Tiger Woods and Strokes Gained - Putting

More than a year ago the PGA TOUR introduced a new putting statistic, Strokes Gained – Putting (SGP). The metric has been picking up traction as the purest evaluation of putting.

Tiger Woods


(This is something you will see more of in the form of notes and graphics from ESPN Stats & Information. Senior Researcher Justin Ray has included SGP extensively in his regular golf blog for ESPN.com, and you can read more here for an in-depth explanation of how it is defined.)

We have used SGP to show how Tiger Woods has improved this season, leading to his victory last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational -- his first official win since 2009.

From the first round of the 2009 BMW Championship through the final round of last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods has played 69 rounds measured for SGP.

Most Strokes Gained Putting
Woods Since 2009 BMW Champ

Four rounds during that time, Woods' SGP was three strokes or better, and he was a combined 22-under par. One round came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Woods shot a second-round 65 to soar up the leaderboard.

Twelve times in that span, Woods had rounds of 4-under or better. In each of those rounds, Tiger gained strokes on the field, which means his SGP was positive. In six of those 12 rounds, Woods had an SGP of two or greater, including in his three best rounds.

In Woods' worst rounds during that stretch, his SGP number was poor. Sixteen times he was two-over or worse, and in all but one of those rounds he had a negative SGP.

So how is SGP better than traditional putting statistics? Look at Woods' best putting averages (putts per green) since the 2009 BMW Championship.

Woods' four best performances in terms of putting average came at the 2009 BMW (won), 2011 PGA Championship (missed cut), 2010 Masters (tied for fourth), and 2010 the Memorial (tied for 19th). Although there are a couple of good performances, it’s a very inconsistent indicator of a player’s success.

Back to SGP. Woods' putting average at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was 1.842, which ranks 21st out of the 25 tournaments that the statistic is available for since the 2009 BMW.

Highest Score to Par Since ’09 BMW
Tiger Woods, SGP Measured Rounds

So why was his putting average so high despite the fact his SGP was so good (+1.44 per round)? His putting average was worse because his ball-striking accuracy was better.

Woods hit 79.2 percent greens in regulation last week -- his highest in any tournament during our time span. If Woods is on the green in two, 20 feet away, he can hit two putts and make par. If he misses the green, chips the ball close and makes his putt, he also has made par -- but his putting average is better (one) than if he hit the green with his second shot.

Finally, take a look at how Woods has fared entering the Masters the last two years with SGP. In 13 measured rounds in 2012, Woods has picked up 9.69 strokes on the field. Last year, that number was 3.63 strokes in 11 rounds.