ATLANTA – As the esoteric debate for the Player of the Year Award reaches a crescendo this week at East Lake, so have the talking points as it applies to Tiger Woods’ 2013 campaign.
“We put Tiger on such a pedestal that the playing field for Player of the Year is different for him than anyone else,” Hunter Mahan recently said when asked about the ongoing POY discussion. “We expect more from him than just winning five times. For someone to win five times is unheard of other than him.”
While unrealistic expectations are nothing new when it comes to the world No. 1, the level of hyperbole has reached an all-time high around Tour water coolers on the eve of what many are considering a decisive Tour Championship.
The short list of POY candidates includes Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, who each have two Tour titles and a major, and this week’s finale at East Lake could be the swing vote. Yet depending on this week’s outcome, it is curious how many Tour types don’t share Mahan’s point of view when it comes to Woods, who should, by any measure, be the leader in the clubhouse for the Jack Nicklaus Award.
Sure Tiger has five wins, the detractors say, but the major mantel remains empty since 2008. His victory total may lap all comers – by three bottle caps, no less – but they all came on “familiar” venues.
This argument is particularly nonsensical. As if a quality win against a deep field on a demanding golf course is somehow cheapened by the hash tag #beentheredonethat.
Recently, even one of Woods’ Tour frat brothers challenged your scribe, “When was the last time he won a Tour event on a course where he’d never won before?”
For Trivial Pursuit types, the answer is the 2008 WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain in Arizona.
In fact, 42 of Woods’ 79 Tour titles have come at “friendly confine” ballparks including Firestone (eight), Bay Hill (eight), Torrey Pines (eight, counting the 2008 U.S. Open), Muirfield Village (five), Cog Hill (five), Doral (four) and Augusta National (four).
Statistically this is hardly surprising considering Woods’ schedule since he began his historic run in 1997 has remained virtually unchanged with regular stops at Firestone, Bay Hill, Torrey Pines, et al.
“I think over the course of years of playing on Tour, you determine your playing schedule based on courses you like. Guys go to golf courses that suit their games, courses they enjoy, even some based on the amenities,” Woods said. “Over the course of years of playing a golf course, you get to know it.”
For Woods, that comfort level equates, essentially, to demanding golf courses where par is a good score and length is an absolute requirement.
All seven of those courses measure 7,300 yards or more and of the six that were used this year on Tour (the BMW moved to Conway Farms from Cog Hill) they all rank inside the 30 toughest layouts in 2013.
Nor is this low-hanging fruit for Woods, where he is playing second-tier events against relatively weaker fields. None of the five events Woods won in 2013 received fewer than 50 world ranking points for the champion, and only the majors awarded more than three of his victories (Players, WGC-Cadillac and WGC-Bridgestone).
But more than anything, there is a familiarity for these layouts that gives Woods an advantage, be it real or perceived.
“You get to know it under different conditions. That's the most important thing, you get to see it under different conditions,” Woods said. “I think that helps over the course of time. You start to understand how to play it, and you get a feel, and there's a memory to it.”
Besides, with apologies to Brian Gay, one of the circuit’s straightest and shortest players off the tee, if the Tour schedule was dotted with Harbour Towns and Rivieras and Colonials he likely wouldn’t have much use for the Torrey Pines and Bay Hills of the golf world.
The logistical truth of Woods’ schedule is that he has found a winning formula and he has 79 good reasons not to stray from that. For the world No. 1, less is more, always has been.
His record suggests there is no reason to deviate from that formula, just as the quality of his wins this season need no apology – friendly confines or not.