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The 20 Players Who Can Win The Masters

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Each year for the Masters, I create a filtering process to help determine the players that are most likely to win the Green Jacket based on criteria that has strongly predicted outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 23 players. Last year, I filtered out Jordan Spieth due to poor iron play during that season. Spieth proved me wrong, but he also proved me right as he didn’t win due to the infamous iron shots he had on the 12th hole. On the other hand, Danny Willett was in my list of players that could win the Masters and he became the new champion.

Before I discuss my picks for this year’s Masters, I want to go over what I call the “critical holes” for Augusta National. The critical holes in any tournament are the ones where the top finishers typically gain the most strokes on the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in scores exist. One of the interesting aspects about critical holes is that they often change over time due to changes in the course conditions, course design or a change in player strategy, which can create a smaller deviation in scores.

Just like last year, the critical holes at Augusta are still projected to be Nos. 7, 12, 14, 15 and 18. One of the beauties of Augusta is its finishing hole is the most critical hole in the event statistically, while you have all these other holes that are much more picturesque and memorable.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out all first-time attendees. The Masters was only won once by a first-time attendee, Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979. These 17 players include:

  • Brad Dalke
  • Toto Gana
  • Scott Gregory
  • Stewart Hagestad
  • Curtis Luck
  • Adam Hadwin
  • Tyrrell Hatton
  • Si Woo-Kim
  • William McGirt
  • Alex Noren
  • Thomas Pieters
  • Jon Rahm
  • Brian Stuard
  • Daniel Summerhays
  • Hudson Swafford
  • Mackenzie Hughes
  • Billy Hurley III

I think this is a good list of first-time players, particularly Rahm, Pieters and Noren. But it’s pretty clear that if a golfer has never played in the Masters, he is at a sizable disadvantage.

I also filtered out past champions that I do not believe can compete anymore. These 10 players include:

  • Angel Cabrera
  • Fred Couples
  • Trevor Immelman
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Larry Mize
  • Mark O’Meara
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Mike Weir
  • Ian Woosnam

The Zach Johnson Debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always get pointed out that I do not pick former Masters Champion Zach Johnson due to his lack of length off the tee. Augusta National greatly favors long-ball hitters. They can play the par-5s more like par-4s, and typically the longer hitters can also hit the ball higher so they can get their long approach shots to hold the green more easily.

When Johnson won the Masters in 2007, the event featured record-low temperatures in the mid-40s and wind gusts of 33 mph. This made it very hard for any player to reach the par-5s in two shots and allowed Johnson to get into a wedge contest on the par-5’s, his strength. The temperatures are predicted to be in the high-60s and mid-70s this year and unless that changes by 30+ degrees and the wind gusts double I don’t see him having a very good chance to win the event. Along with Johnson, I would also eliminate these short hitters:

  • Rafael Cabrera Bello
  • Soren Kjeldsen
  • Brandt Snedeker
  • Jim Furyk
  • Steve Stricker
  • Roberto Castro
  • Matt Kuchar

Even more damning is the players who hit the ball too low, a stat that can be tracked with the PGA Tour’s Apex Height measurement (it’s determined with Trackman). Last year, I eliminated five players who I thought had a trajectory that was too low to win at Augusta. Only one of the five players made the cut, Kevin Na (T55). This year, I’m ruling out these nine players: 

  • Rod Pampling
  • Russell Knox
  • Daniel Berger
  • Ryan Moore
  • Kevin Na
  • Paul Casey
  • Branden Grace
  • Jason Dufner
  • Webb Simpson

Furthermore, since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters who had previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s rule them out as well. They are:

  • Andy Sullivan
  • Byeong Hun-An
  • Jhonattan Vegas
  • Brendan Steele

I will also filter out the players that missed the cut at Houston. Missing the cut the week prior to an event greatly reduces the odds of winning, as well as finishing in the top-10, the top-25 and even making the cut regardless of the event.

  • Adam Scott
  • J.B. Holmes
  • Henrik Stenson
  • Lee Westwood
  • Jordan Spieth

Spieth is a hard one to filter out… again. He’s been downright incredible at Augusta National, and his missed cut at Houston seemed more like a fluke than a trend of poor play. I cannot just randomly ignore the fact that he did miss the cut and how traditionally that has greatly reduced the odds of performing well the next week, however, regardless of the golfer.

