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Culp's Corner

Tiger's Comeback Season

by Josh Culp
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

It was 17 months ago that Tiger Woods underwent successful back surgery. 

Right on schedule, it was 11 months ago that he announced his intentions to play the Hero World Challenge and give the whole professional golf thing another shot. 

Today, he returned to the winner's circle at East Lake Golf Club, winning the TOUR Championship by two strokes. 

Let's take a look back at this remarkable season to see how he got to this point. 

Finding his Footing

The West Coast Swing is where Tiger shook off the rust. 

He squeaked out a top 25 at the Farmers Insurance Open after nearly missing the cut and then he did miss the cut at the Genesis Open. Combining his stats from both events, he lost 1.5 strokes off-the-tee and lost another 0.7 strokes approaching-the-green

After that tune-up, Woods would gain strokes on approach in 12 of his last 13 starts which featured ShotLink stats. He would gain strokes off-the-tee in nine of them. 

His lack of driving accuracy was drawing a lot of headlines out of the gate and rightfully so. He hit fewer fairways than the field in seven of his first eight starts this season. Since then, he hit fairways at a higher clip than the field in seven of his last 10 starts, ranking 3rd in driving accuracy at the TOUR Championship.

Putting Woes

Woods was actually one of the more consistent putters all season. However, his bad putting weeks were REALLY bad. 

He lost 5.8 strokes putting at the Wells Fargo Championship (T55), lost 7.7 strokes putting at Jack's Place (T23), and lost 4.9 strokes putting at THE NORTHERN TRUST (T40). Other than that, he actually gained strokes putting in all of his other starts that featured ShotLink data. 

His season included a putter switch ahead of the Quicken Loans (+4.8 SG:Putting that week) and he eventually switched back to the trusty Scotty Cameron at the BMW Championship (+0.6 SG:P). 

He put that Scotty to good use at East Lake, gaining 5.121 strokes putting to rank 2nd in the field. 

Slow Starts

The last piece to the puzzle was not starting in a giant hole. 

Woods was getting off to poor starts nearly each and every week before recovering to post a solid result. In fact, he was outside the top 45 after day one during 9 of his first 16 starts. 

That changed in a big way at the BMW Championship when he was co-leader after the opening round. That was his first time leading or co-leading after round one since the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March of 2013. 

Woods built on that confidence at the TOUR Championship as he co-led with Rickie Fowler after round one and never looked back. 

TOUR Championship

With each problem that arose for Tiger this season, he quickly squashed it. His game continued to trend toward the winner's circle and he finally put all the pieces together at the playoff finale. 

East Lake Golf Club is a course that really penalizes you for missed fairways. A big key to Woods' victory was his driving. He striped 64% to rank T3 in the field for accuracy

From there his approach play was sub-par compared to his season-long standards as he arrived ranked 1st on TOUR in that regard. He only gained 1.156 strokes on approach to rank 14th in the field. A part of that was due to his strategy as his spoke on his gameplan and a lot of that was aiming at the middle of greens, settling for pars, but trying to knock in a few bonus birdies along the way. I'd say that plan worked out pretty well. 

"You know, my game plan throughout the week has been very conservative. Make sure I dump the ball 30, 40 feet from the hole and trust my lag putting and get it down there and maybe I might make one or two here and there and make sure I string together a bunch of pars. And occasionally I'll get hot for a couple holes and try and take advantage of it. It hasn't been real complicated. The hard part is trying to hit the ball in the right spots. "

A big part of that plan working was the work he did with his putter. Woods gained more than 5 strokes putting on the week to rank 2nd in the field (+5.121 SG:P). 

What's Next for Tiger?

Woods will now head to Paris with a tidal wave of momentum ahead of the Ryder Cup.

During his prime, the Ryder Cup was always an afterthought as his goals were on such an individual level. His skills never translated to much team success. That could be a lot different for this new version of Tiger who is now more open about his emotions, has been through the Ryder Cup from the outside looking in as a non-playing member (2016 at Hazeltine), and seems to be having more fun on the course. 

It will be very exciting to see how he fares in Paris next week. 

After that, the next likely landing spot is either the WGC-HSBC or the Hero World Challenge. Maybe THE CJ CUP, if we're lucky. 

As for 2019, Woods is now a 9/1 co-favorite alongside Jordan Spieth for the 2019 Masters.

What a year for Tiger Woods

Josh Culp
Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.