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# How Good Is Tiger Woods? Mathematician Provides a Number

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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?

“He

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

5.6 strokes."

(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

short putt.”

• 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

days.”

• 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.”

Minton

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.

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