What We Learned: Hideki Matsuyama’s WGC-HSBC Champions win

Hideki Matsuyama won the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions event in China last night, finishing at 23-under par and cruising to a seven shot win over Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger. It’s Matsuyama’s tenth win as a professional, and third on the PGA Tour after wins at the 2014 Memorial and 2016 Waste Management. Full highlights of Matsuyama’s final round are below.

Final Leaderboard

  • 1. Hideki Matsuyama -23
  • T2. Henrik Stenson -16
  • T2. Daniel Berger -16
  • T4. Rory McIlroy -15
  • T4. Bill Haas -15

So, what did we learn from the WGC-HSBC Champions?

Hideki Matsuyama is really, really good

Okay, so we actually already knew this, but a win like this one should put everyone on notice. Matsuyama didn’t just boat race a random PGA Tour stop; he did it against a very good field, joining some pretty impressive company in terms of margin of victory:

What has typically held Matsuyama back is the putter. More often than not, he ends up with a negative strokes gained putting total for the week, but when he ends up in the positive, he’s almost assuredly going to have a high finish. We don’t have his strokes gained totals for the week (more on that in a second), but it seemed like every time I saw him on the greens this week, he was having a much easier time rolling it than usual. This image from the guys at Data Golf shows the strokes gained numbers for Matsuyama’s 2016 season coming into the week, with the orange bar representing his tee to green totals, and the blue bar showing his putting.

matsuyama-strokes-gained

 

Basically, what we see with Matsuyama is that he frequently displays an ability to dominate the PGA Tour from tee to green, but can’t put it all together once he gets on the putting surface. I’d be willing to bet that if we had the strokes gained information for the week, that we’d see a pretty big blue bar shooting up instead of down. Ultimately, I don’t think I can envision a scenario where Matsuyama becomes a top putter on the PGA Tour, but as I’ve said before, the weeks where he’s hot with the putter make him look like the best player in the world by a pretty significant margin, and yes, that can be said for a lot of players but it seems amplified with Matsuyama. Big things are in store for him in 2017.

The particulars:

  • Earns $1,620,000 for the win and 550 FedEx Cup points.
  • Will move to 6th place in the Official World Golf Rankings.
  • Becomes the first player from Asia to win an individual World Golf Championship event.

We Need More Stats

As was pointed out to me on Twitter, this isn’t entirely accurate as some of the WGC events and the PGA Championship have recently added strokes gained stats to their events, but in the overall, there are still far too many important events that don’t carry this information. As was also pointed out to me on Twitter, the big reason for this is about logistics and physically getting the equipment to the sites, which isn’t for an event like this one which was in China, and I totally understand that. However, it’s still super frustrating to not have a complete data set for a player over a season, especially when the events that are missing are typically considered the most important ones on the schedule. Like I said above, I feel confident in suggesting that based on what I watched, Matsuyama had an impressive week on the greens and that was likely a major factor in him winning by seven shots over a very high quality field, but I don’t know that with 100% certainty, and being able to put this tournament into exact context when compared to others would be great.

Other sports are doing so much with data and this is allowing fans and media to be closer to the game than ever before. It’s allowing for smarter analysis and decision making because the eye test just isn’t good enough anymore, and while golf is getting there thanks to the work by people like Mark Broadie, we still have a long, long way to go.

The Season Is Too Long

The last big point I’ll make about this week is another thing that we already knew: the golf season is just too damn long. An event like this, which is supposed to be one of the ten or twelve biggest events on the calendar and had a top heavy field that justifies that claim, had pretty much zero buzz and I’m almost positive that has to do with when it was played. Yes, the fact that it was being played in Asia which means late nights for people in North America contributed to this, but people still watched the Presidents Cup last year despite it being on super late and it just seemed like Twitter was completely dead when this event was on. Maybe that’s not the best barometer for things, but I can say with certainty that the group of people I follow on Twitter are very golf focused and what did I see when I was on over the last few nights? Either dead silence or talk about the NBA, the World Series or college football.

An event featuring names like McIlroy, Matusyama, Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and dozens of others, should have more interest than what we saw over the past four days and I’ll fully admit that I’m part of that. I’m just not in golf mode right now. Tournaments in other timezones are important for growing the game, but having this one at the end of October when people have already moved on to other things doesn’t make a ton of sense. There are too many other factors (read: money) at play to have a completely empty calendar at this time of year, but it really does feel like golf needs a break, at least to give its fans a chance to miss it for a few months and come back rolling in January.

Best Of The Week

Intros

#TourSauce

Shots

That’s mine

Parting Shots

  • We don’t have official driving distance stats either, but it seemed like Rory’s new TaylorMade M2 is going to work out just fine. In case you missed it earlier, the No Laying Up crew had the scoop:

  • Speaking of Rory, he’s pulled out of the European Tour’s event in Turkey next week, citing “obvious concerns”, with Patrick Reed joining him. So now, that field isn’t looking all that stout, especially considering that the Race to Dubai is supposed to be a big deal on the European Tour.
  • Luke List and Chris Kirk are on top of the leaderboard at the opposite field event this week, the Sanderson Farms Championship. Reminder that the winner will take home this trophy:

 

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