Number crunching 2011: Bjorn up; Dougherty, Wilson down

Thomas Bjorn

Thomas Bjorn

UP: Thomas Bjorn

Ranking/movement: +166 (No. 270 to No. 104)

Why the rise? Bjorn’s play this season has taken the European Tour by surprise. Three victories in one season is a first for the Dane in a European Tour career that dates to 1996.

Bjorn, 40, had the best of starts to his 2011 campaign when he won the Qatar Masters in early February. He didn’t get much time to celebrate his 11th European Tour win. Soon afterward, his 73-year-old father, Ole, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and later died in May. Many believed Bjorn would not be able to raise his competitive juices enough afterward to carry on from Qatar, but he proved the doubters wrong.

Bjorn won back-to-back events at the Johnnie Walker Championship and Omega European Masters. He also finished fourth at the Open Championship.

The biggest improvement in Bjorn’s statistics comes in his stroke average, which is below 71 for the first time since 2005. His 70.86 average is just about a quarter-shot better than last year’s 71.14. He also posted a better putts per round (29.82) than last season (30.36).

The real reason, however, Bjorn said, was an increased belief in his game. After serving as vice captain at last year’s Ryder Cup, Bjorn came away more confident in his ability.

Bjorn says: “I knew that at my best I’m easily competitive with (the Ryder Cup) guys. The hunger is still there. I still have a massive amount I want to achieve. I want to give myself a realistic chance of winning a major championship.”

• • •

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Nick Dougherty

DOWN: Nick Dougherty

Ranking/movement: -484 (No. 457 to No. 941)

Why the fall? Many believe Dougherty should be challenging Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose for the right to be England’s best golfer. Instead, the three-time European Tour winner is languishing in the nether regions of golf.

Dougherty, 29, partnered with Donald on the 2001 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup, a team that also included Graeme McDowell.

The Englishman won three times between 2005 and ’09, but slipped to 121st on the European Money list in 2010 and has slipped even more this year.This year in 34 events, Dougherty had made only one cut, a tie for 45th at the Omega European Masters.

Dougherty’s problems this year could be attributed to too many coaches. After spending a few years under the guidance of Damian Taylor, he started the year with Englishman James Ridyard and then flew to the U.S. for two sessions with Sean Foley.

He returned to work with Taylor for most of the season. It hasn’t helped.

The Englishman’s stats this season make for depressing reading. His stroke average is 74.01, more than two shots worse than the 72.00 he posted last year, and nearly four shots worse than a career best of 70.87 in 2005.

For the first time in the Englishman’s career, his fairways hit rank was less than 50 percent (45.72) and greens in regulation average was below 60 percent (59.61).

Dougherty says: “Hopefully, I can look back at this period and see it as the most important part of my life. Going through what I’ve gone through teaches you a lot. I’ve been to some really bad places over the last couple of years.”

• • •

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Oliver Wilson

DOWN: Oliver Wilson

Ranking/movement: -246 (No. 157 to No. 403)

Why the fall? It’s hard to believe it was only three years ago that Wilson played in his first Ryder Cup. The former Augusta State player merited his place on the 2008 European team. He hasn’t been the same player since.

From seventh on the money list in 2009, after finishing 11th the year before, he dropped to 48th last year and was down to 130th this year, well outside the top 115.

Wilson’s stats this year aren’t much different from last year, but they are much worse than his post-Ryder Cup season of 2009, especially when it comes to his ballstriking. This year, the 31-year-old is more than a stroke per round higher than in ’09 (71.80 vs. 70.48). He posted a 71.57 stroke average last year.

The Englishman’s driving accuracy also has slipped over the past two seasons. In ’09, he hit 61.88 percent of fairways, dropped to 58.52 percent last year and is only a tad higher than 50 percent this year (52.34).

Wilson’s greens in regulation stats also have fallen. In ’09, he hit 74.04 percent of greens, dropped to 66.83 percent last year and to 65.61 percent this season.

Wilson said: “It’s been frustrating because I don’t feel as if I’m doing anything different from two years ago. I don’t feel as if I’m that far away from playing well.”

• • •

Other number-crunching stories

PGA Tour (Dec. 19): Webb Simpson leaps forward, while Jim Furyk falls back. Story.

LPGA Tour (Dec. 20): Stacy Lewis leaps forward, while Ai Miyazato falls back. Story.

PGA Tour (Dec. 21): Cameron Tringale makes a big move forward, while Camilo Villegas drops off. Story.

PGA Tour (Dec. 22): Gary Woodland powered his way up the rankings, while Sean O'Hair dipped considerably. Story.

LPGA/Futures Tour (Dec. 23): Tiffany Joh jumped significantly in 2011, while Song-Hee Kim had a year to forget. Story.

PGA Tour (Dec. 24): Kevin Streelman used a no-nonsense approach to move up the rankings while Heath Slocum struggled in 2011. Story.

Nationwide/Futures Tour (Dec. 26): Danny Lee had a comeback year in 2011, but Kathleen Ekey fell further backward. Story.

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