Golf World

What's Ahead For Tiger Woods?

Continued (page 4 of 4)

For majors, we looked at all post-World War II players who won at least four Grand Slam events by their 37th birthday. That's seven players who accounted for 50 titles before 37 and nine after, 84.7 percent of their majors coming before they turned 37. Following that trajectory would give Woods 16.5 majors. It could be argued that the sample size of major winners is too small, and we should use the same victory percentage we used for total wins. That would give Woods 17.7, so let's split the difference and call it 17.

Of course, 94 and 17 are merely the most probable final numbers. But this analysis shows that Snead's record is likely to fall while there's a less than 50 percent chance that Nicklaus' mark will. If that's seen as "failure," Woods has himself partially to blame for setting 18 as his main target. But becoming the PGA Tour's all-time winningest player would be a nice consolation prize.

Note: The elephant in the room on the predictions is whether the post-2009 Woods is a completely different player, mentally (post-scandal) and physically (various injuries) than the earlier version. These projections take such matters into account to a certain extent. Woods' recent decline is a factor on the front end because his pre-37 numbers are lower than they would have been given his less productive recent seasons of 2010 and 2011. And the possibility of steep decline is factored in on the back end by including such players as Curtis Strange (no wins after age 37) in the averages.

But if you're in the camp that the end of 2009 represents a complete breaking point, you would revise these projections downward. On the other hand, if you feel the winless seasons of 2010 and 2011 were an anomaly, you would revise them upward. -- David Barrett

Stats Don't Scream 'Tiger's Back'

During an exhibition duel in China last October, a miked-up Tiger Woods was heard admitting to Rory McIlroy that he was having trouble with distance control on his short irons. ShotLink stats indeed show that iron play from less than 150 yards was a weak point in 2012. Woods had an average ranking of 96th in proximity to the hole and greens in regulation in the various 25-yard increments from 75 to 150 yards; from 150 to 225 yards his average ranking was fifth.

tiger woods throwing golf club

Although he hit more fairways in 2012, Woods' skill with the driver is still a question for some. Photo: Hong Wu/Getty Images

The areas where Woods showed great improvement in his three-win 2012 season were hitting fairways (55th in 2012, after an average of 175th the previous two years) and scrambling (fourth in percentage of par saves after averaging a shockingly poor 154th in 2010-11.) That helped him to rank third in avoiding bogeys, while driving in the fairway enabled him to pick up easy birdies by going for the green more often on reachable par 5s.

But the stats show that Woods hasn't eliminated the big miss. He ranked 148th in distance from the edge of the fairway on drives in the rough, not much of an improvement from 2010-11. And his proximity to the hole ranking on approach shots from the rough was much worse than from the fairway, an indication that he was often in bad spots.

Meanwhile, Woods is not the explosive player he was when younger. At age 36 in 2012, he ranked 32nd in driving distance and 21st in how often he went for it on reachable holes, so he's not overpowering courses to the extent of the Bubba Watsons and McIlroys of today's tour. Similarly, Woods is now a good putter, ranking 35th in strokes gained-putting, where once he was a great one, ranking first cumulatively from 2004 to 2009. Those factors make it harder for Woods to dominate even as he puts together a good year like 2012.

The biggest disappointment for Woods in 2012 was undoubtedly his play on the weekend. While ranking third and second in scoring averages for rounds 1 and 2 (69.33 and 69.28), he ranked 45th and 32nd for rounds 3 and 4 (70.25 and 70.40). The tour keeps a stat for the percentage of times a player improves or maintains his position in the final round; Woods had never ranked worse than 11th in his career while leading the stat seven times. In 2012 he ranked 94th at 53.3 percent. Most noticeably, Woods went backward at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship after sharing the 36-hole lead and averaged 72.88 in his weekend rounds at the majors. Woods' victory totals in 2013 and beyond will depend not only on solving his short-iron problems but regaining his ability to deliver the knockout punch on Sunday. -- D.B.

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