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Will the PGA Championship finally change the conversation?

Dressed in red, Rory McIlroy made shot after shot on Sunday. Long before he finished the beatdown of the field at the PGA Championship and hoisted the trophy, the only question that lingered was how many shots would McIlroy win by.
While much has been made of McIlroy’s performance, there has been a significant amount of attention to what Tiger Woods not winning means. Will he get to professional18 majors? What’s wrong with his game? When will he win another major? Will he win another major?


In many ways, it is simply the latest chapter in the media’s infatuation with all things Tiger Woods. While I understand that Woods is popular, he’s done some amazing things on the golf course and he can do things that few others can do, I’ve grown weary of the constant rooting for Tiger.

As a former journalist, I get some of the reason behind the cheerleading. Tiger winning brings eyeballs to TV sets, clicks to internet sites and overall buzz. Covering golf tournaments in person are expensive propositions – think airline tickets, hotel rooms and meals – and when there’s at least perceived interest, the bosses are more likely to approve spending money.

Tiger winning is good for both the media outlets and many of the reporters who cover professional golf. Some of it is financial and some of it is simply job security at a time when media outlets – newspapers in particular – are cutting back on coverage and eliminating staff positions.

That said, I don’t always get the level of infatuation with Tiger. Even this weekend, there were several comments on television and on Twitter on Sunday indicating that Tiger still had a chance to come back and catch McIlroy despite trailing by five shots entering the final round.
While Tiger is a great player, he isn’t the same guy. His play began to slip even before his car accident and his game isn’t where it was in 2000 when he won three of four majors or in 2006 when he last won two majors in one year.

A case can be made that other players have improved, but statistics indicate that Tiger’s performance isn’t what it used to be. He is hitting f

ewer greens (especially from inside of 125 yards), he isn’t hitting it as close to the hole and he isn’t making as many birdies. Much has been made of Tiger’s p

utting not being as good as it was, but it seems more complicated than that.

Here are a few interesting stats from this year for Tiger and they aren’t very great.

GIR Percentage – 100-125 yards    75.00% (104th on Tour)
GIR Percentage – 75-100 yards    76.47% (141st on Tour)

Approaches from 100-125 yards    Average of 19 feet, 7 inches from the hole (80th)
Approaches from 75-100 yards    Average of 20 feet, 3 inches (168th)

When you’re between 75 and 125 yards from the green, you probably need to do more than hit it to 20 feet if you want to make birdies. While Tiger is first in greens

in regulation from 175-200 yards and in the top 15 from outside of 200 yards, his inability to hit it close with a wedge in his hands costs him.

Here are his stats from 2006 in those same categories:

GIR Percentage – 100-125 yards    77.05% (51st)
GIR Percentage – 75-100 yards    96.97%  (1st)

Approaches from 100-125 yards    17 feet, 5 inches (6th)
Approaches from 75-100 yards    13 feet, 11 inches (2nd)

They don’t have those same stats from 2000 (before the PGA Tour launched ShotLink), but here are his birdies per round from 2000, 2006 and 2012 and rank on tour.

2000: 4.92 birdies/round 1st
2006: 4.65 birdies/round 1st
2012: 3.67 birdies/round 34th

Over 72 holes, he’s currently making five fewer birdies per week than he did in 2000 and four fewer birdies per week than in 2006. That’s a lot.

The drop in percentage of holes under par and rank is also significant.

2000: 28.73% of holes under par 1st
2006: 27.14% of holes under par 1st
2012: 20.81% of holes under par 34th
To me, those stats tell me one thing: The guy is good, but he’s not “back.” And unless he cleans up his game from inside of 125 yards, he isn’t an automatic favorite to win each time he tees it up. After all, he didn’t break par on the weekend in any of the majors this year.
My hope is that Rory’s performance this past weekend – combined with his play in lapping the field at the 2011 U.S. Open – changes the conversation in the media.
What do I want to see? I’d like some acknowledgement that there are other good players and it isn’t just a given that Tiger is the automatic favorite. After all, there have been 18 majors played since he won the 2008 U.S. Open. To put that into perspective, George W. Bush was still the United States president the last time Tiger won a major.
Will the fact that Rory has won two majors in two years and two majors at a young age do that? McIlroy certainly has more star power than recent major winners Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Louis Oosthuizen or Y.E. Yang. That should make it harder to ignore or rationalize Tiger not winning.
We will see if it works, but I’m hopeful that stories about golf may become about more than just one player.


1 Comment Add a comment

  • FletchDHack on September 5, 2012

    I’m not sure it would be accurate to say McIlroy has more star power so much as he has “the PGA is desperate for a hero so they’re shoving this kid down our throats” power. Sure, he’s a heck of a player, but he also missed a LOT of cuts this year. Time will tell just what his mark on the game will be.

    Personally, I like the lack of a dominant player on tour right now. It’s a lot more interesting than, “Oh look, Tiger won again. Yay.” As Kevin Costner said in Bull Durham, “Strike outs are boring. Not to mention they’re fascist.” There’s no drama in watching the same guy win every week.

    That said, I am interested to see if Tiger can overcome his personal problems and finish living up to his potential. Golf is such a mental, interior game, so it seems a lot more intriguing to watch a guy battle with his head game. Can he finish what he started, or will he just have come close?

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