Weekend putting holding Tiger back

August, 5, 2013

Only one player in the history of golf can have a season in which he wins five times, finishes fourth at the Masters, sixth at the Open Championship, and people ask what's wrong with him.

Tiger Woods' obliteration of the PGA Tour's record book continued Sunday in Akron, Ohio, where he won his 18th World Golf Championship event. If you're keeping track, nobody else has won more than three of those things.

Trivia question

The PGA Championship has been won by players age 25 or younger each of the last three years. What was the last major to have that kind of streak? (Answer below)

But until Woods changes his recent history on the weekends in majors, many will still question the world's No. 1 player in his pursuit of the sport's ultimate record.

Woods' weekend woes
From 1997 through his last major victory, the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods was a combined 61 under in Rounds 3 and 4 of majors. Since then, he's 11 over in those rounds. That Woods has struggled during the final 36 holes of majors recently is no secret.

The trend of Tiger sliding down the leaderboard on the weekend has been especially exacerbated over the past six majors. He is 11 under in Rounds 1 and 2 of those six events -- he's 23 over in Rounds 3 and 4.

The numbers say his putting is the culprit. Over the past six majors, Tiger has needed 28.3 putts per round (340 in all) in the first two rounds. In Rounds 3 and 4, he has averaged 30.9 putts per round (371 total -- 31 more than the first two rounds).

And when you boil it down to the final round, it's even more staggering. In his past 13 major starts (since the 2010 Masters), Woods has a combined 13 three-putts in the final round. In the 13 majors he played before that stretch, he had only four.

Not surprisingly, he's 10 over in the recent stretch of struggling Sundays -- he was 9 under in the previous span.

Is Tiger's Bridgestone win a precursor to major No. 15?
This will be the 20th time in Woods' career he enters a major championship having won his last PGA Tour start. His record in those majors? Four wins and ten top-5 finishes. But when he wins the week prior, his record is much more impressive.

This is just the fourth time that Woods enters a major having won on the PGA Tour the week before. Each of the previous three instances came before the PGA Championship.

Those wins came in 2002 (Tiger finished second at the PGA), 2007 (won) and 2009 (second).

Does a blowout win mean anything different? Woods has won on the PGA Tour the week before a major by six or more shots one other time in his career -- the 2007 WGC-Bridgestone. Tiger went on to win the PGA Championship the following week, his sole major win of the 2007 season.

Will Tiger catch Jack?
It's not that Tiger hasn't been close recently in the major championships. Woods is one of only three players to make the cut in each of the past seven majors -- Adam Scott and Jason Dufner are the other two. Woods has nine top-six finishes in majors since his 2008 U.S. Open title -- the most such finishes of anyone in the game.

Even with Woods' current major slump, he is still on Jack Nicklaus' record pace. Exactly on it.

Entering the 1977 PGA Championship, Nicklaus was 37 years old and had won 14 majors in 63 starts as a pro.

Woods is 37 and has won 14 majors in 63 starts as a pro.

Nicklaus' 15th major win came at the 1978 Open Championship -- Jack was 38 and making his 67th major start as a professional. Meaning Woods could go winless through next summer's U.S. Open and still be on Nicklaus' pace.

Woods, of course, needs five more major wins to break Nicklaus' mark. Only one player has won that many majors after turning 37 -- Ben Hogan, with six.

And what about the current dry spell in major titles for Tiger? There is historic precedent there, but it was ended by maybe the most remarkable Masters title of all time.

There are seven players who have won seven or more majors since the inception of the Masters in 1934. Woods has played in 17 majors since his last win.

The largest gap between major titles for any of those men was 20 starts -- made by Nicklaus between his final two wins, the 1980 PGA and the 1986 Masters. Tiger's gap of 17 (and counting) is second on the list. Gary Player is third with 15.

Trivia answer

Question: The PGA Championship has been won by players age 25 or younger each of the last three years. What was the last major to have that kind of streak?

Answer: The U.S. Open, with four straight from 1911-1914.

And Woods will have plenty of opportunities at familiar courses in the next few years, as well. After this week, he will have eight more majors before his 40th birthday. At four of those seven venues -- Augusta (twice), Royal Liverpool, Valhalla and St. Andrews -- Woods has combined to win eight major titles on those courses.

Whether or not he wins No. 15 Sunday probably will depend on his putting in Rounds 3 and 4.