Augustalytics: The Masters by the Numbers by Jonathan Lord
Sports was once behind politics and the stock market when it came to statistical analysis but those day are long gone now as simple math is the driving force behind many of the important decisions made by both athletes and front office executives. Professional golfers have always enjoyed playing the numbers. From pacing off yardages to factoring in handicaps, a round of 18 would not be complete without a little remedial calculus. Fans of golf can make analytics work for them too and with the 78th Masters Tournament set to tee off later this week, now’s a good time to take a peak inside the abacus at Augusta National to determine who will wear the green jacket next.
The Fountain of Truth
The average age of the previous 77 Masters champions is 32.66. There are 8 players in this year’s field between the ages of 32-33: Graham DeLaet (32), Nick Watney (32), Brandt Snedeker (33), Brandon de Jonge (33), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (33), Justin Rose (33), Matt Jones (33) and reigning champ Adam Scott (33). Only Rose (’13 U.S. Open) and Scott (’13 Masters) have previously won a major championship while 2014 represents the first trip down Magnolia Lane for both DeLaet and de Jonge.
Around the Block and Back Again
Before leveraging the farm on either DeLaet or de Jonge consider this: only 3 players have won the Masters on their very first attempt: Horton Smith ’34*, Gene Sarazen ’35 and Fuzzy Zoeller ’79. 2014’s roster of 24 neophytes is an accomplished group with the likes of Harris English, Jordan Spieth, Victor Dubuisson, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed. If history has taught us anything it’s that even the most talented golfers require a few laps around Amen Corner before reaching Augusta nirvana.
The average number of starts before a first victory is 6. With names like Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore, Louis Oosthuizen, and Bubba Watson the list of players entering their 6th Masters in 2014 reads like a portfolio of blue chippers. Out of this group only Moore and Mahan have yet to win a major championship.
The player with the most starts at Augusta National without a victory is Ernie Els with 19 followed by Jim Furyk (17) and Lee Westwood (16).
*Horton Smith deserves the asterisk since 1934 was the year of the first Masters.
The World Is Flat But A Golf Ball is Round
Golf is a global game but the list of countries represented by Masters champions is not entirely indicative of the diversity of the sport today. The United States is way out in front with 57 winners. South Africa (5), Spain (4), England (3) and Germany/West Germany (2) are the only other countries with multiple green jackets while Australia, Argentina, Fiji, Canada, Wales and Scotland have one each.
This year’s field of 97 represents 22 different countries from around the world including Thailand (Thongchai Jaidee) and the Netherlands (Joost Luiten). Not surprisingly the U.S. leads the field with 44 entrants. England is a distant second with 7 and Australia rounding out the top three with 7.
Even though Americans comprise close to half of the entire field at the 2014 Masters, 4 of the last 6 champions hail from outside the States including the first ever victories for the continents of South America (Cabrera ’08) and Australia (Scott ’13). A player from Asia has never won the Masters*, which, if the trend continues, could be good news for the 4 Korean players in the field: Sang-Moon Bae, K.J. Choi, Chang-Woo Lee and Y.E. Yang.
*Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion is from Fiji, which is technically part of Oceania.
Caddying For Position
In the 16 years since Tiger Woods won his first of four Masters in 1997 by a historic margin of 12 strokes the average margin of victory is roughly 2 strokes. In that time, only 6 eventual champs have held a lead heading into Sunday with the largest leads belonging to Vijay Singh (’00) and Tiger (’05) who were both 3 shots clear of the field before the final round. In 2011 Charl Schwartzel overcame the largest Sunday deficit when he came back from 4 shots behind 3rd round leader Rory McIlroy who for his part imploded on the back 9 finishing with a final round 80.
Fast starts aren’t necessarily indicative of success as the last wire-to-wire winner at Augusta was Raymond Floyd in ’76*.
*Trevor Immelman had a share of the lead after round 1 in ’08.
Climbing the Corporate Ladder
Since ’97, 7 of 16 champions (7 of 10 if you don’t count any of the wins by Woods or Phil Mickelson) came from outside the top ten in the world rankings including long shots like Zach Johnson (#56 in OWGR in ’07) and Angel Cabrera (#69 in ’09). Potentially signs of trouble for the current top ten of Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Mickelson, Rose, McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Z. Johnson and D. Johnson.
A Clearing in the Distance
Since the latest round of “Tiger-Proofing” prior to the 2006 tournament when Augusta National was lengthened to 7,435 yards, only 2 champions (Cabrera and Watson) have finished the year in the top ten in total driving distance on the PGA Tour. That’s bad news this year for Bubba, DJ and DeLaet. Surprisingly, during that same period of time no winner has gone on to finish the season in the top ten in total putting which means it might be better to be ‘bearish’ when it comes to the chances of Graeme McDowell, Matt Every and Russell Henley.
Azalea and Firethorn*
Most majors are won or lost Sunday on the back 9. When looking at the final round scores of the past 8 champions since ’06, the recipe for this year’s Masters becomes much clearer. Since ’06, the last 8 winners were a combined -13 on the two par 5s on the back 9, #13 and #15. Schwartzel is the only player not to have birdied #13 while just Johnson and Immelman failed to post a red number on #15.
Even more astounding is that over that same period of time, the 12 runners up (including ties for second and playoff losers) were a combined -6 on #13 and #15. If by Sunday afternoon you’ve yet to handicap the leaderboard then look no further then the took back 9 par 5s.
*Which reminds me of a little game I like to play called hole at Augusta National or “Game Of Thrones” character?
Augusta Baby Augusta!
With Tiger out, Rory McIlroy has been installed as the odds on favorite to win the 2014 Masters at 9-1. But before dialing up the bookie realize that last time the line got it right with the favorite was Woods back in ’06.
And finally, since golf, like every other sport, is about streaks, it’s hard to find an equation that takes into full account the form of a golfer heading into Augusta. Ultimately, the 2014 Masters champ will be determined by who hits the most quality shots/putts and unfortunately, numbers can’t always predict the future. Or can they???