After every round is completed and the last spectator has left the course, one of the things I enjoy doing (and which inspired Puttingforbirdie--hey, somebody's gotta do it) is to look at the stats. It's not enough for me to see how many under or over par any particular player is. I do not feel fully informed to know, for example, that Bo Van Pelt had four birdies against one bogey in round one. I need to get under the hood and examine the WHY of the round. And yes, I'm fully aware that, as a result of this behavior, others may have diagnosed me with some form of mental illness. To that I can only say that I am on the road to recovery as I now only do this after the majors and the Fedex Cup playoff events.
So, as I looked over the performance Phil Mickelson served up in round one of the Tour Championship, I was left scratching my head to figure out how he managed to come in one under par and only three strokes off the lead. Phil managed four birdies against three bogeys for the round. Let's look at some of his numbers and keep in mind that there only thirty players in this event.
Stat #1. Driving Accuracy: Phil ranked tied for 29th in this category as he hit only three of fourteen fairways or 21.4%. Not a big surprise here as Phil was tied for 160th in this category during the year. But note that even tied for 160th, Phil was hitting 54.92% of his drives in the fairway. I assume an improvement in this category over the next three days.
Stat #2. Driving Distance: Phil ranked 3rd in this category averaging 319 yards off the tee. A few notes here are in order. First, Phil ranked 50th on the PGA Tour for the season in this category. Second, the PGA Tour measures this category as "the average number of yards per measured drive. These drives are measured on two holes per round. Care is taken to select two holes which face in opposite directions to counteract the effect of wind. Drives are measured to the point at which they come to rest regardless of whether they are in the fairway or not." So this stat was only determined drives on two holes which may or may not have landed in the fairway.
Stat#3. Strokes Gained-Putting: Phil ranked 27th in this category. During the year, he ranked tied for 5th. My expectation is that over the three remaining rounds of the Tour Championship he will be improving in this category especially since he seems to have found a new comfort level with his recent putting grip change.
Stat #4. Putts Per Round: Phil ranked dead last here on day one coming in with 33 putts for the round or ten more than Bo Van Pelt who leads in the category. Phil ranked 16th on the tour in this category during the year. Interesting to note here that BVP ranked 1st in this category but was last in Greens in Regulation.
Stat #5. Putts Per GIR: Phil ranked tied for 28th on day one at 1.875 putts per GIR
So, in four out of these five statistical categories, Mickelson ranks near or at the bottom of the thirty players in the field. How then does he manage to be only three strokes off the lead and tied for 12th place?
Two more stats to look at which will show some of Phil's magic. But you knew that was coming, didn't you?
Stat #6. Sand Saves: Phil ranked tied for 1st in this category at 100%. On three holes, Phil managed par or better after finding sand. On the par four 13th,after hitting his drive into a fairway bunker, Phil still managed to save par after getting on the green in regulation and two-putting for his par from about fifteen feet. On the par five 15th, after again hitting his drive into a fairway bunker, Phil manages to get a birdie after hitting his third shot from the intermediate rough to about four feet. On the par three 18th, Phil saved par from a greenside bunker after holing a putt of seven feet.
Stat #7. Greens in Regulation. You might think that a player who tied for 29th in driving accuracy might also not do to well in the GIR category, right?. But, as we've come to learn with Mr. Mickelson, nothing he does surprises us. Phil tied for 1st in GIR at 88.9%. For the record the other player tied for 1st in GIR was Zach Johnson.
It will be interesting to follow Mickelson over the last three rounds of this tournament. If he can find some improvement in those four categories in which he had difficulty in round one we might be looking at Phil walking out of East Lake with two trophies on Sunday.