How good has Tiger been with approach shots in his career?

Tiger Woods hitting an iron in the 2006 Open Championship.

In case anyone needs to be reminded how good Tiger Woods has been in the last 15 years, I looked at which players had the highest Strokes Gained on Approach by averaging each players SG-APR for each year. The top ten spots consist of only six players. Tiger holds the top four spots on the list. What’s even crazier than the fact that he holds the top four, is how much higher his SG – APR was for those four years than they were for the next six spots.

  1. Tiger Woods (2008) – 2.08
  2. Tiger Woods (2006) – 1.99
  3. Tiger Woods (2007) – 1.65
  4. Tiger Woods (2013) – 1.53
  5. Adam Scott (2016) – 1.49
  6. Tiger Woods (2009) – 1.40
  7. Paul Casey (2006) – 1.39
  8. Robert Karlsson (2009) – 1.32
  9. Henrik Stenson (2015) – 1.24
  10. Chris Smith (2008) – 1.21

For comparisons sake, let’s take a look at a player who has had recent success on the PGA Tour across an entire year. In 2015, Jason Day, who is frequently talked about as having the ability to play high, towering iron-shots that make approaches easier, only had a SG – APR of 0.35 in 2015, one of the best years in his career.

One can argue about the top spot, as Tiger only has 12 rounds of golf measured by ShotLink . If we had more data on him from 2008, it’s likely his number would regress downward (Casey, Karlsson and Smith also only have 12-16 rounds of data, which makes their statistics equally questionable). However, looking at the SG – APR he put up in 2006 makes one realize just how freakishly good he was with his irons. Using 40 rounds of ShotLink data (a more workable sample size), we see that in 2006 he was consistently gaining two stokes on the field with his approach shots. 2006 was a pretty great year for Tiger, with two major victories and six other PGA Tour wins. However, it was not his best. Seeing this data makes one wonder what Tiger was like on his SG – APR earlier in his career, like when he won four straight majors between 2000 and 2001.

It also makes you wonder about his future. With Tiger’s new game, where he is slightly shorter off the tee but perhaps more accurate, he might find more fairways, and give himself more opportunities to use his strong iron-play than he used to. The prospect of that should frighten the rest of the Tour.

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