It is common parlance to say when the Masters comes around each year it is a week like no other but a trip down Magnolia Lane in November? That throws the whole golfing year out of kilter.
From first on the major championship schedule to the last of 2020, and from “patrons” thronging the green expanses of Augusta National to empty galleries, this week’s tournament will have a different feel for competitors and TV viewers alike. Even the azaleas won’t be in bloom as spring gives way to autumn.
The alterations are more than just cosmetic and ambient, however, with cooler temperatures, less daylight, and no spectators all potentially affecting the outcome. The question is, by how much.
One thing is for sure, it adds an extra dimension to our quest for the next owner of the Green Jacket as we consider who is best placed to win on Sunday night.
1 Have You Been This Way Before?
And is this the year it finally doesn’t matter? Most of this year’s field was not even born when Fuzzy Zoeller won the Masters on his debut in 1979, and each year that passes without another rookie trying on the green jacket has added to the belief that experience and course familiarity are prerequisites for Augusta National success.
The Masters debutant class of 2020 may have other ideas, Collin Morikawa (28/1) who won the PGA Championship in August in just his second major start and US Open runner-up Matthew Wolff (33/1) who was also T4th at the PGA.
Yet even Tiger Woods, this year’s defending champion, took three goes, including a missed cut, before triumphing for the first time in 1997. Patrick Reed, the 2018 champion needed five attempts, his immediate predecessor Sergio Garcia required a record 19 starts before eventually winning in 2017.
Which is why in previous years we’ve advised forgetting first-timers and always looked towards consistent low scoring in the tournament.
Low average scores, though, remain, the barometer and the table shows the calibre of contenders.
Not all will be going into this week’s Masters in top form, but Augusta class tends to be permanent.
10 Lowest Average Scores at The Masters 2015-19 (min two years/8 rounds)
(Last 5yrs: Apps / Best finish / Top 10s) Rounds / To Par / Ave Score
1 Tony Finau (2 / T5 / 2) 8 / -18 / 69.75
2 Jordan Spieth (5 / 1st / 3) 20 / -39 / 70.05
3 Dustin Johnson (4 / T2 / 4) 16 / -29 / 70.19
4 Jon Rahm (3 / 4th / 2) 12 / -18 / 70.5
5 Tiger Woods (3 / 1st / 1) 12 / -17 / 70.58
6 Rory McIlroy (5 / 4th / 4) 20 / -28 / 70.6
7 Justin Rose (5 / 2nd / 3) 18 / -24 / 70.66
8 Rickie Fowler (5 / 2nd / 2) 18 / -22 / 70.77
9 Hideki Matsuyama (5 / 5th / 2) 20 / -18 / 71.1
10 Jason Day (5 / T5 / 2) 20 / -11 / 71.45
2 Are You Knocking On The Door?
Best Masters records last five years (2019 to 2015)
4 Top 10s: Dustin Johnson (T2, T10, DNP, T4, T6); Rory McIlroy: (T21, T5, T7, T10, 4th)
3 Top 10s: Jordan Spieth: (T21, 3rd, T11, T2, 1st); Justin Rose: (MC, T12, 2nd, T10, T2); Paul Casey: MC, T15, 6th, T4, T6)
2 Top 10s: Rickie Fowler: (T9, 2nd, T11, DNP, T12); Jon Rahm: (T9, 4th, T27, DNP, DNP);
Hideki Matsuyama: (T32, 19th, T11, T7, 5th); Bubba Watson: (T12, T5, MC, T37, T38)
Spieth, the 2015 champion, is the only Masters winner of the last five years to have earned another top-10 finish, either before or since their victories.
2019 – Tiger Woods: 1st, T32, DNP, DNP, T17
2018 – Patrick Reed: T36, 1st, MC, T49, T21, MC
2017 – Sergio Garcia: MC, MC, 1st, T34, T17, MC
2016 – Danny Willett: MC, MC, MC, 1st, T38, DNP
Average number of attempts for last five winners – 6.2
Sergio Garcia’s record 19 starts to win in 2017 skews this, but three invitees make their sixth Masters starts this week: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Billy Horschel… and 2016 champion Danny Willett.
3 Hot Or Not?
You don’t need to have won in the weeks immediately before the Masters but nothing boosts confidence heading to Augusta National like a couple of healthy pay cheques and the accompanying good feelings.
All but three Masters champions since the turn of the century, have either won or collected a top-10 finish in the weeks leading to up to Augusta, the exceptions being Angel Cabrera in 2009, Trevor Immelman in 2008 and Vijay Singh in 2000. Carbera was a further outlier as they was 69th in the Official Golf World Rankings in the week before that year’s Masters
In fact, of the last 10 champions, only two have been ranked outside the top 20 ahead of their Masters triumphs – Patrick Reed (24th in 2018) and Charl Schwartzel (29th in 2011).
Unsurprisingly, the current form horses include world number one Dustin Johnson with a victory and four other top-six finishes in his last five starts before Covid-19 struck him after the US Open. World No. 2 Jon Rahm has three top-six finishes including a win at the BMW Championship having previously won The Memorial. while No.3 Justin Thomas has two top-three finishes and a top eight in his last five outings.
