Vintage Tiger At Torrey Pines

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Tiger Woods coasts to victory at Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, California. Oh, this sounds familiar? Like one of those great songs from a few years ago that you haven’t heard in a while? Well, that’s exactly what happened Monday near San Diego (fog cancelled play Saturday so the finish was bumped to Monday).  A final round even-par 72 and 14-under total of 274 equaled a 4-shot victory for Woods. Monday’s win was his 75th on the PGA TOUR, 7th in the Farmers Insurance Open and 8th overall at Torrey Pines, including the epic, one-legged playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

 Although Monday’s play was not stellar, that might be attributed to the pace of play. Woods and playing partners Casey Wittenberg and Billy Horschel took FOUR HOURS to play the 11 holes they did not complete Sunday. After the round Woods admitted “”I started losing my patience with the slow play.” Ian Baker-Finch of CBS pointed out on the broadcast that Erik Compton in the group in front of Woods’ was the leading culprit for the snail’s pace. We’ll give Tiger a pass on Monday’s sloppiness where he saw an 8-shot lead dwindle to the winning margin of 4 due to a 4-over stretch on the last five holes. Looking at his play over the first four days, he was in vintage form. Moreover, as Sir Nick Faldo pointed out on CBS, Woods has won no less than 4 tournaments in the six previous seasons where he won the Farmers Insurance Open (formerly The Buick Invitational) and failed to win a major in only one of those seasons (2003).

Tiger Woods certainly resembled his old self at Torrey Pines. While there is no doubt that he loves the place, he even tweeted There’s something special about Torrey Pines. It’s an honor to win No. 75 on Tour here. Thanks for all the support.” He might love the greens at Torrey Pines the most. The surface is poa annua, which tends to get bumpy at the end of the day and can be bothersome for players, especially those who are not used to it. That did not bother Tiger. He took 114 putts for the week, an average of 28.5 per round. He gained just over two strokes on the field with his putting (2.016 strokes gained putting to be exact). Woods showed much more consistency with his putter than he did in 2012. If that’s the case, then he could be in for yet another fantastic season.

Tiger has often said that certain courses, including Torrey Pines, “fit his eye.” Including the paltry 5 fairways he hit in the final round, Woods found 32 of 56 fairways for the week, 57% and he averaged 307 yards off the tee; but that includes the disjointed final round. Through three rounds Tiger was hitting 64% of his fairways (27/42) and averaged 312.3 yards off the tee, which led the field. As a reference, Bubba Watson led the TOUR in driving distance at 315.5 in 2012; Tiger’s 312.3 would have finished second. For the past decade the driver has been the club with the most questions for Tiger. If he has figured out a way to hit 60% of his fairways and average 312 yards on tee shots we might be looking at a 2000-esque season. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

While Tiger’s driver has been the club to make spectators cringe most often, last year his distance control with short irons and wedges was enough to make a person gag. At Torrey Pines Woods appeared to have his irons dialed in with radar-like precision, hitting the green in regulation 69.4% of the time. Through 3 rounds Woods was hitting 75.9% of the greens. In 2012, Justin Rose led the TOUR in GIR at 70.34%. Tiger also commented that his short game was back where he likes it to be, this after saving par 7/10 times from the sand.

If the Farmers Insurance Open is any indication, and based on history it is a GREAT indicator, Tiger Woods is in for another special year. Statistically, he was completely locked in all week, including the quirky final round. Here’s another statistic to consider; when Tiger Woods wins early at Torrey Pines his average season looks like this:

  • 1.17 Major Championships
  • 1.83 World Golf Championships
  • 6.3 Total Wins on TOUR
  • An average finish in the Majors of 9.6 (factoring in a finish of 71st place for MC at ’06 US Open)

Considering all of this statistical analysis and historical reference, bear in mind that this is a different Tiger Woods, playing in a different world. Before Monday, Tiger had not won at Torrey Pines since his personal life unraveled in 2009-10. Golf is different now. Woods has scar tissue that he never had before. A new crop of young, hungry players is no longer coming soon, but is here. McIlroy, Bradley, Watson, McDowell, Oosthuizen, Schwarzel and Simpson have captured majors during Tiger’s draught. The days of players melting at the sight of “T. Woods” atop the leader board are all but over. Or are they just now returning? There is no doubt that Woods 4-shot victory is an announcement that he is primed for strong 2013. The question now becomes, is Tiger’s Torrey Triumph a harbinger of things to come in 2013? If history is any indicator, then the answer is a resounding yes.


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