Studying historical Masters trends to find 2021 champ

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The Masters is golf’s only major championship played on the same course every year, so while the layout has been narrowed, lengthened and tweaked in a number of ways, many historical trends have stood the test of time.

Course experience is key. No first-timer has won the Masters since 1979. In recent years, winners have needed fewer laps around Augusta National before winning. But for many years, most Masters winners had to compete in the tournament at least six times before advancing to the winner’s circle. The average number of Masters appearances across the last 10 champions is 7.5. The moral of the story is that it takes some time to figure out all the nuances of this course before finding success.

Beyond experience, having a good showing or two at the Masters before winning is an indicator of success. Eight of the last 10 winners had posted a top-25 finish in a previous Masters appearance. Sixteen of the last 17 winners made the cut the previous year. Patrick Reed is the only recent Masters champ who missed the cut the year before.

Younger golfers have been winning all four majors more frequently in recent years. Tiger Woods was 43 when he won his fifth green jacket in 2019. But before that, Mark O’Meara was the last player to win the Masters in his 40s, and that was in 1998.

The Masters is usually a chalky tournament. The best players in the world win this event, and rarely does a long shot prevail. For the last 11 Masters winners, their average pre-tournament odds in the outright market were less than 40-1. Backing this up, each of the last 10 winners ranked in the top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking heading into the tournament.

So what about current form? Rarely do we get a winner at Augusta who has shown no signs earlier that season. Nine of the last 10 Masters winners have posted at least one top-5 finish in an event before the Masters. Six of the last 10 Masters champs have had an outright win in the same season before arriving at Augusta.

The Masters really used to be a bombers’ paradise, and length is still a key factor. But since this course was “Tiger-proofed’ in 2008, ball striking has emerged as a more prominent factor than length off the tee. Since 2008, nearly every Masters winner has hit at least 68% of greens in regulation for the week. Nine of the last 12 winners have ranked sixth or better in the field in GIR for the week.

Scrambling is also incredibly important at Augusta National. The green complexes are tricky and undulating, and the putting surfaces are fast. A deft touch and creativity around the greens is essential. Eleven of the last 12 Masters winners have ranked in the top 10 in the field for scrambling for the week.

Finally, I believe that one of the strongest correlations we see on the PGA Tour is the connection between Augusta National and Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., site of the Genesis Invitational, formerly the Los Angeles Open. Twelve Masters winners have accounted for 24 Genesis victories. Golfers who play well at one typically play very well at the other. Look at the success at both courses over the years for these guys — Fred Couples, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Craig Stadler, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia. Find a player who performs at a high level at Riviera and you’ll probably find the same guy has a good track record at the Masters.

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