After a shockingly good 2018 season in which he won for the 80th time on the PGA Tour (but first since 2013), Tiger Woods has set himself up for an even better 2019. This seems to be an obvious thing, and maybe it is, but there’s a reason Woods is the betting favorite to win the 2019 Masters, and it’s not just because he’s the most popular player on the planet.
Even though he finished top 10 in two majors, won the Tour Championship and nearly won the freaking FedEx Cup just 13 months after he was allowed to start chipping and putting gain, there is room for improvement.
Here are seven reasons Tiger is poised to be even better in 2019 than he was in 2018.
1. The feels are back: In 2019, there will be no grace period. There will be no, “Well, I have to see what kind of swing I have” period. There will be no stretch of time in the next calendar year in which we have any questions about Tiger Woods’ back or body as the season wears on. Woods goes into 2019 with a better foundation than he’s had since probably the beginning of 2013, which will have been six years ago from the start of his schedule in 2019.
“Well, in March, I didn’t really have a golf swing yet,” Woods said at the Tour Championship. “I was still trying to figure out how to play. My body is so different than it was then, and my equipment is so different than it was then, too, as well, because of my body and because of my swing. I’ve gone through a lot this year to get myself to this point, and understanding and fighting my way through it, and … I’m certainly much more equipped than I was in March because of what I’ve gone through.”
Tiger was basically holding his swing together with Elmer’s glue and scotch tape at the beginning of 2018 but it got better and better as the year wore on. He had already played five of his 18 events by the end of March. He’ll go into next season having erased the pieced-together portion of the comeback, which ate into nearly a third of his year (and maybe even more) last season. That means contending (and winning?) can happen sooner rather than later in 2019.
2. Ball-striking extravaganza: I still can’t get over these numbers about his ball-striking. I mean, this is a joke, right? A guy who couldn’t roll out of bed for most of the last five years transformed into literally the best ball-striker on the PGA Tour in 2018. Trust ball-strikers. Trust strokes gained on approach shots. Those things are repeatable, and Tiger put those numbers together without his best stuff during the first part of 2018. The three best ball-strikers in 2017 combined for three wins and a major in 2018.
3. Marked improvement over the year: This goes back to my first point, but Woods was lights out from July 1 on. Here are his numbers before and after that date. Remember, he made 10 starts before July 1 and eight starts after it.
- Before: Two top 10s | After: Five top 10s
- Before: $1.4 million | After: $4 million
- Before: 71.1 scoring | After: 68.2 scoring
If the Tiger we saw post-July 1 is the one we see all year in 2019, then he’s going to win multiple times and be the 2019 player of the year (and probably win a major). That’s a big if, but it’s still in play.
4. More stable schedule: Remember, Woods was a little up in the air regarding his schedule in 2018. He wasn’t in the World Golf Championships to start the season and was trying to string together reps leading into the Masters. It wasn’t a mess by any means, but it also wasn’t ideal. This time around he can set his schedule in stone starting, well, right now. That should provide a little more stability for somebody who craves it.
5. Winning begets winning: This sounds ludicrous to say about somebody who’s done it 80 times on the PGA Tour, but Tiger remembering what winning feels like again matters. It just does.
“I’ve explained throughout the year that I just didn’t know … when this would ever happen again,” Woods said. “If I could somehow piece together a golf swing this year, I felt like I could do it. My hands are good enough, and I just didn’t know if I could piece together a golf swing. But somehow I’ve been able to do that, and here we are.”
Now he’ll have a confidence he might not have had at times last season that he can take on the Dustin Johnsons and Jordan Spieths of the world and beat them. That doesn’t mean he’s going to go back to winning 10 times a year, but it does mean that a self-belief that seemed to be slightly lacking late in tournaments in 2018 will be present in 2019 (which is kind of scary).
6. Jacked up offseason: Tiger noted how much weight he was losing and how much he was struggling to maintain a proper golf body throughout the year.
“But more importantly, I need to start really lifting and getting after it and getting stronger in certain areas, because playing every single week seems like every single day is maintenance at this point, a war of attrition,” he told Golf.com before the Tour Championship.
We can argue if this is actually a good thing for Woods to do for his swing (seems like history says no!), but regardless, I do think a fitter Woods in 2019 will mean a more prepared Woods in 2019, which should lead to better and more consistent results. Although I do think there’s something to be said for the fact that as the season wore on and he felt like he was falling out of fitness, his results got better and better. I’m not sure how to reconcile that with what he’s saying, but I’ll trust that he knows what’s best for his soon-to-be 43-year-old body.
7. Putting woes … solved? After lingering outside the top 100 for most of the season, Woods finished 39th in putting on the PGA Tour in 2018. Again, if we go back to that July 1 split, Woods gained a total of one stroke in the 10 events before July 1 and a total of three in the eight events after it (in fewer events!). He switched putters maybe more than he ever has in his career, but whatever he found over the last three months clearly stuck. That should buoy him if things go south early in 2019.
Regardless of how it plays out, 2019 is going to be an intriguing year for Woods and for his place both among the PGA Tour and in history. We have yet to see a tournament-winning Woods play on the PGA Tour in the post-comeback era, and I think there’s a real case to be made for Woods winning multiple times and possibly even taking home a major championship. Take his name out of it. Take all your feelings about him out of it. Just look at the numbers and the statistics. His profile shows somebody who is one of the best in the world at what he does as well as someone whose trajectory is pointing upward toward the new PGA Tour season.
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