Golf is weird. On one hand, players crave consistency and slave away at attaining it. On the other hand, consistency can actually become the biggest deterrent to winning golf tournaments. Rickie Fowler is a great example of this. He has finished fourth and sixth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained overall -- the best determinant we have of the best players on the PGA Tour -- in the last two seasons. He has one win in that span of time. One.
Consistency at a high (but not too high) level is a great way to make a lot of money, but sometimes not the quickest path to collecting a lot of trophies. It sounds twisted and convoluted to what we know about sports, but golfers would probably be better off catching 3-5 absolute heaters a year with the rest left to ambiguity than playing at a sort-of-high level for 52 straight weeks.
All of that leads us to where we normally end up when we're talking about golf: Tiger Woods.
Big Cat returns to action this week at The National, his first post-U.S. Open appearance, and he's looking for his first top 10 on Tour since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. He also doesn't have a win and hasn't really come all that close to grabbing one this year. This does not line up with the statistical data we have regarding Woods' season. Consider Woods' ranking in the following on the PGA Tour:
- Strokes gained overall: 9th
- Strokes gained tee to green: 5th
- Strokes gained approaching the green: 4th
Again, these are the best measurements we currently have in place to determine the best players. Woods' putting has been so-so -- he's 89th on Tour so far this year -- but certainly not poor enough to keep him from the winner's circle. And yet, he hasn't won, mostly because he's been pretty good from tee to green in every event but not outrageously good in any one event. The numbers add up over time, but the trophies do not.
This is a bit unexpected when you look at the golfers he's associated with. Of the top 10 golfers in strokes gained overall on Tour, the other nine have combined for 11 wins. Woods is one of just three golfers in the top 10 (Henrik Stenson and Emiliano Grillo are the others) without a win. Of the top five golfers in strokes gained tee to green, Luke List and Stenson have not won, but Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson both have two wins.
So you can see that Woods has actually been fairly impressive so far this season. He's hitting the ball as well as you could possibly expect -- better than almost everyone else on Tour! -- and when he says he's not far off, there is actual evidence to back this up.
"Have you seen the way I've been swinging?" Woods queried one reporter at the recent U.S. Open who asked whether he thought he could win another major championship again.
So maybe Woods lacks the 6th gear he used to have that he could turn to when he needed to put away golf tournaments. Maybe he's like Fowler in that his numbers will be great on paper, but his Sunday night press conferences will be scarce. Who knows, maybe this is the new Woods. We need more than half a season to figure that out.
But for now, the takeaway is that despite just three top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, Woods has been much better this season than you (and probably he) imagined he would be when he re-entered the golf world back in January.