2007Zach Johnson613016460513 2011Charl Schwartzel224564199620 Strokes gained tee-to-green was the top category (or tied for the top) for 46 percent of the Masters winners over that span,2No other category was above 38 percent. and 62 percent of winners ranked among the Top 10 in the statistic — like Woods does this year. (This is consistent with my previous research that driving distance and approach accuracy are the two secret weapons players can possess at Augusta, causing them to play better in the Masters than their overall scoring average would predict.)I haven’t mentioned Tiger’s putting numbers yet, and with good reason. Woods used to be the greatest putter in the world, but so far this season he ranks just 74th in strokes gained with the flatstick, adding only 0.19 shots above average per round. Last year, he was better — 48th on tour — though he still wasn’t the putting maestro who once showed me and countless others the fundamentals of a great stroke. However, Augusta has frequently seen putters who rank far worse than Woods win during the era of detailed PGA Tour tracking data. (In fact, more than half of qualified Masters winners since 2004 have ranked worse than 78th in putting.) Putting performance is so random from year to year — much less from tournament to tournament or even round to round — that it’s a lot easier for a good tee-to-green player to get hot on the green for a weekend than for a good putter to suddenly have an uncharacteristically amazing weekend off the tee.Because of all this, it’s not hard to understand why Woods is a strong 12-to-1 bet to win the Masters. But it’s also not hard to imagine that this could be the 43-year-old’s last, best chance to win another green jacket. Using our research on historical major winners from a few years ago, here’s what the aging curve for championship golfers looks like: Average34.531.970.018.486.121.2 Masters winners do their best work from tee to greenStrokes gained rankings by category for Masters Tournament winners during the seasons they won, 2004-18 2018Patrick Reed104742297224 2009Ángel Cabrera3748169636351 YearMasters WinnerOff TeeApproachAround GreenTee to GreenPuttingTotal 2014Bubba Watson2476371098 2008Trevor Immelman116501131191113 As the world’s greatest golfers convene in Augusta, Georgia, this week for the Masters, it’s time for every sports fan’s annual rite of spring: wild speculation about whether Tiger Woods can add a fifth green jacket to his closet. Picking Woods used to be a trendy bet; then it began to feel like a totally futile exercise. Well after he last won the event in 2005, there was a period when Woods was in the news constantly for everything except golf success. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that Woods’s relevance as a winning golfer seemed finished, along with his bid to chase down Jack Nicklaus’s record for all-time majors won.But that all changed last season, when Woods put everything back together again to finish eighth on the PGA Tour money list and win the season-ending Tour Championship in September. Now Woods is back, in his best position in years to win another Masters. According to VegasInsider, Woods has the third-best odds of any player to win this weekend; he’s also playing even more inspired golf than he did during last year’s comeback campaign. But at age 43, will this be one of Woods’s last chances to win at Augusta before his days of being a viable champion are over?Certainly, Tiger has been outplaying many of his much younger rivals these past few seasons. Since the end of his lost 2017 campaign, Woods ranks sixth among qualified1Minimum 30 total rounds measured by ShotLink, the PGA Tour’s real-time scoring system. PGA Tour players in total strokes gained per round, trailing only Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood. He’s mostly regained his old mastery of irons on approach shots and still has some of the game’s best feel for shots around the green. In terms of strokes gained, Woods is picking up 1.67 shots (relative to the average player) per round so far in 2019, an even better mark than the 1.60 he posted last