Tiger Woods’ 2013 performance returned him to Player of the Year stature for the 11th time in his 17 full seasons. Hard to squabble with five wins, the most money, and the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average.
Yet, as always, there are intriguing aspects to his campaign that support the notion that good as he is – and he clearly belongs as No. 1 in the world – Woods is not at the dominating level he once was.
Take fourth-round scoring average. Woods in 2013 was at 71.13, which ranked 93rd on the PGA Tour. For the record, many of those players ranked ahead of him played in only a handful of tournaments, but the point is, this number is nowhere near what he used to do. Just two years, for instance, Woods had a 69.67 scoring average in final rounds, 11th on the PGA Tour, but even that pales in comparison to what he did in his vintage years.
Four times between 2005 and ’09, Woods had the lowest fourth-round scoring average on Tour, ranging from 68.40 to 69.22. He also was lowest back in 2002, at a eye-popping 67.71. Twice (2000, ’01) he’s been second.
Woods has been within the top 15 in fourth-round scoring average in 12 of his 17 campaigns, and 10 times his number has been sub-70.
But 71.13? That’s his third-highest average for a fourth round in his career, beating just the 71.16 he had in 1999 and his worst, 71.40, in that infamous season of re-entry, 2010.
Specifically to the point of his drought in the majors, which stretches to 2008, Woods in 2012 and 2013 was at 72.5 in the final rounds of the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA. In 2005-09, a time that includes six wins in 14 major starts and 13 final rounds (he missed the cut at the ’06 U.S. Open), his average was 70.07.
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CHIRP, CHIRP: Good news for whoever gets paired with Brendon de Jonge in the Presidents Cup: The man is a certified, board-approved Birdie Machine.
“I play a lot,” said the unheralded standout from Zimbabwe, when asked how he has claimed ownership of the top spot in the most-birdies category. De Jonge made 399 of them in 2013 to top the list, a year after making 425 to lead the way. Oh, and in 2010, de Jonge led the way with 429.
Mixed in there was 2011 when de Jonge made only 397 birdies and was fourth on the list.
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LEARNING FROM THE BEST: By the time he earned his PGA Tour card for the first time, Jason Dufner was 26. So as his rookie season, 2004, approached he figured he’d make up for lost time. Determined to learn as much as he could and as quickly as he could, he figured, what better way than to practice alongside Vijay Singh?
Dufner picked a great year to hang with Singh, too, for the Big Fijian won nine times and supplanted Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the world. Dufner played practice rounds on Tuesdays when he and Singh were at the same tournament, usually for a small wager or two.
“I was a little bit lighter in the wallet (that year),” said Dufner, who said he had practice games in eight of the nine tournaments won by Singh. They missed only at the PGA.
Alas, Dufner remembers winning just once against Singh, at the 84 Lumber in September that year. “I shot 63 with nine birdies; he shot 64 with eight birdies,” Dufner said with a smile. “He was pretty good on Tuesdays that year, too.”
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THE GOOSE IS LOOSE? Hard to say, but quietly and with very little fanfare, Retief Goosen has returned to action for the first time since the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April.
Having started the season in great spirits with a top 10 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the 44-year-old South African and two-time U.S. Open winner had a setback in his battle with back pain. He labored through the late spring, but before summer arrived, Goosen thought he needed to take time off.
He has returned and played each of the past two weeks, at the Italian Open and the Dunhill Links. Though his scores left him T-66 and T-63, respectively, Goosen has made progress.
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WELL-RESTED: Among the many advantages Team USA seems to enjoy over the Internationals in the biennial Presidents Cup is this: all 12 players are teeing it up after having a week off.
Then again, if you subscribe to the theory that it is better to play your way into a team competition, maybe you give the edge to the Internationals. After all, five team members (Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els, Richard Sterne, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen) took part in this past weekend’s Dunhill Links in St. Andrews, Scotland.
As for the captains, it’s a whitewash. Fred Couples and Nick Price took part in the Champions Tour stop at Pebble Beach last week.