Tiger Woods has played six competitive rounds in two tournaments in 2018.
He finished a respectable T-23 at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open. Three weeks later, he wasn’t able to make the weekend, missing the cut at Riviera for the Genesis Open.
While six rounds doesn’t tell us much about how Woods will do for the entirety of the year, his first starts of the season do suggest where Woods’ game is and where it needs to get — in a hurry.
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Woods’ primary struggle through two starts is his driving.
The 14-time major winner hit just 17 of 56 fairways at Torrey Pines. That 30.36 percent conversion is the lowest of his entire professional career. And Woods has sprayed it at some places over the years.
It didn’t get a whole lot better at Riviera. He hit 13 of 28 fairways in two rounds, and the difference between Woods hitting driver off the tee and pegging it with any other club was stark. His driver miss didn’t especially favor one side or the other. He pushed one on his second hole of the week into a eucalyptus tree. He snapped a handful, too.
Goal 1 between now and when Woods realistically contends again for PGA Tour win No. 80 is to find a way to get driver in or nearer the fairway. Woods is killing himself off the tee, putting himself in troublesome position to score, forcing him to rely on his short game.
Despite the clear visuals of Woods’ driving problems, he has managed to post positive strokes gained off the tee in two of five measured rounds. When he gets the ball in play, it’s plenty long and works to his advantage — so long as he’s not in, behind or near a tree, or worse.
What may be more troubling, however, is Woods’ approach game.
At Riviera, Woods found just 16 greens in regulation — the lowest percentage of his career for the opening 36 holes of a tournament. He hit 42 at Torrey. A combined 53.8 percent clip would put him 224th out of 225th ranked players on the PGA Tour’s greens in regulation list this season. That’s a disaster. Subsequently, Woods has posted negative strokes gained approach in four of five measured rounds. Only a brilliant final round at Torrey keeps him from looking completely abysmal in the stat. Averaging just 0.057 strokes gained approach per round, Woods would rank 112th.
All of those issues from tee to green have afforded Woods an opportunity to flex a short game that has largely looked as good as it has ever been. Eventually, the law of averages caught up to Woods on Friday at Riviera, leading to bogeys and a 76 to miss the cut.
Moving forward, then, Woods predominantly has to fix himself off the tee. When he gets the ball in play, Woods scores well. When he isn’t playing from extraordinarily difficult approach positions, he is in better shape to be aggressive. This isn’t rocket science, but Woods has to find a driver technique to get the ball in play or rely on his 3-wood and long irons to set up his attack.