I also need to filter out players that have performed poorly from the Red Zone (175-225 yards) this year. Simply put, Augusta National is an approach-shot course. For all of the attention the greens and putting gets at Augusta, the winner is usually one of the best approach-shot performers at the event. So, I will eliminate these players:

  • Danny Willett
  • Ernie Els
  • Jason Day
  • Vijay Singh
  • James Hahn
  • Pat Perez
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Patrick Reed
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Scott Piercy
  • Kevin Chappell
  • Bill Haas
  • Chris Wood
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Marc Leishman
  • Yuta Ikeda

There are a lot of names that are difficult to filter out, including Mickelson, Adam Scott and Jason Day, but they have to be filtered out as possible winners given their poor performance this year in the area of the game that really defines winning at Augusta. 

That leaves us with 20 players that can win The Masters.  I’ve also put their betting odds for winning next to their name:

  • Matthew Fitzpatrick (+6,600)
  • Rickie Fowler (+2,000)
  • Sergio Garcia (+4,000)
  • Emiliano Grillo (+12,500)
  • Russell Henley (+10,000)
  • Charley Hoffman (+12,500)
  • Dustin Johnson (+550)
  • Martin Kaymer (+12,500)
  • Shane Lowry (+12.500)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (+1,800)
  • Rory McIlroy (+800)
  • Sean O’Hair (+30,000)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (+5,500)
  • Justin Rose (+2,500)
  • Charl Schwartzel (+6,600)
  • Justin Thomas (+2,500)
  • Jimmy Walker (+10,000)
  • Bubba Watson (+4,000)
  • Bernd Wiesberger (+15,000)
  • Gary Woodland (+10,000)

My Top-10 Picks

  • Rickie Fowler (+2,000)
  • Russell Henley (+10,000)
  • Dustin Johnson (+550)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (+1,800)
  • Rory McIlroy (+800)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (+5,500)
  • Justin Rose (+2,500)
  • Charl Schwartzel (+6,600)
  • Justin Thomas (+2,500)
  • Bernd Wiesberger (+15,000)

Related: The Full List of 2017 Masters Odds

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. Scott

    Apr 10, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Your list worked out pretty well.

  2. JNZ

    Apr 8, 2017 at 2:44 am

    Apart from DJ for obvious reasons, all your top 10 picks made the cut. Pretty impressive!

  3. Miramar

    Apr 5, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Jon Rahm, Thomas Pieters, Henryk Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Kevin Kisner, Vijay Singh, Paul Casey

  4. Kurtis

    Apr 5, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    Has there been a noticeable drop in Paul Casey’s ball flight or is this only based on rounds measured? Asking because I saw he was in last years 20 but not this years.

  5. andrew

    Apr 5, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Hey Richie,

    Do any/which of the guys making their debuts fit the mold of someone who would statistically play well at Augusta? I can’t help but think Hudson Swafford has a nice game for Augusta.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 7, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Rahm, McGirt (very underrated iron player), Pieters and Swafford. Not a ton of data on Noren to really tell for sure.

  6. Progolfer

    Apr 5, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    I normally disagree with Rich’s work (sorry Rich!), but I strongly AGREE with this assessment. Spieth isn’t playing well and has scar tissue from last year, Day’s game isn’t in shape, and let’s face it– Dustin Johnson is going to win.

  7. andrew

    Apr 5, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    I don’t see tommy fleetwood in here

  8. Miramar

    Apr 5, 2017 at 7:36 am

    “Numbers are essentially lying.” — Kierkegaard

  9. That Guy

    Apr 5, 2017 at 5:56 am

    Rich – Rafa averages 296 off the tee in 2017, with previous season averages being 290+. Short hitter? Were you using PGA stats and not Euro Tour stats?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2017 at 10:30 am

      He’s currently 156th in driving distance on the PGA Tour and his current club speed in competition has been measured at 110.81 mph.

  10. Crash Test Dummy

    Apr 5, 2017 at 4:08 am

    Personally, I wouldn’t rule out Spieth, Scott, and Stenson. All those guys are very familiar with the course and have played well there in the past.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2017 at 10:32 am

      I don’t take pleasure in ruling out any of those guys as I’m a fan of each. I feel more comfortable ruling out Stenson and Scott (both are struggling). Spieth I feel less comfortable with, but I can’t ignore the vast history of missing the cut the week before has on the following week’s success. You could argue that Spieth missed the cut because of the flukey weather at Houston…but, it’s the same weather we are likely to get at ANGC on Thursday and Friday.

