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Monday, January 19, 2009
Updated: January 20, 10:03 PM ET
Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter

What could possibly bring the likes of Yogi Berra, Alice Cooper, Bo Jackson, Huey Lewis, Keith Jackson, Dan Quayle, Evan Longoria, Michael Bolton, Dan Fouts, Kevin Nealon and Kurt Russell together? That would be one of the most unique and most "celebrated" golf pro-ams: The 50th Bob Hope Classic, hosted by Arnold Palmer.

Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter

Every golfer and golf fan knows the sport is a game of numbers. One of the most distinct characteristics of golf is that any player's efforts are summarized by an absolute and final statistic: the score. However, as any visitor to the 19th hole knows, the story of the game cannot be told in full by the tally at the end of the round.

"Golf Stats: The Numbers That Matter" is your weekly source of insight into the numbers that make a difference in golf, focusing on the PGA Tour. Whether you're looking to wow your buddies in your Saturday foursome or get a little extra help for your fantasy team or are just a stats junkie, this blog is for you.

Every week, this sliver of the Internet will be your one-stop shop for the unique and significant golf stats that best tell the stories beyond the scores.

The tourney is self-titled "Golf's Best Celebrity Pro-Am" and features five days of golf across four courses. The PGA Tour field is headlined by David Toms, Stephen Ames, Steve Stricker and former champions Justin Leonard, Mike Weir, D.J. Trahan and Chad Campbell.

Half a Century?
Putting together crazy casts like the above has led to some moments of note. Focusing on the golf, these include:

• Palmer, the Master of Ceremonies, has been treated well at this event, most notably winning six times between 1959 and 1973. The '73 win marked Palmer's last PGA Tour victory. At age 43, he defeated Jack Nicklaus and a young Johnny Miller by two strokes.

• In 1999, David Duval posted the only 59 in the final round of a PGA Tour event. He began the day seven shots behind leader Fred Couples. After his round, Duval spoke with candor: "I'm not gonna sit here and lie to you, I was more excited about the score than having a chance to win the event."

Duval is back in action this week. A decade later, he would be excited to have a chance to win the golf tournament this year, regardless of the score.

• In 2001, Joe Durant broke the scoring record at this event on the strength of 36 birdies and an eagle, for a 90-hole total of 36-under. Palmer showed a glimpse of his former desert magic that year by shooting his age, a 1-under 71 on his own Palmer Course at PGA West. It was the third time in PGA Tour history that a player shot his age. Palmer ribbed reporters in a postround press conference, saying, "I wondered why in the hell you wanted me in here. I couldn't figure it out."

• The 1995 tournament featured one of the most distinguished pairings in U.S. history. Defending champion Scott Hoch played with Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford and the tournament host, Bob Hope. As for the presidential scores, Bush was the "Presidential medalist" with a 92, followed by Clinton with a 93 and Ford with a 100.

Inside The Numbers

Want more stats? Dive right in.
• PGA Tour money list
• FedEx Cup points list
• Official World Golf Rankings
• Driving distance
• Driving accuracy
• Greens in regulation
• Putting average
• Most top-10 finishes
• Sand-save percentage
• Birdies per round
• Total eagles
• Most cuts made
• PGA Tour schedule, results
• Desert Golf Is Dessert for These Guys
Desert golf is a welcome early-season treat for many PGA Tour players. As history shows, the courses at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., are some of the most birdie-friendly venues they will see in 2009. Considered the "Mecca of Golf," the Palm Springs area offers perfectly manicured courses with backdrops including the San Bernardino and Santa Rosa Mountains.

Most of the featured courses are relatively short and forgiving; the greens are much more readable and consistent than those seen on the recent leg of the Aloha Tour. Another scoring factor: the elements, which almost never come into play at La Quinta. This desert area features 354 days of sunshine annually, and less than 6 inches of rain. We can expect temperatures in the low 70s and likely less than 5 mph of wind. The numbers don't lie: The 2008 Bob Hope Classic featured four of the eight easiest courses on tour.

