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: 24
We'll begin as we often do by saying this is not an endorsement of English over Kisner. Of the two former Georgia Bulldog standouts, Kisner has clearly been the better player through the years and perhaps will be in the years ahead. But we are limiting ourselves to the 2019-20 season. Only one of them is playing well, and it surely has not been Kisner.
English is now 30. He was a four-time All-American at Georgia (as was Kisner) and big things were anticipated when he joined the PGA Tour in 2012. Just before turning pro, he became only the third amateur ever to win a Nationwide (now Korn Ferry) Tour event. For a while, it appeared those big things would happen. English won in Memphis in 2013 and again in Mexico five months later. But he has not won since, has played in the Tour Championship only once, has qualified for only two Masters and has not found himself higher in the OWGR than 36th.
Even when English won those two events years ago, he wasn't performing well on a regular basis. Coming into the 2019-20 campaign, only once in his career had he tallied more than four top-10s in an entire season. Last year, he had zero. Less than a year ago, his world ranking was in the 300s.
Now, all of a sudden, English is having a renaissance. He already has five top-10s less than halfway through the schedule. His world ranking is up to No. 155. Yes, he tore up the fall season. But he also finished top-10 in a stacked field at Bay Hill right before play was halted and grabbed top-20s at both the Phoenix Open and Honda Classic.
Through the years, English's problem was always something, but never the same thing. In every season since 2012, he was outside the top 100 in at least one strokes-gained category. One year his iron play was lacking; in another, it was his putting. Mostly, it was his driver. This season, there has not been one true weakness in his game.
A Look At The Stats
English is ranked 28th in SG: Off-The-Tee, 41st in SG: Approach, 69th in SG: Around-The-Green and 39th in putting. That's not elite, but very solid. Mostly, his driving has improved, specifically his accuracy. We often note that driving accuracy – within reason – is not critical to success these days. English had been awful; now he is ranked a respectable 82nd – by far his best ever. How has he done that? He has sacrificed a little distance in favor of precision. Always among the longer drivers, English now ranks 51st. His putting is not as good as it has been most years, but good enough to deliver strong results when combined with the rest of his game. Just check out where English stands in GIR.
Greens in regulation rank: 5
Birdies or better percentage: T53
FedExCup Standings rank: 76
Kisner is now 36, which coincidentally is his world ranking, which coincidentally is English's best world ranking. Kisner has been as high as No. 14, but that was more than four years ago.
To be candid, Kisner's reputation – he's a grinder!, he's the Bulldog! – doesn't truly match what he's accomplished. He has won three times on Tour – only three times, really – in 220 starts, including the 2019 Match Play that reinforced his nickname. He also has contended in a bunch of big events, finishing as runner-up in an Open Championship (2018), a PLAYERS (2015), another Match Play (2018) and a WGC event (2015, HSBC).
In a four-season span from 2015 through 2018, Kisner totaled eight runners-up to go along with two of his three wins. Glass-half-full guy says those are some great results. Glass-half-empty guy says he left a lot on the table. More ammo for the glass-half-empty guy: Kisner held the solo lead after three rounds at the 2017 PGA Championship but finished seventh. And he's 0-4 in playoffs, which doesn't sound very bulldog-like.
When Kisner won his third and most recent title at the Match Play 11 months ago, it kept him from falling out of the top 50. He was 50th coming in and moved to 25th after the impressive win. Now, he is back outside the top 35, with just enough quality results to slow the slide.
This season, Kisner has teed it up 10 times. He has one top-10, a tie for fourth at the Sony Open, and two more top-25s. He has missed three cuts. There is (presumably) a long way to go this season, but it has been Kisner's worst since 2014. Let's examine the reasons for his struggles.
A Look At The Stats
Kisner has always been a short hitter, but now he is really short – ranked 200th in driving distance. He's always been very accurate off the tee, but that won't fully make up for drives averaging only 284.9 yards. Kisner has never been great in the greens-in-regulation department, in part because his drives are so short. He has really saved himself time after time with his putter. Putting can cure a lot of ails on the course. This season, Kisner can't even rely on that, which is at the heart of his troubles. He is ranked 82nd in SG: Putting, his worst position ever. Last season he was 20th and the season before he was 12th. In 2015-16, he ranked third. If you've relied that much on putting and suddenly can't get the ball in the hole, you're in big trouble.
Greens in regulation: 188
Birdie or better percentage: 183