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Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Player of the Year Debate

With Adam Scott's win last week, the POY debate has really heated up. Should it be Tiger or Adam... or maybe Phil? I thought I'd point out some of what I see as inconsistencies in the debate as well as weighing in with my two cents.

For a number of the debaters, the whole thing boils down to whether you have a major or not. Just how much is a major worth, relative to other events? I haven't been particularly happy with what I've heard. To make it clear... I don't care if Tiger would trade all 5 of his wins for a major, it doesn't mean a major is worth 5 wins.

As you know, I have point values set up for different types of wins in my RGWR system. Specifically, I award points this way:
  • Majors: 10 points
  • TPC & BMW PGA: 8 points (yes, I'm calling them equals!)
  • WGC: 7 points
  • Prestige events: 5 points
  • Regular wins: 3 points
  • Top 5 finishes: 2 points
  • Other wins: 1 point
It's pretty clear that I don't value all events the same. As a baseline, I set a major's value at roughly 3 times that of a regular event (3 pts VS 10 pts). However, it's only twice the value of a prestige event like Muirfield or Bay Hill (5pts VS 10 pts) and the values get much closer from there. Using my point system, Tiger's TPC and 2 WGCs ALONE total out at 22 points VS 10 points for the single majors of either Adam or Phil (or Justin Rose or Jason Dufner, if we're going to talk majors). And we haven't even considered the relative value of prestige events VS regular events.

Plus, the World Golf Hall of Fame considers a TPC win as EQUAL to a major win, since they will accept either 2 majors or 2 TPCs as part of the entry criteria. Shouldn't that be considered in the debate as well?

Nor have we considered Top5s. (Note that most of the debaters use Top10s. I grade tougher.) Adam doesn't have anywhere near the Top5s of either Tiger or Phil.

What about strength of field? Just as many debaters ignore the difference between regular and prestige events, many simply see the word "major" and assume those are the toughest fields. In fact, the majors often have weaker fields than other events!

For example, the TPC is a full-field event that is generally considered by the players to have the strongest field of ANY event, typically having at least 95 of the top 100 players in the OWGR. The WGC-Accenture (won by Matt Kuchar this year) has the top 64 in the OWGR, substituting only when one of those players can't play. Compare this to the Masters, which has arguably the weakest field of any major -- typically the top 50 in the OWGR, plus a number of invitees and past winners that leaves the total field size at less than 100 players. And most of that latter group don't have a realistic chance to win. (I'm not saying they shouldn't play; I'm just pointing out that it weakens an already limited field.)

Should the Masters really count for more in the POY race than the TPC just because it's a major, when it's clearly much more difficult to win the TPC? Whatever you think, it certainly isn't worth FIVE tournaments that have either full-fields or stronger limited fields.

Personally, I think Phil makes a better case than Adam. While Phil's Scottsdale win isn't as prestigious as Adam's win at The Barclays, Phil has both a win and a runner-up in majors VS Adam's win. In addition, Phil's Scottish Open win does give him 3 wins this year VS Adam's 2, and the Scottish Open/Open Championship double -- back-to-back links wins -- is clearly the more impressive achievement since it had never been done... and especially given Phil's past difficulties with links golf.

Here's where I stand on the matter: If I had a vote, right now I'd vote for Tiger as POY. In my opinion, the TPC is worth nearly as much as a major -- especially when you consider Tiger's troubles at the TPC are almost as legendary as Phil's at the Open. And the 5 wins in tough tournaments clearly outweigh Phil's 3 wins or Adam's 2 wins.

Historically I think this logic stands up. When Luke Donald beat out Rory McIlroy for POY a couple of years ago, voters didn't think Rory's major was enough to measure up to Luke's accomplishments without a major. In case you've forgotten what they were:
  • 4 worldwide wins -- 2 PGA Tour wins in the US, 2 ET wins overseas
  • 1 stroke play and 1 match play win on each tour
  • The WGC-Accenture (strong field) and the BMW PGA Championship (the ET equivalent of the TPC)
  • Won both tour money lists
It certainly seems clear to me that the "need a major" argument is a question of requiring Tiger to be superhuman in order to get the award. Tiger should be judged by the same criteria as everyone else; otherwise you're admitting that you're not good enough to play with him and your only chance to beat him is to change the rules. If that's how most of the Tour feels, it says more about them than they'd like to admit.

BUT -- and here's where it gets interesting -- we still have 3 tournaments left in the Playoffs. And bear in mind that while I do value a major as more than a single other win, its exact value is determined by what you're measuring it against -- for example, it doesn't outweigh the TPC as much as it outweighs a Playoff event. With that caveat in mind:
  • If Tiger wins the FedExCup, I think that should probably lock the POY for him. That's 5 really strong wins including "the 5th major" plus the Cup.
  • Phil needs to win either one of these events OR the FedExCup. If he does, he should probably win the POY. That's 4 wins or 3 wins plus the Cup -- in the second case, he would still have to outplay Tiger pretty seriously in the Playoffs. If he gets both -- especially if the win is the Tour Championship which, even though it's a limited field, will have arguably the hottest players on the planet right now -- he's a lock. Period.
  • Adam has to win at least one more event AND win the Cup if he wants POY. I'm sorry, I think the Masters is the weakest field of all the majors, so I need to see more from him. I give him extra credit for being the first Aussie to break through there, though. I do think individual accomplishments should count for something in the POY race.
  • Justin Rose needs to win 2 more events AND the Cup to have a shot at POY. That would still give him only 3 wins and the Cup, but I think the US Open is probably the hardest major to win. (Just ask Phil.) Plus he has a lot of Top5s this year and I would give him credit for those.
  • And, just to cover all the bases, Jason Dufner needs to win all 3 remaining events AND the Cup. Except for the PGA Championship, he really doesn't have anything else in his favor. Winning 3 in a row to finish the season would be the deciding factor for me.
It's nice to have a serious race for POY for a change. I'd just like to see some balance return to the debate.


  1. Interesting input on the POY debate. I think your system has some merit and I wouldn't argue with much other than saying that the "weakened field" for the Masters is balanced with the "over-the-top pressure" put on the players that it is the masters. Other majors do it, just not to the same extent. I still agree Phil is above Adam in the POY race.

    Bryan @ Foursum Golf

  2. I think you hit the nail right on the head, Bryan. The real issue here is that the value we place on any particular event is determined by things that often don't really have anything to do with the event itself.

    Ironically, I wrote a second post earlier today explaining my "weakened field" remark because in retrospect I felt it might have come across wrong. That post will show up Friday morning. It's called "Ranking the Majors."