Forget “Horse for a Course,” when it comes to determining whether or not Tiger Woods is likely to compete for a PGA Tour title on a given start it’s really all about “Tiger for a Trail.”
His star back on the rise and his sights set squarely on winning a major championship for the first time in four years, one thing about Tiger Woods’ success on the PGA Tour hasn't changed even as his game has—he knows the courses he likes and the courses he likes he tends to dominate more often than not.
Indeed, not only is Tiger the best player in the world at the moment, he is also one of the most discriminating when it comes to tracts he likes to play and courses he tends to win on. Torrey Pines, Doral, Firestone, Augusta National, Cog Hill and Muirfield Village are an impressive stable of courses that have hosted no less than four and as many as eight Tiger triumphs during his distinguished career, which appears poised to enter a third golden age if recent performances are any indication.
Oh, and you can also add Bay Hill Golf Club to that list, a venue that just happens to be the site of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational with a defending champion by the name of, you guessed it, Tiger Woods. In fact, this week marks the seventh time Tiger has been the defending champion at Arnie’s club (www.pgatour.com) and given the way he played two weeks ago at Doral in winning there for the fourth time it’s a good bet that Woods will be in the mix for his impressive eighth victory at Bay Hill come Sunday afternoon.
This type of site dominance is nothing new for Tiger whose record at these PGA Tour stalwart courses is as impressive as the fields he seems to best almost every time he competes at them. Consider this; Tiger has won 76 times on the PGA Tour and 40—more than half—of those victories have come from seven golf courses that he plays every year when healthy—Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, Augusta National, Muirfield Village, Cog Hill (when on the schedule) and Firestone Golf Club (www.pgatour.com).
Every tournament staged at these events, headlined of course by The Masters at Augusta National, attracts the top players in the world and those golfers have grown accustomed to seeing more red on Sunday’s than they wish to admit. Yet despite the deep fields and prestigious titles, the fact that more than half of Tiger’s career victories have come on seven golf courses has proven to be both a blessing and curse in terms of the way people look at his career accomplishments.
Those courses, especially Doral, Muirfield, Cog Hill and certainly Augusta, are among the toughest and most storied on the PGA Tour and to win 40 times on layouts of that ilk is no small task; but rather a testament to Tiger’s overall talent from the power of his long game to the touch and creativity of his short game.
That said, the significant legion of Tiger doubters (haters even) enjoy pointing out that he only wins with regularity on a small number of courses and until he can win a major on a traditional course such as 2013 U.S. Open venue Merion or PGA Championship host Oak Hill you can’t call him “back” or a renewed threat to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career majors.
The silliness of the “Is Woods Back” debate aside (the guy has won five times in less than a calendar year, for goodness sake), the fact that he performs well on the aforementioned courses is no more a surprise than it is the reason he plays in the events staged on those courses.
Every one of those layouts offer reachable par-5s (a buffet of birdies for Woods when he is on), demands accurate iron play and requires a short game that is above average and steady in the clutch. Those are traits Woods demonstrates in spades when his game is on and on those layouts his game has tended to be on more than off.
What is more likely to happen
Yet don’t get it twisted by thinking that Woods plays in those events simply because of his comfort on the layouts or in an effort to rack “easy wins” toward overtaking Sam Snead for the most in PGA Tour history (82).
He plays those courses year in and out because they play host to six or seven of the biggest events on Tour every year; the fact that he is so successful in those tournaments, one a major and another two World Golf Championship events, is a testament to his talent, not his ego or any type of diabolical career plan to stack the win pile.
So this week Tiger puts the peg in the ground in search of Bay Hill win No. 8 and career “favorite course” triumph No. 41. But what means the most and what lies in wait for this Tiger is major win No. 15—it just so happens that accomplishment can come just a few weeks from now on one of those testy little courses that Tiger seems to play so well on.
Win at Augusta, and maybe we really can end the conversation of whether Woods is indeed back as he puts another Green Jacket on his sizeable one and brushes off all the doubters that have taken residence there.