The missing line on Tiger’s résumé

February 12, 2020
Justin Ray

28 years ago this month, a slender California golf prodigy named Eldrick Woods played in his first PGA Tour event, the Nissan Los Angeles Open, at Riviera Country Club. The 16-year-old shot 72 in that opening round, better than names like Hale Irwin, Lee Janzen and Hal Sutton.

It is completely incongruent with Tiger’s legacy that he has never won the event now known as the Genesis Invitational, yet here we are. Woods has played this event 13 times, by far his most in any single PGA Tour event without a victory. It’s even where he suffered his only playoff loss on the PGA Tour – albeit in a year the tournament moved from Riviera to Valencia CC – a defeat at the hands of Billy Mayfair.

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Woods has a career scoring average of 69.27 as a professional at Riviera in this event, best of any player without a win here over the last quarter-century. But what, statistically, has kept him from winning here?

Your first guess might be driving accuracy, but Tiger has had a higher percentage of fairways hit at Riviera as a pro (63.9%) than the tournament winners those years (63.7%).

The biggest difference between Woods’ performance at Riviera and the winners those years has been the putter. Since 2004, the tournament winners at Riviera in the years Tiger played had an average of 1.34 strokes gained putting per round. Woods’ average in that span is -0.08. Tiger has averaged about three 3-putts every four rounds at Riviera – winners those years have averaged 0.32.

Woods finished tied for 15th in this event last year despite ranking a mediocre 38th in the field that week in strokes gained putting. His six 3-putts for the week were tied with Martin Kaymer for most by anyone in the field who made the cut. If Tiger is to contend this week, he’ll need to see improvement on these greens.

COURSE CHARACTERISTICS

Another week in California, another week with difficult putting numbers for the players from ten feet and in. Last year, Riviera ranked 2nd-toughest on the PGA Tour in putt make percentage inside ten feet, and 3rd-toughest from four to eight feet. Those rankings are consistently in the top-five, season-by-season on the PGA Tour.

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Riviera has also ranked among the most difficult courses on the PGA Tour in average proximity to the hole over the last several seasons. A year ago, that was especially exacerbated on wedge shots: Riviera was in the top-seven in difficulty all season long from 50-75 yards, 75-100 yards and 100-125 yards.

NOTES ON PLAYERS IN THE FIELD

Brooks Koepka is back where he likes it: underestimated. Allow us to explain…

This is the first tournament for Brooks in which he’s not the number one ranked player in the world since last year’s PGA Championship. His result that week? A win.

This is the first time Brooks has entered a tournament coming off four straight finishes outside the top-15 since the 2017 U.S. Open. His result that week? A win.

Phil Mickelson would have set the longevity section of the PGA Tour record book on fire last week if he won but wound up finishing third at Pebble. One group Lefty was trying to join was the group who have won PGA Tour titles in four different decades. Currently, that distinction only belongs to Sam Snead (1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s), Raymond Floyd (1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s) and Davis Love III (1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s). Both Phil and Tiger might wind up joining them in time.

– This is the eighth stint at world number one for Rory McIlroy, who leapt into this spot thanks to six top-five finishes (including a pair of wins) in his last eight worldwide starts. Only Woods and Greg Norman (11 apiece) have had more career stops as the OWGR number-one.

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Jon Rahm will look to continue his great play in California, where a couple weeks ago he nearly claimed his second Torrey Pines title. Rahm leads all players in scoring average (68.9), score to par (-128) and birdie average (4.95) in PGA Tour events in California since the beginning of 2017. Whether in California or not, Rahm has been a monster since last year’s U.S. Open began: three wins and 13 top-ten finishes in 16 worldwide starts.

– Beware the lefties: left-handed players have combined to win seven times at Riviera since 2003: two apiece by Phil and Mike Weir, and three victories for Bubba Watson. In fact, simple math says it might be a Bubba year – he won at Riviera in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

– A tough-luck runner-up in Phoenix in his last start, Tony Finau is worth a long look this week. He’s finished sixth or better in three of his four worldwide starts this year, finished T-2 at Riviera in 2018 and T-15 last year. Tony is second this season in strokes gained tee-to-green and 10th in strokes gained approach.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

This is Rory McIlroy’s 96th career week as world number one. For Rory to tie Tiger’s career total of 683 weeks in the top spot, he would need to maintain the position every week until May of 2031.