Matt’s Musings | PGA Data Study, March 4


Over the course of the PGA season, I’d like to do a few deep dives into the world of statistics in golf. There are plenty of stats to choose from and, quite frankly, it’s hard to wade through it all. In the end, people focus on the granular data because it’s available but I’m not sure how useful it is across all applications. I wanted to take a look at how first-round leaders have performed over the past few years on the PGA Tour with Rory McIlroy carrying a two-stroke lead into the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.


How does the first-round lead usually shake out?

Not all first-round leaders are created equal. There are some tournaments where there’s a sole FRL, some tournaments have a couple of golfers tied at the top, and there’s even an example or two where four to five golfers ended up in a tie for the lead. 


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How do solo FRLs typically finish the tournament?

There have been 123 tournaments over the past few years where there was a sole leader after 18 holes. 


Finish Position Rate
Winner 9.7%
2nd – 5th Place 31.7%
6th – 10th Place 17.8%
11th – 25th Place 19.5%
26th – 50th Place 19.5%
51st Place or Worse 3.2%

Golfers who finish by themselves as FRL go on to win just under 10% of the time and finish in the top 10 just under 60% of the time.

How do FRLs who share the lead with one or two other golfers typically finish?

There are 119 golfers who have finished in a two- or three-way tie for the lead after Thursday. 

Finish Position Rate
Winner 6.7%
2nd – 5th Place 23.5%
6th – 10th Place 18.4%
11th – 25th Place 26.8%
26th – 50th Place 21%
51st Place or Worse 3.3%

As you can see, golfers who fit these criteria are less likely to finish as well. That makes sense, because obviously, only one golfer is able to win the tournament. It’s interesting that more than half of the golfers in this group finish outside the top 10. 


How do golfers in four- and five-way ties for the FRL finish the tournament?

There are 55 such golfers who fit into this category across 13 tournaments. 

Finish Position Rate
Winner 3.6%
2nd – 5th Place 16.3%
6th – 10th Place 10.9%
11th – 25th Place 29.1%
26th – 50th Place 27.7%
51st Place or Worse 10.9%

When you see a logjam at the top, it’s usually a good indication you should be taking shots on some chasers after the first round is over. Over two-thirds of the golfers in these situations finish outside the top 10. 

Recent FRL Leaderboard

There have been 18 golfers who have finished as FRL at least four times since the start of 2017.

Golfer Times Finishing with at least a share of FRL
Rory McIlroy 8
Russell Henley 5
Joaquin Niemann 5
Patrick Reed 5
Justin Thomas 5
Jon Rahm 5
Hideki Matsuyama 4
Brooks Koepka 4
Abraham Ancer 4
Webb Simpson 4
Tony Finau 4
Harris English 4
Keegan Bradley 4
Joel Dahmen 4
Sepp Straka 4
Jordan Spieth 4
Harold Varner 4
Justin Rose 4
Sebastian Munoz 4
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