Driving, not putting, key for Tiger
Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia University's business school, is a pioneer of the strokes-gained approach to PGA Tour statistics. The method uses data to make it easier to pinpoint a golfer's strengths and weaknesses by measuring the quality of shots in units relative to the field. His putts-gained stat, which takes into account the distance each putt starts from the hole and then compares the number of putts taken to the average of other PGA Tour golfers from that distance, is widely considered to be the most accurate measure of putting in the game.
Broadie believes that his strokes-gained approach is a more accurate way of measuring performance than most of the tour's stat categories.
"Most of the past PGA Tour stats are pretty simple in that they involve counting how many putts you take or how many fairways you hit," Broadie said in January. "But they don't take into [account] if you miss a fairway or a green by 1 yard or 20 yards. Strokes gained gives you a much better measure of a quality of a shot."
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Over the years, Broadie has looked very closely at the strokes-gained performance of Tiger Woods. Broadie used PGA Tour ShotLink data from 2003 to 2010 to determine that Tiger gained 3.2 strokes per round over the average tour player. The biggest chunk of those strokes gained during that period came from his long game (2.08), with his short game (0.42) and his putting (0.70) accounting for the rest.
At Bay Hill, Tiger was 4.5 strokes per round better than the field, according to Broadie's research. This breaks down into a gain of 3.0 from the long game (shots longer than 100 yards to the hole), 0.1 from the short game (shots fewer than 100 yards from the hole, excluding putts) and 1.4 from putting.
Graeme McDowell, who finished second, gained 3.2 strokes per round on the field.
Tiger's putting gain of 1.4 putts per round breaks down to 0.1 gained in 0 to 6 feet, 0.7 in 7 to 21 feet and 0.6 in putts 22 feet and longer.
"Tiger couldn't have won just with his long game, but it's the part of his game that separated him from the field," Broadie said. "His 3.0 strokes-gained long game was ranked 1 in the field."
Woods gained 0.5 strokes on long tee shots (ranking 30th out of 118) and was great on other long shots as well (for example, gaining 0.7 strokes on shots in 200-250 yards from the hole and an additional 0.8 strokes on shots 150-200 yards from the hole).
His long game was the main reason he was a tournament-best 12 under par on the par-5s at Bay Hill.
For the year, Broadie has Tiger and Rory McIlroy ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in overall strokes gained. According to Broadie, both players have great long games and pretty good putting but mediocre short games.
"They look pretty comparable statistically, and that's why they have to be the favorites heading into the Masters," Broadie said.
At Bay Hill, Tiger showed an improved touch with his putter, but he didn't gain much on the field in that critical distance of 0 to 6 feet, a factor that could come into play at the Masters on Augusta National's slick, undulating greens.
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On Sunday, Tiger might have won by 10 shots if not for his three putts.
Still, it's his long game that probably will make or break him at Augusta.
Tiger knows the strengths and weaknesses of his game better than anyone. At Bay Hill, he finally found some confidence in his putter at the same time that he was feeling good vibes about his new swing. His pinpoint accuracy for hitting the right spots on greens with the precise trajectory is an old habit for him at the Masters.
Woods probably will miss his share of putts like everyone else at Augusta, but no one will get around that ball striker's paradise with his same level of electricity and precision.
But late on Easter Sunday, if Tiger has a dominating performance in the long game, he'll probably earn his fifth green jacket.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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