Breaking Down Tiger Woods' Decline Using New PGA Tour Statistics

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Breaking Down Tiger Woods' Decline Using New PGA Tour Statistics
John Locher/Associated Press

Tiger Woods' golf game is on the decline. That much is clear.

During the first 13 years of Woods' career, he won 71 PGA Tour events, which was an average of 5.46 wins per year.

Between 2010 and 2014, Woods has won eight PGA Tour events, which works out to an average of just 1.6 wins per year.

Everyone seems to have their own opinion as to the exact cause of Woods' decline since 2010.

It's his putting.

It's his driving.

It's his short game.

It's his golf swing.

It's all due to that embarrassing sex scandal and subsequent divorce in 2010.

It's due to injuries.

It's due to a lack of focus and effort in recent years.

Name any aspect of the golf game, whether that be physical or mental, and at least a handful of so-called experts would have attributed a decline in that particular area to the ultimate decline of Woods' entire game over the past five years.  

As a longtime observer of the game of golf, I certainly have my ideas as to what has caused Woods' game to deteriorate in recent years. But I am also a numbers guy, and thanks to the addition of some new statistics released by the PGA Tour just last week, it has become quite easy to analyze every aspect of Woods' game to identify exactly what has caused Woods to go from arguably the most dominant force the game had ever seen to a player who now struggles to find any form of consistency out on the golf course.

 

Strokes Gained Putting

PGATour.com's Definition: "The number of putts a player takes from a specific distance is measured against a statistical baseline to determine the player's strokes gained or lost on a hole. The sum of the values for all holes played in a round minus the field average strokes gained/lost for the round is the player's Strokes gained/lost for that round."

Between 2004 (when the Tour first began collecting data for the Strokes Gained Putting statistic) and 2009, Woods' strokes gained putting average per round was .708. Woods' SGP number was fairly consistent during this six-year span of time, ranging from .463 in 2006 to .875 in 2009.

So what does this mean?

Well, it means that between 2004 and 2006 Woods gained 2.83 strokes per event over his peers on the greens alone.

Between 2010 and 2014, Woods' SGP average per round dropped to .803. This means that since Woods' return in 2010, he has gained .803 strokes per tournament over the field, which is essentially a negligible number.

2.02 Strokes Per Tournament Lost

 

Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green

PGATour.com's Definition: "The per round average of the number of Strokes the player was better or worse than the field average on the same course & event minus the Players Strokes Gained putting value."

Woods' Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green average between 2006 (when the Tour began collecting data for this statistic) and 2009 was 2.57 strokes per round. This means that on average between 2006 and 2009, Woods was gaining an incredible 10.27 strokes per tournament over the Tour average from tee to green.  

Between 2010 and 2014, Woods' SGTTG number has dropped to .743 strokes per round tee-to-green, which comes out to an average of 2.97 strokes ahead of the Tour average per tournament. That is a mind-blowing loss of 7.30 strokes per tournament when comparing Woods' tee-to-green performance from 2006-2009 to his performance from 2010-2014.

7.30 Strokes Per Tournament Lost

 

Total Strokes Gained

PGATour.com's Definition: "The per round average of the number of Strokes the player was better or worse than the field average on the same course & event."

Between 2006 and 2009 (when the Tour began collecting data for this statistic), Woods averaged 13.17 strokes per tournament better than the Tour average. Between 2010 and 2014, Woods averaged just 3.77 strokes per tournament better than his competition. A player averaging 3.77 strokes better than his competition is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, for Woods, this indicates a massive decrease of 9.40 strokes per tournament that he used to gain over his competition between 2006 and 2009 that he no longer possessed between 2010 and 2014.

9.40 Strokes Per Round Lost

 

These numbers essentially answer the question as to why Woods has gone from a dominant force in the game to a player who often struggles just to make the cut.

But as a numbers guy, this is simply not enough for me.

So let's dive a little deeper into the decline of very specific aspects of Woods' game.

 

Driving Distance

Woods was one of the longest drivers of the ball on Tour between 2004 and 2006, averaging 303.24 yards off the tee during that time period. However, since 2010 Woods' average driving distance has dropped to 295 yards. This is a loss of nearly eight yards during a period of time when golf club and ball technology has allowed much of the Tour to gain a great deal of distance off the tee.

Eight Yards Lost

 

Driving Accuracy

Between 2004 and 2009, Woods' driving accuracy percentage was 58.90 percent. Between 2010 and 2014 Woods hit 57.53 percent of fairways off the tee. So Woods has not only lost eight yards off the tee since 2004, but he has also lost some of his accuracy. Woods has essentially been shorter and less accurate off the tee during the past five years when compared to the previous six-year period.

1.37 Percent Decrease

 

Greens in Regulation

Woods hit 70.30 percent of greens in regulation between 2004 and 2009. Between 2010 and 2014, Woods has hit just 64.93 percent of greens in regulation. A decrease of 5.37 percent in greens hit in regulation may not sound like a big deal to the average golf fan. But take the fact that Woods is competing against the best golfers in the world week in and week out and combine that with a decline in Woods' putting and short-game ability, and a loss of 5.27 percent in greens hit in regulation starts to become a huge deal for the former World No. 1.

5.37 Percent Decrease

 

Proximity to the Hole

Between 2004 and 2009, Woods' average proximity to the hole was 34'3". During the past five years, Woods' proximity to the hole was more than a foot farther away at 35'4". This is another decrease that may sound somewhat insignificant to the average golf fan until you factor in that Woods is not putting nearly as well in recent years when compared to the period of time between 2004 and 2006. So Woods is hitting the ball a longer distance from the hole while also draining far fewer putts than he used to. Once again, not a good combination for a professional golfer.

1'1" Farther

 

Scrambling

Between 2004 and 2009, Woods' scrambling success percentage was 64.02 percent. Between 2010 and 2014, Woods' scrambling success percentage dropped nearly 7 percent to 57.36 percent. So Woods is hitting 5.37 percent fewer greens in regulation, and when he is missing the green, he is getting the ball up and down 7 percent less often than he used to between 2004 and 2009. Another brutal combination for a professional golfer.

6.66 Percent Decrease

 

Sand Saves

Woods was able to get his ball up and down from the bunkers 54.18 percent of the time between 2004 and 2009. However, between 2010 and 2014, Woods ability to get up and down from the bunkers dropped to 48.99 percent. Considering that Woods is missing 5.37 percent more greens in regulation, a decline in his ability to get the ball up and down from the bunkers has been yet another nagging problem with Woods' game in recent years.

5.19 Percent Decrease

 

So let's briefly recap what this plethora of statistics is actually telling us.

Woods is shorter and less accurate off the tee in recent years. This has undoubtedly contributed to Woods missing 5.37 percent more greens in regulation since 2010. When Woods does miss greens in regulation, he is getting the ball up and down 6.66 percent less often, and he is saving from the sand 5.19 percent less often. This decrease in scrambling and sand saves has without question been impacted by Woods' poor putting, which can be seen in the SGP statistics that show Woods has lost 2.02 strokes to the field per event since 2010.  

All of this has led to an astounding decrease of 9.40 total strokes gained per tournament for Woods.

Let me repeat that one more time. A 9.40 strokes per tournament advantage that Woods used to possess over his competition is now...poof, gone with the wind.

Now, you can blame these numbers on everything from injuries to swing coach decisions to confidence issues or simply a lack of drive on Woods part in recent years.  

But one thing is for sure—the dramatic decline Woods has experienced since 2010 cannot be attributed to just one aspect of his game.

Every single aspect of Woods' golf game has been significantly worse over the past five years when compared to the period of time between 2004 and 2009.

At the age of 39, Woods will somehow need to figure out a way to correct virtually every club in his bag if he is to have any chance whatsoever of reaching the summit of Mt. Nicklaus.  

For the rest of us, at least the answer to the unrelenting question of, "What's wrong with Tiger Woods?" has just become significantly less difficult to answer.

A simple "everything" should now suffice.

 

Unless otherwise specified, all statistics for this article came from PGATour.com, and all averages are based on writer's own calculations using numbers found on the site.

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