Welcome to By the Numbers, Farmers Insurance Open Edition. As you may have guessed, the column this week will be very Tiger Woods centric. Hey, you notch it your 75th win on the PGA Tour, you can have your own Numbers column, too. Without further ado, your Tiger at Torrey Pines Edition:
- Tiger owned the par-5s. Over the four rounds, Tiger was 12-under-par on the 16 total par-5s. He also made birdie or better on 11 of them — which results in a conversion rate of 68%. Whereas last year on the PGA Tour, Tiger ranked 14th with 48.3% rate. Rory McIlroy led the tour with a 53.1% percent rate. For the majority of his career, Tiger has ranked first or second on Tour in this stat.
- He scored well even when he wasn’t making putts. In the third round on Sunday, the longest putt Tiger made was six-and-one-half feet, and for the round he had a negative strokes gained putting number of -.758 and ranked 64th in the field. However, he had five birdie putts of less than five feet (he made 4/5), along with the aforementioned six-and-a-half footer. This allowed him to score even without a hot putter.
- Tiger owned the par-5s and gave himself looks at numerous short birdie putts. This was because he was able to attack the course with his driver. He was T17th in driving accuracy, Woods pulled driver on the vast majority of par-4 and -5 holes throughout the four rounds, and still finished T17th in driving accuracy for the week. When he chooses to hit driver, he is one of the longest on tour. He ranked eighth in driving distance on all holes at Torrey Pines.
- If you are a long driver on the PGA Tour, and you hit driver a fair amount, you are not going to be overly accurate. Of the ten longest drivers on Tour last year (measuring all drives, not just two-per-round), none of them ranked inside the top-120 on Tour in driving accuracy. Of the top ten on Tour in club-head speed, only two were inside the top-130 in accuracy: Tiger and Henrik Stenson — both of whom sacrificed distance for accuracy (Stenson ranked 104th in distance, Tiger was 37th).
- Even when Tiger was dominant in his heydey (with the “Butch (Harmon)” swing, he was not always long and straight. In 1999 he was 65th in accuracy, and in 2000 he was ranked 54th. However, he didn’t crack the top-100 in driving accuracy again until 2009, which includes ’01 and ’02 (during the “Butch” years). While he was 86th in accuracy in 2009, he was no longer ranked top-five in distance, and last year, Tiger often hit 3-wood and/or an iron off the tee, which is why he was 37th in distance (on all drives), despite being top-ten on Tour in club head speed, ball speed, and carry distance.
The reality is, Tiger is one of the best drivers of the golf ball on the PGA Tour, especially amongst the longer hitters. It is our expectations for how well PGA Tour players – especially the longer guys – hit the driver, which are out of whack. Mark Broadie (the Columbia professor who came up with strokes gained putting) is working on strokes gained statistics for all parts of the golf game. According to his metric, Tiger was 10th on Tour in strokes gained driving in 2012. The guy who was ranked first? No other than the world’s number-one Rory McIlroy.
Did Woods miss a bunch of fairways in the fourth round at Torrey? Yes. But given the law of averages, we should have expected it. Does it mean that compared to his peers, Tiger is a bad driver of the golf ball? All evidence points to no. In reality, along with stellar wedge play, the driver was the key club to Tiger’s victory at the Farmers Insurance Open.
[Ed. note: I was sick at the beginning of last week and didn’t have a chance to publish Shoshana’s column for the Humana Challenge. My apologies. She did the work, and unfortunately, I was unable to share it — this stuff happens in the world of writing. It sucks, but hey, it wasn’t a total waste: it counted toward her reps! Thanks for understanding. ––Steph]