Deep-diving into Tiger's par-5 dominance
May 21, 2020
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods’ best approaches into par 5s
In the storied career of Tiger Woods, the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard is a statistical oddity.
Of Tiger's 79 stroke-play victories on the PGA TOUR (82 wins overall, tying Sam Snead's record), that 2009 tournament is his only win in which he failed to play the par 5s under par for the entire week. He suffered a double bogey at Bay Hill's par-5 sixth in his opening round and eventually played holes 6 and 12 at even par in winning by one stroke over Sean O'Hair (the course played as a par-70 that week, with two of the traditional par 5s converted to par 4s).
Woods' World Golf Hall of Fame career has been fueled in large part by his dominance on the par 5s, his power advantage providing him more scoring chances than his competitors. As Mark O'Meara once said about Woods and par 5s, "It's been his trademark ... That's kind of what Tiger Woods is all about."
Twenty years ago at the RBC Canadian Open, Woods produced arguably his most memorable par-5 moment. Using a 6-iron from 218 yards out of the fairway bunker on his second shot, Woods carried the water and found the back fringe of the green to set up his winning birdie. Many consider it the most impressive single shot of his career.
No surprise he was 13 under on Glen Abbey's four par 5s that week.
This week, Woods is back in action at The Match: Champions for Charity, in which he'll team with amateur/NFL legend Peyton Manning against the team of Phil Mickelson-Tom Brady to raise money for COVID-19 relief. The match is at Medalist, Tiger's home course in south Florida.
Naturally, it has four par 5s.
Thanks to the ShotLink team at PGA TOUR, here's a deep dive into the numbers that help explain Tiger's par-5 dominance in his career.
Par-5 Scoring Average
The best place to start an examination of Tiger's par-5 dominance is to look at the most basic category -- his scoring average on those holes.
From his first full PGA TOUR season in 1997 until his second FedExCup championship in 2009, Tiger Woods led the TOUR in par-5 scoring 10 times in those 13 seasons. No one else led the category more than twice in that span.
His best statistical season was 2000, the year he won three majors. Tiger's par-5 scoring average of 4.37 was 0.13 better than the next player on that list, Vijay Singh -- the widest gap that Tiger enjoyed during his time at No. 1.
The TOUR average on par 5s that year was 4.72, meaning that Woods was gaining 0.35 strokes on the field every time he played a par 5. Considering Woods played 265 par 5s that year, he gained 93 strokes on the field.
Since 1980, Tiger has the three lowest single-season par 5 scoring averages on TOUR -- 4.37 in 2000, 4.38 in 2003 and 4.39 in 2001. Justin Thomas is fourth on the list at 4.42 last season.
As for the three years Tiger didn't rank first from 1997-2009?
• 2004, when Vijay Singh led the category with a 4.47 scoring average (Tiger was 5th at 4.53)
• 2007 when Phil Mickelson was No. 1 with a 4.45 average (Tiger was 2nd at 4.48)
• 2008 when Tiger did not meet the minimum number of rounds after having knee surgery following his U.S. Open win at Torrey Pines. His average to that point was 4.46 -- had he maintained that, he would've ranked No. 1.
The next season, Woods averaged 4.43 to again rank No. 1 in par-5 scoring average. It's the last time he led the TOUR in that category, as a combination of factors (health/other issues, lack of rounds, the rise of younger bombers, simply getting older, etc.) have made an impact in the last decade.
Even so, his career scoring average on par 5s is still an impressive 4.49, which would rank inside the top 10 averages when stacked against each of the single-season par-5 scoring average leaders since 2010.
Par-5 scoring leaders last 10 years vs. Tiger Woods career average
Year Player Average 2019 Justin Thomas 4.42 2016 Rory McIlroy 4.46 2018 Dustin Johnson 4.47 2015 Bubba Watson 4.47 2017 Hideki Matsuyama 4.48 2014 Adam Scott 4.48 2011 Webb Simpson 4.48 Career Tiger Woods 4.49 2012 Rory McIlroy 4.49 2013 Keegan Bradley 4.51 2010 Bubba Watson 4.52
Par 5 Birdies or Better
Much like his par-5 stroke averages, Tiger's par-5 birdie or better statistics show the huge advantage he had with the longest holes.
He led the category 10 times between 1997-2009 ... and again, no other player in the last 22 years has led it more than twice.
Woods has the top five single-season birdie or better percentages since numbers were calculated in 1980. In consecutive seasons, he made birdie or eagle more than 61% of the time on par 5s (61.89% in 2000, 61.22% in 2001). Since 1980, no other player has a percentage higher than Justin Thomas' 57.34% last season.
And again, Woods' career average of 53.8% in this category slots inside the top 10 compared to single-season percentage leaders last decade.
Par-5 birdie or better leaders last 10 years vs. Tiger Woods career average
Year Player Pct. 2019 Justin Thomas 57.3% 2017 Hideki Matsuyama 56.9% 2018 Tommy Fleetwood 56.3% 2016 Rory McIlroy 56.1% 2014 Adam Scott 55.9% 2015 Justin Thomas 55.4% 2011 Bubba Watson 54.3% Career Tiger Woods 53.8% 2012 Rory McIlroy 53.1% 2013 Steve Stricker 52.8% 2010 Bubba Watson 51.6%
Feasting on Par-72 Courses
It's a pretty easy theory to figure out -- the more par 5 holes on a course, the better it is for Tiger. The numbers certainly support that theory.
Of his 79 stroke-play wins, 49 have come on par-72 courses. Compare that to par 70s (19 wins), par 71s (10 wins) and the odd par 73 (one win -- in 2000 at Kapalua, site of the annual Sentry Tournament of Champions).
Percentage-wise, Tiger has converted 29% of his starts on par-72 courses into wins, well above his overall career success rate of 22.7% (82 wins in 361 TOUR starts). All the other percentages are below that career mark -- 21% success rate on par-70 layouts, 13% success rate on par 71s and 17% success rate on the few par-73 courses he's played.
Of course, Tiger has racked up many of those par-72 wins at the same course:
• 7 wins at Torrey Pines (both courses for the Farmers Insurance Open are par 72s, but his U.S. Open win in 2008 was a par 71 layout)
• 6 wins at Bay Hill (two other wins there came when Bay Hill was a par 70)
• 5 wins at Muirfield Village
• 5 wins at Augusta National
• 4 wins at Trump National Doral
Interestingly, Woods has more wins on a par-70 course (eight times at Firestone) than any other par/course combination. But maybe having one more par 5 would've gotten him the trophy in his hometown event. Instead, he's 0 for 13 at par-71 Riviera.
Tiger's Toughest Par 5s
The raucous par-3 16th at TPC Scottsdale gets all the attention, and in Tiger's career, it produced a memorable moment with his hole-in-one there in 1997. But the previous hole, the par-5 15th, also is significant for Tiger.
It's the only par 5 in his PGA TOUR career that he's played at least 10 times with a scoring average over par.
Woods has played a total of 89 par-5 holes at least 10 times. His scoring average is below par on 87 of those holes, and he's even par for another one (No. 5 at Whistling Straits). But the 15th at TPC Scottsdale has been immune to Tiger's talent, even though it hardly ranks among the toughest par 5s on TOUR.
Of the 459 players who have 10 or more rounds at TPC Scottsdale, just 29 of those players (6.3%) have played the 15th over par. That includes Woods, who obviously is not used to being in the bottom 6% of any statistical list.
The first time Woods played the 15th was in the first round of the 1997 Waste Management Phoenix Open. His tee shot found the gallery, and he was forced to lay up short of the water with his second shot. His sand wedge landed in the greenside bunker and he failed to get up and down. As the Tucson (Arizona) Citizen dutifully reported the next day, "Bogey six instead of the expected four."
The 15th also is one of five par 5s in Tiger's career in which he recorded a triple-bogey 8. It came in the second round of the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open after he found the water with his tee shot. It was one of just two "others" recorded by the entire field at the 15th that week.
The other triple-bogeys Tiger has suffered at par 5s in his TOUR career? 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, hole No. 2, final round; 2013 Masters at Augusta National, hole No. 15, second round; 1999 World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship at Valderrama, hole No. 17, final round; and 1999 Masters at Augusta National, hole No. 8, first round.
Woods, by the way, shot an 82 in that 2015 round at TPC Scottsdale, citing problems stemming from a transition to a new swing. It was also the first time he played the 15th at its increased yardage of 553 yards. In his first 12 looks at the 15th, it was listed at 501 yards on the scorecard.
Overall, Woods has four birdies, seven pars, two bogeys and that triple bogey in his 14 trips through TPC Scottsdale's 15th. He has not been back to the tournament since that triple bogey.
Tiger's Toughest Par 5s on TOUR (minimum 10 rounds)
Hole Rounds played Over/Under par 15th, TPC Scottsdale 14 +0.07 5th, Whistling Straits 10 0.00 16th, Firestone 67 -0.07 5th, Westchester 14 -0.14
Tiger's Easiest Par 5s
Consider it the ultimate scale of justice. TPC Scottsdale not only is the site of Tiger's toughest par 5, it also has offered the easiest par 5 in his career at the 13th hole.
In fact, it's the only hole in Tiger's career -- regardless of par -- in which he's averaged a full stroke under par. In other words, it's the easiest hole he's ever played on TOUR (minimum of 10 rounds).
In his 14 trips through the 13th -- the yardage has varied between 558 to 595 yards -- Woods has recorded three eagles, eight birdies and three pars. He's 14 under in his 14 rounds, giving him a stroke average of 4.00 at the 13th.
The first time Woods played the hole in competition was the 1997 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He blasted a drive 346 yards, then a 2-iron from 231 yards that finished 12 feet from the pin. He then converted the eagle attempt.
Although Woods has never recorded an albatross on TOUR, his closest call came at the 13th in the 2015 Waste Management. After a 329-yard drive, his second shot with 5-iron from 226 yards hit just in front of the green, then bounced toward the pin, stopping 7 inches from the pin for a tap-in eagle.
Tiger's Easiest Par 5s on TOUR (minimum 10 rounds)
Hole Rounds played Over/Under par 13th, TPC Scottsdale 14 -1.00 1st, Trump National Doral (Blue) 43 -0.88 10th, Magnolia 23 -0.87 5th, Champions 16 -0.81
The 2,000 Club
Since Tiger's first full season in 1997, 3,900 golfers have played at least one par 5 hole on the PGA TOUR. Seven of those players are a career 2,000 under par or better on the par 5s.
Woods is on the list, of course; however, he's not at the top, as he's played significantly fewer rounds than the six others above him.
Players 2,000 or more under par on par 5s since 1997
Player Rounds Score to par Charles Howell III 1,935 -2,537 Phil Mickelson 2,044 -2,425 Vijay Singh 2,087 -2,414 Stewart Cink 1,990 -2,202 Jerry Kelly 1.973 -2,111 Jim Furyk 2,063 -2,094 Tiger Woods 1,274 -2,014