How will Tiger fare in 2011?

January, 25, 2011
01/25/11
11:09
AM ET

The media spectacle and tabloid parade that was Tiger Woods' 2010 season is mercifully, thankfully, a thing of the past.

At this time last year, Woods was reportedly checked into a rehab clinic in Mississippi, light years away from his former haven of dominance on the fairways and greens. He was about three weeks away from the now-surreal, seemingly PR-director-conceived mea culpa that was simulcast on every television network in the country like Woods was giving a State of the Union address.

Trivia question

Tiger Woods has won the now-called Farmers Insurance Open six times. Who holds the PGA Tour record for most wins at one event?(Answer below.)

Now, 16 months removed from his last PGA Tour win, Woods begins 2011 at the spot of his last truly great moment, Torrey Pines. The moment that gave us the image of a hobbling Tiger Woods, winning the world's most challenging golf tournament on a broken leg and shredded knee. Remember that Tiger Woods? The "expect anything different," fist-pumping, elated golf demigod?

Some argued last year that the best way for Tiger to deal with his off-course issues was to bury himself in his craft -- i.e., starting his season as quickly as possible. Like, say, for instance, at Torrey Pines.

After all, Tiger hasn't teed it up there and not been the winner since 2004. His worst career finish in a PGA Tour event there was a tie for 10th that year. No one has won more PGA Tour events at one course than Woods has at Torrey Pines -- seven times in all. A win this week would break a stalemate with himself at Firestone for the all-time tour record. Woods' six wins at this event have come by a combined total of 19 shots.

Woods has played 47 career competitive rounds at Torrey as a professional. Only three times did he shoot a score worse than par, and two of those were rounds of 72 and 73 at the 2008 U.S. Open, when the course was in full-fledged USGA form and played to a par of 71. The other came in the second round of the 2002 Buick Invitational. That week, he book-ended the event with rounds of 66 and still finished tied for fifth.

There have been nine instances in PGA Tour history when a player has won an event six or more times. Woods owns nearly half of those -- four.

Then there's the manner in which he's started PGA Tour seasons throughout his professional career. Since his first full year as a professional in 1997, Woods has never finished outside the top-10 in his first stroke play PGA Tour event of a calendar year. (It's important to specify stroke play, since he began his 2009 season at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and was bounced in the second round.) He's won six of those 14 starts and finished in the top five in 11 of them.

Four times, Woods has started his season at the Buick Invitational (err, Farmers Insurance Open). He won all four times, by a combined total of 14 shots.

And yet, with all these numbers explaining dominance of years past, the most telling number might be this: 505. That's the number of days between Woods' last PGA Tour victory at the 2009 BMW Championship and this Sunday. For one of the most prolific champions in the history of the sport, that number is the wailing, peanut-flinging elephant in the room. Until that number is erased with a victory, the cloud of uncertainty around the now world No. 3 will not go away.

Speaking of that number (3), another fact that arose this weekend with Martin Kaymer's victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is yet another sign that the tide has shifted in the golf world.

In addition to European players holding the first and second spots in the world ranking for the first time since 1993, Kaymer rising above Woods marks the first time since Woods turned professional that a player younger than he was above him in the rankings. For those of you possibly thinking about David Duval: Duval is about four years older than Tiger.

Think about that: It took Woods until the age of 35 to have a younger player eclipse him in the preeminent system of how we rank the best golfers in the world. What does this say more about -- Tiger's downfall, or just how impressive young Kaymer has been over the last six months?

Trivia answer

Question: Tiger Woods has won the now-called Farmers Insurance Open six times. Who holds the PGA Tour record for most wins at one event?

Answer: Sam Snead, who won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times. However, the event was held at two courses. Woods owns the record for most wins at a single course -- seven at both Torrey Pines and at Firestone.

Think of the endless crop of names of younger golfers who have popped up in the last decade as supposed challengers to Woods' throne (and we're missing many of them in the following list): Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Charles Howell III, Sean O'Hair, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, etc. Finally, the golf world has a young star that did what seemed impossible for so long. No golfer has been more impressive than Kaymer over the last six months -- he now has four wins dating to last fall's PGA Championship.

As for Tiger, he sits in third in said rankings for the first time since the fall of 2004, when he did so for five weeks. This week, we may find out how long he intends on staying there.

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