Up and Down: Bubba‘s Rolling It

Up and Down: Bubba‘s Rolling It

This article is part of our Up and Down series.

While the PGA Tour is on pause, Len Hochberg will periodically examine two golfers – one who was playing well when play was halted (Up), and one who was playing poorly at the same time (Down). 

He will pinpoint the reasons these players are where they are in the FedExCup Standings and offer some numbers to keep in mind when the season resumes. FedExCup points aren't generally used as a guide, but they are a good indicator of where a golfer stands in relation to others on the PGA Tour this season. He will also look at perhaps the purest stat of all – greens in regulation – as well as birdie or better percentage, an integral component of DFS scoring. 

In this edition: Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

PLAYING WELL

Bubba Watson

FedExCup Standings rank: 62

Besides being mediocre in the FedEx standings, Watson has fallen outside the top 50 in the world. Not good by any measure, but there is a reason we have him in the "Playing Well" category. More on that in a minute.

Watson is such an, um, up-and-down golfer he's hard to gauge. And you could get whiplash looking at all the back-and-forth. After ascending to No. 2 in the world early in 2015, he found himself outside the top-100 three years later. The simple answer is, that's just Bubba being Bubba. He has so much talent though seems to lose focus very easily. But anyone who has won two Masters and 10 other tournaments on the PGA Tour, well, that goes beyond "has so much talent."

After tumbling into the 100s in early 2018, Watson won three times in rapid fashion that year: Riviera, then the Match Play, then the Travelers. Boom! He was nearly back in the top-10.

Okay, so now he's back going the other way. But there's a difference. After a ho-hum fall season, Watson tied for sixth at Torrey Pines, for third at Phoenix and for 18th at the WGC-Mexico. He also missed cuts at Riviera and Bay Hill, and he's a three-time Riviera winner. Again, that's just Bubba being Bubba. This may be the critical point: He talked earlier in the season about being more dedicated, mentally and physically, and that he was in a better place all around. Maybe it took him to age 41 to get there.

Anytime you can have elite talent and then add some mental stability, that's an explosively good mix. And when we look at the numbers, there was one stat that made us especially bullish on Bubba.

A Look At The Stats

Always a world-class driver, Watson still is. He's ranked fourth in distance averaging more than 318 yards. It doesn't even matter that he's wildly inaccurate with a ranking of 178th. Because it adds up to being ninth in strokes gained: off the tee. Okay, he's always been great there. Watson has been ranked first in SG off the tee three times and second twice. But he's also doing something he'd never done before: He's putting great. Yes, you heard that correctly. After having been ranked outside of the top 100 in SG: Putting every year of his career but one, Watson is ranked 16th on Tour. That could be a real illustration of his newfound focus. He's still not a birdie machine, as you'll see in the BOB, but if Watson can keep that kind of putting going once play resumes, he's a strong candidate to win for the first time since that 2018 Travelers.

Greens in regulation rank: 151
Birdies or better percentage: 116

SITTING DOWN

Paul Casey

FedExCup Standings rank: 92

This was a hard one. We looked at Casey's season to date over and over, and we kept asking ourselves: Is this Up or Down? Obviously, we decided on Down.

The 42-year-old Englishman had been a model of consistency the past five seasons. Across 112 PGA Tour events, he had top-10s in 36 of them – that's almost one-third. He had 67 top-25s – way more than half. Granted, he didn't win a lot – two victories and six runners-up in that five-year span – but the just-one-level-down-from-elite consistency was admirable, and certainly valuable from a fantasy perspective. Casey spend much of that time between 10th and 20th in the world rankings.

Which takes us to the 2019-20 season. Casey has made seven starts and finished top-25 in four of them. That aligns perfectly with his recent resume. But – and you knew there had to be a But – he's had zero top-10s. Casey's best finish was his final start before the stoppage, a tie for 11th at the WGC-Mexico.

You could say we're nitpicking, and you'd have an argument. But when we factor in the stats, you'll see a potentially troublesome pattern for a player who has quietly slipped to No. 24 in the world rankings.

A Look At The Stats

If you want to fast-forward to the end of the movie and look below, you'll see that Casey is ranked 30th in greens in regulation and 21st in birdie or better percentage. Clearly, those are great numbers by almost anyone's standards. In the strokes-gained categories, he's 20th in off the tee, ninth in approach and 19th tee to green. Again, pretty dang good. So, what's the problem? Well, not only isn't he's contending, there's a really alarming reason why he isn't: Casey is ranked outside the top-200 in both strokes gained: around the green and SG putting (the rankings go only to 231). That is one horrible short game. That is Steven Bowditch-like awfulness. While Casey has never been known for his wedge or his putter, those numbers are not even close to his norm. He'd been ranked in the 50-60 range in SG around the green the past few years. With putting, he'd usually been ranked inside the top-100 on Tour. He's also outside the top-200 in sand-save percentage. When a golfer needs something to bail him out, 99 times out of 100 it's his putter, or wedge. Casey couldn't come close to relying on either. Hence, zero top-10s.

Greens in regulation: 30
Birdie or better percentage: 21

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.
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