Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quantifying Greatness: Tiger Woods

A quick look at how ridiculously good Tiger Woods has been:

He has won all 3 of his starts on the PGA Tour this year;

He has won his last 5 straight (and 7 of the last 8) PGA Tour starts going back to last year;

Including the 2 non-PGA Tour events he played in (and won) between the two seasons, he has won his last 7 straight starts;

Going back to the start of the 2006 season, Tiger has played in 34 PGA Tour events; he has won 18 of them;

Going back to the start of the 2006 season, Tiger has played in 42 events totally world-wide; he has won 22 of them.

Any which way you look at it, he is winning more than 50% of his starts over the last two full seasons and change……this is incredible. By way of perspective: During their very best years, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer couldn’t match this kind of dominance, and they were really, really good! Jack won 14 of 37 PGA Tour starts (38% wins) over 1972-73 and Arnie won 15 of 41 PGA Tour starts (37% wins) over 1962-63. Tiger posted a 48% winning clip over 2006-07 and has extended that to 53% to date.

The World Golf Rankings (rolling week-to-week, computed based on performance over the trailing two-year span) reveal another facet of Tiger’s dominance. As of last week’s rankings, Tiger is #1 with an average of 20.54 points; the #2 player in the world Phil Mickelson has an average of 10.02 points. The gap between Tiger and the #2 player in the world is therefore 10.52 points. The gap between the #2 player in the world and the #1000 player in the world is 9.97 points. (Actually, I don't think that there is a negative world golf ranking; therefore the gap between #1 and #2 is greater that it can possibly be between #2 and any other ranked golfer in the world!)

It has long been evident that Tiger is the best golfer in the world today. But it is not often in sports that one can quantify greatness so clearly, and shut out debate so convincingly. Tiger is demonstrably, over time, at least twice as good as his closest competitor. It gets better. The #3 player in the world is Ernie Els, with 6.67 points. The #16 player has 4.15 points and the #17 player has 3.84 points. So, Tiger is, demonstrably, at least 3 times as good as all but one other player in the world, and is at least 5 times as good as all but 15 other players in the world. Any questions?

For his career so far, Tiger has won 64 PGA Tour titles in 233 starts, at a clip of 27.46% (Cal Ripken Jr. had a career batting average of .276; Tiger is trying to do that in golf tournament wins).

Again, by way of perspective: Jack Nicklaus is still arguably the greatest golfer that ever lived, certainly the most accomplished. In the productive years of his career, 1962 to 1980 (I used 1980 as the cutoff as it was the last time Jack had multiple wins in a year on Tour), Jack won 70 titles in 370 starts (18.9%). This is remarkable by any yardstick.

Tiger has to win only 7 more times in his next 137 starts to beat that pace.

Lastly, it is debatable whether the talent at the top today is as good as what Jack and Arnie had to deal with, but there is no question that the overall fields are significantly deeper than they ever have been.

Also, Tiger has achieved this dominant separation in an era where technology makes it difficult to do so. Golf clubs and golf balls are so brilliantly engineered now that the game is far more forgiving. The forgiveness of technology has shifted the advantage unfairly towards the less skilled golfers, even at the top levels of the sport. If the players today went back to using the technology of Jack’s and Arnie’s time, chances are that Tiger would win at an even greater clip. And I bet you that even other Tour players will admit that.

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Fade said...

But I heard his preacher is a racist.

Fade said...

Oh, wait- does that only make sense when we're discussing a black Politician, nots sports hero?

Anonymoustache said...

It is different for sports heroes. But not by much. Remember Fuzzy Zoeller, when Tiger was well on his way to winning his first Masters in record fashion?...
"That little boy is driving well and he's putting well. He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not serve fried chicken next year. Got it?"
Then Zoeller smiled, snapped his fingers, and walked away. Then he turned and added, "or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."
Of course, Fuzzy was "joking" and was "taken out of context". The fact that he was getting drunk after shooting 78 on Sunday while Tiger was besting the FIELD by a dozen shots had nothing to do with it, I bet. Yeah Fuzzy, good call.
Most of those fat lazy old-guard bigots of golf aren't talking much now, are they? Many of them are cashing fatter checks for 10th place than they used to for winning, thanks to Tiger. Right about now if Tiger served them a bowl of dog turds on a bed of fresh cowpie they'd eat it.
So yeah. There was quite a bit of resentment against Tiger initially, some of it racial. But, at the end of his third full season on Tour, Tiger had won 50% more tournaments than Fuzzy won in his entire damn career (15 to 10). By the end of his fourth full season on Tour, Tiger had won 24 tournaments, 5 of them majors (That's a hall-of-fame career, if he stopped right there). That'll shut them up, no?