Monday, July 6, 2009

Tiger Stats with Tiger Stripes

As Hunter Mahan signed his scorecard Tiger had roughly six holes of golf left to play, with the score tied and nobody else realistically within reach (including would-be Tiger-killer Anthony Kim). All Tiger had to do was to avoid bogeys on some holes where trouble was within fairly easy reach, and somehow find a birdie along the way. Tiger's play down the stretch was a showcase of control and concentration, in the end he was able to pick up the one stroke on par that he needed for the victory.

(photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images from Yahoo Sports)

Now, one shot over a 72 hole tournament is a very miniscule margin, to say the least. Mathematically it's a fraction of a percent, and in golfing terms there were dozens of places where Tiger may have lost a stroke or Hunter could have gained one. In order to appreciate Tiger's greatness we can't just look at one tournament, but we need to take a step back and look at a larger body of work. When you do, you will realize that we'd better pay attention, because we're watching a domination of titanic proportions.

It's not that he won by one stroke this weekend, or at Memorial, or at Bay Hill. It's that he just keeps finding ways to win much more frequently than anyone else in history. Over the past two years he's won 7 times out of 14 stroke play events, an amazing win rate. And when he doesn't win, he's usually close by, and he almost never crashes out and finds himself with time on his hands on the weekend. Not counting the US Open shortly after his father died Tiger hasn't missed a cut since 2005. As a point of comparison, Phil Mickelson has missed eight cuts in the past three years, and Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh have missed 11 cuts each in that time frame. While it's true that most players play in more tournaments than Tiger does, you're still comparing their numbers to a goose-egg. Tiger is currently riding a 19 tournament streak of Top 10 finishes (again, looking at stroke-play tournaments) that goes back two calendar years. In the last five years, Phil's longest streak like this is four tournaments, Paddy's longest is three tournaments, and Vijay's longest streak is also three tournaments. I feel like this number is the most impressive of all at this time. Given how deep the PGA Tour is right now, to consistently keep yourself in the Top 10 out of 200 of the worlds very best golfers is truly astonishing. It's unfair to compare Tiger's performance now to his ridiculous domination in the beginning of the century. At that time he took the tour by shock and awe, raising the bar in ways reminiscent of when Babe Ruth took the home run record from 29 to 54 in one year in 1920. The rest of the tour has had some time to catch their collective breath and adjust their training, preparation, and focus to try to catch up, and a new generation of golfers is coming up who's never known a tour without Tiger as the dominating force. The fact that Tiger's still wins at the rate he does is truly remarkable. I lived in Chicago during the 90s, and I consider myself lucky as a sports fan to have gotten to witness Michael Jordan's domination of that decade, leading the Bulls to six championships. I feel like in watching Tiger play right now we're watching a very similar performance. I love Jack, and Bobby, and Ben and Arnie; but I can't imagine anyone convincing me right now that Tiger isn't the best ever.

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