By the numbers: Tiger Woods will need to straighten out driver to contend at U.S. Open

Tiger Woods Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

By the numbers: Tiger Woods will need to straighten out driver to contend at U.S. Open

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By the numbers: Tiger Woods will need to straighten out driver to contend at U.S. Open

In a few short weeks, Tiger Woods will pack his bags, jet from his home in Florida to New York and establish a beachhead on some of the most prized real estate in the world. There in Southampton, the three-time U.S. Open winner will wage a campaign he hopes will end with him capturing a 15th major on one of the U.S. Golf Association’s founding courses, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

How are his chances? Woods now has played 25 ShotLink-measured rounds in 2018, enough to give us a picture of his strengths and weaknesses.

While he has not won this season, one of his strengths is his ability to shoot low scores. Through The Players Championship, his 69.988 scoring average ranks 11th on the PGA Tour. He ranks eighth in strokes gained: total with an average of 1.629, meaning that over the course of an 18-hole round, Woods is typically more than one and a half shots better than the field’s average score. The only golfers who ranked ahead of Woods are Jason Day (2.395), Dustin Johnson (2.199), Justin Thomas (2.019), Phil Mickelson (1.809), Webb Simpson (1.794), Henrik Stenson (1.772) and Paul Casey (1.669).

Digging deeper into that strokes gained: total average, we can get a better idea of what aspects of Woods’ game contribute the most to his success. It turns out that 43 percent of that 1.629 average comes from his outstanding play from the fairway. As can be seen in the chart below, through The Players Championship Woods ranked 13th in strokes gained: approach-the-green average (0.704).

The chart also shows that Woods’ short game and putting have been solid. Woods ranked sixth in strokes gained: around-the-green and 34th in strokes gained: putting after The Players Championship.

While there has been a lot of talk about his driver clubhead speed and his ability to hit the ball a long way off the tee, driving has been one of Woods’ primary weaknesses. From the tee he hits just 52 percent of fairways, and statistically his 0.025 strokes gained: off-the-tee average means he is, basically, a Tour-average player.

Elite players see par 5s as scoring opportunities, and from 2000 to 2013 Woods finished first in par-5 scoring average seven times. In the years he did not lead the Tour he finished fifth (2005), second (2007), sixth (2012) and fourth (2013). But as the chart below shows, a result of being ineffective off the tee is Woods’ high par-5 scoring average this season, especially for a player who is averaging 305 yards per drive.

While other perennial contenders such as Johnson (4.41), Jon Rahm (4.49), Thomas (4.49), Jordan Spieth (4.52) and Mickelson (4.54) are all ranked in the top 10 in par-5 scoring average, Woods is tied for 82nd at 4.64.

His best round this season was a Saturday 65 at TPC Sawgrass, when his strong performance off the tee (2.25 in strokes gained: off-the-tee) combined with a hot putter (3.18 strokes gained: putting). He hit 11 of 14 fairways that day, carding eight birdies and one bogey to prove that if he finds the short grass off the tee, he can shoot a low score on a hard course.

If Woods is going to win his 15th major in June and capture his fourth U.S. Open title, finding fairways will be the key because that will enable his iron game to set up birdie chances. If he is wild off the tee and misses too many fairways, he will have to rely on his iron game, wedges and putter to save pars, not score birdies, and that’s probably won’t be enough to win. Gwk

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