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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Numbers Never Lie... Or Do They?

We've all heard the saying. It's popular enough that ESPN named one of their shows Numbers Never Lie. But here's the deal: Numbers are little more than trivia, basically meaningless in and of themselves. In sports, they tend to take on meaning only when they become statistics... and statistics are numbers that someone has interpreted to produce that meaning.

And interpretations are... well, a matter of interpretation. Interpretations can lie... and often do.

Most of my friends and I picked potential Masters winners based on stats. Our results were about as good as those of John Antonini at GC's Fantasy Central who, using a number of stats like GIR, number of wins prior to a Masters, and par-5 scoring, chose Phil as his favorite with Sergio and Zach Johnson close seconds. (All missed the cut.) And his choices for a possible first-timer were Harris English, Graham DeLaet, and Jimmy Walker. (Only Walker made the cut and sits at +2, T19.)

Miguel Angel Jimenez

I'm not sure any stats could have predicted today's leaderboard. Just look at the last 4 pairings:
  • (-5) Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth
  • (-4) Jonas Blixt, Matt Kuchar
  • (-3) Rickie Fowler, Miguel Angel Jimenez (pictured above)
  • (-2) Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood
Are there any numbers that might predict the eventual winner? Well, I've heard a few...

Apparently, in the last 27 years the winner has come from the Top12 at the 36-hole point. This year that group had 14 players and looked like this:
  • (1) Watson
  • (2) Senden
  • (T3) Bjorn, Blixt, Scott, Spieth
  • (T7) Couples, Walker, Furyk
  • (T10) Streelman, Gallacher, Henley, Stadler, Donaldson
I've also heard that most of the time the leader comes from one of the final 2 groups, and according to the Augusta Chronicle up until 2010 19 of the last 20 winners came from the final group. However, the last 3 winners have NOT come from the final group so this new trend could foreshadow this year's results.

If all of that's true, Jonas Blixt will win today because Watson and Spieth are in the final group and Kuchar wasn't in the Top12 at the halfway point. In fact, of the last 4 groups only Blixt and Furyk even have a chance despite a mere 3-stroke spread between those groups. Would you like to put money on that???

Let me give you a few facts and figures that won't lie:
  • Bubba would win his 2nd Green Jacket in 3 years.
  • Spieth would become the youngest Masters winner ever.
  • Blixt would become the first male Swedish major winner. (Remember, Annika already has 10 for the ladies.)
  • Kuchar or Westwood would leave the "best player without a major" list.
  • Fowler's following might start to resemble Arnie's Army. (Puma would certainly break out the champagne!)
  • Jimenez would become the oldest major winner ever.
  • Furyk would likely lock up entry into the Hall of Fame.
And that's only the final 4 groups!

If you need proof that numbers don't always tell the truth, just consider this: The TV industry is still waiting to learn what the Masters viewing numbers will be without Tiger in the field, and most assume they'll take a big hit from last year. I suspect they will, because most occasional golf fans only care about how Tiger does.

But if you think those numbers will adequately measure the significance of this year's Masters, think again.

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