Can the stats help predict the winner?


Let’s be honest, a November Masters was bound to make life difficult for a trends preview. The build-up to the 2020 edition was totally different and the calendar shift made it the third major of the season.

It was also hard to cut through all the opinion and determine just how differently the course played – even though it seemed different from usual.

But if we let the numbers talk – and that’s the raison d’Γͺtre of this preview – it’s worth noting that winner Dustin Johnson was runner-up the year before and seven of the top 10 finishers in 2020 had posted a previous top five at Augusta. Maybe you just like the place or you don’t.

Overall, the Augusta showpiece remains the best major for a trends piece given that it’s played at the same venue every time. And, thankfully, this year it’s back in its traditional April slot which helps with a new factor I’m bringing in for 2021 – Florida form.

Regular readers will know the drill now. For each of the last 10 winners, I’ve listed the following categories that were correct at the time of their victory – age, world ranking, how many Masters they’d played, best finish at Augusta, Masters finish the previous year and best result they’d recorded that season.

Then the elimination process begins…

Dustin Johnson wins US Masters.jpg

2020 – Dustin Johnson (Age: 36, WR: 1st, Played: 9, Masters Best: 2nd, Previous year: 2nd, 2020 Best: Win)

2019 – Tiger Woods (Age: 43, WR: 12th, Played: 22, Masters Best: Win, Previous year: 32nd, 2019 Best: 5th)

2018 – Patrick Reed (Age: 27, WR: 24th, Played: 4, Masters Best: 22nd, Previous year: MC, 2018 Best: 2nd)

2017 – Sergio Garcia (Age: 37, WR: 11th, Played: 18, Masters Best: 4th, Previous year: 34th, 2017 Best: Win)

2016 – Danny Willett (Age: 28, WR: 12th, Played: 1, Masters Best: 38th, Previous year: 38th, 2016 Best: Win)

2015 – Jordan Spieth (Age: 21, WR: 4th, Played: 1, Masters Best: 2nd, Previous year: 2nd, 2015 Best: Win)

2014 – Bubba Watson (Age: 35, WR: 12th, Played: 5, Masters Best: Win, Previous year: 50th, 2014 Best: Win)

2013 – Adam Scott (Age: 32, WR: 7th, Played: 11, Masters Best: 2nd, Previous year: 8th, 2013 Best: T3)

2012 – Bubba Watson (Age: 33, WR: 18th, Played: 3, Masters Best: 20th, Previous year: 38th, 2012 Best: 2nd)

2011 – Charl Schwartzel (Age: 26, WR: 29th, Played: 1, Masters Best: 30th, Previous year: 30th, 2011 Best: Win)

Winners trends

– 5 of last 10 were in their 30s
– 9 of last 10 were aged under 40

– 8 of last 10 had been ranked in world’s top 20
– 10 of last 10 had been ranked in world’s top 30

– 7 of last 10 had played in at least 3 Masters
– 10 of last 10 had played in at least 1 Masters

– 1 of last 10 had won it before
– 6 of last 10 had posted a top 10 at Augusta
– 8 of last 10 had posted a top 25 at Augusta
– 10 of last 10 had posted a top 40 at Augusta

– 9 of last 10 had made the cut the year before

– 6 of last 10 had already won earlier that season
– 9 of last 10 had posted a top 5 earlier that season

– 10 of last 10 winners were not the defending champion

– 9 of last 10 winners were not the World No.1

Most powerful qualification criteria

(Each of the below apply to at least 8 of the last 10 Masters winners)

– Aged under 40
– Ranked in world’s top 30
– Played in at least one Masters
– Had top 25 at Augusta
– Had made the cut the year before
– Posted a top 5 earlier that season
– Not the defending champion
– Not World No.1

As for some examples of early eliminations, Paul Casey fails the age test while Collin Morikawa hasn’t had a top 30 at Augusta. Tyrrell Hatton missed the cut last year and has also failed to crack the top 30.

tyrrell hatton augusta.jpg

Current form

It’s a key asset to take on Augusta National these days so let’s add some more filters that focus on current form.