Also bringing strong vibes to Augusta will be Xander Schauffele, ranked seventh in the world, with a win, a second and a T5 as well as the be-hoodied No.10 Tyrrell Hatton, who includes his Wentworth win at the BMW PGA Championship and a tie for third Stateside in his next start at the CJ Cup.
4 Do You Have The All-Court Game?
So you’ve been around Augusta National at least a couple of times and you’ve got good form going into the Masters, but is your all-around game up to the mark for the challenges this renowned course will throw at you?
In the key PGA Tour statistics for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee, Approach The Green, Around The Green and Putting, there are few competitors in this week’s field who appear in the top 20 more than once across those categories in the PGA Tour stats for the new 2021 season, prior to the weekend’s Vivint Houston Open.
Bryson DeChambeau – (SG: Off The Tee 1.297 #1; SG: Approach Green 1.331 #8)
Xander Schauffele (SG: Around Green .694 #9; SG: Putting 1.074 #12)
Lee Westwood (SG: Off The Tee .843 #12; SG: Around Green .662 #10)
SG: Total (2021 through Bermuda Championship) average
Those in the Masters field
1 Bryson DeChambeau 3.789
2 Dustin Johnson 2.836
3 Xander Schauffele 2.641
4 Lee Westwood 2.337
6 Justin Thomas 2.224
10 Jason Kokrak 2.134
11 Tony Finau 2.048
16 Zach Johnson 1.849
T17 Bubba Watson 1.808
T17 Jon Rahm 1.808
19 Patrick Reed 1.798
20 Webb Simpson 1.780
SG: Total (final 2020 standings after Tour Championship, September 7)
1 Jon Rahm 1.823
2 Justin Thomas 1.709
3 Xander Schauffele 1.605
4 Webb Simpson 1.597
5 Bryson DeChambeau 1.566
6 Daniel Berger 1.560
8 Tyrrell Hatton 1.431
9 Dustin Johnson 1.409
10 Patrick Cantlay 1.316
11 Patrick Reed 1.295
T12 Tony Finau 1.243
T12 Rory McIlroy 1.243
14 Collin Morikawa 1.231
15 Scottie Scheffler 1.078
16 Matt Fitzpatrick 1.067
17 Hideki Matsuyama .964
19 Adam Scott .905
20 Abraham Ancer .897
5 So What About Bryson?
You may have noticed that when it comes to pedigree around Augusta National that the name of Bryson DeChambeau is conspicuous by its absence. The recently-minted US Open champion, tamer of another American parkland big beast Winged Foot just a few weeks ago, has a frankly lousy Masters record.
In three starts his best finish is a tie for 21st on his debut in 2016. That was the year that saw him record his total score of 293, five over par and the score has come down incrementally since, 291 in 2018, 284 in 2019.
His scoring average of 72.33 from 12 rounds that equate to four-over-par does not put him into the contenders category as outlined above in our first question. And yet…
This is DeChambeau 2.0’s first Masters. His maiden trip as ripped slugger who can bomb and gouge his way around pretty much any course he chooses. If he can tear up Winged Foot with its narrow fairways and lethal rough, what is his potential for Augusta National?
Can someone who does not tick all or even most of the recognised boxes for success this week bring the Masters to another dimension? It’s the most delicious question of all.
The 2020 Contenders
See above for all the reasons he should and shouldn’t win this week, just a case of whether he can sustain his US Open-winning form through 72 holes at Augusta National.
Two top-10s in three trips to Augusta and finished the 2020 campaign in rich form, the Spaniard has been under par for his last seven rounds at the Masters.
The world number one and FedEx Cup champion once again ticks all the right boxes and has improved on his highest finish, tied for second last year behind Tiger. Is emerging from a bout of Covid-19 but is hitting the ball miles according to recent reports.
Here we go again, still mind-boggling to think this is the one major title that still eludes the Northern Irishman. An inconsistent T8 at the US Open in September (67-76-68-75) and two further top-25s underline the point he has not fired post-lockdown. Still, four top-10s in his last five Masters starts is difficult to ignore and at least another this time around would not be a surprise.
Tiger showed that muscle memory and a touch of decent recent form can be enough when it comes to winning another Masters. Bubba has done it twice in the last eight years and has two top-10s in his last two starts on the PGA Tour with encouraging stats off the tee and tee to green. If he can fix his putting he could be in the mix for a place.
Admirable scoring average of 69.75 and 18 under par from his first eight rounds at Augusta National that have delivered two top-10s. The only way is up.
The 21-year-old could be the kid to break the debutants’ drought and become the first since 1979 to win on his first Augusta National appearance. The PGA Tour stats don’t convince but his big-tournament mentality and two top-fives in the majors this year do.
Sneaky good on a consistent basis, if that’s possible. Was T7 in 2016 and recorded his lowest total score in 2019 in spite of an opening 78, followed by 67, 68, 70. Will hit the magic number for first-time winners when he tees off for his sixth Masters on Thursday.
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