Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stricker's Streak of Winning John Deere Classics Ends

Steve Stricker has fallen short in his attempt to make it four straight wins in the John Deere Classic golf tournament.

According to this Associated Press article, "Stricker [was] attempting to join Tom Morris Jr., Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods as a winner four straight times in the same tournament. Woods has accomplished the feat twice."

Woods won the Bay Hill Invitational (now known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational) in Orlando, Florida each year from 2000-2003, and the Buick Invitational (now known as the Farmers Insurance Open) in San Diego, California, each year from 2005-2008.

Sarazen won the Miami Open four times between 1926-1930 (there officially was no 1927 version; the tournament was moved from December to January so what would have been the December 1927 playing of it was moved to January 1928).

Hagen won the PGA Championship four times from 1924-1927.

Morris was an old-time golfer, who won the British Open four times between 1868-1872 (the tournament was not held in 1871).

Let's come back to Stricker and estimate the probability of his winning three straight John Deere Classics. There were roughly 150 golfers in this year's event, so a very simple statistical model might assign Stricker a probability of 1/150 of winning the John Deere in a given year. However, my brother Steve, a very knowledgeable golf observer and also a Stricker fan, acknowledges that the John Deere tends not to have as deep a field of top professionals as other tourneys, apparently because many elite golfers prefer instead to use this time of year to prepare for the upcoming British Open. The weaker the John Deere field, the greater Stricker's likelihood of winning.

In fact, I checked this year's list of the Top 25 PGA money winners, and only five of them played in this year's John Deere Classic: Zach Johnson (who ended up winning the event), Carl Pettersson, Kyle Stanley, Mark Wilson, and Stricker.

Of course, someone outside the Top 25 tour money winners can win a tournament. If we assume there are 10 golfers each year in the John Deere field who are capable of winning it, Stricker among them, his single-year win probability would be 1/10. Raising this value to the third power to estimate Stricker's probability of three straight John Deere wins would yield 1-in-1,000.

If we assume there are 20 golfers in the John Deere field capable of winning, Stricker's probability of winning three straight is  (1/20) to the third power, yielding .000125 or 1-in-8,000. Finally, if we assume 50 entrants conceivably could win the John Deere Classic, Stricker's probability of three straight wins is .000008 or 1-in-125,000.

Regardless of which assumption one makes, Stricker's three straight John Deere victories before this year are noteworthy. Before one considers the probabilities above as being astronomical, however, one should realize that there are many fine golfers and many tournaments out there, creating a large number of opportunities for someone to win three straight.

There have been 21 instances of a player winning the same tournament exactly three straight times. If one adds the five occurrences (listed above) of a player winning the same event four consecutive times, then we have 26 instances in which a player has won the same tournament three or more times in a row.

No comments: