While some might have been shocked to watch Tiger Woods post rounds of 72-70 last weekend and miss a three-foot putt to lose to Zach Johnson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff at Sherwood Country Club, close observers of the game didn’t even blink an eye at what transpired over the weekend at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
In fact, Woods’ weekend play right on through the missed three-footer to lose the tournament on Sunday afternoon was, statistically speaking, exactly the type of performance that one would have expected from Woods.
You see, while five years ago, if Woods held at least a share of the 54- or even 36-hole lead, tournament officials could have basically start engraving his name on the trophy; that is no longer the case.
Woods is actually more likely to perform poorly on the weekends these days than he is to slam the door shut on a 36- or 54-hole lead.
During the 2013 season, Woods ranked second on tour in scoring average before the cut with a stroke average of 68.97. However, Woods ranked 48th on tour in third-round scoring average (70.47) and 93rd on tour in final-round scoring average (71.13).
This is astonishing when considering that between 1997 and 2009, Woods’ third-round scoring average ranking was eighth and his final-round scoring average ranking was seventh.
During this 12-year stretch, Woods’ average third-round score was 68.98 while his average final-round score was 69.33. However, over the past three seasons, Woods' average third-round score was 70.79 and his average final-round score was 70.65.
This means that Woods has averaged about three strokes more on the weekends over the past three years when compared to the first 12 years of his career, and any professional golfer knows all too well that a difference of three strokes might as well be a Grand Canyon-sized deficit when competing against the best golfers on the face of the planet.
Even at the five events Woods won during the 2013 season, he had a scoring average of 66.4 before the cut versus a scoring average of 69.4 after the cut. Woods' final-round scoring average at these five events was 70.6, which is a full four strokes higher than his scoring average before the cut.
Woods also failed to break 70 during the final round at each of those five tournaments he won during the 2013 season. This essentially means that Woods came flying out of the gate Thursday morning at these five events but could muster nothing more than a slow limp across the finish line Sunday afternoon.
Woods’ struggles on the weekend have also been significantly more pronounced at the major championships over the past couple of years, which is the type of thing that can keep even the world No. 1 up at night wondering if he will ever hoist a major championship trophy or slip into another green jacket again.
During the past six majors, Woods is a combined 11 under par during Rounds 1 and 2 and a combined 23 over par in Rounds 3 and 4. This is absolutely shocking for a player widely regarded as the greatest major championship closer the game has ever seen. Heck, this guy went more than a decade without blowing a single 54-hole lead at a major.
Although Woods has had a difficult time getting all aspects of his game firing on all cylinders over the weekend, his weekend struggles can be attributed his putting more than any other aspect of his game. In the six previous majors prior to the 2013 PGA Championship, Woods needed 340 putts during the first two rounds versus 371 during the final two rounds, which is a difference of 31 putts on the weekend at the majors.
In total, Woods is averaging 2.5 more putts per round on the weekend at majors than during the first two rounds, and since the 2011 Masters, Woods has had 13 final-round three-putts, which may not sound too horrendous over the course of 10 rounds, until you realize that Woods had only four three-putts in the previous 13 major championship final rounds.
Unfortunately for Woods, these weekend putting woes have not been limited to just the majors.
Heading into the 2013 PGA Championship, Woods ranked eighth and 12th on tour in average putts per round during Rounds 1 and 2, respectively, but then ranked 147th and 151st in putts per round during Rounds 3 and 4, respectively.
And things got even worse for Woods on this front during the four playoff events. Woods averaged 1.65 putts per green in regulation during the first two rounds during the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but this number then jumped to 1.76 during the final two rounds, which included an average of nearly 1.80 putts per green in regulation on Sunday during the playoffs.
Tiger Woods unable to sink a putt on the weekend?
Five years ago you would have had a better chance of convincing golf fans that the world is actually flat than convincing them that Woods would no longer be able to sink big putts on the weekends after the 2008 U.S. Open.
But this is Woods’ new reality.
Many analysts will point to an increased level of talent, players no longer intimidated by Woods, etc. as reasons why Woods holding a 36- or even a 54-hole lead doesn’t hold the same clout as it once did.
Although that may be part of the reason, the main reason is that Woods has simply been beating himself on the weekends.
Guys didn’t use to back down from Woods on the weekends because they were scared or intimidated. These guys are all competitors, and it’s not like golf is a contact sport where Woods was going to come running out of the sand trap and knock another player on his backside.
Woods’ competitors used to play their game on the weekends; it was just that with a combined score of 61 under par during Rounds 3 and 4 at the majors between 1997 and 2008, Woods was simply better than everyone else during crunch time.
But this is no longer the case.
Of course, some credit has to be given to Johnson for his three-under-par back nine last Sunday, which included four birdies on his last seven holes as well as a miraculous hole out for par from the drop zone on the 72nd hole. But this was also just another case of Woods letting things slip away Sunday afternoon. Woods was unable to get his putting going Sunday and posted an even-par back nine, which included just one birdie on the three back-nine par fives. Woods' putter then ultimately let him down once again at the worst possible moment when he lipped out a three-foot par putt to lose to Johnson on the first playoff hole.
As we have clearly seen over the past three to four years now, it doesn’t matter if Woods is at Augusta National or playing in his 18-man World Challenge field at Sherwood Country Club—the guy has simply lost his ability to close the door on Sunday, which does not bode well for his chances of reaching the summit of Mt. Nicklaus.
Unless otherwise specified, all statistics for this article came from pgatour.com and espn.com.