Tiger Woods has long been known as one of the world's best "grinders" in major championships, but after a dismal showing in the final rounds of the 2013 British Open, it might be time for a change in strategy for the No. 1 player in the world.
After all, Woods isn't the same player he was when he dominated the PGA Tour with 14 major championships within a 12-year stretch.
What's a "grinder," you ask?
In an interview with Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN, via ESPN.co.uk, before the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, Woods discussed "the grind":
You're never out of it - you're just looking for a nice hot stretch out there, nine holes or so, maybe two nine-hole stretches where you really play well, and the rest of them you're just even keel...You don't have to be flashy, you don't have to be hot; you just have to plod along.
This strategy worked to perfection for Tiger in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, but the PGA Tour has evolved since then, as has Woods' game—and not necessarily for the better.
There are more players on tour who are capable of winning big tournaments, and we've seen plenty of breakthrough performances in the past few years. Meanwhile, Woods has suffered in the final two rounds of major championships, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info, which also points out his fatal flaw:
Tiger Woods: +23 in rounds 3 & 4 over last 6 majors (-11 rounds 1 & 2)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 21, 2013
Tiger Woods: has never won major without share of 54-hole lead— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 21, 2013
Woods has been utilizing the same strategy in major championships for well over a decade. Unfortunately, it's a strategy that hasn't paid off in over five years.
During his four rounds at Muirfield, Woods barely touched his driver, opting instead to focus on hitting fairways. It wasn't until hole No. 5 on Sunday that he finally pulled the club out of his bag, as noted by Jay Coffin of the Golf Channel:
Driver alert, driver alert, driver alert. Tiger Woods just hit driver for the first time this week on the fifth hole.— Jay Coffin (@JayCoffinGC) July 20, 2013
Woods sacrificed distance for accuracy, hitting 75 percent of fairways in regulation for the week, which ranked No. 5 in the field. As a result, however, he didn't give himself many opportunities to get aggressive with his approach shots, which led to many long putts.
For the first couple of rounds, Woods capitalized on his opportunities, sinking 18 one-putts to lead the field, as noted by ESPN's Rick Reilly:
Tiger Woods is the best fast-greens putter in history. He has 18 one-putts in 2 days. #OpenChampionship— Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) July 19, 2013
But the course officials softened up the greens during the final two rounds, and Woods never made the proper adjustments, sinking just eight one-putts in the final two rounds as he continued with his conservative approach.
At some point, Woods is going to need to take a page from the Phil Mickelson playbook and start taking an aggressive approach to some of these major championships. "Plodding along" used to be good enough to win majors for Tiger, but not any more.
Thankfully, there's still plenty of time for Woods to beat Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career major titles. As noted by ESPN's Justin Ray, Tiger is still well within striking distance of Nicklaus' career timeline:
Jack Nicklaus won his 15th major at the 1978 @The_Open - age 38, 67th major as pro. Woods looks for 15th, age 37, 63rd major as pro.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) July 21, 2013
But going forward, Woods will need to embolden himself and take a few more risks.
How will Tiger fare at Oak Hill?
The field isn't as ripe for the taking as it used to be, and he must take some risks to give himself the best chance of breaking his major championship drought.
The next big test for Woods and the rest of the golfers on tour comes in just two weeks, as the PGA Championship kicks off on Thursday, August 8.
The last time this championship was held at Oak Hill, Woods struggled badly, shooting 12 over par and finishing in 39th place. Woods was unable to conquer Merion and Muirfield this year, and he'll need to be on his game 100 percent to win the PGA Championship.
Note: 2013 British Open statistics courtesy of TheOpen.com
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