2009's courses: The four courses that make up the 50th Bob Hope Classic will be Bermuda Dunes, PGA West (Palmer Course), Silver Rock and the new attraction, PGA West (Jack Nicklaus Course).

• Bermuda Dunes: This course wasn't played by the PGA Tour in 2008. But back in 2007, it was easy as pie, ranking among the tour's least difficult courses (53rd out of 55). Bermuda Dunes plays short at 7,017 yards and par 72. (Consider that Waialae, host of last week's Sony Open, played 7,044 and par 70.) The course record is owned by Pat Perez, who shot a 61 in the second round of the 2003 Bob Hope.

• PGA West (Palmer Course): Designed by Arnie in 1986, this tasty track was the third-easiest course on tour in 2008 (52nd out of 54). At 6,930 yards, the Palmer Course is the shortest of the four in use this week. Last year, PGA West gave up the most birdies per round (4.65), yielded the third-highest eagle average (142.9 holes per) and was the third-easiest in putting average (1.734).

• Silver Rock: This is one of the longest courses the players will see all year (7,578 yards), but the putting surfaces and fairways have been kind to the field. Last year, Silver Rock was the tour's easiest course in terms of putting average (1.72) and was the third-most forgiving in driving accuracy (76.23 percent). All things considered, Silver Rock was ranked 47th out of 54 courses in difficulty in 2008.

• PGA West (Nicklaus Course): This will be the first year the PGA Tour plays the Nicklaus Tournament Course. For tournament play, the course is 7,204 yards. It is one of the only courses in the world to feature two island greens. Like the other PGA West courses, it is forgiving off the tee, though members claim it is more demanding off the tee. We shall see if it plays the same way for some of the PGA Tour's finest and Hollywood's most famous.

Fantasy Foursome
Examining the course and tourney history, it's clear you want your fantasy team to be full of pros with firepower. The other item to note is that, even more so than during a regular week on the tour, this week will be a 90-hole marathon, not a sprint. There will be an abundance of low numbers. Of the players in this week's field, here are your 2009 leaders in par-breakers:

Going Low

Rank Player Percentage No. of birdies, eagles No. of holes Rounds
1 Dustin Johnson 33.33 24 72 4
5 Justin Leonard 29.17 21 72 4
5 Kevin Na 29.17 21 72 4
8 David Berganio, Jr. 27.78 10 36 2
12 Alex Cejka 26.39 19 72 4
12 D.J. Trahan 26.39 38 144 8
15 Daniel Chopra 25.93 28 108 6
16 Steve Lowery 25.69 37 144 8
• More PGA Tour statistics

Although this data is fun, and we get an idea of early-season scoring prowess, the number of rounds is just too few to draw any meaningful conclusions. Examining the data from 2008 provides more potential for a qualitative statistical analysis, but as we all know, it's a brand-new golf season. That said, here are last year's leaders in par-breakers who will be competing this week:

Breaking Through

Rank Player Percentage No. of birdies, eagles No. of holes Rounds
1 Ryan Palmer 23.35 290 1242 69
2 Robert Garrigus 22.04 357 1620 90
5 John Huston 21.73 219 1008 56
9 Pat Perez 21.07 349 1656 93
11 Jason Gore 21.04 356 1692 94
15 Steve Marino 20.92 448 2142 119
16 Chad Campbell 20.8 352 1692 94
17 Martin Laird 20.75 366 1764 98
20 Joe Ogilvie 20.61 371 1800 100
20 Ben Crane 20.61 319 1548 86

No single statistic is the end-all-be-all for predictive purposes, but I give extra weight to par-breakers for the Hope given the relative ease of the courses and duration of the event. Taking some inference from these charts, examining recent play and using a bit of the most important fantasy information -- the gut check -- here are my picks.

Plan A: Justin Leonard, Steve Marino, David Toms, Webb Simpson

Plan B: Kevin Na, Steve Stricker, Chad Campbell, Jeff Maggert

Best of luck to all the players. Enjoy the cameos and the extra day of golf this early in the season!

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