Golf IQ

The crucial par-5 strategy peak Tiger Woods used—why it matters for you


Harry How

March 19, 2024

Of the many statistics that Tiger Woods dominated throughout his early-career run from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, arguably none was more significant than his play on the par 5s. Tiger led the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring average in every season from 1997 through 2003, and not just by a couple hundredths. He led by wide margins, which when added up over the course of a round and a tournament, largely contributed to his dominance.

In playing these holes well under par—he averaged around 4.4 during that stretch—it may surprise you to learn that he wasn’t focusing on making birdies. Sure, that was the end goal, but Woods was focused on limiting the number of bogeys he made on par 5s.

In fact, it was part of his five goals that he had for every round, which according to course-management expert Scott Fawcett, were:

1. Avoid bogeys on par 5s
2. Avoid 3-putts
3. Avoid double bogeys
4. Avoid blown easy saves
5. Avoid bogeys inside 150 yards

(Editor’s Note: For more on the Tiger 5 and other course-management insight, watch our Happy Hour webinar with Fawcett, who spoke to Golf Digest+ members for over an hour and answered questions.)

Woods figured out that if he could make six of fewer of these mistakes in a tournament, then he would win. What’s shocking is how they are all about not making mistakes. They’re not about making more birdies and eagles.

On the par 5s specifically, it is fascinating that by trying to avoid bogeys, Woods made more birdies and dominated those holes compared to the rest of the tour. What can we learn from his strategy? That’s what Luke Kerr-Dineen and I discussed on this episode of the Golf IQ podcast, which you can listen to here.

The par-5 mindset mistake

Often we step up to the par 5s thinking that since these are the easier holes, we need to make something happen. Play aggressively, hit it close, make birdie or an easy par. Yet in trying to force good things, we actually make crucial strategic mistakes that cause our scores to balloon.

Instead of approaching a par 5 and thinking, How can I make birdie or par?, start thinking, How can I make sure I avoid bogey, double or worse? It will free you up to play less aggressively, and in turn, your scoring average will drop.

The 2 common mistakes



1. Out of the hole too soon: Since par 5s are the longest holes, they have the most opportunities to get out of play. A wild tee shot, a botched layup or a poor iron shot all can lead to quick bogeys or worse.

Focus on keeping your ball in play off the tee, even if that means taking a more conservative line. Resist the urge to try and swing harder because it’s a long hole. Remember, your goal is simply to get it in play and avoid the big number.

2. Getting too fancy on the layup: It’s easy to lose focus on a layup shot. You’re not aiming at any specific target like the hole or middle of the green, so you lose focus and simply swing with no real intention. That’s when bad things happen. You lay it up into the rough, bunker or water. Or worse, you top or chunk it right in front of you. There’s a quick bogey or double.

Instead, be sure to pick a very specific, conservative target for your layup. Don’t force the ball too close to water, trees or other hazards. Even if that means you have a longer approach shot, that’s fine. You’re avoiding the big number.

So, during your next round, change your par-5 mindset and adopt Tiger’s approach, and remember, it’s OK to adapt your goal to your handicap. Tiger was trying to avoid bogeys, but if you’re a 10- or 20-handicap, maybe that means trying to avoid doubles or triples on par 5s. Whatever it is, the strategy remains the same.

For more on Tiger’s course-management keys, check out our entire Golf IQ episode here. And be sure to sign up for Golf Digest+ to watch our complete hour-plus Happy Hour with Scott Fawcett.