2002: Consistency counts: Just look at the numbers
By James Achenbach
The wittiest joke at the U.S. Open made fun of a standard U.S. Golf Association credo: Ladies and gentlemen, we are not here to identify the best golfer in the world. We already know who he is. We are here to identify the second-best golfer in the world.
So how did Phil Mickelson, runner-up in the U.S. Open, cement his position as the second-best golfer in the world? He was consistent at Bethpage Black – first in birdies (17), tied for seventh in fairways hit (73 percent), tied for eighth in greens hit (63 percent), tied for 13th in number of putts (an average of 29 per round) and 18th in driving distance (275.5 yards).
Mickelson demonstrated once again that he is a superb all-around golfer. Sure, he sometimes played a game that might be called Phil in Adventureland, but he managed to avoid all major obstacles except Tiger Woods.
Woods, meanwhile, showed that statistics don’t always provide a precise insight into performance. For the week, he was tied for 53rd in putting, yet it surely was his putting in the first two rounds that won the championship.
Woods missed only four putts under 10 feet during those two opening rounds. He was a putting machine, particularly on par-saving putts, and that allowed him to distance himself from the rest of the field.
For 72 holes, Woods finished first in greens hit (74 percent), tied for fourth in birdies (13), was seventh in driving distance (280.5) and tied for seventh in fairways hit (73 percent). Then there was that putting anomaly. It didn’t help him statistically that he three-putted the first two greens of the final round and finished the day with 36 putts.
For the week, he had 28, 27, 32 and 36 putts for an average of 30.75 per round. The No. 1 putter, Jeff Maggert, averaged 26.75 putts, or four fewer per round than Woods.
This U.S. Open was not decided by birdies. It was decided by pars, and Woods made more pivotal par-saving putts than anyone else in contention. He totaled only 13 birdies for the week, four fewer than Mickelson, but he had only 10 bogeys. The adventurous Mickelson had 15 bogeys and one double bogey.
The third and 17th holes, both par 3s, were kind to Woods and not so kind to Mickelson. The difference between the two players on those holes was four strokes, in favor of Woods. While Mickelson had four bogeys and one birdie in eight tries, Woods had no bogeys and one birdie.
There were several other defining moments for Woods, notably his final-hole birdies in rounds 1 and 2. In the third round, after several players had closed in on him, he birdied 15 and 17 to give himself a four-stroke cushion heading into the final round.
The third and fourth holes of the last round were crucial, too, because Woods was vulnerable after three-putting the first two greens. Sergio Garcia, two strokes behind at that point, three-putted No. 3 to fall another shot back. Then Mickelson, also two behind, missed the green on the par-5 fourth hole with an iron shot and failed to make a birdie.
At a point when either might have closed to within a stroke of Woods, Garcia and Mickelson stumbled. Although Mickelson found himself four back at the turn, he once again moved within two shots after a birdie at 13.
Woods, however, followed with birdie at 13 to push the margin back to three. Whatever he needed to do, he accomplished.
“That’s why he is the No. 1 player in the world,” said the world’s second-best golfer. “He never stops coming at you.”