Distance no longer advantage for Woods


Tiger Woods played a different brand of golf than anyone had ever seen when he exploded onto the scene in the mid-1990s.


Woods' big, booming drives don't dominate the field the way they once did - and it's partially his own fault. The "Tiger Craze" that brought unprecedented attention to golf in the last 15 years attracted players who might otherwise have played different sports, and their arrival has revolutionized the game.

Bigger, stronger athletes playing with more sophisticated equipment have obliterated the power standards Woods and John Daly set in the early 2000s, when they were the only players who hovered around the 300-yard average on their drives. Today that average is, well, pretty average, which removes one of Woods' former advantages.

"The game has gotten taller and it has gotten bigger. Guys are much more athletic and faster," said Woods, who 10 years ago completed a run of four consecutive major victories with a win at the 2001 Masters. "Looking at (6-foot-3) Tom Weiskopf back in the day, (he) was a giant. Now, every guy is 6-3, 6-4. It's a different ballgame."

Woods still hits the ball approximately as far as he did in his most dominant days, but the field has now blown past Woods the way he did the opposition in a record 12-stroke win at the 1997 Masters.

In 2000, a year where Woods won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, he ranked second on the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average of 298 yards per attempt. He and Daly (301.4) were the only players averaging more than 290 yards per drive.

Entering this week's Masters, Woods' 289.6-yard average ranks 67th on tour this season and 65 players average at least 290.

He recounted playing in a group with two of the PGA Tour's biggest hitters, Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland, at this year's Bay Hill Invitational and being the shortest of the bunch.

"I thought Dustin was long and I've played a number of times with him and Dustin, he's got nothing on Gary," Woods said. "When Gary steps on it whole, it's like, ‘Whoa, are you kidding me?' His ball is flat and when you think it should be coming down, it just continues to fly.

"These guys who have played other sports, these guys are both really good basketball players and they both have been able to dunk and the both have been able to play hoops," Woods added. "And then they decided to play golf instead. So it's neat to see these guys transform our sport."

Woods himself played a bigger role than anyone at attracting the new breed of players to the game with his run of dominance. However, that historic period made it much more difficult for Woods as his career progressed, as tournament fields are deeper and more competitive than ever.

Amateur David Chung, one of the youngest players in the field, said Woods was one of the earliest influences who attracted him to golf.

"When I was young, it was the Tiger craze," Chung said. "In '97, I was 7 years old and he was winning the Masters here, so for sure he was a big inspiration."

That's news that flatters the 14-time major champion, even if it means it will take more than sheer length off the tee if he is ever to dominate golf the way he did in his heyday.

"I think that is special to hear guys say that, because it's very easy for them to fall in line and play other sports," Woods said. "You know, I always thought this was a pretty good sport, but growing up, that wasn't the case. It wasn't a cool sport to play."