I for one am delighted to see Tiger Woods making his way back to form. He brings something special to the world of professional golf. A great example is this bunker shot from the final round of the British Open in 2018.
However, how close is he to his dominating play of the early 2000’s? Can he get back there, and if so how? In this post we’ll take a look at his current form and stats from the 2018 season. We’ll then explore if, and how, he may get back to the top.
Tiger Woods – the magic number 68
If you want to be world number 1 the magic number to achieve is a stroke average of 68. In his prime 68 was Tiger’s number (no jokes please). Back in Tiger’s glory days he average three years scoring averages of 68.3 to 68.8 from 2001 to 2003. And as the table below shows, in 2007 he even managed to surpass this mark to a average of 67.80!
The table below shows the stroke average of the top players on the PGA for the past few years.
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Last year was the first ever year on the PGA Tour that averaging less than 69.0 didn’t win you the FedEx title. This year Tiger is hovering around the 69.6 mark. So he is close, but the question is – where will Tiger squeeze out this extra one shot he needs per round?
Breaking down Tiger’s playing stats
These days strokes gained is a key stat in understanding tour performance. However, strokes gained did not exist on tour in the early 2000s. Therefore a comparison is tough. Also, despite strokes gained being great for telling you how the winner performs differently from the rest of the field in a given week, it is actually not suited for within player analysis.
For this analysis we will have to look at good old fashioned metrics – yes they are not perfect either, but they do paint a useful picture. Below are some key metrics from Tiger’s play in 2018, 2007 & 2002.
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In this next section we will dig into the detail of each of these and work out what needs to change to get Tiger back to world number one.
How Tiger build’s his score
Tiger Off the Tee
Tiger has publicly been struggling with his driving for many years. Even in 2007 it wasn’t a strength, however he somehow made a score that year. In 2007 his driving was off, but he still managed his ball off the tee well enough to hit 71% of greens in regulation.
In his golden days, of the early 2000’s, he boasted a F.I.R. percentage of over 70%. In part this was due to shorter golf courses, allowing him to hit 2-irons and 3-woods more frequently. However, there is no doubt that under Butch Harmon he was more consistent with his longer clubs.
If he ever reaches this number again (FIR +70% ) I feel strongly that he will dominate the game. I would suggest the outlook is good for Tiger so far in 2018. The key stat to look at is the amount of right rough misses. When these are high Tiger is struggling; and the left misses follow as a consequence.
“The PGA Tour average for F.I.R. is currently 60.40%”
If Tiger can get these right misses down to around 15% by the end of 2018, I feel he will win a tournament or two. For any betting people out there, in my humble opinion, Tiger will struggle to win the US Open or similar tough golf course until his F.I.R. reaches 64% or above. In these events the penalty for missing the fairway is just too high.
Until that time comes his best chances at major wins will be those events where he can get away with missing fairways. Such as the British Open this year where the rough wasn’t too much of a penalty.
There is some contrasting data here. Strokes gained data from 2018 shows his dominance in iron-play versus the rest of tour – he is currently ranked 3rd on tour. However, he is considerably down on his G.I.R – just 66.53%.
One reason for this miss-match might be that strokes gained numbers don’t account for the frequency of shots a player completes in each of these sub-categories listed below.
Strokes gained takes the start location, marks the end result (proximity to the hole) and compares this to the rest of the field. If the end result is better than that the rest of the field you will rank well. Hence, for this analysis Greens in regulation is actually a more useful stat.
In other words, Tiger Woods is out-performing the rest of the field in average proximity to the hole, but most of these shots are being hit from the rough and a long way back.
The following table breaks down his proximity to the hole and tour rank for different areas of his approach play during 2018.
These proximity numbers are interesting to look at but this metric suffers from the same fault as strokes gained. Tiger is ranking 22nd from approach shots from 50 – 75 yards, but he has had just four attempts this season. Where as he has played 42 shots from 225 – 250 yards.
Please realise I’m not suggesting these proximity numbers or the strokes gained stats are useless. All statistical models have weaknesses, the key with any modelling is to understand what is going on behind the numbers.
