AUGUSTA, Ga. — Here are the skills a golfer must possess to win the Masters Tournament: poise and patience, power and precision, toughness and touch.
Each spring, Augusta National Golf Club measures, examines and challenges a golfer from head-to-foot, driver-to-putter, consistently ranking as the most difficult test in professional golf. Winning the green jacket requires endurance and excellence.
A good break or two is also helpful.
What can we learn from the form and performance of recent Masters champions to help project this year’s winner?
History tells us the champion will have an elite week on approach shots and around the greens. He’ll do most of his scoring on the par 5s. There will be past major success on the resume and his previous Masters experience likely includes promising finishes.
Masters 2023 leaderboard: Get the latest news from Augusta
The golfer’s recent tournament play has been solid if not spectacular, featuring consistent ballstriking. It’s been said many ways, but a golfer who is searching for his game when he drives down Magnolia Lane can’t expect to discover the secret on these grounds.
There are other factors on a course known for exposing weaknesses in a swing or soul.
Above average driving distance is necessary on a course measuring more than 7,500 yards and certain to play even longer this week based on the weather forecast – rain, stiff wind, and temperatures ranging from the 40s to the 80s. Golf’s inherent variable on steroids for the first major championship of the year.
So, with a hat tip for research provided by golf data experts and handicappers Ron Klos of Betsperts Golf, Dave Tindall of Betfair Golf and Justin Ray of Twenty First Group, plus our own digging, here’s the info required to win an office pool or fantasy group, maybe a wager or two.
Trends and course history are more important at Augusta National than most places. For myriad reasons. Most important, it’s the only major championship played at the same course from year to year. Players play the tournament in different conditions. They’re constantly learning and taking notes. Once they become comfortable, confidence grows. Some figure it out faster than others. Others never do.
Cam Smith has. He leads the Masters field over the last three years in Strokes Gained: Approach, cumulative scoring and rounds in the 60s.
Rory McIlroy has too. He’s third in Masters scoring over the last 10 years and has 17 top-10s in major championships since his last win in 2015.
But neither is invited to the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. Neither are past contestants like Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Greg Norman and David Duval, who all seemed certain to earn a green jacket.
OK, onward to the metrics. The LIV Golfers won’t be well represented here. We’re not picking on them. The stats just aren’t available.
Greens In regulation
McIlroy said Tuesday that hitting greens in regulation is the key to success at Augusta National. On a course where the field’s success rate averages around 60 percent, the champion has consistently been closer to 70 percent. Over the last 15 years, the Masters champion has averaged sixth for the week in greens in regulation.
Top in field in GIRs (in order, 2022-23 PGA Tour season): Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa, Tom Kim, Tom Hoge, Jason Day, Sepp Straka, Brian Harman.
Elite short game
It’s another common thread of recent champions. Each was gaining at least 0.2 shots per round on the field around the greens over the last 24 rounds entering the tournament. Great touch not only helps avoid momentum-killing bogeys, but also helps the pros convert birdies on the par 5s.
Top in field, SG: ARG and scrambling over last 24 rounds: Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Danny Willett, Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Kirk, Sahith Theegala, Jon Rahm.
The last five Masters champions feasted on the par 5s, continuing a trend that’s lasted decades, from Gene Sarazen’s 4-wood, to Ray Floyd’s 5-wood, with all of Jack Nicklaus’ towering long irons in between, not to mention Tiger Woods pummeling those holes into submission.
This tournament has been won by racking up the birdies and eagles on the par 5s while avoiding disasters on the par 3s and par 4s. Easy to type. Hard to execute.
Scheffler was 8-under par on the par 5s last year; Matsuyama was 11 under in 2021 as was Dustin Johnson on a softer, gentler Augusta National in November 2020. Tiger was 8 under in 2019 and Patrick Reed accounted for 13 of his 15 shots under par on Augusta’s longest holes in 2018.
Best in field in par-5 scoring: Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy, Joaquin Niemann, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Sungjae Im, Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day.
Coming in hot, or at least warm, is critical. Augusta National, in its current form, is one of the longest courses in pro golf with some of the most severe greens. Average to below-average putters can succeed if their ball-striking and short game puts them in position to maintain a tidy scorecard.
Best in field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green last 24 rounds (not many surprises here): Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Max Homa, Joaquin Niemann, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Cameron Young.
Have you been here before?
Finally, a little bit of experience and/or success in the Masters is required before a player can reasonably expect to claim the title. Fuzzy Zoeller was the last debutant to win, way back in 1979. Will Zalatoris came close two years ago as did Jordan Spieth in 2014. But in general, it takes 5-7 trips around Augusta National before a trophy is won.
Best in field in SG: Total at Augusta National last 24 rounds: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Scottie Scheffler (12 rounds), Will Zalatoris (8), Cameron Smith, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau (20), Patrick Reed.
So, there’s the necessary information. The answer is in there but you’ll have to decide. The best handicappers in the world are thrilled to be right 20 percent of the time over the course of a year, so give yourself a break if your answer is the wrong one. If it was easy, everybody would do it, enjoying their days on their private island between the tournaments.
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