By Ryan Herrington
Picking your favourite Tiger Woods’ stat is a little like choosing your favourite ice cream: It’s hard to go wrong with whatever flavour you say you like most. Any number of numbers point to Woods’ dominance during his two-decade-plus PGA Tour career, none as straight forward as 82 overall wins (it might be vanilla, but it still tastes good). However, on a quiet, shelter-in-place Sunday, we might have just uncovered a new flavour stat that you might like.
When the coronavirus put a halt to the 2019-’20 PGA Tour season, Woods found himself ranked No. 1 in an obscure-but-interesting tour statistic: percentage of potential money won. In the three starts Woods has made in the season, he has banked $1.95 million (largely from his Zozo Championship victory). Of those three starts, the combined first-place money totaled $4.779 million. Woods, thus, has earned 40.94 percent of prize money payout he could have possibly won during the season. That is just percentage points ahead of Webb Simpson, who in five starts has claimed 40.64 percent of the potential earnings he could have brought in.
Now banking 40 percent of the money you could possibly have earned in a year sounds pretty impressive, and it is when you look historically at the number of players who can claim to have earned that much in a single season. The PGA Tour, thankfully, has tracked this metric since 1980, and during a search of the tour’s Shotlink database, we discovered that for an entire season, the number of golfers who have finished with a 40 percent or high total on potential money won total just two.
In 1980, Tom Watson played in 22 tournaments, winning seven times. He also had nine other top-10 finishes, so at season’s end, he had earned $530,808 out of a possible $1,273,500—or 41.68 percent of the money he could have earned if he’s won every start.
The other golfer to win at least 40 percent of the money he was playing for in a season? Well, that would, not surprisingly, be Tiger. What might surprise you, though, is how many seasons he accomplished it. Try eight!
Here’s the breakdown of Tiger’s performances:
2008: 78.25 percent, 6 starts, 4 wins, 6 top 10s
2000: 63.0 percent, 20 starts, 9 wins, 17 top 10s
2006: 58.63 percent, 15 starts, 8 wins, 11 top 10s
2007: 54.23 percent, 16 starts, 7 wins, 12 top 10s
1999: 50.54 percent, 21 starts, 8 wins, 16 top 10s
2009: 47.96 percent, 17 starts, 6 wins, 14 top 10s
2005: 46.73 percent, 21 starts, 6 wins, 13 top 10s
2002: 44.11 percent, 18 starts, 5 wins, 13 top 10s
Perhaps you should put an asterisk next to the 78.25 percent that Tiger made during in 2008 since knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June kept him from playing a full season. But the other seven years show a level of dominance that in the Shotlink era have gone unmatched, relegating Watson’s impressive 1980 season to just the eighth best.
For curiosity sake, we lowered the bar a bit to look at how many golfers had finished a season since 1980 having earned 30 percent of the total amount they were playing for. When you do this, and set the minimum number of starts at 10 in season, eight more golfers were able to claim such an impressive accomplishment, four of them doing it twice.
Vijay Singh: 2004, 38.44 percent; 2003, 30.58 percent
Rory McIlroy: 2012, 37.05; 2014, 33.3
Jordan Spieth: 2015, 34.79
Greg Norman: 1995, 33.99; 1993, 33.02
Ernie Els: 2004, 33.63
Jason Day: 2015, 32.78
Lee Trevino: 1980, 31.75
Nick Price: 1993, 31.47; 1994, 30.03
However, when you reduce the threshold to 30 percent in a season, you also have to add three more seasons to Tiger’s total.
2003: 38.95 percent, 18 starts, 5 wins, 12 top 10s
2013: 38.62 percent, 16 starts, 5 wins, 8 top 10s
2001: 38.57 percent, 19 starts, 5 wins, 9 top 10s
For Tiger’s overall career, including the start of his 2019-’20 season, he has claimed 33.47 percent of the potential money he could have won ($119,870,177 out of $358,059,067).
Of course, none of this data accounts for some of the other greats of the game and their dominant seasons—Jack Nicklaus in 1972, Arnold Palmer in 1960, Ben Hogan in 1953, Byron Nelson, 1945. But in the last 40 years, when you compile a list of seasons in which a golfer earned the largest percentage of money in which they had competed for, Tiger Woods accounts for 10 of the top 11. There’s nothing vanilla about that.