Handicapping Tiger Woods in the 2019 PGA Championship
It feels weird to say, but we are about to see the PGA Championship tee off. We're used to this tournament coming at the end of the summer when the season was feeling long and things often somehow felt less urgent. It was, due to the timing, the poor step-brother of the majors. But now it has been moved to May, between the Masters and the U.S. Open, so the majors are now spaced once per month. It's a better schedule. And it means that we don't need to wait nearly as long as we would have in the past to get back into the midst of the craziness of Tiger-mania.
And after the storybook win at the Masters, the excitement surrounding Tiger is at a fever pitch. But dealing with him in this tournament is a long way from easy for bettors. There are reasons to trust him, and reasons to have profound doubts. And because he is who he is, there certainly isn't a lot of extra value to play with in the odds. To help us deal with the tournament that starts Thursday, here are a few Tiger-related thoughts to ponder:
Bethpage Black: The host course for the tournament is a challenging one but one that Woods has had success on. The course has held four major tournaments in the past - the U.S. Open twice and the Barclays Championship twice. The first was the 2002 U.S. Open. Tiger won by three strokes over Phil Mickelson to win his eighth major - and his second straight, as he had won The Masters a couple months earlier. In the 2009 U.S. Open, Woods had a lousy first-round 74 but bounced back well to end up at even par, which was good enough to tie him for sixth, four strokes behind Lucas Glover. In 2012 for the Barclays, the first round of the playoff, Tiger wasn't playing great, and he was just one over par in the end. The course was more forgiving that week, and -10 was the winning score. And Woods missed the whole 2016 season, so he did not play in the Barclays that year. So, in three appearances at the course, Woods has a win and a Top 10 and has never had a truly disastrous performance. There could certainly be worse courses.
Rest or rust?: Woods has not played a competitive round since The Masters - a space of five weeks. What that means is a cause for much speculation. He's 43, and he's banged up even if he's healthier now than he has been, so you could argue that the time off is good for him. Or that he won't be in form if he isn't playing. You can only guess which is right, and we won't know the truth until after the tournament - or at least well into it. For what it's worth, he teed off in The Masters on April 11, and hadn't played since his final round at The Players Championship on March 17. That was a layoff almost as long, and it didn't seem to hurt him then.
Back-to-back?: There are some statistics or anecdotes out there that you will hear again and again because they sound good. But so many things that sound good don't mean much, so you really need to be careful of what you are hearing to see if it makes any sense. For example, already this week leading up to the tournament I have heard several times that Tiger has never won the Masters and the PGA Championship in the same year. And you know what the only correct response to that is? Who cares. It's meaningless. The two tournaments have never been played back-to-back, so all we know is that he hasn't been able to win a tournament in April and another in August in the same year - which has nothing to do with what he has to do here.
What would be far more relevant is what he has done in the major after a win. And that's a far different story. After the 2000 U.S. Open, he followed up by winning the Open and then again by the PGA Championship. In 2002 he won The Masters then the U.S. Open. In 2006 he won the Open and then the PGA Championship. So, four different times he has won a major in the first opportunity after previously winning one. And he has only had nine opportunities over his career to play another major in the same calendar year as a win. That's an impressive win percentage. And in two other cases, he has come very close to winning as well - second in one case, and fourth in another.
So, the story would more appropriately be that he is actually pretty good at winning another major after he won one. But even that story isn't entirely accurate - the last time he had this chance was heading into the PGA in 2006, so he is almost 13 years removed from that time. Needless to say, a lot has changed for him in that time. So, ultimately, what can we learn from all this? Not much, really.
Lawsuit a distraction?: As if Woods' life doesn't have enough drama, this week he and his girlfriend, the manager of his restaurant, were hit up with a lawsuit for wrongful death this week. An employee of the restaurant was killed in an alcohol-related car accident, and the case argues that Woods was complicit because he knew the employee had a problem. It may or may not amount to much, but it's another story that people will be talking about and another set of questions that Woods won't address. And it could have some impact on his mind at a time when his margin for error is smaller than ever.
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