  11. Steven

    Apr 4, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    The fact that you left Jordan Spieth out of the possible winners invalidates your entire article.

  12. Brad T

    Apr 4, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    sergio cant putt and kaymer cant chip. dont see how augusta suits that.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2017 at 10:35 am

      ANGC is an approach shot course. If you can’t hit it close, you’re way behind the 8-ball no matter how good of a putter you are. Bubba, Cabrera and even Phil have won the Masters when they had terrible years putting. The same goes with chipping.

      Typically, you need to hit at least 50 GIR to win at ANGC. With the wind, that may change this week. But make no mistake, this is an approach shot course.

  13. Jonnythec

    Apr 4, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Can’t rule out Paul Casey. Guy is a serious dark horse and is playing great this year. He has a great chance and I’m the only one who sees it.

  14. GC

    Apr 4, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Hey Rich, thanks for the great article.

    From what I’m reading the weather suggests winds of over 20 mph on Thursday and over 15 mph on Friday. Both days in the high 40s through low 60s. Neither day with any chance of rain so I don’t imagine there will be delays. So it looks to me as if wind will be a factor for the first two days before it mellows out.

    I know you said above in a different comment that you are not in the habit of predicting weather, which I understand, but if hypothetically the weather DOES play out like that…what changes in terms of players you like and stats you look at? Are you hoping these 20 guys ride the tougher conditions and then charge in more stat-fitting weekend conditions? Do you instead look for complete players? I kind of feel this favors guys like Rickie who can do both? Maybe even some of the Aussies/strong Texas course players?

    Don’t have to go through and re-write the article but if you could reply with what players you like and new statistics you’re looking at with the above hypothetical weather scenario playing out, I’d appreciate it. Thanks again for the article.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2017 at 10:39 am

      You forget about with the wind and ANGC slick greens, they may have to delay rounds because the ball won’t stay on the green when you’re putting.

      Windy weather at ANGC typically shifts the advantage more towards good wedge players and short game (around the green) artists. Those guys are usually shorter off the tee. That’s how Zach won…record low temps and high wind gusts. So many of the bombers couldn’t reach the par-5’s in two and now Zach was at an advantage. And the GIR goes down with the high winds, so now you have to get up-and-down more.

      The difference is that Zach’s win the weather was awful all 4 days. This week it’s supposed to be poor on Thursday and Friday and then nice on the weekend.

  15. Tony P

    Apr 4, 2017 at 1:51 am

    I remember hearing one of the commentators say the Masters favors draw hitters. Think Baba (he fades the ball, but he is a lefty) and Jordan. So i would lower Matsuyama and DJ’s chance a little bit if that is true.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Given Nicklaus won there more than anybody, I don’t think it favors the draw. The draw is nice to have on #10, #13 and #15. But #18 is a more ‘critical’ hole and that clearly favors a fade. And even with 13 and 15, if you hit it high enough and long enough, you can play those holes brilliantly

  16. mixxedbag

    Apr 3, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    Where’s Tanihara?

  17. Sean

    Apr 3, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Which is why I have always thought that the Masters is the “easiest” of all majors to win. The field is extremely limited.

  18. Andy B

    Apr 3, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Hi Richie,
    Apologies if I missed him on your list, but…
    Ross Fisher?
    Cheers,
    AB (pommie pro in OZ)

  19. Bigputt18

    Apr 3, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    Great article! I’ll bet you were a very good math student.

  20. Ray Bennett

    Apr 3, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Rich, where does putting stats factor into your predictions?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 4, 2017 at 1:31 am

      When it comes to predicting a winner of a tournament, putting is almost always worthless. It’s too difficult to predict how well somebody will putt from event to event and historical performance by a player means far less than recent performance. So if a player has putted well at a certain course, it has some value,but not as much as playing poorly the week before (i.e. Spieth). Plus, the vast amount of tournaments are won primarily by ballstriking. ANGC is a great example…if you don’t get your approach shots close, you’re cooked.

