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.
FedExCup Standings rank: 19
In the middle of 2017, Matsuyama was ranked No. 2 in the world. He then began a slow but steady descent that took him out of the top 30. A major factor was a wrist injury that plagued him early in 2018, and another part of it was a torrid stretch of five worldwide wins bridging 2016 and 2017 that started to lose value in the OWGR points system.
Now, though, Matsuyama is back to his old self. Nowhere near No. 2, mind you, but he is 22nd in the OWGR and is playing extremely well. After going eight months without a top-10 finish, the Japanese star turned things around beginning with the 2018 playoffs. Over his past 39 PGA Tour starts, he has 27 top-25s, with 14 of those doubling as top-10s. He's missed only three cuts. That is some serious golf.
So why is Matsuyama only 22nd? Well, he hasn't won during this rebound and has only one runner-up – to Tiger Woods at the ZOZO Championship in Japan last October. More recently, he was T5 at Riviera and T6 the week after at the WGC-Mexico event.
It's unlikely Matsuyama will return to a top-5 spot in OWGR. There are more great players, plus the chances of him running off multiple wins seems unlikely. That doesn't mean he can't win tournaments, including majors. He'll just need the one part of his game that usually fails him.
A Look At The Stats
Matsuyama is off-the-charts good just about everywhere but, you guessed it, putting. What's the reason he has lots of top-10s and top-25s but very few podium finishes? Right, putting. He is currently ranked fifth in strokes gained: approach and third in SG: Tee-to-Green. In other words, elite. But he's only 167th in SG: putting. There are courses where putting doesn't matter as much as at other tracks, and that's where Matsuyama can nail a win. The rest of this game is so strong that he still ranks highly in the birdie-or-better category.
Greens in regulation rank: 13th
Birdies or better percentage: T11th
FedExCup Standings rank: 169
We've been saying it for months, so repeat after us: Molinari has still not recovered since his golf ball landed in Rae's Creek. Since finding the water at No. 12 at last year's Masters, the Italian has stumbled from No. 7 in the world to No. 28. That's a pretty steep drop in less than a year. The tie for fifth at Augusta is still his most recent top-10 finish.
Molinari was a tee-to-green machine in the year preceding the Masters, leading to four worldwide wins, including the Open Championship and at Bay Hill. His iron player was perhaps the best in the world during that stretch.
We can't blame the decline solely on the mental anguish of blowing a Masters on the back nine on Sunday, though that can't be underestimated. Molinari was a very good player for years but never like he was in 2018-19. So, another factor could be a simple return to normalcy, and another could be age, as he is now 37 years old.
Add up all three of those things and Molinari is playing some pretty horrible golf, and it has gotten far worse in 2020. He missed the cut in his first three appearances of the year, including in the cupcake field at La Quinta. His only cash was a tie for 53rd at the no-cut WGC-Mexico. His last top-20 anywhere in the world was at the BMW PGA Championship in September.
We can't predict with certainty how any golfer will respond following this extended layoff, but for Molinari, it can't get any worse than it's been.
A Look At The Stats
It is astounding to see where Molinari lands in the six strokes-gained categories. He is in the top 175 on Tour in only one of them, at 146th in SG: Around-the-Green. The collapse has been stark and has come in all facets of his game. The golfer who was ranked second in SG: Tee-to-Green a mere two seasons ago is now 206th.
Greens in regulation: 205th
Birdie or better percentage: 175th