Monday 19 February 2018

Lies, damned lies and how stats lie for Harrington

Padraig Harrington needs a win and fast if he's to play with confidence at the Ryder Cup.
Padraig Harrington needs a win and fast if he's to play with confidence at the Ryder Cup.

Karl MacGinty

THERE are lies, damned lies and statistics, especially in golf. Take the record of Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup. How many times in recent months have you heard Woods' 10 wins, 13 losses and two halves in 25 matches at five Ryder Cups dismissed as "modest" or "poor" or "disappointing"?

On the face of it, those figures don't look especially impressive, until you take into account the performance of other American players at the Ryder Cup since Woods made his debut in 1997.

In reality, Tiger's strike rate has been the hottest of any US player in that period. His record of 10 wins is equalled only by Phil Mickelson, who has played 30 matches at seven Ryder Cups.

Since making his debut at Oak Hill in 1995, Mickelson has won 10, lost 14 and halved six of his games, giving him a grand total of 13 points, or two more than Woods from five extra matches.

Perhaps the best criterion for judgment of a player's performance at the Ryder Cup is his record in singles and Tiger has performed better on Sunday than Mickelson or any other American in the modern era. Woods is unbeaten in four Sunday showdowns since his shock defeat at the hands of Costantino Rocca at Valderrama in 1997.


Since then, Woods has slammed unfortunate rookie Andrew Coltart at Brookline; halved with Jesper Parnevik after Paul McGinley had sunk the winning putt for Europe at the Belfry in 2002; stuffed Paul Casey 3&2 in singles in Detroit and beaten Robert Karlsson by the same margin at The K Club.

And don't forget Europe's near domination in that period, with America tasting victory only at Brookline in 1999 and Valhalla in 2008 and falling to landslide defeats at Oakland Hills in 2004 and The K Club in 2006.

So in Woods' case, the Ryder Cup numbers usually bandied about by his critics really don't add up. And now that he's slowly regaining form and focus after upheaval in his private life, Woods is an absolute shoo-in for one of US captain Corey Pavin's four wild cards today in New York.

Another will go almost certainly to Zach Johnson, while Pavin must be tempted to give one to Anthony Kim, a talismanic figure at Valhalla two years ago, despite the 25-year-old's four missed cuts since his return last month after thumb surgery.

Despite strong lobbying for gifted rookie Rickie Fowler (21), the other card seems more likely to go to a proven Ryder Cup performer and Major winner like Stewart Cink, or another formidable putter, Justin Leonard.

In Europe, the sight of 46-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez pounding out his third victory of the season at Crans-Sur-Sierre on Sunday could not have contrasted more starkly with Padraig Harrington's departure from The Deutsche Bank Championship and the FedEx Cup play-offs the previous afternoon.

It would be wrong to paint the cigar-chewing, Rioja-quaffing Spaniard as the 'Laughing Cavalier' of European golf. Jimenez cares passionately about his game and can be as fiery as that famous curly red hair suggests. Jimenez gives the impression that the only time he feels pressure is when the corkscrew goes missing down the back of the sofa.

Although Harrington these days appears more tangled up in theory than a muddled mathematician -- before heading home from America, the Dubliner said he needed to find more trust on the golf course, insisting his golf game was "solid".

Statistics certainly appear to support Harrington's argument. The US Tour website offers megabytes of information about Harrington's figures for this season and they compare favourably with 2008, when he swept to World No 3 on the back of two Major Championship victories.

He's hitting more tee shots into the rough than the fairway these days and missing more greens, but the statistical difference is not as marked as Harrington's 25 months without a win on Tour might suggest.

If anything, he's hitting many approach shots a tad closer these days than in 2008 and is putting better too. Though not sinking as many in the five-to-10 feet range, Harrington is currently ranked second on the US Tour from inside five feet and in three-putt avoidance.

What the statistics don't reveal is how far into trouble he hits those wayward tee shots or the number of times he second-guesses himself on the fairway and ends up missing approach shots short -- errors which last Friday too often led to bogey and double bogey.

Harrington usually insists that performance is far more significant than results to the professional golfer. But no matter what statistics suggest about the state of his game, he badly needs a win, fast, if he's to play with confidence at the Ryder Cup.

The 39-year-old needs to find tournament action closer to home in the run-up to the Ryder Cup, with the European Tour's inaugural Vivendi Pro-Am in Paris and the Irish PGA at Seapoint, both taking place the weekend before Celtic Manor (September 23-26), the most likely options.

A Seapoint showdown with Shane Lowry, Damien McGrane and local hero Des Smyth for a fourth successive (and seventh in all) Irish PGA title offers Harrington the best prospect of a sorely needed victory.

In the meantime, the Irishman probably could do no better for himself right now than to lock away his golf clubs for the next few days and go on the razzle with Jimenez.

Smyth in flying form ahead of Songdo test

DES SMYTH was out of Woburn on Sunday almost as quickly as the champagne corks which popped in celebration of his victory at the Travis Perkins Senior Masters.

Smyth (57) sped straight to Heathrow Airport and an overnight flight to South Korea for this week's Songdo Championship, a lucrative $3m tournament sanctioned by the US Champions Tour. Just 57 players will begin the 54-hole race on Friday for a US$455,000 first prize, more than seven times the €47,853 Smyth banked on Sunday.

Smyth's first tournament victory in three years could hardly be better timed as he bids for his third win on the Champions Tour -- he won twice in 2005.

In all, he's bagged 13 titles on the world's major tours and at least one in each of the last five decades, a haul which includes eight victories on the regular European Tour and three on the European Seniors Tour.

The two-time Ryder Cup player, and one of Ian Woosnam's vice-captains at the K Club in 2006, remains the oldest winner on the European Tour following his Madeira Island Open success at age 48 and 38 days in 2001.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport