Tiger Woods may have his personal problems, but few would question his golfing talent. He has dominated professional golf for years now.
But how good is Tiger?
rates 1.4 strokes per round better than any other golfer on tour," says Roland Minton, professor of mathematics at Roanoke College. "Over
four rounds of a tournament, this predicts that Tiger wins by at least
(Credit: Keith Allison)
Minton is the author of a forthcoming book on the
mathematics of golf. For the project, he analyzed data from the PGA Tour’s ShotLink System, which records the location of every shot with qualitative
information (rough or not, uphill or not) and quantitative information
(such as distance to the hole, within an inch). The data includes the
1.2 million shots per year taken at Tour events between 2004-2008,
excluding the four “majors” not run by the tour.
Here are some more of Minton's findings:
• In 2007, PGA golfers made 99.2 percent of their putts
in length of three feet or less. “That is a high percentage, but it
means that over 1,500 short putts were missed,” he says. “Not one of the
regular tour players escaped the season without missing at least one
• The “break-even” point is eight feet. “At every
distance greater than eight feet, the pros make less than half of their
putts,” he says. “For most casual golfers, that seems like a
surprisingly short distance. Of course, the pros putt on different
greens than we do, they are under much more pressure, they never take
mulligans and they have a PGA Tour recording every stroke, even on bad
• At every distance, pros make a higher percentage of putts
for par than they do for birdie. “The percentage is even higher for
bogey than it is for par,” he says.
• Putts are more important.
“As the saying goes, ‘drive for show, putt for dough,’” says Minton.
“The driving statistics don’t really say much about who’s going to have
the best score.”
• Tiger is not a great putter – in some ways.
“In 2007, Tiger ranked 181st in percentage of putts made between seven
and eight feet. He was 187th in putts made between six and seven feet,
and 74th in putts made between five and six feet,” says Minton. “This
surprises many golf fans, who are accustomed to watching Tiger make
every putt down the stretch on his way to another tournament win. But
his best putting statistically is at the longer distances. In 2007, he
ranked 8th in percentage of putts made from 10 to 15 feet and 5th in
putts made from 15 to 20 feet.”
• But he’s still the most
consistently effective putter on tour. Minton is able to put statistics
into a single rating that shows how many strokes better or worse than
average each golfer is as a putter. “Tiger ranked in the top ten in
overall putting for four of the five years from 2004 to 2008.”
presented his research at the 2010 Joint Mathematics Meeting in San
Francisco in January, and wrote an article for the Joint Policy
Board for Mathematics’ “Mathematics Awareness Month,” in April.