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  • Writer's pictureBruin Sports Analytics

What Happened To Tiger?: A Statistical Review

By: Max Wimmer


Editorial note: This article was written before the 2024 U.S. Open. As it turns out, its findings were confirmed by Tiger’s performance that week. He performed well off the tee, yet he struggled approaching and around the greens.

With the US Open right around the corner, all eyes are on golf’s biggest names. And as has been the case for over two decades, no player will be in the spotlight more than Tiger Woods. The 48-year-old will be teeing it up at Pinehurst this week, hoping to add a 16th major trophy to his impressive collection.

But as much as golf fanatics across the globe want to see the GOAT win this week, we’re all aware of the unfortunate realities of his weakened game and body. Since his horrifying February 2021 car crash which left him lucky to be alive, Tiger has withdrawn during 3 of his 9 tournaments post-accident (2 due to injury and 1 due to illness) and missed a slew of cuts. His game unfortunately just doesn’t have all the pieces put back together yet. Since the 2022 Masters (his first event post-crash), Tiger’s best finish in a full field was his tie for 45th at the 2023 Genesis Invitational. 

Given the state of his body, the natural conclusion is that Tiger just can’t produce the power necessary to keep up with the young guys anymore. But is that true? I’ve crunched all the numbers, and the statistics prove that this assumption isn’t correct. The problem with Tiger’s game is likely a lot different than you’d think. 

First, some quick housekeeping: When I refer to Tiger “before the crash” in this report, I will specifically be referring to the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons. Comparing what Tiger was doing in the early 2000s, before his various back surgeries, would be comparing apples to oranges. 

Breaking down Tiger’s Strokes Gained stats

First, SG: Off-The-Tee

First, in a comparison of all major Strokes Gained categories (Off-The-Tee, Approach, Around The Greens, and Putting) from before and after the crash, there is no statistical evidence that Tiger’s play off the tee has gotten any worse due to the crash The following plot represents the distributions of Tiger’s SG: Off-The-Tee performances, adjusted for field strength, before and after the crash. Notice how there is essentially no difference in means (which are represented by the black dashed lines) between these two groups here: 

Let’s take a deeper dive into how he kept his SG:OTT from deteriorating despite suffering injuries that posed serious threats to his ability to produce power. First, his clubhead speed has seen an interesting resurgence. Despite slowing down the three years prior to the crash, Tiger utilized his time off to increase upper body strength — and build up some serious speed as a result. Looking at any recent pictures of Tiger, you’ll see the massive gains in his upper body. The numbers show that it’s working: Tiger is actually swinging around 3 mph faster than he was right before the crash. Pretty impressive stuff. 

It’s incredible when you consider the fact that a 48-year-old who we thought might never walk again in his lifetime is swinging faster than the PGA Tour average, which is just under 116 mph this year. But when it comes to Tiger Woods, incredible is what he does best.

The data on Tiger’s accuracy isn’t perfect, but Tiger seems to be maintaining around the same accuracy off the tee as he displayed pre-crash. Given that three mph of additional speed would usually lead to sacrificing some fairways, it’s yet again impressive how Tiger is maintaining his pre-crash form off the tee. 

Next, let’s look at SG: Approach.

This category demonstrates the largest falloff pre- and post-crash of all four strokes gained categories. Before the crash, Tiger gained around 0.75 strokes on the field on average; after it, he’s losing approximately 0.5 shots on the field. This 1.25 shot difference per round equates to five shots per tournament. Put a driver in Tiger’s hands, and he’s the same guy who won the Masters in 2019. But that’s not the case when he’s swinging an iron. His green-in-regulation rates also demonstrate this drop-off:

Let’s look back to this year’s Masters Tournament, which demonstrates quite well his success driving the ball and his struggles approaching the greens. For the four rounds he played at Augusta, he ranked T66, T64, T45, and T60 in total greens in regulation -- not very impressive. In terms of fairways in regulation, however, Tiger ranked T21, T18, 60, and T10. 

Now, let’s examine SG: Around-The-Greens.

