Tiger Woods lifting a trophy on the 18th green of the Torrey Pines South Course has become as common as the hang gliders that routinely fly by the course on the cliffs of the Pacific. Woods recorded his eighth victory at the course on Monday. This win was the 75th of his career, and it reasserted himself as the man to beat on the PGA Tour in 2013.
Because of a fog delay on Saturday that canceled all play, the finish of the tournament was postponed until Monday. In reality, however, the tournament was over after Woods shot a 65 in the second round and took a two-stroke lead heading into the weekend. His lead was never seriously threatened again.
Nick Watney made a modest run early in the third round, and Brandt Snedeker got off to a hot start in his final round, but, with a leader board comprised of young inexperienced players, most wilted with the Woods name on top, and he cruised to an easy victory.
This win was very similar to those in his prime. He took control of the tournament early and never let up. There has never been a better front-runner in golf history than Woods, and the earlier he gains the lead in a tournament, the tougher he is to beat. His name has lost some of its luster and intimidation, but, as exemplified this weekend, once his name is on the leader board very few men are capable of chasing him down.
Although Woods struggled with his driver in the final round, many analysts have been praising Woods’ accuracy off the tee as the main reason for his success. Yes, his driving was good at Torrey Pines, but his proficiency off the tee has been steadily improving for the past two years. Ever since Woods has been working with instructor Sean Foley, he has been one of most accurate long hitters on tour.
This improvement can be credited with Foley’s insistence that Woods shorten his swing and develop a fade as his go-to off the tee. This strategy minimally decreases his length off the tee, but vastly increases his control. The change has increased his number of fairways hit as well as eliminates the stress and torque of his swing on his withered left knee.
Woods’ accuracy was impressive this week, but Woods can still win, and win handily, even when he is not hitting fairways. He has an unmatched ability to hit recovery shots. The reason he was so dominant this week was because of his putting and distance control with his irons.
The Torrey Pines South Course is one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour. Combine the length with the damp conditions all week, and long hitters had a significant edge; Woods took full advantage. With their length and narrow landing areas, Torrey Pines’ par fours are menacing, but Tiger was able to tame them all week. His length gave him shorter irons into the green, and even when he did lay back off the tee, he was consistently able to get hole-high from 200-plus yards.
Even when Tiger’s game has been shaky, certain courses fit his eye. He always has been able to play well at places like Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Muirfield Village, so we should not be surprised by this performance. This week, however, his game did seem more complete than it has in a long time. The only instance of him letting go of the club after a wild swing came on the ninth hole in the final round, and he was able to recover from that wayward drive. For the most part, his swing was tight and in control and that is bad news for the rest of the PGA Tour.
Is this performance a guarantee that Tiger will consistently contend this year? No, but it is an encouraging sign for a player who has struggled with consistency in recent years. Fans should not expect absolute dominance because the fields are too deep and too talented. They should, however, expect his name on the leader board more frequently.
Woods knows how to attack every golf course he plays, and if he can match that with the execution he expects, golf fans should get use to him in the winner circle on Sundays throughout 2013.