The British Open returns to Hoylake this July, but since undergoing back surgery in March, Tiger Woods remains a major doubt. As usual, information coming out of his camp has been sparing, but if a recent report form Golf Channel is to believed, it's this year's third major that Tiger is targeting.
Here's why that would be a good idea:
That chart was featured as part of Columbia University Professor Lucius Riccio's presentation at the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. It may look slightly complicated, but it's really not. The chart measures how close to the hole Tiger Woods hits his irons shots (the red line) compared to the tour average (the green line).
The lines slope downwards because the farther away from the hole you are, the harder it is to hit your ball close to the hole. Ideally, you'd like to hit your 4-iron as close to the hole as your pitching wedge, so the key is to try to have as flat a line as possible.
As you can see, Tiger Woods's regression line is pretty flat -- Justin Rose has the best, but Tiger's isn't far away. And that's backed up by the raw numbers; as David Barrett describes in his Golf World ShotLink article in January, Tiger Woods gained more strokes on the field with his approach shots (1.64) than anyone else on the PGA Tour last year. Tiger also gained more than 2.02 strokes on the field from tee to green in 2013 -- more than anyone but Justin Rose -- despite ranking 92nd on tour in Strokes Gained/Driving.
Now, cast your mind back to 2006, when Tiger disassembled Royal Liverpool more tactically, more meticulously, and more craftily than perhaps any other champion in the tournament's history.
Tiger Woods won the claret jug hitting more than 85 percent of his fairways (the best in the field), more than 80 percent of his greens (the second best in the field), and only hit one driver all week. It didn't particularly matter that he finished the week 53rd in Driving Distance and T-31st in Overall Putting Average.
As it did in 2006, Royal Liverpool, which will be set up almost identically to how it was before, will allow Tiger to exploit his strengths and neutralize his weaknesses perhaps more than any other major venue in recent years. And there's the added bonus that not hitting drivers will be easier on Tiger's increasingly frail body.
Considering his injuries, it's obviously a big ask for Tiger to return in the same vein that won him five tournaments in 2013, but his game's strengths and weaknesses won't completely flip overnight. It's almost impossible to believe that Tiger doesn't know that.
And suddenly, the timeline for his return starts to make more sense.