A Tale of Two Tournaments
Woods came out of the gate with two rounds that were reminiscent of Woods at his major winning best. Certainly the bookies were convinced that the Old/New Tiger would get it done because they dropped his odds to 5/4 at the half way point. Though Jim Furyk (5/1) and Graeme McDowell (10/1) were tied with Woods, you could have had them at those far more generous odds. As play commenced on Moving Day, the golf world wondered if Woods would put the hammer down and take complete control of the Open. Instead, he played those first six in +3, then bogeyed two of the last three for a big fat 75, a round that now seems more characteristic of his game once he’s played himself into contention. In sum, his first 36 were played in 139 shots, his second in 148. As Annika Sorenstam said, “The tournament was his to win and he just didn’t do it.” Again.
Sand Saves and the Short Game
Woods has said that the Foley Swing requires a different release – one that extends all the way from the driver through the putter. If so, it is possible that his quest for a new swing has had a disastrous impact on his once vaunted short game. For the week, Woods was near dead last in sand saves with a 2 for 11 performance. If Woods had save pars from the sand at a rate more in tune with his historical averages, he could have gained four or five big shots. For the week, David Toms (11/14), Jim Furyk (7/11), Martin Kaymer (9/14), Manassero (11/18) managed to save pars from the bunkers at a rate closer to what we would expect from Woods.
Woods was also plagued by some poor chipping. Exhibit A was his closing chip from short range on the 18th on Saturday. Woods flubbed the chip like a high handicapper, turning a 74 into a 75.
Greens In Regulation
Woods’ ball striking showed that Ranger Rick is finally showing up in competition. Though he only hit 11 greens in the first round, he played better than that stat showed. In round two, Woods hit 14 greens, which tied for the day’s best. However, Woods’ play dropped precipitously in the final two rounds during which he hit only 20 of 36 greens. Woods routinely led in GIR when he was winning majors, but now, despite his improved play, still trailed Jason Dufner (50), the leader, by five GIR. If Woods had matched Dufner’s performance, he would have saved about three shots.
Those First Six Holes
The first six holes at Olympic Club are half birdie/half bogey holes that provide elite players with an opportunity to gain ground on the field. In the first round, Woods played them in -1. In round two he was -1 through four holes, but closed the Gruesome Six with two bogeys. On moving day, he played them in +3. Then, on Sunday, he opened with a bogey, and played the six in +6, knocking himself out of contention. For the week, he was +9 on these holes.
Tiger has long been known for winning tournament by dominating the par fives thanks to superior ball striking. If he could have dominated Olympic’s par 4.5s by playing them in three over for the week, he would have tied for first.
Woods’ Decision Making
Woods has proved that smart golf wins majors. Still, a would-be-winner has take a risk now and then, and must execute when the outcome is uncertain. Case in point was the sixth hole, a 498 yard par four with a bunker positioned to catch tee shots hit with a driver. Woods laid up well short of it with an iron off the tee all four rounds, an ultra conservative strategy that led to four bogeys. If he’d hit driver each day, he might have made two or three pars. However, by playing not too lose rather than playing to win, Woods lost a chance to at least keep pace with the field on this monster par four.
Woods’ Backdoor 21t
After taking himself out of the tournament by butchering the first six holes in the fourth round, Woods relaxed and played the way he had in his first 36 holes. The result was three birdies and nine pars finish, and a backdoor tie for twenty-first. To his credit, Woods did not pack it in. If he had played those final 12 in even par, he would finished 38t, nearly matching his 40t at the Masters.
The Three Phases of a Tournament
Woods’ mental game appears to be directly related to his chances of winning. In phase one of a major, he plays hard and well. In phase two, if he is contention, he feels W pressure and his play suffers. In phase 3, once he knows he’s lost his chance to win, he loosens up and finishes strongly.