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Tiger Woods experience at Torrey Pines bodes well

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Tiger Woods announced last week that he would start his 2019 campaign at the Farmers Insurance Open. The first two rounds will take place on the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., with the last two rounds scheduled exclusively on the South Course.

Saying that Woods has a good track record at Torrey Pines is like saying the Golden State Warriors have been pretty good at basketball for the last four years.

Woods first appeared in this event in 1998, when it was still the Buick Classic, and he finished tied for third. The following year he won, and since then, he’s played 15 more times and won six more of those tournaments. His average finishing position coming into the 2019 event is seventh and, in case you had forgotten his one-legged performance, Woods also won the 2008 U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

Everyone is always in interested in how Woods plays, but having won last season’s Tour Championship at East Lake to earn his first PGA Tour title since 2015, expectations are going to be high for him to have a strong showing at the Farmers Insurance Open. But what do the numbers say about his chances of winning for the ninth time as a professional at Torrey Pines?

The 2018-19 PGA Tour season started in October, but this is Woods’ first event, so we have no data from this season to study. But we do have last season’s numbers and can compare them to his season-ending stats in the years before his Torrey Pines wins.

As you can see, in previous years before winning at Torrey Pines – a facility that rests on cliffs above the Pacific Ocean and typically is cloaked in cool, thick air – Woods had a more significant driving advantage over the field than he enjoyed last season.

At 43, he’s still longer than the average Tour player. But statistically he could be considered a Tour-average driver because his strokes gained off the tee average was 0.061. That means Woods typically earned a 0.061-shot edge over the average player per round based on the quality of his tee shots. Before some previous wins at Torrey Pines, that edge was more than half a shot, which translates to two strokes through a 72-hole event.

Woods led the PGA Tour in strokes gained approach the green last season with a 0.883 average. But as the table also reveals, that number pales in comparison to his 2007, 2008 and 2009 standards. While there is reason to think Woods will be as good as anyone from the fairway at this season’s Farmers Insurance Open, and better than most, his iron game probably will not give him the edge it once did over the field.

On a positive note, Woods’ short game last season was better than it was a season before any of his wins at Torrey Pines.

The chart below shows Woods’ strokes gained by category in each of his ShotLink-era wins at Torrey Pines

Woods’ recipe for winning at Torrey Pines has been to beat the course (and his competition) into submission using his irons. In his five ShotLink-Era wins, his combined strokes gained approach the green average has been 1.64. He also has feasted on the par 5s, averaging 9.8 birdies or better in each event.

What helped Woods separate himself from the field in previous wins at Torrey Pines is what he did best on the PGA Tour last season – hit quality iron shots. Assuming his iron game remains sharp and he can drive the ball slightly better than he did last season, there is no reason to think Woods can’t win for the ninth time as a pro at Torrey. Gwk

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