After the U.S. Open, many of the game’s top players from the PGA Tour and the European Tour play a similar schedule, competing in the British Open, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the PGA Championship and three tournaments in FedEx Cup Playoffs series that led up to this week’s Tour Championship. While there is no official strokes gained data available from the British Open, we do have ShotLink-powered stats at the other events listed, and that makes it possible to spot short-term trends and compare different aspects of each player’s game.
Being a Ryder Cup year, those trends also provide clues about the strengths of players on each team and reveal weaknesses that might be exposed by the pressure of the biennial event.
For example, analyzing the strokes gained data on each of the 12 American players since the completion of the U.S. Open shows that the single-biggest strokes gained advantage on the squad is Justin Thomas’ approach the green average of 4.167. In the six ShotLink events Thomas played, he typically gained more than four shots against the field based solely on the quality of his play from the fairway. His iron play has been a bigger weapon than Brooks Koepka’s driving (4.077), Tiger Woods’ approach game (3.921) or Dustin Johnson’s performance off the tee (3.836).
On the European side, the most significant strokes gained advantage during the same period has been Francesco Molinari’s 4.56 strokes gained approach the green average. His play from the fairway has been even more dominant than Rory McIlroy’s performance off the tee (3.825).
(Note: Thorbjorn Olesen only played in two PGA Tour events with ShotLink after the U.S. Open, and the European Tour does not make strokes gained stats for individual tournaments available. So his data was too incomplete to consider for this article.)
Bryson DeChambeau won two FedEx Cup Playoffs events heading into the Tour Championship and had earned a strokes gained total average of 6.972 in his six ShotLink events since the U.S. Open. But as you can see in the chart below, Johnson has had the highest strokes gained total average on the American team. His average was a whopping 8.229.
It may come as a shock, but the numbers also reveal that Koepka, the winner of this season’s U.S. Open and PGA Championship, is in a putting slump heading into the Ryder Cup. In his six ShotLink events since his triumph at Shinnecock, statistically, his strokes gained putting average of -1.541 made him the worst putter on the American team during that time. The only event where he had a positive strokes gained putting for the week was the PGA Championship (4.061).
Patrick Reed, the winner of the 2018 Masters, has also had a negative strokes gained putting average of -0.017, as well as a negative strokes gained approach the green average of -0.483.
Phil Mickelson, who ranks fourth on the PGA Tour in season-long strokes gained putting (0.701) has been inconsistent on the greens since Shinnecock Hills. His average has been 0.249, but for the week at the BMW Championship it was -5.313, and at the Dell Technologies Championship it was 4.571. Mickelson is also one of only three players on the U.S. team who had a negative strokes gained off the tee average after the U.S. Open, with Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth being the other two players.
As the chart above shows, Molinari, aided by a massive win at the Quicken Loans National, had the highest strokes gained total average (7.556) in ShotLink events. The Italian beat out McIlroy (6.819), Justin Rose (5.964) and Tommy Fleetwood (5.896).
Europe’s weak links appear to be Paul Casey, captain’s pick Sergio Garcia and its best putter, Alex Noren.
After losing the Travelers Championship after holding the 54-hole lead, Casey’s game has been off and he has not putted well, while Garcia has been inconsistent all year. And in Noren’s five ShotLink events since the U.S. Open, the Swede has a negative strokes gained average off the tee, approach the green and around the green.
The chart also shows that all four of Thomas Bjorn’s captain’s picks have had a negative strokes gained putting average in ShotLink events since the U.S. Open.
While the European team will enjoy a home-course advantage and the support of most of the fans at Le Golf National, the numbers say that the Americans have the best overall players and the fewest weak links. Gwk