The last time the U.S. Open was at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Retief Goosen put on one of the most magnificent putting displays in the tournament’s history. Plenty of fans and pundits remember that on lightning-fast greens, the South African one-putted 11 times in Sunday’s final round. But fewer remember he was one of only five players who never three-putted that week. Phil Mickelson wound up three-putting three times, including a costly three-putt on the 17th hole Sunday that erased any chance of him winning.
Tiger Woods comes to Shinnecock Hills hoping to win his fourth U.S. Open, but he also arrives fresh off his worst putting performance of the season. At the Memorial, Woods missed five putts from 4 feet, 15 putts from inside 10 feet and he three-putted five times. Woods led the field in strokes gained approach-the-green average (2.791) and was third in strokes gained around-the green average (1.244), but his balky putter ruined any chance of winning a sixth time at Jack Nicklaus’ event. For the week, his strokes gained putting average was -1.924.
Woods has played in eight PGA Tour events this season in which ShotLink captured data, and in four of them he had two or more three-putts. In the other four tournaments, he either did not three-putt or had just one. The chart below shows each of those events, along with Woods’ total strokes gained putting in that event.
In the four events in which Woods had less than two three-putts, his average strokes gained putting for the week was 3.514. That equates to 0.879 per round.
To put that daily average into context, before the start of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, a strokes gained putting average of 0.879 would have ranked fourth on the PGA Tour, behind Jason Day (1.19), Mickelson (1.119) and Greg Chalmers (0.891). It should come as no surprise that three of Woods’ best four finishes this season – a tie for second at the Valspar Championship, a tie for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie for 11th at the Players Championship – came when he did a good job avoiding three-putts.
Conversely, in events in which Woods had two or more three-putts, his average total strokes gained putting was -2.484, which works out to -0.621 per round. Before the start of last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, that average would have ranked 201st on the PGA Tour.
Heading into last week, the PGA Tour’s average in three-putt avoidance was 3.25 percent. But U.S. Open conditions have historically made three-putting more common, as the table below shows.
The last 10 U.S. Open winners have not been perfect on the greens. But they all managed to three-putt less often than the field average, and in several cases they were among the best at avoiding three-putts.
It’s very likely Woods, who goes to the U.S. Open with a three-putt avoidance average of 3.27 percent, is going to three-putt at Shinnecock. What the 14-time major winner must do is avoid the rough off the tee, keep hitting his irons and using his wedges effectively, as he has done most of the season, and not give away strokes on the greens. If he can avoid three-putting more than once or twice, he could have a chance to win major number 15. Gwk