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Tiger Woods Has Very Little Chance of Winning the Grand Slam

April 3rd, 2008 · 1 Comment

Part 4 – Grand Slam – 2008 Masters Coverage

Great athletes have beaten huge theoretical odds to accomplish the seemingly impossible. In baseball, Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, and Don Drysdale hurled 58 1/3 consecutive innings of shut out ball. Two-time Olympic gold medal winner Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive races in the 400 meter hurdles from 1977-87. In team sports, the 1971-72 LA Lakers won 33 straight while the UCLA Bruins won 88 in a row during the John Wooden years.

Now all Tiger Woods has got to do is win four straight to capture the much coveted Grand Slam. I say “all” because, as I pointed out in Part 3 yesterday, so many think this is his year to win the Slam. Sorry, but there are three big reasons why it’s not going to happen.

Big Problem #1: Luck
Golf is a small margin of victory sport. In the 200 majors since 1958, 75.5% have been won by two shots or less. When victory margins are this razor thin, luck often separates the winner from the loser.

If any player can defy luck and the odds it is Tiger Woods, and he has on many occasions. Tiger edged Chris DiMarco twice thanks, in part, to good fortune. Tiger dodged a bullet when DiMarco’s chip lipped the cup on the 72nd hole at the 2005 Masters, leading to a playoff. Then, at the 2006 British Open, Woods holed a series of clutch putts on the back nine to win by two. Yes, they were great putts, but they were also the kind that don’t always find the cup.

Still, Lady Luck often chooses another partner. During the Hank Haney Era alone, Tiger has lost one major by a stroke, three more by two shots, and another by three. Often times these losses have been at the hands of mediocre players who “lucked” into a career week while Woods was in contention.

Big Problem #2: His Putting
Tiger’s putting runs mostly hot, but at times icy cold. All it takes is a bad week, even a bad day on the greens and a close win turns into a painful defeat. During the Haney Era, Tiger’s putter has betrayed him at several majors. He finished three back of Mickelson at the 2006 Masters and two behind Zach Johnson at last year’s Masters because the crucial putts refused to fall on the back nine.

Tiger never got comfortable on the greens of Pinehurst at the 2005 U.S. Open, losing to longshot Michael Campbell by two. At the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, his super cautious strategy on the fast and wildly sloping greens may have contributed to a one shot loss to Angel Cabrera. This season Tiger was putting great up until Doral when his blade produced four 3-putts.

Regardless of how well he hits the ball, Tiger’s still got to make more than his share of putts to win, and that’s never a given, not even for the game’s best putter.

Big Problem #3: The Driver
When the pieces of his complex driver swing are perfectly coordinated, Tiger produces picture perfect bombshells. Over the course of 72 holes, however, these titanic blasts don’t happen nearly often enough. During the first three years of the Haney Era, Tiger’s hit 57.02% of the fairways. So far this year he’s hitting only 55.95%, placing him 172nd on tour.

As alarming as these stats are, however, they understate the problem because they include tee shots with fairway metals and long irons. He probably uses his driver about five times a round, and likely hits about two fairways, or 40%. His misses are often deep into the rough, well to the right of the fairway.

Tiger has become adept at scoring without using his driver very often. Still, he often gives up significant yardage on certain holes to players who hit it straighter. At last year’s Masters, for example, he made one of the most shocking club selections in major championship history. On the eighth tee he went with a 3-wood off the tee, giving up all chance of hitting the green in two. He made par and eventually lost by two shots.

The supersized Augusta National demands longer and straighter drives than ever. He won once in the last three years and contended twice, but one can’t help but think that he’d have won all three if his driving was anywhere close to the rest of his game.

Torrey Pines will be a meaty 7,600 yard seaside par 71 for the U.S. Open in June. The course features three long par 5s, and about five par 4s that should be played with a driver to avoid lengthy approaches to rock hard open type greens. That equals 32 chances to find the customarily deep rough that will be lining the fairways. In short, the course will barely resemble the Tiger friendly dartboard on which he dominates the Buick invitational in the heart of winter.

The experts believe that the first two legs are supposed to be the easiest of the four for Tiger, but they are far from sure things. Putting is always a mystery. Tiger’s persistent driver problem won’t help his chances on these two super long courses. The weight of the golf world will be on his shoulders as always. And this year his expectations reached career highs once he said that winning the Slam is “easily within reason.” Tiger could do it because he’s Tiger, but just winning the first two legs would be quite an accomplishment, and one that is a lot more difficult than conventional wisdom has it.

The putter, the driver, the luck factor, the field factor, the odds, and good old common sense say that Tigermania is one thing, but winning the Grand Slam is a whole other matter.

Tags: 2008 Masters Coverage

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 JT // Apr 17, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Very well said – good analysis and back up with the right data and stats.
    I would even go further – woods will never win the grand slam.
    cheers

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