For Tiger Woods It's Actually the Putter That Takes Care of Everything

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2013

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 25:  Tiger Woods reacts to a birdie attempt on the 9th hole during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 25, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Nike recently released an advertisement quoting a phrase commonly spoken by Tiger Woods: “Winning takes care of everything.”

But a better phrase for the advertisement might have been “The putter takes care of everything.”

After all, it has been Woods' putter more than anything else that has carried him back to the top of the golf world over the past few months.

Many people think that Woods’ inability to find the fairway off of the tee is a phenomenon that has just arisen over the past few years when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since 1999, Woods has never cracked the top 50 on tour in driving accuracy. In fact, Woods has ranked within the top 100 on tour in driving accuracy just four times over the past 15 years.

Between 1999 and 2013, Woods has averaged 132nd on tour in fairways hot off of the tee.

This is an incredibly poor statistic for a player who completely dominated the game of golf for more than 15 years.

So, how did Woods manage to win 30 percent of the tournaments he entered during the first 15 years of his career while hitting only about half of the fairways off of the tee?

For Woods, it has always come down to the short game and, particularly, the putter.

You can, of course, point to Woods’ off-the-course issues and injuries as a factor in his two-and-a-half-year slump between 2010 and mid-2012. But the fact of the matter is that Woods struggled during this time period because he lost his Houdini-like skills on and around the greens.

Between 2004 (when the PGA Tour began tracking Strokes Gained Putting) and 2009, Woods failed to crack the top 10 in strokes gained putting just once, and he averaged sixth on tour in this category over that six-year time period.  

Between 2010 and 2012, Woods was unable to crack the top 30 on tour in strokes gained putting and actually ranked 109th in this category in 2010.  

This was a rapid and dramatic decline of one of the best putting strokes the game of golf had ever seen.

True students of the game of golf realize that the ultimate decline of virtually every great golfer in history has been due to a lost putting stroke.

Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, etc. all saw their careers fade away almost solely as the result of a lost putter.

Heck, Hogan and Snead could have probably won major championships into their 50s had they not lost their ability on and around the greens.

Jack Nicklaus was the one exception to this rule, as his putting skills remained largely intact until his early 40s, but he is essentially an outlier amongst a long list of great golfers.  

Long-time followers of Woods’ career were never overly concerned about Woods’ driving issues or even his ball-striking over the past few years.  

The main reason many ardent observers of the game began to conclude that Woods’ career had entered its ultimate decline between 2010 and 2012 had little to do with anything other than Woods’ inability to make those putts he had sunk like clockwork for the first 15 years of his career.

Woods’ putting stroke appeared to be headed down the same dark and dreary path that the putting strokes of virtually all of his predecessors had traveled. And once a golfer’s putting stroke goes, trying to regain it can be a task comparable to catching a unicorn.

Well, Woods has managed to catch a unicorn in 2013.

Woods currently leads the tour in strokes gained putting and ranks within the top five from virtually every distance range tracked by the tour. This is the main reason Woods has won three times in 2013 despite ranking 142nd on tour in driving accuracy.

At an age when most great golfers begin losing their putting strokes for good, Woods has somehow managed to regain a stroke quite comparable to the one he used to decimate fields with in 1999 and 2000.

So, as has been the case throughout most of Woods’ career, it’s actually Woods’ putter that has taken care of everything.  

And it will be his putter that determines whether or not he ever manages to scale Mr. Nicklaus.

For more golf news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report.


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