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2005 Honda Classic: Driving Distance vs. Driving Accuracy v. Birdies

One of the never-ending debates among golfers is whether driving distance or driving accuracy is more important on the PGA Tour in determining the winner week in and week out (when there is virtually no rough). The short answer is “neither.” And if you think that the number of birdies and eagles usually determines the winner most weeks, you are also wrong.

The 2005 Honda Classic is pretty typical of most tournaments. Padraig Harrington beat Vijay Singh and Joe Ogilvie in a playoff. Padraig finished 8th in driving distance to Vijay’s 17th and Joe’s 52nd. But that’s not why Padraig was tied for first after 72 holes. Nor was it because he had the most birdies and eagles.

Actually, if the Gross Negative Score (GNS) determined the winner Padraig (-20 GNS) would have tied with Vijay and three others for seventh place. Ogilvie (-23 GNS) would have finished first, David Toms and Geoff Ogilvy at -22 GNS would have tied for second and Lucas Glover, Billy Andrade and Fred Couples at -21 GNS would have tied for fourth. But the Gross Negative Score no more determines the winner in a golf tournament than does the number of hits determine the winner in baseball or first downs in football.

In almost every PGA Tour event the top finishers are the players with the fewest number of bogeys and worse, that is the lowest Gross Positive Score (GPS). How important is the GPS compared to the GNS? Well, let’s compare Padraig with Joe Durant who also had a -20 GNS at the Honda. Thanks to Padraig’s GPS of only +6 he was in the playoff and ended up winning $990,000. Joe had a GPS of +15 to go with his -20, finished tied for 34th and took home $29,012. Or consider Chad Campbell whose -18 GNS was only two strokes behind Padraig but thanks to a +16 GPS, Chad tied for 52nd and took home $12,760.

A low GPS can also make up for a lot of missed birdies. Justin Rose had a GNS of only -13. Of the 79 golfers who finished at the Honda, only 10 had a worse GNS. Nonetheless, Justin tied for 14th and took home $99,000 because his +5 GPS was the lowest in the tournament.

GNS (Gross Negative Score) – this statistic looks only at holes where
the player scored below par. This number is the total number of strokes
below par from all of the sub-par holes for the tournament.

GPS (Gross Positive Score) – this statistic looks only at the holes
where the player scored above par. This number is the total number of
strokes above par from all of the over par holes for the tournament.