Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tiger Woods' secret

Examining the only stat the matters
Any ol' wannabee golf historian would be troubled to research Ben Hogan without finding something about his "secret." Hogan wouldn't go on record of what his secret was until a Time magazine feature in August 1955 where he said it was a pronation of his wrists in the backswing, which resulted in turning his pronounced hook he had been struggling with into a baby fade. But, many believe Hogan's real "secret," a mixture of skill, focus and drive, is what enabled him to score better or even with the world's top players.

Tiger Woods also has a perfect cocktail, and it's more perfect than anyone in the history of the game. It's what has enabled him to score lower than his peers, which is the biggest key to winning golf tournaments. Few people have actually examined the scores Tiger shoots compared to the rest of the field, and used that to consider what would actually have to happen for the long term expectations of him to change.

Tiger has won the Vardon trophy eight of the last twelve years and would have won nine only he didn't meet the required 60 rounds to be eligible in 2006. Commentators and golf writers often refer to intangibles like performing when it counts and the so called intimidation factor, but he is the best because he scores the lowest. How he does it doesn't really matter.

Jack Nicklaus too had the lowest scoring average eight times in his career and finished second six times, but too few events made those averages "unofficial" and Nicklaus was never eligible for the Vardon Trophy, which is likely the reason they introduced the Byron Nelson Award in 1980.

Taken from Wikipedia:
Thirteen men have won the Vardon Trophy more than once (1937-2010).

* 8 wins
o Tiger Woods: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009

* 5 wins
o Billy Casper: 1960, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968
o Lee Trevino: 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1980

* 4 wins
o Arnold Palmer: 1961, 1962, 1964, 1967
o Sam Snead: 1938, 1949, 1950, 1955

* 3 wins
o Ben Hogan: 1940, 1941, 1948
o Greg Norman: 1989, 1990, 1994
o Tom Watson: 1977, 1978, 1979

* 2 wins
o Fred Couples: 1991, 1992
o Bruce Crampton: 1973, 1975
o Tom Kite: 1981, 1982
o Lloyd Mangrum: 1951, 1953
o Nick Price: 1993, 1997

As far as G-Blaze is concerned, Tiger looked almost as good as he ever has in late 2009, just over one golf season ago. He finished the season 1, 1, 2, 1, T2, T11, 1, 2 with a scoring average of 68.07.

Changes in his personal life disrupted one element of his winning cocktail during the 2009 postseason, but that disruption will not last forever. The swing changes are giving him something to occupy his mind, but changes or no changes, G-Blaze believes he will at some point reign well above that game's other top players for one simple reason: He understands how to score slightly better than everyone else.

In 2010, Matt Kuchar won the Vardon trophy with the highest scoring average (69.61) since Tom Lehman won it in 1996. For Tiger to not regain his position easily on top of the golf world, someone in the field will have to permanently start scoring lower or Woods will have to fail to bring his scores back to a level that he has maintained for over a decade. The latter is quite unlikely given his age, health, work ethic.

Today, it's hard for some not to get emotional when discussing Tiger Woods. There's the camp that has never liked him and are not shy about voicing their enjoyment in watching him struggle. There's the camp that started playing the game because of him, idolize him, and will defend him no matter what. Then there's a third camp that just enjoy seeing any dynasty fall, whether it's the Yankees, Patriots or Tiger Woods.*

Emotions aside, it's more likely than not that he dominates for at least another five year stretch and remaining competitive for another ten or more.

*There's also a smaller fourth camp of dirt dogs that like him even more after discovering his off course activities.