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Comparing Woods, Mickelson and Spieth to the leaders on and around the green over the past 15 seasons

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Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson are all names casual golf fans will likely know. Tiger is up there with Jack Nicklaus in the discussion of the best golfer of all time and it’s arguable that he already has surpassed him even if Tiger hasn’t broken Nicklaus’ record for most major wins yet. Spieth and Mickelson also both have multiple major wins and have played consistently well on the Tour for several years. Mickelson is also widely regarded as being phenomenal with a wedge, while Spieth often comes up in discussions about the best golfers on the green and saving par after they miss the green in regulation.

How accurate is that, though?

By using data from the PGA Tour measuring five different statistics on or around the green over the past 15 seasons — sand save percentage, scrambling, birdie conversion percentage, 1-putt percentage and 3-putt avoidance — it is possible to measure Tiger, Spieth and Mickelson to the Tour leaders in those categories to see how they stack up.

In sand save percentage, both Tiger and Spieth have finished inside the top 25 twice in the past 15 seasons. Mickelson’s done it four times. However, that’s not even close to the most number of top 25 seasons, as seven golfers have finished inside the top 25 in sand saves at least seven times during the past 15 seasons. Justin Rose leads the Tour with nine top-25 seasons during this time frame.

sandsavetop25 - Comparing Woods, Mickelson and Spieth to the leaders on and around the green over the past 15 seasons
Justin Rose leads the PGA Tour with the most top-25 seasons in sand saves.

So Tiger, Spieth and Mickelson don’t quite match the most number of top-25 seasons, but what about total sand save percentage? Spieth sits at 55.1 percent, Mickelson is at 54.5 percent and Tiger has 54.3 percent. So where do those numbers rank among golfers with at least 300 total bunkers hit?

The answer – all three are outside the top 25 and Mickelson and Tiger are both outside the top 30. However, their percentage isn’t much worse than the percentage for Chris Riley and Luke Donald, who are the top two golfers in total sand save percentage. Riley and Donald both have a sand save percentage over 59.7 percent, which is a little over four percent better than Spieth and five percent better than Mickelson and Tiger.

Spieth, Mickelson and Tiger don’t quite measure up to the Tour leaders in sand save percentage, but they are better than a majority of Tour golfers — including Rory McIlroy.

totalsandsave - Comparing Woods, Mickelson and Spieth to the leaders on and around the green over the past 15 seasons
Among golfers with more than 300 bunkers hit, Chris Riley has the best sand save percentage, while Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson each rank above Rory McIlroy.

They don’t quite measure up to the leaders in sand save percentage, but what about scrambling? That’s the ability for golfers to get up and down for par after missing the green in regulation, and it’s an area Spieth is considered especially strong in.

Spieth has had three top-25 seasons in scrambling over the past 15 years, while Mickelson had four and Tiger had five. Again, this doesn’t match up to the most number of top-25 seasons, where three golfers reached double digits. Matt Kuchar and Brian Gay led the way with 11 top-25 seasons apiece, while Kevin Na had 10.

Total scrambling percentage, however, is a different story. Among golfers with at least 1,000 missed greens in regulation, Tiger is fifth with 63.3 percent and Spieth is 10th with 62.5 percent. Mickelson lags a bit behind with a 59.7 scrambling percentage, which ranks No. 91. He trails both Tiger and Spieth in addition to McIlroy, who ranks 54th with a 60.2 scrambling percentage but is ahead of Dustin Johnson (No. 256, 56.9 scrambling percentage).

scrambling - Comparing Woods, Mickelson and Spieth to the leaders on and around the green over the past 15 seasons
Among golfers with at least 1,000 total missed greens, Brian Gay leads the PGA Tour in scrambling, while Woods and Spieth rank in the top 10.

In birdie conversion percentage, however, Mickelson compares much more favorably. He leads the PGA Tour with 13 top-25 seasons in the past 15 years, which is three more seasons than the three other golfers with double digit top-25 seasons. Spieth and Tiger are part of a three-way tie for 10th with six top-25 seasons.

All three golfers are also inside the top 10 in total birdie conversion percentage among golfers with more than 2,000 greens in regulation. Spieth leads the Tour with a 34.5 birdie conversion percentage, while Mickelson is seventh with 33.2 percent and Tiger is 10th with 33 percent.

birdieconversion - Comparing Woods, Mickelson and Spieth to the leaders on and around the green over the past 15 seasons
Among golfers with over 2,000 greens in regulation, Spieth leads the PGA Tour. Mickelson and Woods both rank inside the top 10.

The final comparison is a combination of 1-putt percentage and 3-putt avoidance, filtering out any golfers who have played fewer than 2,000 total holes. When golfers play well, they record a lot of 1-putts and avoid 3-putts, so the best place to be on the chart is the area with a high 1-putt percentage and low 3-putt percentage.

scatterplot 2 - Comparing Woods, Mickelson and Spieth to the leaders on and around the green over the past 15 seasons
Spieth, Mickelson and Woods all rank favorably with other PGA Tour golfers, as they have good one-putt percentages and low three-putt percentages.

Tiger, Mickelson and Spieth are each where a golfer wants to be. All three have pretty good 1-putt percentages – Spieth has the second-best (43.0 percent) behind Peter Malnati (43.1 percent) — while Mickelson’s 41.4 1-putt percentage is the 14th-highest and Tiger’s 40.4 percentage ranks No. 46. The trio also have pretty low 3-putt percentages (Tiger’s is 2.57 percent, Spieth’s is 2.58 percent and Mickelson’s is 2.73 percent), but there are just more golfers with lower 3-putt percentages.

All of this helps to illustrate a larger point. Tiger, Spieth and Mickelson may not be consistently inside the top 10 in statistics like these — Spieth has the most, ranking in the top 10 in three statistics and leading in birdie conversion percentage, while Tiger ranks in the top 10 in two statistics and Mickelson in one — they still perform well in these areas and are consistently easily within the top half of the PGA Tour in these facets of the game on and around the greens.

I am a senior journalism and sports media and communication double major at UNL.