“You guys probably have the stats, but I putted great all week,” said Lucas Glover after winning the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday.
We not only have the stats, we have the PGA Tour’s new strokes gained-putting stat, which shows that the word “great” does apply. In fact, Glover’s putting performance was the ninth best in a PGA Tour event since 2004, which is as far back as complete ShotLink data goes.
Glover gained 2.651 strokes per round based on his putting results compared to a Tour average performance from the distances he putted from. That translates to cutting 11 strokes off his score over the course of four rounds (rounding off to a whole number)—pretty important when you consider that the event went into a playoff. Runner-up Jonathan Byrd actually putted quite well, too, but he only gained six strokes for the week with his putting.
Here are the 10 best putting performances by a winner since 2004, based on strokes gained on the greens per round (source: PGA Tour):
Ben Curtis, 2006 Booz Allen Classic, 3.567
J.J. Henry, 2006 Travelers Championship, 3.299
Jeff Maggert, 2006 St. Jude Classic, 3.089
Adam Scott, 2004 Booz Allen Classic, 3.008
Vijay Singh, 2006 The Barclays, 2.969
Hunter Mahan, 2007 Travelers Championship, 2.740
Jason Bohn, 2010 Zurich Classic, 2.691
Stuart Appleby, 2004 SBS Championships, 2.657
Lucas Glover, 2011 Wells Fargo Championship, 2.651
Ben Crane, 2005 U.S. Bank Championship, 2.641
Curtis helped himself by 14 strokes on the greens in winning the 2006 Booz Allen in a week when he didn’t miss a putt inside 8 feet. These players aren’t all great putters, which shows that anyone on Tour can get hot for a week. Scott and Singh are especially surprising, but the numbers show that Scott was actually a good putter before his stroke abandoned him later in the decade. As for Singh, that’s more of a one-week aberration. In fact, how owns five of the worst nine putting performances by a winner since 2004:
Vijay Singh, 2008 WGC-Bridgestone, -1.139
Sean O’Hair, 2009 Wells Fargo Championship, -0.815
Steve Flesch, 2007 Reno-Tahoe Open, -0.812
Tiger Woods, 2007 WGC-CA Championship, -0.793
Vijay Singh, 2004 Deutsche Bank Championship, -0.368
Mark Hensby, 2004 John Deere Classic, -0.219
Vijay Singh, 2004 Shell Houston Open, -0.155
Vijay Singh, 2005 Shell Houston Open, -0.083
Vijay Singh, 2004 84 Lumber Classic, -0.081
A negative number indicates putting that was worse than average (strokes lost). Of the 279 winners on the PGA Tour since 2004 in events fully covered by ShotLink, 16 have putted worse than average. While that’s not a high number, just the fact that it’s possible to win with sub-standard putting shows that the Tour is not just a putting contest nor is the winner necessarily determined by the hottest putter. The average winner gains 1.275 strokes per round on the field with his putting, or about five strokes for the tournament.
One of the most interesting cases came two years ago at the Wells Fargo, where O’Hair won despite being the only player who made the cut not to make a single putt longer than 10 feet. Twelve of his 21 birdies came on putts shorter than 5 feet, and five of them came on two-putts.
Glover, by contrast, made 10 putts outside of 10 feet, including a four longer than 20 feet. (He also made a 30-footer using a putter from the fringe that didn’t even count in his putting stats.) One of those was a 63-footer for a birdie on the par-5 10th hole in the second round.
“After a poor drive, a pretty average chip-out, and a good shot that went too far, then I make a long putt, and you walk off there saying, ‘Looked like a 4 the whole time.’ That was kind of when I thought to myself, well, it might be one of those weeks, because I got some breaks.”
Indeed, there is luck involved in making a putt that long—but those are the putts that gain the most relative to the field. So while strokes gained-putting is the best measurement of putting skill, it does involve some fortune over the course of only a single round or tournament.
Glover’s surge to the front in the final round was fueled by three long ones—a 30-footer from the fringe for a birdie on the 8th, a 27-footer for an eagle on the 10th, and a 20-footer for a birdie on the 13th.
But he was also solid on the short ones. He didn’t miss a putt inside 6 feet all week, nor did he have a three-putt. Down the stretch, he holed a 4-footer on the 16th, a 6-footer on the 17th (where he two-putted from 75 feet), and a 7-footer on the 18th.
Glover has never been a particularly good putter during his career. His career-best ranking in strokes gained-putting was 64th in 2009, the year he won the U.S. Open. But his performance at the Wells Fargo vaulted him into first place in 2011. Based on his past history, it’s doubtful Glover can keep up that pace. But considering that he hadn’t won since the 2009 U.S. Open, he’ll take a victory any way he can get it.