Tiger Woods' Priority List for the Offseason
Though he didn’t take home any major championships in 2012, this past year was still a moderately successful one for Tiger Woods.
Three wins on the year pushed Woods past Jack Nicklaus on the all-time PGA Tour wins list, which is a milestone he’s quite proud of, as he told reporters earlier this month (via NDTV).
"There was quite a few people out there that said I would never win again,” he admitted, “[…] I think, collectively, passing Jack, I think that's a pretty good accomplishment."
Perhaps more importantly, Tiger also made it through a full season relatively unscathed, which bodes well for his ability to up the ante in 2013.
When asked what he’ll work on after his six-week rest period ends in mid-January, Woods (via Golf Channel) has said, "It's not a laundry list like it was the last couple years. […] It's the little tweaks here and there."
Let’s take a look at what some of those “tweaks” may be.
We have a few ideas.
1. Medium Range Putting
On the greens, Tiger Woods has made a bevy of clutch putts over his lifetime, but the golfer's accuracy has come into question more than once over the past few years.
Per data from PGATOUR.com, Woods finished among the game's top 40 in terms of total putting, but this ranking was driven primarily by his ability to nail "gimmes" at superb rate (13th on Tour), in addition to performing decently (49th) at lag putts over 25 feet.
The area where Tiger struggled, surprisingly, was with putts in the range of 15 to 20 feet.
Since the PGA started tracking detailed putting statistics in 2003, Woods has averaged a "make-rate" of roughly 22 percent when attempting putts at this distance.
Despite sinking a career high 29 percent of his 15-20 footers in 2011, this percentage fell to 17 percent this past year, good for 104th on Tour.
While it's easy to say that any sport is a game of inches, this overused cliché might be most applicable to golf.
We'd expect Tiger to spend a bit more time on his medium range putting in the offseason.
2. Bunker Play
Sticking with the short game theme, another area where Tiger struggled in 2012 was from greenside bunkers.
This past season, he saved par (or holed out) on 49 percent of his sand wedge shots, which is noticeably below the 53-56 percent range that he's traditionally averaged over the course of his career.
In the early 2000s, when many can argue that Tiger was in his most dominant form, he saved par from the sand roughly six out of every 10 attempts, so there's clearly progress to be made.
It's worth pointing out that when he missed a green in general, which includes sand traps, Woods was able to scramble for par close to two-thirds of the time, good for fourth on Tour in 2012.
While the PGA doesn't track pure non-sand scramble opportunities, the sheer discrepancy between these two statistics indicates that Tiger has work to do in the bunkers before next season rolls around.
3. Short Approach Shots
When most golf enthusiasts think of Tiger Woods' golf game, they likely picture him hitting a majestic pin-seeking shot, probably with a nine-iron or pitching wedge.
Okay, some probably also imagine the mammoth drives that Woods produces, but you get our point. Throughout his career, Tiger has been known for his ability to score low on the golf course, which is highly dependent on short approach shots.
After finishing first amongst his PGA peers in terms of approaches from 125-150 yards in both 2010 and 2011, Tiger's rank in this category slipped to 67th place.
In terms of distance, Woods' recent history indicates that he's at his best when he can consistently hit his nine-iron through pitching wedge within 20 feet of the pin, on average. In 2011, in fact, his average distance to the pin from 125-150 yards out was an astonishing 16' 2".
This year, this average distance fell to nearly 23 feet, or 40 percent worse than his performance one year earlier.
That's a big step back, and is likely a key “tweak" that Tiger will work on over the next couple months.
Bonus: Extra Prep for Oak Hill CC
Throughout the past three slides, we've discussed areas of Tiger's actual game that need improvement, but it's also worth mentioning that there's one particular course that the golfer should undertake extra preparation for: Oak Hill Country Club.
Located just outside of Rochester, New York, Oak Hill CC was the site of the 2003 PGA Championship.
It will be the location of the 2013 PGA as well.
In the event nearly a decade ago, Woods had one of his worst major championship showings ever, finishing at 12 over par, tied for 39th place.
In the 32 majors Tiger has played since the '03 PGA, he's finished worse than 39th just four times, with a T40 at this year's Masters, and missed cuts at the 2011 PGA, 2009 British Open, and 2006 U.S. Open tournaments.
After finishing Sunday's play in mid-August at Oak Hill in '03, Tiger was uncharacteristically candid about his poor performance, telling the PGA's reporters that he was "happy" to be finished with the course, calling it "just a brutal test."
A full 10 years later, and it's clear that course officials haven't made Oak Hill any easier, as its playing distance for the '13 PGA is expected to be identical to the '03 event: 7,134 yards.
Oak Hill plays as a par 70 course, though, and with only two par fives, iron play will be at a premium.
Expect this upcoming PGA Championship to serve as extra motivation for Tiger to work on his short approach shots, and we'd expect that bunker play and medium range putting will also be important, as they are in any major tournament.