The Masters has arrived! Yours truly will make the trip to Augusta National for the Thursday round, and I’m crossing my fingers for no rain. If you want to meet me, I’ll be the guy in a chair at the 16th green betting my buddy on closest to the pin in the afternoon.
Because this is both the season’s first major and my favorite event, I’m switching up the format a little this week. We’re going to try and crack the code of picking a Masters winner in our preview. This is only a look at the winner, and not an attempt to determine the top five or top 10.
I’m going to assume that you are all familiar with Augusta National Golf Club, at least to a degree. It is a par 72, featuring four par 5s. They are all reachable for the longest hitters and all but the eighth are reachable for an average TOUR player. There are numerous opportunities for both birdies and high scores.
Back to cracking the code.....
To do this, I went back and took a close look at all of the Masters winners that are in this year’s field (19). Specifically, I looked at how many times they played the Masters before their win, how many top 10s and top 25s they had at Augusta National before that win, how many missed cuts they had before that win and what their finish in the Masters was immediately before the W.
While there are a few outliers, there are some generalities that prevail.
Let’s being to eliminate the 93 players and work our way down to who actually has a chance to win.
First-timers don’t win and, of the current crop of winners, only Charl Schwartzel won in his second start. We’re going to accept Schwartzel as the exception to the rule and eliminate all first timers and sophomores.
That eliminates: (29) K. Bradley G. Coetzee, N. Colsaerts, J. Donaldson, A. Dunbar, G. Fdez-Castano, S. Fox, H. Fujita, R. Garrigus, B. Gay, B. Grace, T. Guan, R. Henley, J. Huh, M. Leishman, D. Lynn, M. Mannessero, T. Olesen, J. Peterson, S. Piercy, D.A. Points, T Potter Jr., W. Simpson, N. Smith, K. Streelman, M. Thompson, T.J. Vogel, M. Weaver, T. Wirtchant
With 64 remaining, we see that in every case except Tiger Woods in 1997 the winner made the cut in his most recent previous start at the Masters. It is still the only cut Woods has missed at Augusta National, and we will also consider this an exception and eliminate all of those that did not make the cut last year. This means we also chop off those that didn't play last year.
That eliminates: (25)K.J. Choi, T. Clark, D. Clarke, B. Crenshaw, B. Curtis, J. Day, E. Els, L. Glover, R. Ishikawa, F. Jacobson, D. Johnson, B. Langer, S Lyle, J. Merrick, L. Mize, R. Moore, M. O’Meara, J. Olazabal, C. Pettersson, J. Senden, C. Stadler, R. Sterne, T. Watson, M. Weir, I. Woosnam.
This drops us to 39. Of those in this year’s field, Mark O’Meara needed 14 starts of “practice” before he was able to win the Masters in his 15th start. We will eliminate all of those who already have more than 14 starts under their belt without a win.
That eliminates: (3) S. Cink, J. Furyk and D. Toms – (An FYI, Sergio is making his 15th start this year, and would make this list next year should he not win.)
We've moved the field from 93 players to 36 contenders by applying three rules that history has proven to be pretty iron-clad.
The next rule which applies to all former winners in the field is that a Masters winner has never missed more cuts than they have made at ANGC before their first win.
This eliminates: (5) M. Kaymer, P. Lawrie, G. McDowell, K. Na, and last year’s playoff loser L. Oosthuzien.
We now have 31 remaining. Of the 19 former winners in the field this week, only Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and Jose Maria Olazabal finished inside the top 10 the year before their first win, and each of those had at least seven prior starts before their victory. This likely means there is something to be said for the pressure of entering the Masters looking for your first Green Jacket coming off a top 10 the year before, at least when you have less than seven previous starts.
This eliminates: (2) Peter Hanson and Matt Kuchar.
Now that we are down to 29, let’s take a look at who is left. I will put a (W) beside those that are previous winners.
T. Bjorn, A Cabrera (W), F. Couples (W), L. Donald, J. Dufner, R. Fowler, S. Garcia, B. Haas, P. Harrington, T. Immelman (W), Z. Johnson (W), H. Mahan, R. McIlroy, P. Mickelson (W), F. Molinari, I. Poulter, J. Rose, C. Schwartzel (W), A. Scott, V. Singh (W), B. Snedeker, H. Stenson, S. Stricker, B. Van Pelt, N. Watney, B. Watson (W), L. Westwood, T. Woods (W), Y.E. Yang.
Of the currently players, only Tiger Woods has won back-to-back Masters. That eliminates B. Watson and takes us to 28.
The oldest winner of a major championship was Julius Boros at 48 years, 8 months and 14 days. That means father time has run out on the beloved Freddie Couples and our “deer” friend Vijay Singh.
This is as far as I’m going to take it. I've seen other people apply similar philosophies and whittle the list all the way down to the winner, but the facts stop here and it would begin to get a little silly and lose integrity.
If there is anything we know about the Masters and Augusta National, it is that history is everything. Maybe Louis didn't win the playoff last year because he didn't fit the mold due to his missed cuts. Maybe Kenny Perry didn't win his playoff against Cabrera in ’09 because he was too old, and the ghost of Bobby Jones wouldn't allow it. I don’t know.
What I do know is that, short of something happening outside the history of the typical Masters champion, one of the remaining 26 players that the data hasn't eliminated will win the Masters.
Going by the formula, the non-winners who are the cleanest fit on paper are Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker. They are in the perfect window for number of previous starts (six for Mahan and five for Snedeker) and each have a nice resume of top 10s and top 25s. Snedeker's season is eerily similar to Mike Weir of 2003 with the exception of the injury. Mahan is similar to Olazabal and Couples.
Two past champions that are following trends similar to years of their triumphs are Tiger and Phil.
I’m posting this before the winner of the Valero Texas Open is known, so the field could expand to 94.
We will return tomorrow to sort it all out in our power rankings.