Introducing the Wild Principle

January, 30, 2008
There are many ways of saying, "Tiger Woods is really, really good." (Putting yourself in the same tier is not one of 'em, Ian Poulter.) Let me introduce one more.

I received an e-mail this week from reader Levi Wild of Dallas with the subject line: "A (Possibly) New Stat to Judge Tiger's Dominance." With skepticism, I read the proposal, and I couldn't believe how brilliantly simple it was. In his own words:

    I did a little research and I think there may be a new, completely absurd way to judge Tiger: His stroke differential against the best the field has to offer for each tournament. So, if Phil Mickelson wins by 2 over Tiger at the Deutsche Bank Championship (as happened last year), that's -2 against Tiger. If Angel Cabrera wins by 1 over Tiger at the U.S. Open, that's -1 against Tiger … and so on.

    In 2007, Tiger was -20. That is a pretty staggering number when you think about it. He lost the Players and Arnold Palmer Invitational both by 11, so remove those scores and he was actually positive for the season. I find it disturbing that he had a lower stroke total than the best the field had to offer other than himself over the course of 13 tournaments last year. For the last five tournaments of last year, he was +19.

The Wild Principle, as I've dubbed this idea in honor of its coolly named founder, might be the perfect measuring stick for Woods' dominance. As we know, he is the rare player who often steps on the gas pedal when in the lead on Sundays and never wavers from his sole focus when charging from behind. I'm not sure there is a better way of proving his dominance than this new notion, save for just listing his results.

Obviously, Woods currently is plus-8 after winning the Buick Invitational in his first start of the season by eight strokes. I asked Wild to crunch the numbers for what is widely regarded as his best season to date, 2000:

    TW was +2 in 2000. Crazy. He already has been in the positive. The most he lost a tournament by during 2000 was seven strokes. The +15 at the U.S. Open, +11 at the NEC, and +8 at the British Open were very notable because he beat the field by more than they were able to beat him all year!

Just for comparison's sake, I asked Wild to take a look at a pair of players who had probably the second- and third-best seasons in 2007. Phil Mickelson totaled minus-200, K.J. Choi minus-224. As he writes:

    Of course, K.J. and Phil played 24 and 23 tournaments in 2007, respectively. But still, that means they averaged close to -9 per tournament, whereas Tiger averaged -0.75 in 2007.

As with any mathematically derived theory, there are some caveats to the Wild Principle. Four things of note:

    1. Winning or losing in a playoff yields no differential.
    2. This obviously considers only stroke-play tournaments.
    3. A missed cut means you take the player's score after two rounds and compare it to that of the four-round winner. This can skew the results in favor of the player being analyzed. (See last year's U.S. Open, when Mickelson missed the cut at 11-over after two rounds. Cabrera won at 6-over, so Mickelson's differential reads only minus-5, but who knows how much more it would have been if he had been able to play the last two rounds.)
    4. A withdrawal after two rounds means the differential is between the score of the winner and the score of the player when he withdrew.

Interested to hear what other fans have to say about this new device, so hit the "comments" link below to voice your opinion. Personally, I'm going to bookmark the link to this blog entry and use the formula often. Hey, when times call for different ways of measuring Woods' dominance, I'm always looking for ideas.

As we enter what many believe could be Woods' best season ever, let's keep this principle in mind and see if he can surpass the plus-2 from 2000.

That would be Wild.

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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