season — which itself was easily his best performance in five years.One of the most impressive aspects of Woods’s early play this season has been improved accuracy off the tee. According to the PGA Tour, Woods has hit 65.2 percent of possible fairways on his drives this season, which ranks 54th out of 214 qualified players. That might not sound amazing, but by Woods’s standards, it is ultraprecise accuracy. Last year, he hit only 59.4 percent of fairways, which ranked him 127th, and he struggled to break 55 percent over the four injury-plagued seasons before that. (Even during his really great pre-scandal/injury seasons, hitting fairways was an Achilles’ heel. In 2007, when he made the most money playing golf of his career, Woods ranked 152nd in driving accuracy and failed to hit 60 percent of fairways.) When Woods is scuffling, the first indication is often a wayward drive that requires subsequent artistry just to make par.With the help of that improved accuracy, Woods now ranks 72nd in strokes gained on drives this year — he was 100th last year — and ninth in strokes gained from the tee to the green, picking up 1.48 shots per round before ever setting his spikes on the putting surface. Classic Tiger was always a tee-to-green monster, ranking either first or second in the category every healthy season from 2006 to 2013, so his strong performance in that category this year is another signal that Woods is returning to vintage form.It’s also a very good sign for his chances at Augusta. That’s because, as Todd Schneider wrote about for FiveThirtyEight a few years ago, the Masters often comes down to a player’s skills with the long clubs — contrary to the tournament’s reputation for being a putting contest.Great PGA Tour players generally assert themselves most on approach shots and drives anyway, gaining about 4 strokes relative to average from tee to green for every extra shot they pick up on putts. But the recent history of Masters winners also suggests that a great long game is the true prerequisite for winning the green jacket. The average winner since strokes gained was first tracked in 2004 (excluding the 2016 and 2017 winners, Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia, because they lacked enough PGA Tour rounds to qualify for official leaderboards) ranked only about 86th in putting performance per round but 35th in strokes gained off the tee, 32nd in strokes gained on approach shots and 18th in total strokes gained from tee to green. 2015Jordan Spieth15117492 2013Adam Scott21677510811 PGA Tour Rank 2017Sergio García—————— 2010Phil Mickelson66532513312 Garcia and Willett didn’t play enough rounds to qualify for the PGA Tour’s rankings during their Masters-winning seasons.Source: PGAtour.com 2004Phil Mickelson7224351289 2005Tiger Woods44128451 2012Bubba Watson1598431606 2016Danny Willett—————— 2006Phil Mickelson124664405 That spike in wins for players in their early 40s came from 42-year-olds Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Payne Stewart, Tom Kite and Gary Player, and it was the last actual uptick on the chart — and Woods is now on the wrong side of it. Jack Nicklaus famously won his final major at age 46, but most great golfers are largely done winning by their early to mid-40s. And the game has only gotten younger in the twilight of Woods’s career; while the average major-winner in our data set above (through 2014) was 31.9, that number is just 29.6 in the years since. With his own early career dominance and popularity, Woods has inspired a younger generation of gifted golfers that he now must do battle with.Woods is a special talent and in the conversation for the greatest golfer ever.3Even though most fans still give Nicklaus the nod. He’s playing as well heading into Augusta as he has in a long time and excelling in exactly the right categories. But between aging effects and his own injury history, he may never have a better shot at winning another Masters than he does right now. Once upon a time, Tiger was legendary for pouncing on every opportunity left in front of him. We’ll just have to see if he can summon that ability yet again.
