Up and Down: Spieth Still Searching
Up and Down: Spieth Still Searching

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: Byeong Hun An and Jordan Spieth.

PLAYING WELL

Byeong Hun An

FedExCup Standings rank: 23

We gave ourselves a tough assignment this week because, while An is nearly 100 positions above Spieth in the FedExCup Standings, the stats make us wonder how that can be. We'll explain. You'll see.

An is now 28 years old, two years young than Spieth. Casual golf fans may not know that An became the youngest U.S. Amateur champion ever at age 17 in 2009. Yes, younger than Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, etc. He also was the European Tour Rookie of the Year in 2015, when he won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship by a whopping six strokes over an elite field (Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and more).

An jumped to the PGA Tour the following year and, while he has had success, with three runners-up and numerous top-10s, he hasn't claimed victory. Already this season he broke his personal best for top-10s with five, including a tie for fourth at the Honda Classic two weeks before play was suspended. He also was third at the Sanderson Farms event, T6 at the CJ Cup, T8 at the ZOZO Championship and T9 in Phoenix.

So, what's been keeping An from winning? In a word, putting. He has never finished in the top 150 on Tour in SG: Putting and this year he is at his absolute worst, ranking 216th out of 231 golfers He's also not a very good driver nor an especially accurate iron player this season. The next question is: How can he still sit 23rd in the standings and frequently finish near the top? That's a very good question and not easily answered.

A Look At The Stats

An hits the ball far, but he is only 72nd in SG: Off-The-Tee because he's wildly inaccurate, coming in 195th in that department. He's 46th in SG: Approach, which is good but far from great. He's not in the top 100 in greens in regulation. Yet An is ranked 14th in SG: Tee-to-Green? How can that be? Well, he is an elite fourth in SG: Around-The-Green. It appears he is so good with his wedge that it masks his putting woes. The wedge gets the ball close, where he is a better-than-average putter from inside 10 feet. Outside of 10 feet, he's terrible. For any kind of fantasy format, An is a better play on courses where putting matters less, such as PGA National or TPC Scottsdale. He's not quite as good as other poor putters such as Tony Finau and Hideki Matsuyama, but An was once ranked in the top 25 of OWGR. He's now ranked 50th (ahead of Spieth) and the rest of his game is good enough to cover up the woes with the flat stick.

Greens in regulation rank: 101
Birdies or better percentage: 64 

SITTING DOWN

Jordan Spieth

FedExCup Standings rank: 110

We are now in Year 3 of what the heck happened to Jordan Spieth? We all know he has not won since the 2017 Open Championship, after which he was ranked No. 2 in the world. He did finish third at the 2018 Masters, ninth in his defense of his Open Championship and third again at the 2019 PGA Championship, so it's evident that when Spieth puts it all together, he's still capable of being Jordan Spieth. The trouble is, that hardly happens anymore. In fact, those three major finishes were his only top-10s over a 13-month period. Let that sink in for a moment.

This season, Spieth has two top-10s in eight starts, a T8 at the CJ Cup (just a shot behind An) and a T9 at Pebble Beach. He has missed only one cut, and he really hasn't missed many cuts since his tailspin began. He just can't seem to put together four quality rounds in a row, especially those falling on weekend days.

Once one of the elite putters, Spieth can't even count on that this year – he's ranked 90th, which, when combined with the rest of his game, is not going to get the job done.

If you put An and Spieth's strokes-gained numbers side by side, you'll see that both have been elite wedge players (SG: Around-The-Green), but not very good anywhere else. The difference is, Spieth is horrid off the tee and An is horrid on the green. What can we learn from that? On today's PGA Tour, you can get by and even do very well with a poor putter. If your driver doesn't work, you have no shot. Here's the comparison.

An's strokes-gained numbers:

Spieth's strokes-gained numbers: 


A Look At The Stats

Spieth has never been among the longest hitters, but he's far from short. He's ranked 54th on Tour in driving distance with an average of 303.2 yards, about six yards behind An, who is ranked 25th. But the accuracy numbers are woeful, even taking into account that the modern pro can overcome missed fairways like never before. Spieth is ranked 227th in fairway accuracy, hitting under 48 percent. As you see, his iron player is also off the rails: outside the top 200 in greens in regulation and almost as bad in SG: Approach. Spieth's wedge game sure helps, but his putting is far from what it was in the past. In a nutshell, he is worse overall this season than last, and almost no part of his game is working. He's now down to No. 56 in the world and still plummeting. Maybe the long layoff will help him. Nothing else has worked so far.

Greens in regulation: 221
Birdie or better percentage: 116

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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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