Tiger Woods: Report Card Grades for His 2012 Season
The 2012 PGA Tour season is nearly complete, and like most professions, it's important to grade the performance of the game's greats.
Let's take a look at Tiger Woods, who has made significant headway toward getting his play back up to his standards after undergoing his fourth swing change in a little over 15 years.
Using a standard letter system, grades will be given to each individual aspect of Tiger's game, and then an overall grade will be given.
Let's get started, shall we?
All data obtained from PGATour.com.
Tiger has always been a bomber off the tee, though it's worth noting that his average driving distance has been trending downward since his 31st birthday.
After recording a mammoth 316 yards per drive in 2005, Tiger's average has fallen in each of the next three years before dropping below the 300-mark in 2009. This year, Tiger averaged a modest 297 yards off the tee, still good for 32nd on Tour.
One particularly telling statistic about Tiger's loss of distance is his percentage of drives that travel 320 yards or more. In 2012, Tiger is hitting around one out of every seven of his tee shots longer than 320 yards which is decent, but not exemplary.
Now, all of this discussion of distance is poppycock if we don't mention driving accuracy, which could be called an Achilles' heel of Tiger, if he had such a thing. After toiling in the Tour's bottom half in the mid 2000s—Tiger hit 59 percent of his drives in the fairway between 2003 and 2007—he finished 55th this year, hitting nearly 64 percent of his tee shots in the short grass.
We don't have to tell you that this extra five percentage points in accuracy makes quite the difference, despite the distance Woods has given up to get in. At the end of the day, a talent like Tiger can afford to play it safe, especially if he's still in the game's upper echelon of bombers when doing so.
Fairway Woods/Long Irons
Tiger has always been known as one of the PGA Tour's best long iron and fairway wood players, and 2012 wasn't any different.
This past year, Woods finished third on Tour when hitting an approach shot from 200 yards out or further, averaging a distance to the pin of 42'3".
This compares quite favorably to Tiger's historical norms, as he beat his previous career-best mark by five inches, which he set during the 2006 season.
One interesting fact about this statistic is that, despite hitting his 200-plus yard approach shots with less accuracy in the past, Tiger was still able to notch two first place finishes in the category in 2003 and 2006.
Essentially, this speaks to the greater competition that Woods is facing. This year alone, three other golfers finished higher than any mark Woods had previously set in his storied career. That's a scary thought.
When making the grade, we have to give Tiger a gold star for setting a career high.
 Our definition of long approach shots is those that are at least 200 yards or further from the green; the highest club Tiger usually hits in these situations is a 5-iron, while the longest can be a 3-wood on occasion.
As can probably be expected, Tiger also dominates with his medium irons. This past year, he finished first on Tour in terms of greens in regulation between 175 and 200 yards out, and 12th between 150 and 175 yards. Regarding the former, Woods has hit over 65% percent of greens when faced with a typical 6-iron shot.
This is an impressive improvement from last season, when Tiger finished 145th on Tour in GIR percentage between 175 and 200 yards, at close to 51 percent.
A double-digit percentage point gain in one particular category like this is out of the ordinary, but is most certainly a result of the teachings of his newest swing coach Sean Foley, who focuses on body alignment and precision.
 Defined as a shot between 150 and 200 yards. For Tiger, this would typically be a 6-iron, 7-iron, or an 8-iron.
Now, we've been justifiably kind to Tiger so far, but his performance closer to the greens earn him some red marks.
Concerning close-range approach shots, Woods gets worse as the yardage markers shrink. Consider his following statistics for the 2012 season:
Approaches from 125-150 yards, 22'6", 67th on Tour
Approaches from 100-125 yards, 19'5", 75th on Tour
Approaches from 75-100 yards, 17'1", 86th on Tour
Approaches from 50-75 yards, 15'2", 83rd on Tour
In case you're not a fan of math, we've bolded the problem areas for you. Above 150 yards, Woods's approach game is pristine, but once he crosses that barrier, he turns into a below-average golfer. Perhaps this explains why he is willing to give up distance off the tee for accuracy; Tiger is okay with using his longer irons to hit into greens.
All speculation aside, the most telling statistic can be seen when comparing Tiger's accuracy between 125-150 yards to his historical performance.
In both 2010 and 2011, Tiger finished first on Tour in approach distance from 125-150 yards, averaging just over 17 feet to the pin. Another way to think about his underperformance is this year, Woods has hit a half lob wedge about as accurately as he hit a full pitching wedge in previous years. This is simply stunning.
A fall from grace this far is as intriguing as it is surprising, though it remains to be seen if it's just a one-year blip.
 Defined a a shot under 150 yards. The longest club Tiger will hit in these situations is a 9-iron, while the shortest is a lob wedge.
The troubles fade away when we look at Tiger's ability to scramble in 2012.
On the whole, Woods has played exceptionally well when missing a green this year, saving par or better 63 percent of the time.
Good for fourth on Tour, this is far better than the 54 percent mark he averaged over the previous two seasons, which had placed him in the bottom barrel of the PGA.
From the sand, Tiger has been solid but unspectacular, saving par from the sand nearly half of the time, which is below Tiger's mid-2000s heyday when he was able to consistently save par on over two thirds of his shots from the trap.
Interestingly, Woods avoids the bunkers rather well, hitting in an even 100 this year, which is good for 35th fewest on Tour.
There have been many accounts of Tiger's recent struggles with the putter, as many pundits believe that his mental game may have been affected by the golfer's certain "infidelities."
Interestingly, the statistics show that Woods is getting back on track, slowly but surely.
In 2012, he is 35th on Tour in terms of putting strokes gained, which is a relatively new indicator that has been used to historically analyze how many shots a player saves with respect to his competition.
Between 2004 and 2009, Tiger only finished outside of the top ten in this category once, but had fared far worse in the past two seasons, coming close to breaking even on the greens.
Looking at the data a bit closer, we can see that Tiger has been his usual self outside of 25 feet, but has had trouble with 15 to 20 footers. In this particular category, Woods is making just 17 percent of his puts, which is far below what he averaged in his prime when he typically sunk one in four from this range.
Even though Tiger Woods didn't win a major championship in 2012, three wins and $6.1 million in earnings make for a solid year, and a definite improvement from his previous two seasons. The fact that he made it through an entire season free of any major injuries is one of the best things to take away from this past year, and bodes well for 2013.
To come out fully prepared for next year's Masters, Tiger needs to shore up his short irons, sand play and intermediate putting if he wants to take home a fifth Green Jacket and set the tone for the rest of the season.
With that being said, we have to score Tiger's performance this past year as slightly above average.
Let us know in the comments section if you would grade Tiger any differently.
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