The irony that Denny McCarthy, of all people, would lose a golf tournament due to a missed putt was inescapable Sunday.
Yet that’s what happened at the Memorial at Muirfield Village. McCarthy, a veteran pro, was denied his first career victory when he lipped out a par-saving putt attempt on the first hole of a playoff with Viktor Hovland.
The missed putt was about 12 feet in length, making it no sure thing, even for the best of pros.
But here’s the deal: that’s precisely what McCarthy is on a putting surface. He’s literally the best of pros.
Despite failing to win a tournament, McCarthy led all PGA Tour pros in Strokes Gained Putting in 2019. He led them all again in 2020. Last season he ranked second; this season he’s 11th. In no season since he played enough rounds to qualify has Denny McCarthy ranked outside the top 25 in that skill.
This week at the Memorial, he very unsurprisingly led the field in Strokes Gained Putting.
Putting is McCarthy’s whole schtick. He was outside the top 40 this week in his play both off the tee and around the greens. His iron play ranked 18th…good but not usually championship caliber. For the season, he’s 98th off the tee, 99th with his approaches, and 90th around the greens.
Until that failed playoff putt, the extra hole was a microcosm of McCarthy’s entire skill set. He drove into thick rough right of the fairway, and blasted out a few yards short of the putting surface on the 481 yard hole only to watch the ball roll backward down a false front.
When it stopped, McCarthy was left with about a 35 yard pitch…which he hit indifferently, leaving that 12-footer. The only saving grace: Hovland had a seven-footer of his own. And although Hovland has three tour wins to McCarthy’s zero and although he was enjoying a hot week on Muirfield Village’s greens, the Norwegian still ranked 102nd for the season in putting.
That made the question an intriguing one: For the win, would you rather have putting genius McCarthy standing over a 12-footer or Hovland over a seven-footer?
The question was answered when McCarthy spun out that 12-footer, and Hovland drilled his seven-footer dead into the cup.
Although being a great putter over the long haul sounds like a wonderful skill to have, it’s actually not a winning formula on Tour. Since 2019, only one player has won a tournament in a year in which he led the tour in putting; that was 2021 leader Lucas Herbert at the Bermuda Championship.
What pays off on Tour is getting hot for one week…like Hovland did. As noted above, he’s outside the top 100 in putting this season. But at Muirfield, he ranked third, just two places behind McCarthy. That made Hovland’s vastly superior long game the decisive element.
There’s no need to hold a pity party for the still-winless Denny McCarthy.
Largely due to his steady putting game, he’s pocketed $9.3 million playing golf on Tour, and that doesn’t count the $1 million or thereabouts he’ll acquire as runner-up at Jack’s Place.
In the aggregate, he remains probably the best putter the Tour has produced over the last five seasons.
But there’s the rub: tournaments aren’t won in the aggregate.