Golf by the numbers: Tiger Woods right at home in dominating Firestone

AKRON, OH - AUGUST 04: Tiger Woods looks on from a bunker during the Final Round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course on August 4, 2013 in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Golf by the numbers: Tiger Woods right at home in dominating Firestone

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Golf by the numbers: Tiger Woods right at home in dominating Firestone

LeBron James, one of the greatest basketball players ever, is from Akron, Ohio, but a legitimate argument could be made that the most successful athlete in that city’s history is someone else with a swoosh on his shoes: Tiger Woods.

The cliché, “There are horses for courses,” does not begin to do Woods’ domination justice. In 15 previous appearances in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Woods has won eight times and collected three other top-5 finishes. He plays there this week for the first time since 2014.

“It’s straightforward. I’ve always liked golf courses that play that way,” Woods said when asked about Firestone Country Club in 2009. “Ever since I was a little boy, my dad and I would always play tree-lined golf courses, where it’s the older style of golf course and not elephant burial grounds. They’re just straightforward, right in front of you. I’ve always loved golf courses like that. They’re just so defined. We don’t get a chance to play too many golf courses like that, and that’s one of the reasons why guys like playing here, like playing Quail Hollow and Riviera.”

Not only does Firestone please Woods’ eyes, a look at the numbers clearly shows the course fits the best parts of his game too.

Woods’ first three victories at Firestone – in 1999, 2000 and 2001 – pre-date ShotLink, the PGA Tour’s shot-tracking system, so there are no strokes gained statistics for them. It is known, however, that in those events Woods averaged 302, 320 and 311 yards per tee shot. Also known is that in the 1999 tournament, he hit 74 percent of the greens in regulation, and in 2000 and 2001 he hit 72 percent.

Strokes gained tee-to-green compares a player’s performance against the field average in every shot hit from off the putting green. In Woods’ five ShotLink-era wins (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2013), his rank in strokes gained tee-to-green has been third, third, first, second and third. Not too shabby.

Breaking it down, the table below shows how much of an advantage Woods earned with his driving, his approach shots and shots played from around the green.

Woods’ strokes gained off-the-tee and around-the-green have had some ups and downs, but his approach-the-green average, which measures shots that are not hit off the tee or within 30 yards of the hole, has been dominant.

Data collected during the ShotLink era also reveals if Woods played better, worse or his typical game from the fairway in events at Firestone. The chart below shows Woods’ season-long strokes gained approach-the-green averages before the start of each WGC-Bridgestone Invitational since 2004, his average in each tournament at Firestone and his season-ending average.

In five of the seven ShotLink-era seasons, Woods exceeded his strokes gained approach-the-green average heading into the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and his average at end of the season, meaning he played exceptionally well at Firestone.

The lone purple bar on the right of the chart shows Woods’ strokes gained approach-the-green average this season, 0.949. It ranks third on the PGA Tour. It’s the best part of his game, attributing for 54 percent of his 1.748 strokes gained total average.

James left Ohio a few weeks ago and will try to win a championship in Los Angeles with the Lakers, but if Woods elevates his game this week as he has in the past at Firestone, his 80th PGA Tour win, and first since 2013, could come in Akron. Gwk

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