Charting the Biggest Comebacks and Collapses in Major History

Friday July 22nd, 2016
Henrik Stenson won the 2016 British Open at Royal Troon with a score of 20-under par.
Kohjiro Kinno

Calling all golf nerds and game theory specialists: there's a new system in town.

The Economist recently published an article detailing their EAGLE system (Economist Advantage in Golf Likelihood Estimator), which projects how golf tournaments will finish, likely better than anyone has before, even noted statistician Ken Pomeroy. It's very complicated (you can read the explanation here) and requires some top-of-the-class mathematics lingo to explain, but the graphs it produces are perfectly blunt.

Using 15 years worth of major championship data, and over 400,000 golf holes, the system has highlighted the worst collapses (as well as the craziest comebacks) in golf history. Atop the list are Adam Scott at the 2012 British Open and Jordan Spieth at the 2016 Masters, but we already knew that.

The system can also be used to show the most improbable outcomes, like Keegan Bradley's 2011 PGA Championship victory, where he rose from the slimmest of single-digit chances to claim the Wanamaker Trophy. The article listed Bradley's win as a 1-in-10,000 type of result, which was the second-most-unlikely outcome behind Y.E. Yang's '09 PGA Championship win. Below is Bradley's win-expectancy chart from that event.

The Economist

The system can also be used to show the most dominant performances in recent history, like Rory McIlroy's first major championship win at the 2011 U.S. Open. According to EAGLE, McIlroy had nearly a 90% chance of winning the event after just 36 holes. For context, any golfer reaching 60% win expectancy after just two rounds is rare. Only Tiger Woods ('02 U.S. Open, '09 PGA Championship) and Jordan Spieth (2015 Masters) had been able to do so in the past 15 years. Below is McIlroy’s 2011 U.S. Open graph.

The Economist

It is worth noting that EAGLE is aiming to become even more robust a system moving forward. As outlined late in the article, The Economist hopes to adjust its algorithm to include player streakiness and recent play in the future.

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