Weekends not helping Tiger's cause

March, 18, 2014

Before diving headfirst into some numbers that suggest otherwise, let's establish the inalienable truths about Tiger Woods in 2014.

Woods is still No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Woods is the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, having won five times in 2013 on the world's pre-eminent circuit -- three more than any other player. Tiger had a pair of top-six finishes in major championships last year, something only five other players can claim (Adam Scott had three; Woods, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Jason Dufner had two each).

Trivia question

Tiger Woods is the only player to win eight times or more at a single venue in PGA Tour history, doing so at three different courses (including Bay Hill). Who are the only other players to win six times or more at one course? Answer below

Last year, Woods won the Vardon Trophy for the first time since 2009. He also led the money list and ranked first in all-around ranking.

Because of these facts -- and not because of perception or his past -- when Tiger Woods is at full strength, he is still the best player on the planet. Period.

That caveat of "when" has been the biggest question in golf so far this year, however. We all know about Woods' bad back. Tiger has twice as many withdrawals (four) since 2010 as he had over the first 13 full years of his professional career (two).

Injury issues aside, every time Woods has been in contention on the weekend over the last five years, golf fans have heard one of the following:

1. "These young players just aren't intimidated by Tiger anymore."

2. "The old Tiger would have just stepped on the gas and won this thing."

3. Some combination of Nos. 1 and 2.

Woods' biggest rival has become his perceived old self, an untouchable myth who on Sundays made every clutch shot and big putt, and never had even a muscle cramp. An invincible comet streaking across the golf sky, Woods left entire fields of elite players trembling in his wake.

Or something like that.

Reality lies somewhere between that unreachable mythology and Y.E. Yang. Tiger's statistics -- especially in the final round -- were absurd for more than a decade. They are only now returning closer to mortal levels.

From 1997 through the 2009 season, Woods had a final round scoring average of 69.29. Only 14 times in 207 rounds did Woods card a 74 or worse -- that's less than 7 percent of the time. Woods was a combined 424 strokes under par in that span.

Since 2010, Woods' final round scoring average is 70.91 -- a full 1.62 strokes higher. In just 47 rounds, he's posted a score of 74 or worse 10 times -- 21.3 percent of the time. Combined score to par: 13-under.

From 2000 to 2009, Tiger had nine different seasons in which he played enough PGA Tour rounds to qualify for end-of-season statistical rankings. Seven of those nine times, Woods ranked either first or second in final round scoring average.

This year, he has finished only one fourth round stateside -- the injury-marred 78 at Doral. But in 2012, Woods' final round scoring average of 70.40 ranked 32nd on the PGA Tour. That was the worst such ranking of his career until 2013 -- when Tiger's 71.13 was tied for 93rd.

Those rankings explain a lot, but what about isolating Tiger's final round performance to just when he's lurking behind the leaders entering the final round?

From 1997 through 2009, when Woods was between second and ninth on the leaderboard entering Sunday, his scoring average was 69.04 (combined to par: minus-178). Woods came back to win 18 times in 80 tries -- 22.5 percent of the time.

Since 2010, Woods' scoring average in those situations is 70.94 -- nearly two full shots higher. Woods has come back to win twice in 18 tries -- about 11 percent of the time.

Nowhere have Woods' weekend woes been greater exacerbated than in recent major championships.

From 1997 through 2011, Tiger played 106 third and fourth rounds of majors, breaking par 57 times -- 53.8 percent. Tiger was a combined 75 under in that span, winning 14 times.

Since 2012, Woods has broken par just twice in third and fourth rounds of majors -- both coming last year at Augusta National. Tiger's score to par in that span is 28-over -- a 103-shot swing in relation to par.

Trivia answer

Question: Tiger Woods is the only player to win eight times or more at a single venue in PGA Tour history, doing so at three different courses (including Bay Hill). Who are the only other players to win six times or more at one course?

Answer: Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National, Sam Snead at Miami Springs G&CC and Alex Ross at Pinehurst.

For Woods, there's no place like this week's venue to turn the tide on the conversation about him. Woods has won this event four of the last five times he's played it. Nobody in the history of the PGA Tour has won more times at one course (eight) than Tiger has at Bay Hill. A ninth win (and the appearance of a healthy back) will make him the favorite again at Augusta, where he is second all time in both wins and top-five finishes.

Tiger Woods will likely never be "the old Tiger" again, whatever fans, writers and commentators perceive that to be.

He'll just have to settle for being the best player in the world.