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Close, Or No Cigar
Rick Lipsey
March 02, 1998
On the PGA Tour, players either burn it up at the start or fizzle at the finish
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March 02, 1998

Close, Or No Cigar

On the PGA Tour, players either burn it up at the start or fizzle at the finish

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FIRST-ROUND STANDING OF PGA TOUR WINNERS

TOTAL

1ST-10TH

11TH-20TH

21ST-30TH

31ST-40TH

41ST-50TH

51ST-60TH

61ST-70TH

71ST-80TH

81ST AND UP

Regular Events (1997-98)

50

31

7

3

2

2

2

2

0

1

Majors (1988-97)

40

22

9

4

2

1

0

0

1

1

Your hero Bubba Stickowitz just shot 77 in the opening round of the Nissan Open, but you're no quitter. You're skipping work tomorrow to watch Bubba charge up the leader board. You know he can still win.

Wrong. A look at the dark side of PGA Tour statistics shows that Bubba has no chance. Zero. No one shooting more than 76 in the first round has ever won a Tour event. In fact, early leaders have a nearly insurmountable advantage every week. Since the beginning of 1997, 62% of all tournament winners haw ranked in the top 10 after one round; 76% have come from the first round's top 20. As the chart Mow shows, the stats apply to all Tour events including the majors.

Such sobering numbers make exceptions like Steve Jones's charge at the 1996 U.S. Open all the more impressive. Jones was already an accomplished rebounder, having won the 1989 Bob Hope Classic after stumbling in the first quarter with a 76. At the '96 Open his first-round 74 put him in 84th place, seven strokes behind leaders Payne Stewart and Woody Austin, but he followed with a 66 and two 69s to edge Tom Lehman and Davis Love III by a stroke. Jones's return to glory after a 1991 motorcycle wreck was the story of the week, but his rise from the depths of Thursday's agate type was equally unlikely.

The top comeback of the past three years came at the '97 Tucson Chrysler Classic. After opening with a 75 that left him in 104th place, nine strokes off the lead, Jeff Sluman phoned his wife to talk about flights home to Chicago. Unaware of the odds against her man, Linda Sluman said, "Jeff, you can still win." Her obedient husband's 68-65-67 finish made a prophet of Linda and a $234,000 profit for the Slumans.

Curtis Strange nearly made history at the 1985 Masters. Strange's 80 on Thursday consigned him to 75th place in a field of 77. Perfectly positioned to miss the cut, he roared back with a 65 on Friday and a 68 on Saturday to climb within a stroke of the leaders. He actually held a two-shot edge after 12 holes on Sunday. But, Curtis's strange week had a Bubba Stickowitz finish. Bogeys at Augusta's 13th and 15th holes did him in, allowing Bernhard Langer to don the green jacket.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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