The answers behind Tiger and Torrey

January, 21, 2014

The scope of Tiger Woods' dominance at Torrey Pines over the past 15 years, like most of the statistical mountain he's accrued so far, likely will not be fully appreciated until his career reaches its twilight.

Trivia question

Tiger Woods won the 2006 Buick Invitational (now called the Farmers Insurance Open) in a three-man playoff. Whom did Woods defeat in the playoff? (Answer below)

In 13 starts at what is now known as the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods has seven victories -- and three rounds over par. Six previous times, Tiger has opened his PGA Tour season at this event. He won five of those, including last year, and his combined score to par in those events is 75 under.

Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines -- seven at this event and the 2008 U.S. Open, his last major championship. Tiger has also done this at Bay Hill and Firestone. Should Woods win this week, he would become the first player in PGA Tour history to win at the same course nine times.

But why has Woods been this consistently great at Torrey? We at Numbers Game are so happy you asked.

Punishing par-5s: It's no secret that Woods has taken advantage of par-5s throughout this career. In the 14 different PGA Tour seasons in which he played enough rounds to qualify for the statistic at the end of the season, Tiger has never finished worse than T-6 in par-5 scoring and has led the tour 10 different times. But the extent to which Woods has picked apart the par-5s at Torrey Pines is particularly remarkable.

In 13 career starts at the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods is a combined 135 under on the par-5s. In his seven victories, Tiger finished first or second in par-5 scoring for the week four times and never worse than T-12 in the other three wins. Tiger has played 204 par-5 holes in his career at the Farmers Insurance Open -- he's made 137 birdies and eagles, a staggering clip of over 67 percent.

And at the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods played the par-5s in 9 under in Rounds 1-4, the best in the field that week.

In 2011, Woods finished T-44 at this event, the only time in 13 starts that he wound up outside the top 10. That week, Woods was just 4 under on par-5s, T-57 in the field.

Making the most important putts: Woods hasn't always putted lights-out for the duration of tournaments at Torrey Pines, but he has certainly executed when it's been needed the most. Last year's victory is a perfect microcosm of that fact.

For the week, Woods ranked just 37th in the all-encompassing "strokes gained putting." Tiger missed three putts from 7-10 feet in the first round (in which he still shot 68), and actually lost strokes to the field on the greens in Round 3, when he shot 69.

But in the final round, Woods was a flawless 16-for-16 on putts 10 feet and in. He needed just 18 putts over the first 13 holes of the final round, cruising to a 4-shot victory.

In 2007, Tiger was 11th in strokes gained putting for the week. But in the final round, Woods gained plus-2.5 shots on the field on the greens, and subsequently beat Charles Howell III by 2.

In his last two victories at the event, Woods has capitalized on scoring opportunities better than anyone else in the field, making a higher percentage of birdie and eagle putts than any other player -- a clip of better than 40 percent. In Woods' six wins at this event dating back to 2003, he's made at least 35 percent of his birdie and eagle attempts five times.

Consistently getting approach shots close: One reason Tiger hasn't needed his putter to bail him out -- and subsequently his strokes gained putting numbers aren't through the roof -- is that he's been among the best in the field in approach shot proximity in his victories at Torrey Pines.

In 2008, Woods led the field in proximity to the hole on approach shots between 50 and 75 yards. He was fifth on shots between 100 and 125. In 2007, Woods was second on approach shots between 50 and 125 yards. In 2006, he was top-5 in the field in the 100-125 and 50-125 categories and, in 2005, fourth on shots between 150 and 175.

This is basically a barrage of numbers that say Tiger gets the ball closer to the hole more often than pretty much everyone else. Combine that with the clutch putting mentioned earlier, and you have an apparent recipe for absolute course dominance.

Trivia answer

Question: Tiger Woods won the 2006 Buick Invitational (now called the Farmers Insurance Open) in a three-man playoff. Whom did Woods defeat in the playoff?

Answer: Jose Maria Olazabal and Nathan Green

While most of the sports world bemoans Tiger's late-round struggles in the majors in recent years, Woods is barreling toward Sam Snead's mark of 82 career PGA Tour wins at an incredible rate. Should Woods defend the three titles he won before last year's Masters, he will be even with Snead when we get to Augusta in April.

Snead won his 80th PGA Tour event when he was 47 years old. Tiger could not win another tournament for nearly another decade, and he would still be ahead of Snead's pace.

Tiger Woods and Torrey Pines are already tied together throughout the PGA Tour record book. This week could simply be the latest chapter in a remarkable pairing.