Woods could reach No. 1 with Kiawah win

August, 7, 2012
Ask two different people what to make of Tiger Woods' collective 2012 performance to date, and you might get two totally different replies.

On one hand, Woods was in the lead entering the weekend at the U.S. Open, and was in contention at Royal Lytham, yet failed to close out either event for major title No. 15. Woods is 13-over in six weekend rounds in majors this year -- 8-over on Sundays alone. He also has struggled at times with his putting. Woods is 39th in strokes gained-putting and 75th in birdie-or-better conversion percentage this season.

Trivia question

One player has held the No. 1 position in the Official World Golf Ranking for a single week. Who is he? (Answer below)

On the other hand, Tiger leads the PGA Tour in victories, FedEx Cup points and scoring average. He's fourth on tour in total driving and ball striking after hovering around 200th in the statistic the previous two seasons. He has five top-three finishes on tour this year after not recording any in 2010 and 2011.

And though the achievement would merely be a sidebar this Sunday if Woods wins his fifth PGA Championship, Tiger has a chance to reclaim a title he's held for a record 623 weeks during his career -- the world's No. 1 player.

Woods invariably ends up being evaluated predominantly on his performance in major championships, but it's been his work in non-majors that's vaulted him back up the world ranking. Woods has gained 279.1 OWGR points in 2012, most of any player on the planet.

That's not the only reason he's skyrocketed to second (he was 58th at one point last November). The OWGR uses a rolling two-year system, which means that tournaments from 2010 are "lost" from each player's evaluation as this season progresses.

If you're familiar with Woods' work in 2010, you know he didn't exactly light up the world (12 PGA Tour starts, two top-10s). Tiger has "lost" only 81.7 points in 2012. Only two players currently in the OWGR Top 25 have lost fewer points this year: Jason Dufner (76.2) and Keegan Bradley (80.7).

Woods' current points average of 8.53 is the highest it has been since the week of Oct. 10, 2010. The last week Tiger was No. 1 in the world (two weeks later), it was actually 8.31, lower than it is today.

Tiger started 2012 at No. 23 in the ranking -- his current 21-spot ascension is the third-biggest among players in the Top 25 this week. Only Dufner and Zach Johnson have climbed more this year.

All that being said, this might not be the week to wager on Woods. It's impossible to count him out of a major championship before it begins, but he has a couple of things stacked against him at Kiawah this week.

For one, he hasn't had a great amount of success in recent years on Pete Dye courses. Woods has one top-10 at TPC Sawgrass since 2002 and finished tied for 28th at Whistling Straits two years ago.

Second, Tiger is admittedly unfamiliar with Paspalum grass, which is what makes up most of The Ocean Course. Tiger's green-reading problems have been well-documented recently (he was 56th in strokes gained-putting last week at Firestone), and it's difficult to believe that will improve on an unfamiliar putting surface.

Woods was just 3-for-13 last week on putts between 10 and 15 feet. Tiger will likely need better results than that to contend at Kiawah.

If 2011 was the Year of the Playoff in the world of golf (the PGA Tour featured 18 events that went extra holes last year, two more than in any other season all-time), 2012 has become one of two things:

1. For the optimist, the Year of the Comeback. 2. For the rest of us, the Year of the Collapse.

Keegan Bradley is defending his title this week at the PGA Championship as a newly minted three-time winner on tour. This was partly thanks to Jim Furyk's horrifically timed double-bogey on the 72nd hole, his first blemish in 83 holes.

Bradley entered the final round at Firestone down 4 shots. He became the 11th player on tour this year to win when trailing by at least 4 shots after 54 holes. In all of 2011, there were just six such comebacks.

We've seen these final-round deficits overcome this year: eight (Kyle Stanley), seven (Brandt Snedeker) and seven (John Huh). Nobody came back from more than six back all of last year.

And it hasn't been limited to regular events. Each of the three major winners this year was fourth or worse entering the final round. Webb Simpson was tied for 29th after two rounds at Olympic, the worst 36-hole position by a U.S. Open champion -- ever. Ernie Els trailed Adam Scott by 6 shots when he made the turn on Sunday at The Open Championship.

But for every Snedeker, there's a Kyle Stanley (the Stanley that lost at Torrey Pines, not the one who won the next week in Scottsdale).

Stanley made an 8 on the final hole at the Farmers Insurance Open, then lost in a playoff to Snedeker. The optimist speaks of Stanley's remarkable resilience the following week at the Waste Management Open. The saltier golf fan will note Spencer Levin's blown 6-shot lead entering Sunday.

Trivia answer

Question: One player has held the No. 1 position in the Official World Golf Ranking for a single week. Who is he?

Answer: Tom Lehman in April of 1997

Furyk's summer has been a painfully fascinating one. From 2002-11, he held 10 leads after 54 holes (or shares of the lead) on the PGA Tour, winning seven of them. In 2012, he's now 0-for-3.

The numbers say that somebody is likely to join Furyk and Scott in their major misery this weekend. Each of the last four years, the winner at the PGA came from behind on Sunday to take the title. And in the 17 majors played since Tiger won the 2008 U.S. Open, a 54-hole leader has gone on to win just four times.

Prepare for more dramatics this weekend in South Carolina.

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 Justin.Ray@espn.com.


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