Driving accuracy is significantly insignificant. And here are the numbers to prove it:
Phil Mickelson won the FBR Open Sunday near Phoenix because he ranked second in putts per round and 12th in driving distance. It did not hurt him that he finished 51st in driving accuracy for the week.
Tiger Woods won the Buick Open January 23 near San Diego because he ranked second in putts per round and fourth in driving distance. It did not hurt him that he finished tied for 68th in driving accuracy for the week.
Vijay Singh won the Sony Open in Hawaii January 16 because he tied for eighth in putts per round and seventh in driving distance. It did not hurt him that he finished tied for 41st in driving accuracy for the week.
Oh, and by the way, Singh, Woods and Mickelson are ranked first, second and fourth, respectively, on the current PGA Tour money list.
Oh, and by the way II, Singh, Woods and Mickelson are ranked first, second and fourth, respectively, in the current Official World Golf Ranking.
Ernie Els ranks third in the world and No. 5 on the 2005 money list with stats that are not dissimilar.
It is easy, and not entirely unfair, to proclaim that professional golf has become a safe haven for the so-called bombers. But who among us knows off the top of his or her head that John Elliott ranks No. 1 in driving distance at the moment and tied for No. 134 on the money list.
No, the formula is just a little more complicated than that. The long and the short of it is the long and the short of it. The preponderance of dominant players right now are driving it long and chipping and putting like demons.
There is also this matter of vectors. It drives Hank Haney, Woods instructor, to distraction that people compare Tigers driving accuracy to, say, the machine-like precision of a Fred Funk. If Funk misses his line off the tee by five percent he will still usually wind up in the fairway. If Woods, who carries the ball much farther with his driver than Funk, misses by five percent, he is often in the first cut and, yes, sometimes in the junk.
Woods, Singh, Mickelson and Els have all made a conscious and collective decision that they would rather be hitting a wedge from the rough into par 4s than a 5-iron from the middle of the fairway. And it is impossible to argue against the merits of that decision.
Dont think Jay Williamson and Olin Browne, just to name two, wouldnt do the same if they could bomb it as far as the Big Four. Williamson currently ranks No. 2 in driving accuracy and No. 120 on the money list. Browne is No. 3 in driving accuracy and No. 145 on the money list.
This doesnt mean that a Williamson or a Browne cant compete. There are still weeks when a Justin Leonard, 12th in driving accuracy and 125th in driving distance, will win on certain courses. But the percentages tilt decidedly toward the longer hitters.
This has been a developing trend. But never have the numbers been easier to interpret than they are right now.
The question becomes whether or not this is good for golf.
And the answer is simple:
As long as its inside the rules, do what you have to do. And dont hold your breath waiting for any of the world tours to change their course set-up philosophies. Meanwhile, if you arent a worldclass putter and chipper, you wont become a world-class player, no matter how long or short off the tee you are.
But if, say, Heath Slocum, who ranks seventh in driving accuracy, wants to win more golf tournaments on a regular basis, he will probably need to hit it longer.
By the same token, if Tiger Woods wants to return to the form he enjoyed in 2000, he would do well to start finding more fairways.
It works both ways. And everybody should be looking to get better every day. Woods, for one, lives by this mantra.
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