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LA QUINTA, Calif. – I have long believed that golf statistics – if we are honest in our evaluation and interpretation – should help us learn and improve as competitive golfers.

photo

Roger Tambellini hit 18 greens in regulation during the first round of the Bob Hope Classic.

So it was that I watched Roger Tambellini hit 18 greens in regulation during the first round of the Bob Hope Classic. Tambellini played La Quinta Country Club and was a big 18-for-18, a feat rarely accomplished on the PGA Tour or anywhere else.

Tambellini shot 6-under 66 and was four strokes off the pace of Shane Bertsch, who bushwhacked par at PGA West (Nicklaus private course) with a 10-under 62.

So what can we learn from Tambellini’s accomplishment? First we must remind ourselves that some courses play easier than others. Courses in the Palm Springs area tend to be user-friendly, so nobody was particularly shocked that Tambellini hit 100 percent of the greens or Bertsch posted a 10-under score.

In the first full-field PGA Tour event of the year, at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Tambellini and Bertsch both made the cut yet neither hit two-thirds of the greens for the week. Tambellini registered 63.89 percent, Bertsch 59.72 percent.

Waialae is tighter and trickier. The greens are smaller. In the course of a season, with the Tour visiting all sorts of courses in all sorts of conditions, statistics tend to even out. There are highs, there are lows, and there are average numbers for an entire year.

All of us should study our stats on an annual basis. The numbers demonstrate who we are as golfers, and they provide a roadmap for the path to improvement.

After watching Tambellini, I started wondering: What would PGA Tour stats from the entire 2009 season reveal to me?

Here are some of my conclusions:

• For a famous golfer, Phil Mickelson compiled a collection of unimaginably dumpy statistics. Mickelson finished third on the 2009 PGA Tour money list with $5,332,755, yet he was 127th in greens in regulation (64.29 percent), 108th in actual scoring average (70.83, not adjusted), 179th in driving accuracy (52.21 percent of the fairways) and 33rd in the All-Around ranking (a combination of eight key stat categories). Mickelson even tied for 69th in putts per round (28.92).

What does this mean? When Mickelson was bad, he was very bad. When he was good, he was exceptionally good. He posted seven top 10s in 18 PGA Tour starts, and he won three times.

Just think how great he might become if he adds consistency to his game.

Actual scoring average is one of the worst indicators of PGA Tour success. One reason is that the top players often concentrate on the toughest courses.

Look at these higher-than-expected scoring averages for 2009: Sergio Garcia tied for 74th (70.62), Y.E. Yang tied for 93rd (70.72), Robert Allenby was 104th (70.81), Boo Weekley tied for 115th (70.88), Padraig Harrington tied for 130th (71.05), Stewart Cink tied for 136th (71.10) and Aaron Baddeley tied for 154th (71.31).

Meanwhile, long-hitting Robert Garrigus (the longest driver on Tour with a 312-yard average) tied for 39th in actual scoring average but was 127th on the final money list.

The number of golfers who finished the year with a driving average higher than 300 yards? A lucky 13, including (in order) Garrigus, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Tag Ridings, Gary Woodland, Nick Watney, J.B. Holmes, Angel Cabrera, Troy Matteson, Harrison Frazar, Charley Hoffman, Scott Piercy and Mickelson.

It was no surprise that Tiger Woods finished first in the All-Around category. He was No. 1 in money, top-10 finishes, scoring average and birdie average.

Drive for show and putt for dough? Woods accomplished both in crucial situations, yet his driving and putting stats were far from spectacular. He was 21st in driving distance (298.4-yard average) and tied for 86th in driving accuracy (64.29 percent of the fairways). He tied for 22nd in average number of putts (28.44).

How many players on the PGA Tour averaged less than 28 putts per round?

None. Brad Faxon was first at 28.00, while Baddeley was second at 28.09.

• The best player most overlooked? No doubt it was John Senden, who finished 27th on the money list ($2,305,492) and actually won two stat categories (greens in regulation at 70.89 percent) and par-5 performance (142-under-par for the year, in which he played 100 rounds).

Many amateur golfers surely have unrealistic expectations of hitting greens. If Senden’s 70.89 was the best on the PGA Tour – that’s an average of 12.76 greens per round – it seems clear that ordinary golfers would hit far less.

• Finally, here is the stat that rulesmakers and golf club manufacturers will be following closely in 2010: driving accuracy. Smaller grooves are supposed to penalize players who miss the fairways. We’ll see.

In 2009, many of the top players couldn’t hit the fairway if they fell out of a golf cart. Mickelson was 179th in driving accuracy, Harrington 171st, Watney 155th, Davis Love III 143rd, Retief Goosen 139th, Garcia 138th, Vijay Singh 131st, Camilo Villegas 126th, Sean O’Hair 123rd. The list goes on and on.

You gotta love statistics. They don’t lie.

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