Tiger owns match play, WGC events

February, 23, 2009

Is anyone surprised that Tiger Woods is returning this week for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship? I must admit I was shocked at first, even though I had heard Mark O'Meara's and John Cook's interviews on the exceptional state of Tiger's game and his health. This week the stats blog looks at the mileage Tiger might put on his new knee and his amazing track record in the World Golf Championships.

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Consider the potential strain that Tiger might endure:

• If Tiger makes it to the final Sunday and every match goes exactly 18 holes, he would play 126 holes in five days after not playing on the PGA Tour in 254 days.

• If Tiger makes it to Sunday, he could walk about 31.2 miles in five days (a normal 72-hole PGA event walking distance is roughly 16 miles). The weekend matches alone would make up 17.8 miles of this distance. This length is only the course yardage; it does not include the mileage walked from green to tee or any lateral mileage added from errant shots.

At first glance, the cost-benefit analysis does not appear to favor a comeback this week. Realizing what an intelligent athlete Tiger is, I had to look into this a little further. To give you a window into Tiger's take on World Golf Championship events and what he missed most in his layoff, examine the following quote:

"They are exactly what they were meant to be, and that's putting the best up against each other more often than just the four majors and The Players [Championship]. I think that's why we as players and competitors love them, love the idea that we can go head-to-head more often. Most of the guys play in Europe or some other part of the world, and we don't get a chance to buck heads. Maybe, like I said, just five times. And now we can do it more frequently, and I think it's been a huge success."

Tiger also stated that this is the first time he has been able to swing pain-free in years, and that had it not been for the birth of his son, Charlie, on Feb. 8, he would likely have come back sooner.

The Record
Given Tiger's track record at the WGC Match Play, his return this week might not be such a crazy endeavor. Woods is a three-time champion in the event (2003, 2004, 2008). He is also the leading money winner in tournament history.

Top 10 Accenture Match Play Championship win leaders

Rank Player Win-Loss
1. Tiger Woods 31-6
2. David Toms 23-8
3. Davis Love III 18-8
4. Darren Clarke 14-7
5. Adam Scott 13-7
T-6. Phil Mickelson 13-9
T-6. Stewart Cink 13-9
8. Henrik Stenson 12-2
9. Chris DiMarco 12-7
10. Retief Goosen 12-9

Impressed yet? Considering all the World Golf Championship events, Tiger has amassed some eye-popping totals over the years.

Top 10 in World Golf Championship earnings

Rank Player Events Earnings
1. Tiger Woods 26 $20,825,833
2. Vijay Singh 28 $5,145,750
3. David Toms 26 $4,609,792
4. Stewark Cink 26 $4.438.525
5. Darren Clarke 24 $4,412,517
6. Henrik Stenson 14 $4,190,317
7. Retief Goosen 28 $4,096,583
8. Davis Love III 23 $4,077,817
9. Geoff Ogilvy 9 $4,042,333
10. Ernie Els 26 $3,711,250

Game, set, match
How strong has Tiger been in WGC events?

• Woods has earned more than four times that of Vijay Singh, No. 2 all time in the WGC event earnings.

• Taking into account only Tiger's earnings in the WGC events, he would rank 17th on the PGA Tour all-time money list between Fred Funk with $20,925,849 and Nick Price with $20,563,108.

• For his career, Woods has 65 PGA Tour victories in 236 starts, a winning rate of 27.5 percent. In WGC events, Tiger has 15 wins in 26 starts for a 57.7 percentage. In non-WGC events, Tiger's win rate is one-third this clip at 19.0 percent.

• Tiger's total of 15 wins in WGC events is unparalleled. Only Geoff Ogilvy and Darren Clarke have won more than one WGC event; both have two victories.

• Tiger's record in match play as a professional is 37-9-1 (including Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and the WGC Match Play). His record in PGA Tour playoffs (which really boils down to match play) is 11-1. His only loss came to Billy Mayfair at the 1998 Nissan Open.

• Tiger's record in match play as an amateur is 42-4. Combined with his professional record, he is 80-12-1, a winning percentage of 86.0.

Others to Watch
In match play, the key numbers are scoring-related stats, especially those that relate to making birdies. The nature of the game allows a player to have a blowup or an off day and still come away with the victory. This is a great plus for Tiger as there is bound to be competitive rust. The other nice feature of this event is that except for Saturday's quarterfinal and semifinal double billing, he has to beat only one player each day.

• Geoff Ogilvy has a career record of 11-2 at the Accenture Match Play. He won the event in 2006 and finished as the runner-up in 2007. He is third on the all-time money list at the event. Ogilvy won the PGA Tour opener this year at the Mercedes-Benz Championship. He also leads the PGA Tour this year in birdies per round at 5.13 and in par breakers (percentage of holes at birdie or better) at 29.17 percent. Ogilvy is third on tour in birdie conversion rate at 40.39 percent. Birdie conversion is the percentage of holes that end in birdie or better given a player hit the green in regulation.

• Steve Stricker has a career record of 9-5 here, including a victory in 2001. Stricker has been in contention twice already this year and finished runner-up to Mickelson last week at the Northern Trust Open. He ranks fifth on tour in scoring average and has a better than 3-to-1 birdie-to-bogey ratio this year. He ranks 19th on tour in birdies per round at 4.40.

• Henrik Stenson has a career record of 12-2 at the WGC Match Play, including a victory in 2007 and a third-place finish in 2008. Stenson is a No. 2 seed with a tough draw of Davis Love III in Round 1.

• Rory McIlroy, the teenager from Northern Ireland, will be playing in his first WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and his first tournament in the U.S. McIlroy skyrocketed to No. 16 in the world rankings with his victory earlier this month at the Dubai Desert Classic. If the seeds hold up, the fourth-seeded McIlroy would meet Tiger on Friday in the round of 16.

• Sergio Garcia will be making his 2009 PGA Tour debut this week. The No. 2-ranked player in the world made a bigger move toward catching Tiger than any of the other world-class players. After the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger's ranking points were at 21.152; Mickelson was a distant second at 10.214 and Sergio was sixth at 5.264. Entering the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Tiger is now at 9.90 average points in the world rankings and Sergio is a much-closer second at 7.85 points. Garcia's record here is only 8-7, but let's see what confidence he is able to draw from his No. 1 seeding.

The Course
The 2009 Accenture Match Play Championship moves to a new Nicklaus-designed course in Tucson, Ariz., the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in the Dove Mountain community. The course will play longer than any of the stops so far at 7,849 yards; this will be one of the longest courses all season.

One reprieve in the monster of a golf course is the thin air of the high desert, which allows for significantly more carry. As Jack Nicklaus has stated, "At this altitude, though, you're talking about 4 percent off that so you're basically at a 7,500-yard golf course, which is fine for professional." The course features five par-4s at 480 yards or more, with the longest measuring 536 yards, and a par-5 measuring 659 yards that usually plays into the wind.

Although the NCAA men's basketball tournament is known as March Madness, we can expect more upsets this week in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

• Since 1985, the upset rate in Round 1 of March Madness is 24.1 percent. That pales in comparison to the 40.3 percent first-round upset rate of the WGC Match Play. The most first-round upsets occurred in 1999, the tournament's first year. There were 18 upsets that year. Since 1999, each event has had 11, 12 or 13 first-round upsets out of 32 matches.

• Tiger Woods was victim to the biggest upset in tournament history in 2002. Tiger was No. 1 in the world and lost to Peter O'Malley, who was ranked No. 64. Since 1985, a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Send comments, suggestions, and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com.





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