Which 2013 Major Does Tiger Woods Have the Best Chance to Win?
It has been 1,666 days since Tiger Woods won his last major tournament, when he bested Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.
In the time since, Woods has gone through many trials and tribulations, from multiple surgeries and a swing change, to a widely-publicized divorce and the switch to new coach Sean Foley.
After an injury free 2012 season, in which he won three PGA Tour tournaments and finished second on the money list, is this the year Tiger finally ends the major drought?
We're going to show you which major TW has the best chance to win this year, and to do this, we'll go through his prospects at each event.
We'll start with the major Tiger is least likely to win in 2013 and work our way up to the one he has got to be looking forward to the most.
Let's get started.
4. PGA Championship
Tiger at the 2003 PGA
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The last time Tiger played a major at Oak Hill Country Club, the site of this year's PGA Championship, he finished a whopping 12 over par.
That poor performance in which he finished tied for 39th place came at the 2003 PGA, and it still ranks as one of the worst major finishes in Tiger's career.
As we mentioned in our Priority List for Woods' Offseason, "In the 32 majors Tiger has played since the '03 PGA, he has finished worse than 39th just four times."
At a golf ball's throw over 7,100 yards, Oak Hill plays the exact same distance it did a full decade ago, and it's worth mentioning that the course is still a par-70 format.
According to data from the PGATour, Tiger actually ranked second overall in terms of par-four play, but we're still cautious on his ability to exercise the demons of his hellish past at Oak Hill.
In a post-tournament interview in '03, here's what he had to say on his performance:
It is frustrating. But you know what? I'm so happy I'm done. It's tough. It's hard to get the ball close. And if you're not as precise as you need to be [...] It's just a brutal test.
Obviously, precision will come at a premium on a course which sports some of the thickest rough a tour stop can offer. We're just not sure if Tiger's accuracy will be better this time around.
In 2012, he notched a pedestrian 53rd place finish in driving accuracy, and his ability to bounce back after a bogey was below-average; he finished 113th on Tour in this category.
3. U.S. Open
Merion GC, East Course
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Tiger has won three U.S. Open tournaments in his career, two of which he has played the hosting course multiple times on Tour prior to the event.
This statistic is important, because 2013's U.S. Open is scheduled for the Merion Golf Club—a course that Woods has never seen competitively in his career.
The Pennsylvania-located club features both a West and East Course. The last prominent event hosted at Merion's East Course—the tougher of the two—was the 2009 Walker Cup.
Interestingly, the 1989 U.S. Amateur was also played here, though that was a full five years before Tiger first competed in the event.
Now at a little over 6,800 yards, Merion represents one of the shortest courses to host a U.S. Open, but that hasn't stopped one prominent reviewer from calling it "the best course per acre on the planet, period."
On the USGA's decision to choose Merion to host the event for the fifth time in its history, Bill Iredale, the club's championship committee chairman, had this to say back in 2006:
We feel that our East Course is a very special venue, a classic golf course which, while lengthened some 400 yards to accommodate modern players and equipment, still retains the same shot angles, bunkering and greens that challenged Bob Jones in 1930, Ben Hogan in 1950, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus in 1971 and David Graham in 1981.
Keeping this in mind, it's clear that a course like Merion's East will reward players who can manage their short irons well. In Tiger's case, this poses a clear problem.
In 2012, he finished 69th on Tour in approach distance from 125-150 yards out after finishing first in the category the previous two seasons.
At a course that he has relatively little experience on, Tiger will need to improve this facet of his game considerably to compete, and quite frankly, his inexperience means that the odds are already stacked against him.
2. Open Championship
Tiger at the 2002 Open Championship
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
The last time Tiger played a major championship at Muirfield in Scotland, the site of this year's Open Championship, his performance was mixed.
Woods finished tied for 28th in the event 11 years ago, but he was plagued by a Saturday 81, the worst 18-hole score in Tiger's PGA Tour career.
Still, in the other three rounds, Woods shot 70, 68 and 65 (the course is a par-71), and if it weren't for his mini-blowup at the start of Muirfield's weekend play, he could have taken home the Claret Jug. Tiger finished six shots behind victor Ernie Els.
In an interview with The Telegraph, O'Meara had said that despite Tiger's poor play, he told his long-time friend that he "didn't act like a spoiled little brat," adding that he "acted like a champion."
More than a decade after Tiger's maturation, Muirfield will offer a similar test to the one it has given 15 Open Championship fields before this year's tournament.
Jack Nicklaus, who won the event in 1966, calls Muirfield "the best golf course in Britain" (via The Star Phoenix).
As is the case with most major sites across the pond, Muirfield forces golfers to account for the wind on every hole, but its unique circular layout provides more directional variety than most links courses.
Aside from being his favorite major in general, we think Tiger's game is especially suited for the event at the moment, due to the fact that his long iron play is the best weapon in his repertoire.
This past season, Woods finished first on Tour in greens in regulation between 175-200 yards and third in approaches greater than 200-yards out.
Regarding the latter, Tiger has always been particularly accurate with his long-approach shots, but it's worth mentioning that his average distance to the hole from 200-plus (42' 3") was the closest of his career since the PGA began tracking the stat in 2002.
1. The Masters
Tiger at last year's Masters
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Obviously there's only one major tournament still left: the Masters.
There are three primary reasons why Tiger should be considered the favorite to win at Augusta National in 2013.
In no particular order, they are:
1. His four titles and eight other top-10 finishes give him plenty of experience near the top.
2. Since taking a leave in late 2009, Tiger has played his best major championship golf at the Masters, notching two top-five finishes compared to one each at the U.S. Open and Open Championship and none at the PGA.
3. Most importantly, chief rival Rory McIlroy has played the Masters extremely poorly over the past few years.
As mentioned in our in-depth analysis last month, Tiger has a distinct "head-to-head advantage over McIlroy" at Augusta.
He has played his last three Masters at 16-under, compared to Rory's plus-eight aggregate total.
If there's one major we'd have to pin on Tiger in 2013, the Masters looks to be the best chance he'll get at reaching career No. 15 this year.