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Across the Pond

Can anyone win it? (Part 3)

by Matt Cooper
Updated On: April 19, 2020, 1:58 pm ET

In parts one and two of this study we’ve pretty much established that final round comebacks happen very infrequently.

Part one focused on the position of the eventual winner on the leaderboard with 18 holes to play and part two on the shots that player was in deficit (or not) with a lap to go.

To complete matters, here are a few further thoughts that have been prompted by this dizzying collection of numbers.

 

All Tours

The focus of attention has always been on the PGA and European Tours – and it was striking how similar the ratios were.

But what of the other circuits?

Incredibly, on both the two main women’s tour, plus the two second tiers, and even the pair at senior level, the rates are maintained with only slight differences.

For what it’s worth, seniors haven’t won from outside the top 20 and the Korn Ferry Tour is where most winners emerge from outside the top ten.

 

All Tours

 

The Exceptions

Something about the players who won from way back is eye-catching.

Eleven men emerged from outside the top 20 on the PGA and European Tours and of them only two were major championship winners (Stewart Cink and Padraig Harrington).

Two of the five European Tour instances could be deemed elite fields (the 2006 Scottish Open and 2017 BMW PGA Championship), two of six on the PGA Tour (the 2005 Honda Classic and 2016 Farmers Insurance). Only four of 11 in total.

It arouses another thought – how do the absolute elite events bear up to scrutiny?

 

The Majors and World Golf Championship

As the above hinted at, there have been nothing in the way of extraordinary witnessed in the final rounds of the sport’s big four tournaments.

Indeed, in the 21st century both the Masters and PGA Championship winners were in the top five with one round to play.

The U.S. Open has had two champions emerge from outside the top five (Angel Cabrera T7 in 2007 and Webb Simpson T8 in 2012), whilst the Open had three (Stewart Cink T6 in 2009, Phil Mickelson T9 in 2012 and Zach Johnson T6 in 2015).

And what of the WGC strokeplay events? Very similar – no-one jumped from outside the top ten and there were only two players who were beyond the top five.

Hunter Mahan was T7 ahead of the final round of the 2010 Bridgestone Invitational and Martin Kaymer T6 before the last lap in the 2011 HSBC Champions.

 

Majors & WGC

 

All of this leads to a final thought – if the elite event produce no late drama, what of the elite performers?

 

The Top Players

Tiger Woods has won from a long way back, but just the once. He was T18 and eight shots behind the leader Ernie Els in the European Tour’s 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic – Woods closed with a 65 that forced a play-off with the South African; Tiger won it.

But on the PGA Tour he has never emerged from outside the top ten and only three times won from beyond the top five.

I lack the access to all of Phil Mickelson’s career stats, but in the 21st century? He’s never won from outside the top ten with 18 holes to play (and just three times from outside the top five).

World number one Rory McIlroy? He’s won twice from T7, otherwise he was always T5 or better with 18 holes to play.

What about heavy winner Lee Westwood? Just three times from outside the top three, but he did once jump from T11 in the 1999 KLM Open.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson? None have won from beyond the top five (Dustin Johnson has done it just the once, his first win).

To at least some degree this is all explained by the fact that the world’s top players compete, most often, in the best fields. But it might be worth recalling when a minor event heads into the last round with a world’s top ten talent hovering just outside the top ten.

A final notion to close with – have the Spanish got final round charges sussed?

Jon Rahm has twice flown home on a wet sail, winning the 2019 Irish Open from T9 and the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open from T13.

Miguel Angel Jimenez has won from T25 on the European Tour and T15 on the Champions Tour. Rafa Cabrera Bello has won on Europe’s main and second tiers from outside the top five.

And Sergio Garcia? He’s won from outside the top five no less than six times (four of them on the PGA Tour).