In baseball, closers stop rallies and save games. In golf, they stop rallies and save themselves from the pain Payne Stewart suffered at the U.S. Open. Never known as a safe bet on Sundays—he was nicknamed Avis early in his career—Stewart let a four-stroke lead slip away in the last round at the Olympic Club. He lost in the bottom of the ninth to Lee Janzen, one of golf's dominant closers.
Statistics show just how good a money player Janzen is. SI took all Tour players with a minimum of 10 top three finishes and divided their wins by their top threes to come up with a stat well call Closing Average. Janzen's CA going in was .467, seventh among active pros and better than that of any of the top 10 players on the leader board at Olympic. Clearly, the numbers were against Stewart on Sunday. Despite his nine victories, including the 1989 PGA and the '91 U.S. Open, Stewart's career CA is a mere .184. The chart below shows the best and worst closers on the PGA Tour, with Janzen near the top and Stewart close to the bottom.
Jeff Maggert made a run at the Open leaders last week, but as you would expect from his .050 CA, he fell short and tied for seventh. It was Maggert's seventh top 10 finish in a major, but he has yet to win one. The Tour's alltime record for futility, however, belongs to Fred Hawkins. Between 1947 and '65, Hawkins had 19 seconds, 12 thirds and just one win, at the 1956 Oklahoma City Open, for a CA of .031.
At the other end of the spectrum stands Phil Mickelson, whose career CA is .600. That's double the Tour average of .300 and far above the career numbers of Arnold Palmer (.480), Ben Hogan (.453) and Jack Nicklaus (.432). "When you're in contention on Sunday, there's only one thought you can have: Get the job done," Mickelson says of the closer mentality. "It's a reckless, do-whatever-it-takes approach, totally different from what you need in the first three rounds. Before Sunday you're just being patient, playing for position. In the last round, though, it's go for broke. You absolutely have to look at the leader board. You need to know where you stand, and if somebody makes a birdie run, you've got to catch him."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]