STAN TORGERSON / Columnist
May 16, 2002
Let's pretend we're going to have a cook-off.
The dish is anything you like, but we'll make it beef stew. All contestants get beef, carrots, onions, potatoes, celery and an assortment of spices of their choice.
When the dishes are done and the judging begins there are a lot of stews that taste more-or-less the same. The vegetables are better in one, the beef in a second , the gravy in the third.
But one contestant has put the ingredients together in a way that clearly stands out over the others. Same ingredients. Same spices. Same equipment. Same cooking time. He just did it better and no one knows quite how. He just did.
Visualize Tiger Woods wearing a white apron and a tall white hat. He is that contestant. He just does it better and when you look at the most recent statistics released by the PGA there is no possible way to know how. He just does it.
On the PGA Tour they keep statistics for everything except how many times the players hitch their pants up during a round. And when you look at those statistics you wonder how this young man dominates the game the way he does. How he wins the most tournaments. How he banks the most money. How in an era when every player who tees it up is capable of winning, at least in theory, it is seemingly always a field of 124 against the Tiger in every tournament he enters.
Tiger Woods this year to date has averaged 69.15 strokes per round. That's almost a full half stroke over the second place Jose Maria Olazabal's 69.38. If this was a NASCAR race Olazabal would be so far back Tiger wouldn't be able to see him in the rear view mirror.
Phil Mickelson is a great player. No doubt about it. His scoring average ranks eighth at 70.11, almost a full stroke per round, four strokes a tournament behind Woods. Now this is where it gets confusing.
Tiger is second in driving distance behind John Daly who hasn't won since Bill Clinton was in the White House, and doesn't that seem like a long time ago? Daly averages 307.8 per drive. Tiger Woods is second, a distant 296.4.
Neither Daly nor Woods are even in the Top 10 in driving accuracy, however, translated as getting the ball in the fairway off the tee. Scott Verplank leads that category, 81.4% with Fred Funk second at 79.2. Who? Verplank and Funk. How long since either one made a crowd roar?
But somehow Woods, out of the top 10 in accuracy with his driver is No. 1 when it comes to hitting the greens in regulation. He screws up a drive and then unscrews it by hitting the green from somewhere and somehow 73.6 percent of the time. Kenny Perry is second at 71.7 and Vijay Singh third, 71.3 but Tiger does the recovery bit best.
In total driving, the combination of distance and accuracy Tiger is tied for fifth with Cameron Beckman. Sergio Garcia is number one, and Garcia is a great player, but how long since he has beaten Woods in a major. Try forever.
Now you think you've got me. It's his putting. Go ahead say it. It's his putting that makes him the class of the tournament world, you dumb writer. Sounds good. Sounds wrong when you see the stats. Tiger Woods isn't even in the top 10 of the tour's best putting averages. Bob Heintz, Mark Calcavecchia, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, Chris DiMarco, Steve Stricker, John Daly, Scott Verplank, Retief Goosen and Brad Faxon. One to 10. Only Goosen can beat you with his short stick.
Phil Mickelson gets more birdies than any other player, 4.64 per round. He's still looking for a major win. Retief Goosen is second. Tiger ranks third.
Remember the long driving statistics? Then don't be surprised when you see that the longest driver, John Daly, also has the most eagles per holes played. One in every 66 holes. And Woods? Nowhere. Number two driver. Not even in the top 10 in eagles. People you never heard of rank second and third, J.J. Henry and Jonathan Byrd. Hardly household names.
Take all the ingredients, the beef, the vegetables, the spices and cook them together in order to get the All-Around statistical rankings. Surely when driving length, accuracy, greens hit in regulation and putting are added together, the tour's biggest winner must be the stats champion as well.
Sorry. Sergio Garcia is. Cameron Beckman and Retief Goosen are tied for second. Scott McCarron is fourth. Phil Mickelson is number five and David Toms sixth. Where's Tiger? Seventh. So help me. Seventh all-around behind guys who beat him in the numbers but can't do it on the fairways and greens.
The only statistic that really counts is the PGA Tour money list and there it is no contest. As of May 5 Tiger had won $2,685,500. Another statistical also ran, Phil Mickelson is second, $2,100.363. Remember Olazabal with his second best on tour scoring average? He's third with winnings of $1,772,273. The top scorer is almost a million dollars behind the top winner. The first 19 on the money list have all won over one million dollars but the 19th, Stephen Ames with $1,051,665 is $1,634,000 behind Woods.
Maybe they left a few other ingredients out of the PGA stew. Things like will-to-win, reaction to pressure, golf course management and courage under fire. Things that are impossible to measure with a tape and a scorepad. Maybe that's what makes Tiger Woods different from all the rest. Maybe that's what makes him the greatest golfer we have ever seen.