The last two days saw two former members of the Ohio State football program make their respective NFL debuts, though both had forgettable outings. Former OSU coach Jim Tressel debuted in the coaching booth for the Indianapolis Colts in a Sunday Night Football matchup with New Orleans. Tressel, now a game-day consultant with the Colts, opted to postpone his term of employment until Week 7 of the NFL season due to concerns about current and former OSU players who were suspended in both the NFL and NCAA. In Tressel’s final game coaching the Buckeyes, he led the team to a 31-26 victory against Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl in the Louisiana Superdome. That game, along with the entire 2010 season, was later vacated by OSU as part of its self-imposed penalties for violating NCAA policies. Tressel resigned from his post with the Buckeyes on May 30. Tressel returned to the Superdome last night only to see his new team fall to the Saints, 62-7. The loss dropped the Colts’ 2011 record to 0-7. On Wednesday, Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell said that Tressel will assist in situations when the team might challenge a play. “I may have a couple of other things for him to do, sort of game day activities, but that’s basically what he’s going to help us with, among other things,” Caldwell said. “I want him to come around and make certain that he gets a feel for how we do things. Practice, preparation and all those kinds of things, so he’ll have a sense of that. The rest of the time it will probably just be towards the weekend, but he’ll be around. (Tressel will) travel with us, obviously.” Tressel was not made available for comment. Week 7 also saw former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor make his first appearance for the Oakland Raiders. Pryor, who was slated to miss the first five games of the Buckeyes’ 2011 season, departed the university on June 7 to pursue an NFL career with a year of NCAA eligibility remaining. Pryor and five of his then-OSU teammates were suspended for selling team memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos. Despite his off-field problems, Pryor was selected by the Raiders in the third-round of the NFL supplemental draft with the understanding that he would be suspended for the first five games of the NFL season. During the first quarter of the Raiders’ 28-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, the former Buckeye lined up at the wide receiver position before going under center and taking a snap. Pryor was flagged for a false start penalty on the play and did not return to the game. The Raiders did not respond to The Lantern’s request for comment regarding Pryor. Indianapolis will return to action Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. The Raiders are in the midst of their bye week and will next play the Denver Broncos at home Nov. 6.
“You can play,” was the message some fans sported on their shirts during the Ohio State men’s hockey team’s second annual Pride Night.Executive Director of the You Can Play Project and former NFL player, Wade Davis, spoke Saturday at the Schottenstein Center before the Ohio State men’s hockey team (11-6-1, 1-2-1) took on Michigan State (6-10-3, 0-2-2).You Can Play is an organization that seeks to bring equality, respect and safety to all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation. Before the game, which ended in a 1-1 tie with Michigan State winning the shootout, Davis spoke about the challenges he faced as a gay athlete.“I didn’t have the courage to exist in the world as I really was,” Davis said. “The safest place for me was with my teammates because I wasn’t thinking about the idea that I was gay.”It was that mindset that led Davis to his involvement with You Can Play. Davis said that when it comes to sports, one’s race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation should not matter.“You Can Play addresses the idea that athletes really don’t care about your sexuality,” Davis said. “They only care about if you can help the team win.”The Board Room in the basement of the Schottenstein Center filled up at 5 p.m. with hockey fans, students and families who came out to support OSU’s partnership with Gay Hockey Ohio in an effort to show the university’s commitment to ensure equality amongst all athletes. At Pride Night, Davis spoke about how his experience being open about his orientation as an athlete has been both “liberating and awful.”“There is a common misconception that sports culture is a culture that is really homophobic, but actually in a lot of ways, sports is one of the few places where athletes are used to dealing with someone who is different,” Davis said.Pride Night aimed to raise awareness and advocacy among both athletes and students at OSU through team videos expressing support of the You Can Play Project.A video message from Mayor Michael Coleman played on the jumbotron opened the game in support of the project and OSU’s decision to promote the program.“Tonight is about our sportsmanship and the strength and diversity of our community. These are values we embrace and honor right here in Columbus,” Coleman said in the video. “I take pleasure that we celebrate this kind of diversity.”Davis said a huge idea that You Can Play stresses to athletes is that they need to treat each other with respect regardless of their sexual orientation in order to help other athletes play freely and openly.There was also a silent auction held prior to the game to help raise money for the project. A hockey stick signed by current Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and other signed merchandise was available to purchase.Brooke Cartus, a second-year law student at OSU’s Moritz College of Law, said OSU is the first Big Ten university to host a pride night. Cartus is the co-chair of The Outlaws, an organization within Moritz that seeks to understand legal issues that affect the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. She called the organization “an opportunity for open communication and education.”Ben Brown, a first-year in agricultural engineering, supported the project along with many other students who attended the hockey game.“If you have a love for the sport, it shouldn’t matter your orientation and if you’re good at the sport, it shouldn’t matter,” Brown said.