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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time to Talk Tiger

While one of the most interesting tournaments of the year was going on at PGA West last weekend, several Silly Season tournaments were going on across the globe.  Each of them produced thorough bread champions.  Tiger returned to the winners circle for the fist time in two years with his win at the Chevron World Challenge, while Rory was winning in Hong Kong and Lee Westwood was winning in South Africa.

Tiger's win has the golf world buzzing about if "he's back" and how many tournaments / majors he's going to win in 2012.  While there are signs that Tiger may be back to some semblance of his old self, here are a couple of reasons to be cautious.
  • Last year Tiger lost this same tournament in a playoff to Graeme McDowell.  This year he had to birdie the final two holes to hold of Zach Johnson by a stroke.  McDowell and Johnson are very much in the same mold, and last years success in the Chevron proved to be fools gold.
  • It was a limited field event where he has a lot of say so in all aspects of the tournament.  It's basically a "Tiger and friends" tournament at a course where he is understandably right at home.
Here are my thoughts on Tiger in 2012.
  • The most important part of Tiger's physical game in terms of winning isn't his driver or his putter; it's his iron game.  For years, Tiger was always at the top of the GIR (Greens in Regulation) stats, but in his two year drought that number has dropped.  While his scrambling numbers are terrible, some of that can be cured by better iron play.  Tiger's won an Open Championship purely off of iron play (Hoylake).  When he can once again hit that 3-wood stinger shot and short to mid iron a course to death.
  • Two other secondary categories to watch are par 5 scoring and third round scoring average.  Tiger has always been a much better front runner than chaser and this past year his third round scoring average was 176th on Tour. 
  • I believe it is very important for the overall health of the PGA Tour for Tiger to remain relevant in 2012, and I believe he will.  I'll be very interested to see how he plays Pebble Beach and Doral early, and believe he could win at Bay Hill.  He should never be counted out at Augusta, but that will be a lot of pressure even for him.  In the end, I'd set the over / under for his 2012 win total at 2 and say it's less than 50/50 he wins a major this year.  His best shots will be Augusta and The Open.  His driver will have to really improve for another U.S. Open to be in the cards and the wind at Kiawah will make the PGA impossible to predict.
  • Due to the math associated with the World Golf Rankings, I believe it's highly likely that Tiger will be ranked in the top 10 at the end of 2012 and maybe even top 5.
Bottom line, Tiger's win at Chevron is a nice step in his return, but it's just that.  A step.  The real question is how long of a learning curve he faces. 

Here are a few topics I will cover In the coming days
  • Who will be this year's Webb Simpson and Bill Haas?
  • Q School Grad's projections for 2012
  • What the 2012 Nationwide Tour is looking like

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