Tiger Woods has won golf tournaments in pretty much every corner of the map, from Australia to Dubai and even Japan.
But the place where he’s dominated most is America’s heartland: the Midwest. He’ll get another chance to pad his numbers there in this week’s PGA Championship, at Bellerive Country Club in Missouri. Woods has never won in the Show Me State — nor has he even finished a tournament there before — but if his track record in nearby states is any indication, the PGA might provide him with a good chance to check off yet another stop on his Midwestern victory tour.
To figure out which region Woods has ruled over the most, we dug through Tiger’s tournament results since 1992, when he played his first professional event, and cataloged all of his starts.1 We looked at tournaments held in the U.S. that Woods started, excluding unofficial events or team events like the Ryder and Presidents cups. That gave us a sample of 316 tournaments to parse — and some clear through-lines emerged.
|In the Midwest …|
|Finished in top 25||80%|
|Finished in top 5||58%|
Woods has managed his most dominant performances in the center of the country. He has a higher percentage of top-25 finishes, top-five finishes and wins in the Midwest than he does in any other region of the U.S. One-third of the 69 total tournaments he played there resulted in wins, and nearly 30 percent of his PGA Tour victories have come in the region.
Woods has won more than twice as many tournaments in Ohio alone (13) as he has in the Southwest (four) and Northeast (two) combined. “He’s just making mincemeat out of golf courses,” the redoubtable Jack Nicklaus said after Woods won the 2000 Memorial Tournament2 in Dublin, Ohio, by five strokes. The following year, Woods won the tournament by an even wider margin. As he once succinctly put it, “[I’ve] done well in Ohio, I guess.”
If you took Tiger’s accomplishments only in Illinois — his two major championships (the PGA Championship in 1999 and 2006) among his seven career victories — he would already qualify for the World Golf Hall of Fame upon being of eligible age.3
In total, Woods has placed in the top 25 at Midwest tournaments a gaudy 80 percent of the time. From 2000 to 2009, his average finish at Midwest tournaments was an unimaginable 5.3. Fewer than 30 players in the history of the sport have enough total PGA Tour victories to match Tiger’s tally of 23 just in the Midwest.
When compared with Tiger’s performance in other regions of the United States, his degree of dominance in the Midwest is unparalleled. So why has his success largely manifested itself in middle America?
Three tournaments — the WGC Bridgestone Invitational (formerly named the WGC-NEC Invitational), the Memorial Tournament and the BMW Championship (formerly the Western Open) — served as the backdrop of 18 of Woods’s 23 Midwestern wins. Each is longer than the PGA course average,4 allowing bombs-away players like Tiger to attack scoring openings. Firestone Golf Club, home of last week’s Bridgestone Invitational, features a 667-yard 16th hole, among the longest par-5s in the world.5 Woods has been known to obliterate those kinds of holes with his transcendent power and pin-seeking style of play.
Familiarity with a course also helps, particularly when putting: Greens can be deciphered with repetition, which is why Woods so often plays tournaments he’s played before.6 Tiger has played four courses in the Midwest7 at least nine times each — accounting for 56 of his 69 Midwestern tournaments played.
|In the West …|
|Finished in top 25||77%|
|Finished in top 5||51%|
Woods was born and bred on the West Coast, so it’s fitting that the native son dominates the region. He’s played nearly twice as many events in California (52) as he has in the Southwest (28) over his career, and his home-state trophy case is ostentatiously full.
Tiger’s last major championship was the 2008 U.S. Open, at Torrey Pines, arguably the most herculean performance of his career. With two stress fractures below his knee and a torn ACL, Woods walked 91 holes over five days (because of a 19-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate) at the South Course, which, at more than 7,600 yards, is among the longest courses in major championship history. Effectively playing on one leg, Woods produced one of the greatest individual efforts ever seen in a major.
The performance wasn’t an outlier; it was a continuation. Woods won five consecutive events at the course over a four-year stretch and has won nine in total if you count his Junior World title. In at least half of his starts in each of California, Colorado, Hawaii and Nevada, he’s finished in the top five.
His coastal success at courses like Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Kapalua largely follow the same cadence that his success in the Midwest does: Use length to establish an advantage on the rest of the field, make timely putts and dominate scoring holes.
|In the Southeast …|
|Finished in top 25||75%|
|Finished in top 5||44%|
There’s a reason that Woods, like so many other PGA Tour players, has a home — and a private golf course — in Florida.
Tiger has finished in the top five in 40 percent of his starts in the Sunshine State. That feat is only further amplified by the fact that he’s played more events in Florida (62) than in any other state. He’s won more than a quarter of those events, including the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, less than a year after his knee surgery.
“Once we figure out what courses we like, we tend to play those,” Woods said after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2013 — for the eighth time.
He has four wins at Augusta National, tied with Arnold Palmer for the second most by any player,8 and he has finished in the top five in at least half of his appearances in Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland and North Carolina. Three-fourths of his career starts in the region resulted in top-25 finishes.
With its wide fairways, Augusta National is tailor-made for big hitters like Woods. “Augusta has always rewarded length more than any other course,” Nicklaus once said.
|In the Southwest …|
|Finished in top 25||79%|
|Finished in top 5||43%|
There was a time when Texas — most notably the Byron Nelson Championship — served as an annual stop on Tiger’s tour schedule, but he hasn’t played a PGA Tour event in the state since 2005.
In fact, he’s largely avoided the Southwest in general, having played only four events there since 2010. Maybe that’s because his all-time record for most consecutive cuts made was snapped at the Byron Nelson in 2005; he hasn’t returned since.
But regardless, Texas has been arguably Woods’s most successful state in the region; he’s finished in the top five in more than 50 percent of his 15 tournaments and won twice.
|In the Northeast …|
|Finished in top 25||58%|
|Finished in top 5||32%|
Out of all the areas in the U.S. where golf is played, the Northeast has been particularly trying for Woods.9 He has won just twice in the region — the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and the 2006 Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston — in 31 starts.
When Woods competed in the 2004 U.S. Open, which was also at Shinnecock Hills, he finished in the top 20 despite shooting 10 over par. When he won the 2002 U.S. Open, he was the only player who finished in the red. But he’s finished outside the top 30 in five of the past seven tournaments in the region.
The patience demanded by many courses in the Northeast doesn’t match Tiger’s game or approach. We’re talking about a guy who finished outside the top 10 in driving distance only twice from 1998 to 200710 but who has often failed to regularly hit fairways. The margin for error in the Northeast is often smaller, so it’s critical to avoid bogeys and mitigate errant tee shots. Deftly navigating recovery shots is paramount. So it’s no wonder that the player many identify with the most competitive and aggressive style the sport has ever seen struggles mightily to play conservatively.
At this stage of his career, Woods only traffics where he’s had success; aside from majors, you can expect him to tee it up where he’s dominated in the past. This week represents a rarity for Tiger: the opportunity to try his hand somewhere new. Bellerive is enormous, catering to his power-driven approach. Plus, the Midwest certainly qualifies as the backdrop for some prime Woods domination over the course of his career. So even though he hasn’t yet completed a tournament in Missouri, it would hardly be surprising to see him in contention. History says so.