The Tiger Woods Effect

When he’s in the field, everyone else plays worse. How Tiger throws off golf’s incentive structure.

Joel Waldfogel in Slate:

Screenhunter_9Analyzing data from round-by-round scores from all PGA tournaments between 2002 and 2006 (over 20,000 player-rounds of golf), Brown finds that competitors fare less well—about an extra stroke per tournament—when Tiger is playing. How can we be sure this is because of Tiger? A few features of the findings lend them plausibility. The effect is stronger for the better, “exempt” players than for the nonexempt players, who have almost no chance of beating Tiger anyway. (Tiger’s presence doesn’t mean much to you if the best you can reasonably expect to finish is about 35th—there’s not much difference between the prize for 35th and 36th place.) The effect is also stronger during Tiger’s hot streaks, when his competitors’ prospects are more clearly dimmed. When Tiger is on, his competitors’ scores were elevated by nearly two strokes when he entered a tournament. And the converse is also true: During Tiger’s well-publicized slump of 2003 and 2004, when he went winless in major events, exempt competitors’ scores were unaffected by Tiger’s presence.

A skeptic might ask whether a golfer can really try harder, but in fact there are many ways for players to improve their performance in a given tournament. They can study the course. They can hit more balls on the driving range. They can arrive at the tournament a few days early and play more practice rounds.

More here.