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Golf's rise of the 59: When will Europe join the party?

Jamie Kennedy
January 15, 2014
Jorge Campillo and Colin Nel shot 59 on the same day in December - but they were not recognised as official records by the European Tour © Getty Images
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The HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi heralds the re-emergence of some of the biggest names in golf after their winter hibernation from the European Tour. Their quest for individual perfection in 2014 may well finally bring an end to the Tour's wait for a fabled 59, something that became a recurring storyline throughout the past 12 months.

When Jim Furyk's three-foot putt dropped on the last hole of the second round of the 2013 BMW Championship, he became the sixth man to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour.

In total, 15 players have carded sub-60 scores in official Tour events around the world. But none of them have come on the European Tour.

It seemed the waiting was finally over earlier this season. Colin Nel and Jorge Campillo both scored 59 in the second round of the Nelson Mandela Championship in December. However, the European Tour deemed their scores unofficial as players were permitted to use preferred lies due to the previous day's heavy rain.

Alas, the European Tour still remains without an official 59.

Six of the best: The PGA Tour 59s

Jim Furyk celebrates his 59 last year © Getty Images
  • Al Geiberger, 2nd Rd, 1977 Memphis Classic
  • Still the only player to win a PGA Tour tournament (outwith the majors) without shooting a score in the 60s (72, 59, 72, 70)
  • Chip Beck, 3rd Rd, 1991 Las Vegas Invitational
  • Still holds the PGA Tour record for birdies in a round at 13
  • David Duval, 4th Rd, 1999 Bob Hope Classic
  • Eagled the 18th hole to shoot 59 and win the event by a single shot
  • Paul Goydos, 2nd Rd, 2010 John Deere Classic
  • At 46, Goydos become the oldest pro to shoot 59 in an official Tour event
  • Stuart Appleby, 4th Rd, 2010 Greenbrier Classic
  • Like Duval, Appleby shot 59 in the last round to win by a single shot
  • Jim Furyk, 2nd Rd, 2013 BMW Championship
  • Only player to shoot 59 with a bogey. He three-putted his 14th hole

The near-miss 60 has been carded 18 times on Europe's marquee Tour. Darren Clarke is the only player to shoot 60 twice, whilst both Scott Jamieson and Peter Uihlein carded rounds of 60s on the European Tour in 2013. Both came agonisingly close to the Tour's first 59.

In comparison, the PGA Tour has seen 27 players shoot 60 and Furyk joined five other players (Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby) who have shot 59.

Is it therefore easier to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour than the European Tour?

Russell Knox, a Scottish born PGA Tour member, believes it might be. He shot 59 on the Nationwide Tour last season and is the only European golfer to shoot a 59 in an official event on American soil. "I think it could be down to the weather and conditions they play on in Europe compared to the US." Knox said. "My 59 day was absolutely perfect conditions. No wind, 75 degrees fahrenheit. Point and shoot golf."

So it would be fair to conclude that the colder, windier, wetter weather of Europe makes it harder to score lower, right?

A look at the two Tours in terms of scoring average suggests that may not be the case. The average score on the PGA Tour in 2013 was 71.30, marginally better than 71.34 on the European Tour.

So what about the courses?

The average course length on the PGA Tour in 2013 was 7227 yards with an average par of 71.15. On the European Tour, the average length of a course was 7197 yards with an average par of 71.70.

In fact, the opportunity of shooting 59 may come down to the number of opportunities players have.

In 2013, PGA Tour players could play as many as 48 rounds on courses with a par of 70. European Tour players however had a maximum of 12 rounds on par-70 courses, with 8 of those coming in co-sanctioned events with the PGA Tour (2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the US Open).

So how does par impact the chances of 59?

Of the 15 sub-60 rounds on Tours around the world, just five were scored on par-72 courses, the last of which was Annika Sorenstam's 59 on the LPGA Tour in 2001. No professional golfer in the last 12 years has shot 13-under par in an official Tour event.

Whilst many believe the four-minute-mile mentality is at play - in that once one player breaks 60, many will follow - the history of the 59 suggests it is fairly sporadic.

Gieberger shot the PGA Tour's first 59 in 1977 and it was 14 years before Chip Beck became the second. Even after Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby shot 59 in the 2010 season, it took another three years (or 560 strokeplay rounds) before Jim Furyk joined The 59 Club.

However, three 59s in the space of three years, aided unquestionably by the ever-improving equipment used by Tour players, would suggest it will not be long until someone breaks the 60 barrier in Europe. There was just one round of 60 carded in the first 20 European Tour seasons. In the last three seasons, there have been five.

Will it happen in 2014? Bookies say no, with some offering odds of 4/1 for a European Tour 59 in 2014. Alternatively, you can bet that 2014 will be without a 59 at 1/7.

Jamie Kennedy is a golf writer and stats nerd. Follow him @jamieonsport

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