Riviera’s got Tiger by the tail, right..?

February 14, 2019
Duncan Carey

There’s a fascination to Tiger Woods that extends beyond his golfing prowess. He’s the one man who falls into the unique bracket of golf’s golden child and bad boy at the same time. Through all the wins, fist pumps and majors, there’s the controversy, the injuries, the Vegas nights and everything else in between. It’s the combination of it all that makes him so appealing. We love the eagles, the recovery shots, the stinger –  whether we choose to admit publicly or not we all love a bad boy in sports too.

We’ve seen the swelling crowds when Tiger’s playing, and to be honest even when he’s not (see 2016 Ryder Cup). Although TV viewing numbers aren’t necessarily in the public domain, when Tiger tees it up they rocket by up to 200%. Our obsession makes him worth a lot to the sport. But does it distort how we judge him?

According to the media, the venue of this week’s Genesis Open, Riviera Country Club, more than any other is a course that has given Tiger a headache – and boy the media have enjoyed adding to his woes! Even Tiger admitted last year, “I love the golf course, I love the layout, it fits my eye and I play awful.” But is that perception, both from Tiger and the media fair?

When looking at Tiger’s starts at Riviera, it’s the only course on the PGA Tour circuit he has played more than four times and not won at. Bearing in mind, in his PGA Tour career, with 347 starts, he’s won 80 times, and come in the top-3 130 times (including wins). That’s a winning ratio of 23% of the events he enters. Please note, this is not a typo – unbelievably he’s won nearly 1 in 4 events he’s ever entered!. Statistically he should have won at Riviera by now. Twice.

 

Tigers PGA Tour stats-100

But with such astonishing career numbers, why does Riviera cause the big cat such problems? We’re all used to seeing Tiger’s approach shots from pretty much anywhere on the course, landing on the green. When measuring the same period, Tiger hit the green 68% of the time, compared to 63% percent around Riviera in his previous visits. On that basis you’d assume his struggles come from the tee, however both his Tour average and Riviera driving accuracy stack up perfectly at 58%. All that does is beg the question as to what changes in the game of the best approach player of all time?

It’s only when you look at what the rest of the field is doing do we start to see a certain pattern. Eight of the past eleven winners around Riviera have ranked in the top-10 for strokes gained around the green. Riviera’s greens are hard to hit – really hard, therefore Tiger’s biggest weapon in his arsenal is removed. In the past fifteen years, greens have been hit in regulation 57.4%, compared to the tour average in the same period of 64.6%. The layout, the false fronts, run offs and tight pins all contribute to that number, but the truth of the matter is everyone, even Tiger is going to struggle around Riviera hitting the green.

Riviera has proven to be his Kryptonite over the years. But only in the sense that the course makes Tiger somewhat human! He’s shot a 64 back in 2004, never fell out of the top-20 in his first nine starts and only missed the cut on his comeback from spinal fusion. Anyone else and we’d be talking about a fairly decent record. But not Tiger.

We expect a lot from him, as he does, but on a course that looks like it suits him on face value, perhaps Riviera isn’t what it first seems to Tiger. Maybe it should be seen as nothing more than another event in his build up to the Masters and an opportunity to promote his TGR Foundation. But when is all said and done, I know that come Sunday, if Tiger’s in the hunt and doesn’t win, I’ll be (completely unfairly) disappointed – and he can only blame himself…for being so unbelievably good. Roll on Riviera!