Tiger Woods: Power Ranking the Best Parts of His Game

David KindervaterCorrespondent IMay 30, 2012

Tiger Woods: Power Ranking the Best Parts of His Game

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    After a couple weeks off from competition on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods is back in action this week against an impressive field at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio—home of the Jack Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village Golf Club.

    Tiger has tasted victory here four times. And naturally, it's a tournament he would love to win again, but the event also serves as a challenging tune-up for next month's U.S. Open Championship at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where Tiger played a practice round yesterday.

    Tiger finished in unimpressive fashion—T40 at the Players Championship—earlier this month, leaving many to wonder which Tiger Woods we will see this week. His 2012 season has been a roller coaster ride—from an impressive five-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to a missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    Amidst a multi-year swing change project with coach Sean Foley, Tiger has been inconsistent to say the least. That's why it's difficult to rank the best parts of his game right now. But the numbers don't lie.

    Let's put Tiger's game through a quick power ranking to see where he provides the best of his best.

1. Off the Tee

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    To look at Tiger Woods' game over the length of his career, you wouldn't imagine that his play off the tee would be one of his strengths. Tiger's former teacher, Hank Haney, even named his recent book, The Big Miss, after Tiger's infamously errant tee shots.

    Haney referred to it as "driver anxiety."

    Tiger himself has joked that his last name is a perfect match for where his tee shots oftentimes wind up.

    Tiger is doing anything but missing in 2012, though. His current No. 2 overall ranking in Total Driving tells the whole story. If you take his Driving Distance (he's No. 26 overall) and his Driving Accuracy (he's No. 37) and mash them together, you've got a guy that's tough to beat off the tee.

    Tiger still bombs it close to 300 yards with his driver. Not bad for an "old guy" who's trying to keep up with the long-hitting young guns of the PGA Tour. And he continues to boast one of the fastest club head speeds (and ball speeds) in professional golf.

    Yet I still have no confidence when I see Tiger with a driver in his hands. I guess his "misses" over the years have been ingrained into my memory. But again, the numbers don't lie. Only John Rollins is ahead of Tiger in Total Driving.

    So, if you're looking for the best combination of distance and accuracy on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods is your man. His play off the tee is his greatest strength right now. He's putting himself in a position to be successful.

2. Putting

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    As the 2012 season began taking shape, I would've guessed Tiger Woods to be among the worst putters on the PGA Tour—from a strictly casual observation, that is—before I crunched the numbers.

    Of course, this is a guy who used to make everything, especially inside 10 feet. So, to see him missing putts, especially crucial short putts like he did at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship against Nick Watney—it's troubling.

    Tiger worked on a remedy with swing coach Sean Foley, of course. He even turned to fellow PGA Tour competitor—and putting genius—Steve Stricker for advice. But his eventual resolution was to go back to the teachings of his late father Earl Woods to help him get his stroke back.

    During Tiger's recent Google+ Hangout, he said:

    I've gone back to some of the things my father taught me. More than anything, it's getting comfortable, getting square, getting my setup dialed in. If my setup is off, for some reason my stroke reacts and it gets a little off. But when my setup's dialed in, that's when I release the putter the best. So, I've gone back to some of my old posture positions and looked at that. And I tried to get myself to emulate that. I feel a lot more comfortable now releasing the putter. It's coming naturally now instead of being forced.

    Looks like it's working, because Tiger has more than pulled himself together. In fact, he's among the Tour's best in Total Putting (No. 9) and Strokes Gained Putting (No. 19).

    As for those five- to 10-footers, Tiger is making almost 63 percent, good for the No. 12 spot on tour. And nobody is better from the 20- to 25-foot range. Now he just needs to work on getting his approach shots closer to the pin. If he can do that, he'll start winning golf tournaments.

    No, he's not what he once was when it comes to the flat stick, but he is headed in the right direction. And his play on the greens is a strength once again.

3. Ball Striking

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    Tiger Woods is one of the best ball strikers on the PGA Tour.

    What does that mean? Well, if you look at his aforementioned Total Driving dominance plus his top 20 Greens in Regulation average, you've got an impressive ball striker—he's No. 9 overall.

    For 2012 Tiger, the longer the approach shot, the better his odds of hitting the green.

    From 175 to 200 yards, Tiger is hitting almost 65 percent of his greens in regulation. That's good for sixth place on the PGA Tour. As he gets closer to the green, however, that percentage naturally increases, but his ranking decreases—considerably.

    From 150 to 175 yards, Tiger is ranked No. 13 on tour. From 125 to 150 yards, he is ranked No. 73. And from 100 to 125 yards, he's ranked a dismal No. 164.

    What's fairly obvious is that when Tiger does hit greens in regulation—which he does 68 percent of the time—he needs to get the ball closer to the pin. On average, his approach shots land 35'3" inches from the hole.

    And if you look at his putting stats from that distance—not good. He's ranked at No. 125.

    Now, you can run with those particular performance stats any way you want, but his ultimate goal is to hit fairways and greens and when all is said and done, Tiger is doing a pretty good job of it.

Numbers Game

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    People can say what they want about Tiger Woods' game right now, but the bottom line is, overall, he's playing some pretty decent golf.

    Naturally, Tiger's going to look to wins as a marker for his progress—and that makes perfect sense. One win at Bay Hill and one top-10 at the Honda Classic do not a successful season make. You'll get no argument from me there.

    But forget winning. I would just like to see Tiger in contention on a week-to-week basis—or whenever he decides to tee it up in competition.

    There are certainly signs of encouragement that his game is headed in the right direction, however.

    Again, these numbers don't mean a whole lot if he's not winning golf tournaments, but they're interesting.

    Aside from all the other previously mentioned high rankings he has impressively managed this season, Tiger is fifth in scoring average at 69.64 and sixth in all-around ranking, a mash-up of eight important—and varied—performance stats.

    My point is, Tiger Woods is not as far away from consistently contending as it might seem. With all the talk regarding his seemingly endless swing changes and his lack of top-10 finishes, it's easy to get down on him. After all, we're used to seeing superhuman results from one of the best golfers to ever play the game.

    And whether he ever returns to that form or not, I don't know. No one knows if that will happen. But the improvements—albeit slow in developing—are finally beginning to take shape.