Watch out for Tiger Woods

March, 26, 2012

You don't have to listen that closely to hear it. That loud buzzing noise, coming from Georgia? It's already deafening, and we can't even smell the pine trees yet.

Seven times in the past nine weeks, a PGA Tour winner has come back from multiple shots back on Sunday. The reigning U.S. Open Champion, a 22-year-old megastar, snatched the world's No. 1 ranking for the first time. He then lost it mere weeks later to the only player on Earth to play (maybe) better over the past 18 months. All that, and a four-time major champion fired a near-flawless 64 on Sunday to win at Pebble Beach.

It's been that kind of year so far on the PGA Tour.

And then the loudest roar of 2012 came from Arnie's place.

Trivia question

Who is the only player to win a PGA Tour event more than seven times in their career? (Answer below)

Tiger Woods became the first player in the PGA Tour's modern history to win multiple events seven or more times in a career on Sunday. His 72nd career PGA Tour title draws him within one of Jack Nicklaus for second on the all-time wins list, and within 10 of Sam Snead for most victories all-time. His 5-stroke margin of victory was the largest on Tour since Rory McIlroy's 8-shot blowout at Congressional last summer.

Maybe more impressive than the margin of victory, however, was how he won the tournament.

Tiger hit the green in regulation 79.2 percent of the time en route to his victory at Bay Hill, his highest percentage in an event since the 2009 Buick Open.

If Tiger has that kind of pinpoint accuracy at Augusta National, it could mean major championship No. 15 is on the way. Woods has hit 75.0 percent of his greens in regulation four times in his Masters career -- all four of those were victories.

Even when Woods was aggressive, he maintained his consistency on approach shots. Woods went for the green in less than regulation (so in 2 on a par 5, or off the tee on a par 4) 14 times at Bay Hill, tied for most such attempts in the field. He was 9-for-14 on those attempts, for a field-best 64.3 percent success rate. It was Woods' highest percentage in a regular PGA Tour event since 2006.

"Total driving" is found by adding a player's ranks in driving distance and accuracy. Tiger currently leads the PGA Tour in that statistic. "Ball striking" is calculated by adding a player's ranks in total driving and greens in regulation. Woods currently leads the PGA Tour in that statistic, too.

The only year in Woods' career when he ranked first in either of those statistics was 2000. In case you forgot, that was kind of a good year for Woods -- he won three majors, six other times on Tour, and finished in the top-10 in 17 of his 20 PGA Tour starts. He also won the scoring average title by more than a full stroke, setting the all-time record for a season (68.17).

That's not to say Tiger wasn't impressive putting the ball, as well. Woods ranked third in the field last week in "strokes gained -- putting," gaining a full 5.88 strokes on the field. Tiger was 62-for-67 on putts inside 10 feet for the week, and had just one three-putt from Friday onward. Woods has made 90.6 percent of his putts inside 10 feet on the year, good for fourth on the PGA Tour in this young season.

In fact, that percentage would qualify as a career-best for an entire PGA Tour season. The Tour has kept putting statistics by distance since 2002. The only full year Woods made more than 90 percent of his putts inside 10 feet was in 2009 (90.4). The two worst years of his career in that statistic are, as expected, 2010 and 2011.

Of course, when a player has won 14 major championships and 72 PGA Tour titles, success inevitably boils down to four weeks per year. Woods has finished in the top-six at the Masters every year since his victory in 2005. Twice Woods has won at Bay Hill and Augusta in the same year -- 2001 and 2002.

Woods is already second in Masters history in top-five finishes, with 10. Only Jack Nicklaus has more (15). Tiger finished tied for fourth each of the past two years, both during seasons when he would have ranked outside the top 40 on Tour in birdie average (had he played enough rounds to qualify).

Expectations for Woods will be through the ceiling at Augusta; the MGM currently has him as the betting favorite at 3-to-1. One thing is for certain: It's going to be an exciting 2012 Masters Tournament.

Trivia answer

Question: Who is the only player to win a PGA Tour event more than seven times in their career?

Answer: Sam Snead, Greater Greensboro Open (eight wins).

One of the most remarkable statistics that always finds its way into a golf broadcast when Tiger is leading on Sunday is his stellar record when holding a 54-hole lead. Woods is now 49-for-53 winning events where he holds a share of the lead entering Sunday, and 39-for-41 when he holds the lead outright.

But maybe more amazing is Tiger's record when he holds a share of the 36-hole lead. When Woods has a share of the lead entering the weekend in his PGA Tour career, as he did at Bay Hill last week, he has won 34 times in 42 occurrences -- a win percentage of .810. Compare that to his two winningest peers in their careers: Phil Mickelson wins 57.1 percent of the time in those situations (16-for-28), and Vijay Singh has won 52.2 percent of the time (12-for-23).

Something to keep in mind should Woods be atop the leaderboard on Friday at Augusta.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to


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