A look at the last 10 winners shows that all 10 had finished in the top 30 in at least one of their two starts before arriving at Augusta National.

But we can get even more specific…

– 9 of last 10 had a top 15 in a strokeplay event in the same month of the US Masters or the previous month. That’s usually March/April although last year it was October/November.

As we’re back to the normal calendar, I’m going to add in a new filter this time.

Florida Swing form

Why can this help us? Well, Florida and Georgia share a border in America’s south-east while the proximity of the Florida Swing to The Masters adds extra importance to results in the Sunshine State.

It wasn’t any help last year as most of the Florida Swing was decimated and the Masters took place in November.

But the Florida Swing usually throws up plenty of good clues. Here’s a stat:

– 8 of last 10 Masters winners had a top 15 on the Florida Swing earlier that season

A couple who didn’t this year – Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Out they go.

Winning form in the United States

To suddenly make the US Masters the scene of your first win on American soil is a big ask. It’s also a push to expect someone to grab the Green Jacket having failed to win in a while.

– 8 of last 10 had posted a win on U.S. soil within the previous two years.

Here we say so long to Tony Finau, Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Tommy Fleetwood dejected.jpg

Starting prices

This is a surprising one given that it seems high-class players tend to win the Green Jacket.

However….

– 8 of the last 10 Masters winners had an SP of 16/1 or higher. Tiger was 16s in 2019, while Bubba (twice), Adam Scott and Sergio were all bigger than that.

This eliminates Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

Don’t blame me, blame the stats!

First-timers dominating

Two of the majors in 2020 went to players who hadn’t won one before – Morikawa at the US PGA and DeChambeau at the US Open. That’s becoming a real theme in recent years.

Of the last 19 majors played, 12 went to a first-timer. At Augusta, seven of the last 10 winners hadn’t tasted major victory before.

This rather debunks the idea that having a previous major win is a big advantage for a Masters contender. The evidence says the opposite.

Major winners Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed would crash out here.

Base camping

But while a past major win isn’t regarded as a positive, challenging in a recent one most definitely is.

In short, Masters wins don’t come out of thin air; they’ve usually been telegraphed by a big showing in a recent major.

Before Mount Everest is scaled, it’s important to set up a base camp. And it even applies to legends.

Tiger Woods hadn’t exactly forgotten how to win a major but it looked that way when he had a chance to win the 2018 Open before fluffing his lines. However, that was all money in the bank and he also made a big run at the 2018 US PGA, finishing runner-up.

Without those two dry runs, it’s questionable whether he would have won the 2019 Masters, his first major win in 11 years.

And this is a strong pattern. Reed had finished runner-up in the 2017 US PGA before winning the 2018 Masters. Even someone we think of as a slightly freakish winner, Danny Willett, had set up a base camp, finishing tied 6th at the 2016 Open, just two majors earlier.

– 9 of last 10 Masters winners had landed a top six in a major in one of the two previous seasons.

Someone who hasn’t… Daniel Berger. His best major finish in the last two campaigns is tied 13th.

So, can anyone have survived this demanding statistical cull?

Yes, there is one man. Let’s unmask him.

Conclusion

The player who clears every trends hurdle is… drumroll… Sungjae Im.

Im is 22-years-old, ranked World No.18 and was runner-up in last year’s Masters. He was a winner of the 2020 Honda Classic in Florida, managed a top 10 there when defending last month and has a top five this season at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He’s a non-major winner and is also priced over 16/1.

One final question that could pop up: could someone playing in this week’s Texas Open emerge as a pick too?

Well, that’s not possible. Why? Simply by playing in it, they’re ruling themselves out of this particular stats preview as seven of the last nine Masters winners didn’t play the week before landing the Green Jacket.

Back Sungjae Im at 60.059/1