This category demonstrated a slight falloff, albeit not nearly as significant as the approach category. Play around the greens essentially boils down to who can scramble at the highest rates. I have collected and graphed Tiger’s scrambling rates for each of the past six seasons: 

Again, we see that the play post-crash seems to be slightly worse than before it. Although 2023 happened to be the best year he had scrambling in this range, 2022 and 2024 are both worse performances than anything we saw in the three years pre-crash. It seems to be the feel that has escaped Tiger, rather than the power. 

Tiger has often spoken about rust buildup on his game from a lack of tournament reps, which perhaps explains his struggles both when hitting into greens and navigating around them. He likely just needs more practice judging the nuances of different lies and how the ball will react on the kind of firm, grainy putting surfaces he’ll encounter at Pinehurst No. 2 during the U.S. Open. 

Finally, let’s look at SG: Putting.

Despite the fact that we’ve seemed to find that the feel has left him, Tiger shows no statistical evidence of a dropoff in putting performance. Before the crash, he averaged around -0.22 SG: Putting, and his new average is around -0.45. 

Off the tee and on the greens, in short, isn’t 2024 Tiger’s problem. It’s everything that happens in-between.

So…what’s going on with Tiger’s iron game?

The most significant falloff -- by a considerable margin -- was in Tiger’s approach game. I’m curious to see from what types of approach shots, specifically, cause Tiger to lose shots in this category — initially, I would’ve guessed that his longer shots are the culprit (due to the lack of strength in his leg), but given the fact that his play off the tee is unchanged, I’m not quite sure what the true answer is.

To examine this, I collected his proximity to the hole from every measured distance and calculated the weighted averages from before and after the crash. I then calculated the percent changes pre- and post-crash.

Excluding the 50-75 yard category because it only had a total of 11 recordings, here are my findings: 

Each bar represents the percent change in proximity from a distance. Keep in mind that a large proximity is a sign of a bad shot. The bars (from left-to-right) are ordered from the closest approach shots to the longest. The largest bars are the distances from which Tiger’s accuracy suffered the most. For instance, the first bar indicates that an average post-crash Tiger shot from 75-100 yards would end up around 75 percent farther from the hole than it would pre-crash. 

Although we don’t have a glaring trend here, the clear outliers are shots from 75-100 yards and shots from 125-150 yards (which I’ve highlighted in red). Whatever combination of too much rust and too little feel that Tiger says he’s experiencing from a lack of tournament rounds shows up most inside of 150 yards, where pros spend most their time hitting half and three-quarter wedge shots to tight pins. Although we’re dealing purely with the data, you don’t have to look hard to find the anecdotes that match these findings. Tiger’s return to the 2022 Open Championship at St. Andrews is perhaps the best example: An iron shot down the middle of the first fairway, then a chunked half-wedge into the burn short, resulting in a double bogey six. 

My takeaway from all of this is that Tiger can, in fact, get his game back. Despite what you may think, Tiger’s game doesn’t appear to be limited or constrained by his injuries -- the longer shots don’t seem to pose an issue for him at all. There are no glaring red flags that would indicate any sort of ceiling for his future. Instead, we see some random patterns and inconsistencies that likely are products of a lack of recent tournament experience. So, only time will tell. As he plays in more tournaments, he’ll get back into the competitive swing of things. More likely than not, Tiger will tighten up his game back with, the data suggesting that the greatest of all time still has plenty of greatness left to show. 

Some stats definitions for the data nerds…

To reach my conclusions in this article, I ran several “two-sample t-tests”. A two-sample t-test is a type of statistical test that can compare two samples of data and evaluate if their true averages are different from each other. 

The way that this test evaluates that difference is by spitting out something called a “p-value.” A p-value is a measure of how statistically significant the difference in true averages is. P-values range from 0 to 1. A lower p-value would indicate that the t-test found more evidence in support of a difference in the true averages. A higher p-value would indicate that the true averages are likely not any different from each other. As a rule of thumb, statisticians generally take p-values less than 0.05 to mean that their data provides sufficient evidence to say that the true averages are different from one another. Here are my exact findings: 

Tiger’s SG: Off The Tee

(the two-sample t-test returns a p-value of 0.4191, which is greater than 0.05).

Tiger’s SG: Approach

 (with a p-value of 0.0026, less than 0.05)

Tiger’s SG: Around The Green

(p-value of 0.0581)

Tiger’s SG: Putting

(p-value of 0.2786)




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