How many times have we heard the TV announcer proclaim that Jordan is the best putter in the game? Jordan is a GREAT putter, ranked #8 for the year in Strokes Gained and is clearly a PHENOMENAL clutch putter. For the record, I believe Jordan is the best putter in the game and that he would be appropriately ranked #1 if the Majors were included in the ShotLink stats.
[It is often overlooked that ShotLink stats are not captured for non-PGA Tour events, notably the Masters, US Open and British Open. If Jordan's putting performance in these Majors were included, it would add 12 rounds (18%) of superior putting to the his 67 ShotLink rounds for 2015. In case anyone forgot, Jordan's finishes in the three missing majors were: Masters - #1, US Open - #1, British Open - #2.]
All that said, using the stats at my disposal: Why is he not #1? The simple answer turns out to be consistency. When compared to the #1's that I have studied over the last four years, Jordan's WORST putting events (those with negative Strokes Gained totals) are slightly more frequent than these other players' (@ 5 of 20 (25%), but more importantly, his are more negative. Jordan's five negative Strokes Gained events averaged -.99/round while the four most recent Strokes Gained #1's averaged only -.44/round on their negative Strokes Gained events.
The follow-up question is: What changes about Jordan's putting to produce these negative SG events? To answer this, I ran my BEST vs. WORST analysis on Jordan's 2015 ShotLink rounds. [The BEST being the 15 events where Jordan recorded positive SG totals, and the WORST - the five events with negative SG totals.]
The answer? It is NOT an uncharacteristic flood of 3-Putts. In fact, Jordan's 3-Putt numbers are good across the board and slightly better in his WORST putting events. Jordan ranked 37th in 3-Putt Avoidance - only 3-Putting 2.4% of holes played. The Tour average is 3.15%, and Aaron Baddeley (#1 Strokes Gained 2015) ranked 22nd @ 2.25. Further, one of Jordan's strengths is his impressive distance control - but that is a topic for another day.
The major difference was logically a drop off in 1-Putts almost across the board but specifically in the always critical 6 - 10 foot range. As you can see from the chart above, this important range involves more 1st Putt opportunities than any other range - just under one in every four. In his WORST putting events, Jordan fell significantly below his BEST performance AND the PGA Tour average in this range. Not just coincidently, Jordan missed only four cuts this year. Three of the four were also included in the WORST putting events.