Horses for Courses: No One Dominated More Tour Tracks Than Tiger Woods in His Prime
One of the many things that sets golf apart from the other major sports is the week-to-week variation of the courses. Tennis and baseball see some minor differences in playing conditions, but football, basketball and hockey are all played on fairly uniform layouts.
In golf, variables like grass type, length of holes, water hazards, rough height and speed of the greens all change. Some courses -- like Augusta National -- are known to favor big hitters; others (Harbour Town, Colonial) are emphasize precision. Part of the fun of each PGA Tour season is watching golfers who contend at certain courses year after year.
No one represents the notion of “horses for courses” better than Tiger Woods. During his decade-plus of dominance, Woods was known for playing a selective schedule of mostly the same regular stops. As a result, he’s won at least four times on the same course at seven different Tour stops: Cog Hill (former home of the BMW Championship), Firestone (WGC Bridgestone), Doral (WGC Cadillac), Muirfield Village (the Memorial), Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational), Augusta National (the Masters), and Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance Open).
Looking at the adjusted scoring average data for all pros at all current PGA Tour courses where at least three events were played from 2006 – 2015, Woods has beaten the field by the largest margin of any other player (minimum three starts) at seven different current Tour courses: Doral, East Lake, TPC Boston, Augusta National, Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Congressional. No other Tour player holds the adjusted scoring average crown on more than two other courses.
The Big Three
Among the new Big Three, Jordan Spieth has amassed the best adjusted average score at the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and at Colonial Country Club, despite meeting the minimum of three starts at only 15 different events. Spieth will likely establish the new mark for dominance at Augusta National next spring; while Woods has bested the Masters field by 2.7 strokes per round since 2006, Spieth has scored 4.2 strokes per round better with his T-2 and win the past two years.
Rory McIlroy leads in adjusted scoring average at two stops – Sheshan Golf Club in China (home of the WGC HSBC Champions) and Quail Hollow Club (Wells Fargo Championship). McIlroy has yet to win the HSBC, but his worst finish in five starts was his T-11 this year. McIlroy captured his first PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow in 2010 and followed it up with a seven stroke romp in 2015.
Jason Day can claim the lead at only TPC Four Seasons (Byron Nelson), an event that he won for his first Tour title in 2010, but one he has also missed in each of the last two seasons.
These are the top three dominant performances at a single Tour stop since 2006:
1. Keegan Bradley at Firestone (WGC Bridgestone Invitational) -- 3.5 strokes per round better than the field
Firestone has historically been a friendly course to golfers with elite length off the tee, but more importantly, it rewards those who can bomb it while also hitting fairways. Recent winners Adam Scott, Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy, and Shane Lowry have all been extremely effective driving the ball with above-average length and accuracy. Keegan Bradley’s game is all about controlled power off the tee so it’s no wonder his record here is phenomenal.
2. Ryan Moore at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club (CIMB Classic) -- 3.3 strokes per round better than the field
The CIMB Classic has been held at Kuala Lumpur G&CC’s West course for only the last three seasons, but Moore captured the first two titles in 2013 and 2014 and added a T-10 in 2015. Moore also added a T-5 at the previous venue in 2010 so he clearly has found the secret to playing well after crossing twelve time zones.
3. Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow Club (Wells Fargo) -- 3.1 strokes per round better than the field
Quail Hollow is another course that has typically rewarded power off the tee. Not only has McIlroy won here twice, but other bombers like J.B. Holmes and Anthony Kim have recent wins and in 2013 the long hitting Derek Ernst won for his only top 10 in 80 PGA Tour starts. McIlroy has added a playoff loss to Rickie Fowler and two other top 10s in six career starts here. He’s a great bet to prevail when the PGA Championship visits Quail Hollow in 2017.