident, Jimmy Walker, can be crowned the 2018 Texas King as he finished 4th at the Valero, 6th at the Byron Nelson and 20th at Colonial. 

Any gamers looking for the Keith Mitchell breakout might want to wait until we head to Texas this year. He went T6-T26-T3 in three Texas starts last year. Of course, that could have just been him getting comfortable on TOUR, in general, as he played his first full season on the big stage. 

 

Performance in the Wind

This is always a fun one to look at. Isolating our sample to rounds where the wind whipped at 14 MPH or greater, these golfers gained the most strokes under those conditions in 2018: 

Tony Finau (45 SG Total)
Dustin Johnson (44 SG Total)
Tommy Fleetwood (38 SG Total)
Patrick Reed (37 SG Total)
Jamie Lovemark (37 SG Total) 
Webb Simpson (35 SG Total)
Luke List (34 SG Total)
Patrick Cantlay (31 SG Total)
Justin Rose (31 SG Total)
Hideki Matsuyama (30 SG Total)

Notes: The sample size of rounds aren't going to be equal here but to show up on this list, you need to have quite a few strong performances in the wind. The golfers on this list either have elite, piercing ball flights or elite scrambling skills. 

Best on Bermuda

Reading grain on (and around) the greens is a big deal when it comes to playing on bermuda. Let's see who handled the grain in 2018: 

Webb Simpson (80 SG Total)
Dustin Johnson (57 SG Total)
Charles Howell III (56 SG Total)
Luke List (50 SG Total)
Justin Thomas (47 SG Total)
Emiliano Grillo (46 SG Total)
Chris Kirk (45 SG Total)
Billy Horschel (45 SG Total)
Marc Leishman (42 SG Total)
Nick Watney (40 SG Total)

Notes:Well, hello there Webb Simpson! Growing up in the Carolinas, it is no shock that he thrives on this Southern surface but even still it's remarkable to see that big of a gap from 1st to 2nd on this list. A big part of that is sample size as Webb loves bermuda so much that he spends a good portion of his schedule on bermuda courses while guys like DJ spread the love a bit more. 

 
 

Bentgrass Beasts

These aren't beasts in a bad way. These are fantastic beasts, and I'll tell you where to find them. On Bentgrass.

Justin Rose (91 SG Total)
Tony Finau (83 SG Total)
Rickie Fowler (73 SG Total)
Brooks Koepka (71 SG Total)
Francesco Molinari (64 SG Total)
Dustin Johnson (59 SG Total)
Tommy Fleetwood (54 SG Total)
Tiger Woods (54 SG Total)
Rory McIlroy (51 SG Total)
Justin Thomas (50 SG Total) 

Notes:If you want to find major winners then bentgrass performance is usually a good place to start. There are very few major venues that use bermudagrass greens. 

 

Drive for Show, Poa for Dough

This next list looks at the top performers in 2018 when it comes to playing poa annua greens: 

Phil Mickelson (53 SG Total)
Dustin Johnson (51 SG Total)
Tony Finau (47 SG Total)
Bubba Watson (43 SG Total)
Patrick Cantlay (41 SG Total)
Jason Day (38 SG Total)
Justin Thomas (37 SG Total)
Paul Casey (35 SG Total)
Bryson DeChambeau (33 SG Total)
Brooks Koepka (32 SG Total)

Notes:I talked about bentgrass performance being the route to success for majors. This year poa annua performance should be useful as Pebble Beach and Bethpage Black both use poa annua on their greens. 

Phil Mickelson loves poa and he'll let you know anytime it rolls around, "I think a lot of guys struggle with the poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different, it’s hard to sometimes read." Could this finally be the year that Lefty completes the career grand slam? It's definitely his best chance, being on Pebble's poa greens. 

 

Hard Courses

Another step toward winning a major is performing on the toughest of tracks. Let's see who racked up the highest score in 2018 when playing courses that played +0.75 Relative-to-Par or tougher: 

Patrick Reed (67 SG Total)
Tony Finau (65 SG Total)
Justin Rose (55 SG Total)
Tommy Fleetwood (55 SG Total)
Webb Simpson (49 SG Total) 
Paul Casey (48 SG Total)
Justin Thomas (43 SG Total)
Xander Schauffele (42 SG Total)
Luke List (37 SG Total)
Jason Day (34 SG Total)

Notes:This list is full of grinders that can scrape together that even-par round instead of swallowing a +2 or +3 round. A few years ago I would have never imagined JT showing up on this list, but that goes to show how much he's improved his all-around game. 

 

Easy Peasy

The last three lists are going to help find some major winners but this list will lead us to golfers that have no troubles reaching 20-under and surviving in a birdie-fest. Probably not as useful during major championships. 

Gary Woodland (56 SG Total)
Webb Simpson (51 SG Total) 
Sam Ryder (50 SG Total)
Cameron Champ (44 SG Total)
Keith Mitchell (43 SG Total)
Dustin Johnson (43 SG Total)
Marc Leishman (43 SG Total)
Charles Howell III (42 SG Total)
Kevin Tway (41 SG Total)
Scott Piercy (39 SG Total)

Notes: Guys like Ryder and Mitchell played nearly all of their rounds on easy courses. It will be interesting to see if they continue to schedule the same events or if they start to test their game on tougher tracks, now that they can control their schedule a bit better. 

Webb Simpson showed up on the hard course and easy course list which goes to show how strong of a 2018 campaign he had, and how easy or tough a course played didn't particularly matter to him. 

That does it for my Best of 2018 lists. So who impressed me the most? I would say Webb Simpson had a sparkling season that will likely be remembered as the best of his career. It's hard to see him repeating that performance again. 

Based on these lists, who could be in line for a monster 2019? Tony Finau and Tommy Fleetwood were both standout performers in 2018 but didn't hit pay dirt. That should change in 2019. 

Josh Culp
Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.