“COntext is tricky to quantify”
In essence, Tiger is a great iron-player compared to his peers. However, he is not in A1 positions often enough to utilise his iron-play for making birdies. Instead, he is saving his ass and scrambling for pars.
Tiger Wood’s short game
Tiger currently makes 63.4% of up and downs (scrambling stats) from inside 30 yards. This places him 19th on tour. In his glory days (2002) his scrambling stat was 69.67 (1st on tour). Changing this stat alone would save him the one shot a round needed and reduce his stroke average to 68.something.
His short game is great, but too frequently he does seem to leave himself in some near impossible positions. We could suggest he needs more work on his short game. However, here is how I interpret these numbers:
An improvement in driving would leave more shots in the fairway and easier approach shots to the green. In turn, this would surly drip down into easier up and downs to convert. This sequence of events is where I feel the true difference lies in his scrambling.
Tiger Woods putting
He’s back! Well almost. This season we’ve seen Tiger make far more mid-range putts (15 – 25 ft) than in his previous come back attempts. His putts per round average is a handsome 28.55, but we must remember this is in-part due to the fewer greens he is hitting in regulation.
The table below breaks down Tigers conversion rate from key distances. It also shows the number of attempts and putts made from each range. Click on the image to expand it.
Where he still needs a little refinement is within 10 feet. In 2002 his putting conversion inside 10 feet was 89.66%, but we must remember this was a Tiger who was hitting more greens in regulations and therefore had more tap in putts.
The key stat to lock onto is putting from 4-8 feet. It currently stands at 67.57%. In 2002 this number was 73.86%. The Tiger from 2002 would have holed 10 more putts from this range from his 148 attempts so far this season. That may not sound like a lot, but how much do you think Tiger would pay to have that back?
Based on the analysis to this point there are two keys for Tiger:
- Increase his F.I.R. to above 60%
- Increase putting conversion from 4-8 feet to above 70%
Tiger on par 3’s ,4’s & 5’s
Before we wrap up this analysis let us look at how Tiger Woods plays par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s. On average there are three to four par 3’s, three or four par 5’s and 10 – 12 par 4’s per round on the PGA tour.
Tiger woods on Par 3’s
Tiger is currently playing the par 3’s 0.1 shots over his glory days. Times this number by three par 3’s per round (0.30) and we can see that 30% of Tiger’s area to work on is on these par 3’s.
Tiger woods on Par 4’s
There is only a 0.03-0.04 change in Tiger’s par 4 play. However times this number by 12 holes a round and we have a difference of 0.42 a round. This suggests par 4’s are where the majority of Tiger’s refinement needs to come.
Tiger woods on Par 5’s
Tiger has always taken par 5’s apart, however we should note that since 2002 many par 5’s have been ‘Tiger-proofed’. He is averaging 0.12 higher on par 5’s than he did 10 – 15 years ago. Multiplying this difference by three par 5’s a round we have another 0.36 shots per round Tiger could potentially save.
Adding together Tiger’s playing stats from par 3’s, 4’s & 5’s
If we add all these differences together we would see Tiger save 1.08 shots a round and reduce his stroke average to 68.52. This would almost definitely have him back to winning ways and back at world number one.
To think about this another way – what would happen if we knocked 4.32 shots (1.08 x 4 rounds) off each of Tiger’s tournament scores to date in 2018?
For one, we would have seen him lift the British Open trophy at Carnoustie.
Tiger woods – In summary
This analysis suggests Tiger is close to competing at the top and winning tournaments again. One shot off a round is all he needs, but I feel there is a deeper factor at play here that is often over-looked.
These are his current stats, but we need to consider – is he moving forwards or backwards? To me, and watching him play and talk about his golf I feel he finally has a plan in place to get better each week.
He has a balanced life, what appears to be a way of managing his Back injury post-surgery, and critically, a clearer vision of how he wants to swing the golf club.
I feel that this Tiger Woods, given 12 months of health to keep refining his swing, will be one that finds the fairway more often. He will then be back to utilising his iron-play for birdies rather than saving pars. Based on my time building this analysis my mind says Tiger will be back in 6 – 12 months. Just keep an eye on that F.I.R. number.
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Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider