Johnny Miller thinks so, probably only because he played one of the best ball striking rounds in golf’s history at the US Open at Oakmont.
But, does Tiger really need to hit the fairways. His swing is clearly off at the moment and there is no doubt about that. Still, he has racked up t-9, win, t-6, 4 and 8th place finishes in his stroke play events. If Sean O’Hair, Phil Mickelson or Nick Watney played like this in five consecutive tournaments people would be going nuts.
However, for Tiger, it is a different story. All you hear about him now is that his game is way off. Which begs the question, does Tiger really need to hit fairways?
Tiger’s short game is pretty clearly the best in the world. He is scrambling at almost 73%(2nd) of the time on missed GIR’s, makes over 98% of putts inside 5-feet(4th), according to the shot tracker stats. Those are two huge factors in scoring well.
So what is the effect of Tiger missing the fairway. Well he misses the fairway around 45% of the time and from their hits the green 54% of the time. Overall, he has been hitting the green in regulation 64% of the time this season. Using those three numbers, I estimated that the 54% of the time Tiger hits the fairway he turns that into a green in regulation about 3 out of 4 tries.
There is definitely a noticeable difference from hitting the fairway, but what does that translate too in terms of strokes.
Let’s assume Tiger hits the fairway on a par four. According to shot link his average proximity to the hole from the fairway is 30’5”. Tiger makes only 6.52% of putts from over 30 feet and 3 putts about 2.5% of the time. Tiger than misses the green 25% of the time from the fairway and gets up and down 75% of the time. Roughly estimating that averages out to a little under 4 shots on the average par-4.
Going through the same process for missing the fairway it averages out to about .10 strokes per hole higher on the par 4s. I assumed there isn’t much difference on par 3’s, because Tiger can tee it up, or par-5’s because Tiger can just overpower and short game them.
Given a .10 stroke difference from hitting the fairway and not hitting the fairway Tiger would only pick up about .1 strokes a round. A small difference that may end up costing him a few of these tournaments but it is not going to keep him out of contention.
I ran back through my numbers last season, and Tiger is playing about .6 strokes worse on average per round this season than he was to this point last year in relation to the field. Of course, he isn’t hitting as many greens as he did last season, which is a way bigger factor.
Consider that he makes bogey on a GIR 2.5% of the time(3-putt avoidance) and 25% of the time on a missed green. That is where the big difference comes.
Tiger’s swing is clearly not in order, or at least to the order it was last season. But, his “mini-slump” has really nothing to do with hitting or missing fairways. Tiger is exceptionally dominant because he A) Hits a lot of greens(absolutely the most important), B) Makes more putts than anyone else, C) has a fantastic short game. Hitting one more fairway per round really isn’t going to affect his game.
How does this affect the public’s perception of Tiger? I’m not sure. Hearing Johnny Miller rip him for not playing like Jesus certainly should have some effect, but Tiger will have a tall order to reach last years level of play. I really think Tiger at +400 or more is a pretty good bet at what should be his next appearance at Memorial.