Of the many statistics that Tiger Woods dominated throughout his early-career run from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, arguably none was more significant than his play on the par 5s. Tiger led the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring average in every season from 1997 through 2003, and not just by a couple hundredths. He led by wide margins, which when added up over the course of a round and a tournament, largely contributed to his dominance.

In playing these holes well under par – he averaged about 4.4 during that stretch – it may surprise you to learn that he wasn’t focusing on making birdies. Sure, that was the end goal, but Woods was focused on limiting the number of bogeys he made on par 5s.

In fact, it was part of his five goals that he had for every round, which according to course-management expert Scott Fawcett, were:

1. Avoid bogeys on par 5s
2. Avoid three-putts
3. Avoid double-bogeys
4. Avoid blown easy saves
5. Avoid bogeys inside 150 yards

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Woods figured out that if he could make six or fewer of these mistakes in a tournament, then he would win. What’s shocking is how they are all about not making mistakes. They’re not about making more birdies and eagles.

On the par 5s specifically, it is fascinating that by trying to avoid bogeys, Woods made more birdies and dominated those holes compared to the rest of the tour. Here’s what you can learn from his strategy.

The par-5 mindset mistake

Often we step up to the par 5s thinking that since these are the easier holes, we need to make something happen. Play aggressively, hit it close, make birdie or an easy par. Yet in trying to force good things, we actually make crucial strategic mistakes that cause our scores to balloon.

Instead of approaching a par 5 and thinking, How can I make birdie or par? start thinking, How can I make sure I avoid bogey, double or worse? It will free you up to play less aggressively, and in turn, your scoring average will drop.

Photo: Kolostock

The 2 common mistakes

1. Out of the hole too soon: Since par 5s are the longest holes, they have the most opportunities to get out of play. A wild tee shot, a botched lay-up or a poor iron shot all can lead to quick bogeys or worse.

Focus on keeping your ball in play off the tee, even if that means taking a more conservative line. Resist the urge to try and swing harder because it’s a long hole. Remember, your goal is simply to get it in play and avoid the big number.

2. Getting too fancy on the lay-up: It’s easy to lose focus on a lay-up shot. You’re not aiming at any specific target like the hole or middle of the green, so you lose focus and simply swing with no real intention. That’s when bad things happen. You lay it up into the rough, bunker or water. Or worse, you top or chunk it right in front of you. There’s a quick bogey or double.

Instead, be sure to pick a very specific, conservative target for your lay-up. Don’t force the ball too close to water, trees or other hazards. Even if that means you have a longer approach shot, that’s fine. You’re avoiding the big number.

So, during your next round, change your par-5 mindset and adopt Tiger’s approach, and remember, it’s OK to adapt your goal to your handicap. Tiger was trying to avoid bogeys, but if you’re a 10 or 20-handicapper, maybe that means trying to avoid doubles or triples on par 5s. Whatever it is, the strategy remains the same.