It's been said that Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods differ in schedule in one critical way: Tiger plays (and excels) at events with stronger fields while Phil Mickelson excels at weaker-field events.
I've compiled a list of statistics from last season which speak to this statistic. Bear in mind that one season is far from representative (particularly given Tiger's eight wins, two majors, and father's death which forced an extended break). To illuminate true patterns, an entire career (or at least, say, the most recent five years) would have to be examined. The manner in which I've compiled these numbers is assuredly a less than scientific way of determining which player is playing in the toughest events.
Compiling the Numbers
In order to make the comparison of field strength, I had to do a bit of number magic. I first had to take a look at each of the tournaments in which Tiger and Phil played. I then grabbed the World Rankings from the week prior to the tournament in order to get the rankings that were current going into each tournament. Now, this is where I had to do a bit of voodoo, and may possibly throw off my results a bit.
Since the Official World Golf Rankings archive only shows the top 200 in each PDF, I had to assign a number to those not on the list. Therefore, to show that the player was worse than the top 200, I assigned a rank of 220 to any player out of the top 200. The number 220 is nothing significant except for the fact that it is higher than 200 and will make the average go up a little bit if the player didn't make the top 200.
Once I had a ranking for each player in the field, I would add up all ranks to get an average ranking of the field. The table below shows the results for each player for each tournament played. Tournaments with an asterisk (*) are tournaments in which both Tiger and Phil played.
Tournament Field WGR Avg Pos ---------- ------------- --- Buick Invitational* 158.22 1 Nissan Open 127.30 WD WGC - Accenture Match Play* 32.50 T9 Ford Championship at Doral* 140.81 1 Bay Hill Invitational 115.58 T20 THE PLAYERS Championship* 100.31 T22 Masters Tournament* 82.84 T3 U.S. Open Championship* 131.72 CUT Cialis Western Open* 152.72 T2 British Open Championship* 118.94 1 Buick Open 168.83 1 PGA Championship* 99.99 1 WGC - Bridgestone Inv.* 57.06 1 Deutsche Bank Championship 172.66 1 WGC - American Express Champ. 50.08 1
Tournament Field WGR Avg Pos ---------- ------------- --- Bob Hope Chrysler Classic 152.77 5 Buick Invitational* 158.22 T8 FBR Open 133.51 T7 AT&T Pebble Beach Nat'l 178.33 T38 WGC - Accenture Match Play* 32.50 T9 Ford Championship @ Doral* 140.81 T12 THE PLAYERS Championship* 100.31 T14 BellSouth Classic 167.99 1 Masters Tournament* 82.84 1 Zurich Classic of New Orleans 175.70 T15 Wachovia Championship 139.46 T35 the Memorial Tournament 98.45 T4 Barclays Classic 137.28 T18 U.S. Open Championship* 131.72 T2 Cialis Western Open* 152.72 T65 British Open Championship* 118.94 T22 The INTERNATIONAL 163.31 CUT PGA Championship* 99.99 T16 WGC - Bridgestone Invt.* 57.06 T54
Let the Comparisons Begin
As seen in the chart, Phil and Tiger played ten events together in 2006 (four of which were the majors, of course). In those events, Tiger bettered Phil six of the ten times. The average field strength during those tournaments was 107.51. This is quite a bit lower than each player's overall averages, but we will get to that in a second. Basically, if Phil and Tiger are in the field, Tiger is going to beat Phil 60% of the time. Because of that simple fact, Tiger draws first blood. Tiger: - 1up
Looking back at the events both players participated in we can see that Tiger's average finish in these events was 4.56th (although he did miss one cut) while Phil (who also missed one cut) averaged 20.30th, quite a bit worse than Tiger. This is one of the most interesting numbers for argument because of the same fact stated above… Tiger beats Phil 60% of the time when they are in the same field. Tiger - 2 up
Tale of the Tape
Player Overall Avg Avg w/o WGC No Phil/Tiger Win Top 10 Top 20 ------ ----------- ----------- ------------- --- ------ ------ Tiger 113.97 125.15 126.89 8 11 12 Phil 127.47 132.75 149.64 2 8 13
Taking an overall average for all events played for each player we are able see Tiger again has the edge, but it isn't a minor edge. As seen in the chart, Tiger plays a stronger field by an average of 13.5 places. But this isn't the most interesting piece of information… Tiger - 2up
Again looking through the events overall for each player, Tiger finished an average of 4.92th. That is ridiculously low. Average his finish for the year and he'd have been in the top five. Phil, on the other hand, had an average finish of 18.11th. Tiger - 3 up
If we were to take away two limited-field WGC events - the Match Play Championship and the AmEx - we find that Tiger's average field strength lead drops 7.59 places. This isn't a huge surprise since the best players in the world normally play in the WGC events. However, Phil didn't enter the match-play event, but did enter two other WGC events. So if we take those two away from Phil we find his average field strength goes up by about 10 places! Heck, even if we let Phil have his WGC events, his average field rank is still higher than Tiger's by six places! Tiger - 4 up
Now this is where this thing gets interesting. When looking at events that only Tiger or Phil played, how does the field strength look? Well, by looking at the chart we can see that Tiger has the slight advantage by about three places. Of course, four of the ten tournaments in common are the majors (which naturally attract strong fields), and a few of the others are virtually "must-play" events for the game's top players (THE PLAYERS, the Bridgestone, the Western Open). The main difference, however, is how they each finish in those events. While Tiger is playing in stronger fields (on average), he averaged 5.75th place (the 20th at Bay Hill killed him here). Phil averaged 15.38th place. Tiger Wins - 5 & 4
Let's Wrap This Up
So now that the numbers have been revealed, who's really the winner? I have above that Tiger wins 5 & 4, but it was a lot closer than I had originally thought. The deciding factor in all of this has to be Tiger's performance in the events that Phil was also entered. It's easy to say that Tiger is better than Phil - you won't find a reasonable statistic out there that will say otherwise.
This was only one year's worth of data, but this thing could go the other way if I were to go back two, three, even four years. Or Tiger's domination over Phil would show through even more. Either way, in 2006 Tiger owned Phil.
This article was written by guest author Harry Solomon, an active member of our forum.