The Players Is Hardest Tournament to Win

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IMay 8, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 08:  Phil Mickelson watches his tee his shot on the fourth hole during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club on May 8, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Two college professors recently published a study that, as a by product, shows The Players Championship, which starts this week, is the hardest golf tournament to win. Of the majors, The Masters is the easiest. If you include The Players as a major, it is the hardest one in recent times.

These findings came from a study by Richard Rendleman, professor of finance at Dartmouth, and Robert Connolly, an associate professor of finance at the University of North Carolina.

The professors rated tournaments by the skill level of the various professional golfers in a field and the size of the field. On that marker alone, The Players is tops.

"Of all the elite field events, it has the largest field, and unlike the US Open or British Open, opens that have slightly more players, there are no so-called 'open positions,'" Rendleman noted. "In the US Open and British Open, you are going to have 20-35 players nobody has heard of come through qualifying."

Rendleman and Connolly measured, using skill, luck, skill level and depth of field as measuring sticks.

"Part of what it takes to win is not just how you are playing," Rendleman explained. "It's how everybody else is playing that you are competing against."

The kind of tournament also makes a difference, a regular tour event versus a World Golf Championship, for instance.

"A small field, even if it is an elite field, you might not have to play as well to win that as you would to win an ordinary PGA Tour event with 156 players because you have to beat more players in a large field, even though, on average, they might not be as good," he added.

The study also showed they could measure how various players could be expected to perform. They even factored in luck, which they call favorable random variation.

"If Tiger is in a tournament and played to norm and had five strokes of favorable random variation, he would win. If Phil had played in the same tournament and had three strokes of random variation, he would loose," Rendleman explained about the luck factor.

So Phil would need more luck than Tiger to win a given tournament, according to the study.

"We simulated the score it takes to win a tournament. The simulated score would reflect the skill levels of players as well as the number of players in it," he explained. "Using simulations, we determined The Players is the most difficult to win, not every year, but on average it is the most difficult."

They ranked all the tournaments for the period from 2003- 2009. According to Rendleman, "The Barclays and Deutsch Bank events in the Fed Ex Playoffs tend to be up with the majors." That is because they have strong fields and large fields.

Rendleman said that the idea that the Masters is the easiest of majors may not make sense to some at first.

"If you took some young golfer who just made it to the Tour for the first time and asked this new golfer which tournament most difficult to win, they may say the Masters or US Open because of requirement to get into the tournament. But once you are there, it is easier to win The Masters than The Players."

He said the same thinking makes the Tour Championship easier than The Barclays

"It may be difficult to get to the Tour Championship, but once you are there, it is not that difficult to win, relative to other tournaments," he said.

Rendleman said he is a golfer from a golf family.

"My parents were among the top two or three golfing couples in the US," he said. "They played in US Amateurs and qualified for US Opens. Not many husband and wife teams did that."

He admits that he did not quite get the same golf bug as his parents.

"I grew up in it, played, but I've never been a great golfer myself," he admitted.

However, the combination of finance and golf led him to start this kind of research about 10 years ago.

"I was making a presentation to a bunch of security analysts regarding a stock selection scheme," he explained. "To illustrate, I used a golf analogy, and I became more interested in the golf analogy than the investment method."

Luck, or as they call it, favorable random variation, will be the subject of an upcoming paper from Rendleman and Connolly.

Tidbits from that concept include ideas like:

"If you are an average putter, if you make half your putts on average, you could make 70 percent in one tournament and 35 percent in another tournament and not be putting any differently," Rendleman said. "In the 70 percent of putts, favorable random variation worked in your favor," he explained. "You were lucky."

The 20 Toughest Tournaments

2003-2009 average


2003-2009 average


Rank           Tournament                        

1.  THE Players Championship              

2.  PGA Championship                             

3.  U.S. Open Championship                  

4.  British Open Championship                 

5.  Masters Tournament                            

6.  The Barclays (FedEx)                       

7.  Deutsche Bank (FedEx)                      

8.  WGC-Bridgestone Invitational            

9.  Arnold Palmer Invitational                  

10. The Memorial Tournament                 

11. Northern Trust Open             

12. WGC-CA Championship                     

13. Quail Hollow Championship               

14. BMW (FedEx)                                  

15. Ford Championship at Doral             

16. FBR Open                                       

17. Buick Invitational                              

18. Cialis Western Open                        

19. AT&T National                                  

20. Barclays Classic                              


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