  21. Lucky

    Apr 3, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Richie, hope you didn’t bet on your predictions.

  22. golfraven

    Apr 3, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    I am putting the beer on ice but hanging on to my pennies. I beliebe it will be a tight call between Rory and Justin Thomas. I would not rule out the Iceman (Stenson) but that is because I like his chances and he is sharp with his irons.

  23. K dawg

    Apr 3, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Rich I was pretty sure last year Danny Willet was just outside your 20? Thought I remember you tweeting as such?

  24. CM

    Apr 3, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Rich, do the strong westerly winds forecast for Thursday and Friday change your predictions in anyway?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 3, 2017 at 4:27 pm

      I won’t change my predictions because I can’t predict weather. I will say that when the winds pick up, it does change ANGC. This means shorter hitters have more of a chance, especially if they have good short games around the greens. Think of Zach when he won…record cold temps and very windy. However, this weekend is supposed to be perfect weather with no real wind. Rounds 1 and 2 are usually more important in any event, so I would still say that the shorter hitters have better chances if it’s windy on Thursday and Saturday.

      The problem is you don’t know what the weather could do. It could be so bad on Thursday or Friday that they have to suspend play until the weekend when it’s nice out. So when you think the weather starts to give shorter hitters more of a chance, a delay could throw that out the window.

  25. Geoffrey

    Apr 3, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Rich, how to you come up with your rating for red zone performance? Is it a mixture of proximity from the fairway and greens in regulation from those distances? Is proximity from the rough included at all? I see Scott Piercy as 61st in proximity from the fairway from 175-200, and 81st in proximity from the fairway from 200-225. That should have him as average to slightly above average.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 3, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      RZ performance also considers the rough and the level of difficulty of the courses the golfer has played in. For instance, you may have 2 golfers that are hitting RZ shots to 40-feet. But golfer A may be playing in fields where the avg. proximity to the cup is 30 feet. And golfer B may be playing in fields where the proximity to the cup is 45 feet. So while they have the total year end equal prox 2 cup, golfer B is clearly the better performer from the RZ.

      • Geoffrey

        Apr 3, 2017 at 3:23 pm

        Where do you get that kind of data for the each tourney, or is it something you track yourself with shotlink? I can’t find tournament data on pgatour.com

        • Richie Hunt

          Apr 3, 2017 at 4:22 pm

          I use ShotLink, but I get the data on a weekly basis, myself.

  26. Post Malone

    Apr 3, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    um… Sergio and Rickie hit the ball super low….

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 3, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Fowler is 54th out of 209 golfers in Max Height. Sergio is 49th.

      • Post Malone

        Apr 3, 2017 at 3:56 pm

        surprising, but thanks for info. Watched that wgc at mexico and they kept talking about disadvantage they had not be able to go over trees that justin thomas was easily getting over. Maybe just hit lower drivers?

        • Richie Hunt

          Apr 3, 2017 at 4:23 pm

          Years ago I was surprised because I thought Sergio hit it low as well. But, you have to account for how long a golfer hits it and how much club speed. If they hit it long, odds are they are hitting it very high. And some guys really fool you because they may launch it low, but it ends up flying high when you measure the apex height.

  27. robert

    Apr 3, 2017 at 11:20 am

    as the last 15 years or so, we are beting also on this tournament with a group of friends. Jordan was also a rookie when he was T2 in his first start. As we bet on 5 Players with the highest Prizemoney i think Pieters has a good chance of not only making the cut and i expect bim in the Top20.
    Also Casey is always good at the Masters.
    The rest of your prognose is very good and i agree.

    • Robert

      Apr 6, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      A couple of holes to go…
      I like my pick Pieters ????

  28. H

    Apr 3, 2017 at 10:56 am

    RCB a short hitter!?

    • H

      Apr 3, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Fitzpatrick is pretty short as well

      • mario

        Apr 3, 2017 at 11:08 am

        Exactly… 7 yards shorter than Rafa who at 296y should not blush too much. Great value bet.
        Interesting to see that Martin Kaymer passes all the filters but has a game that really doesn’t suit Augusta. Still a good value bet as well

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      RCB is 153rd in driving distance this year and has been measured at 110.81 mph in club speed this year. That’s not very long.

      • jd57

        Apr 4, 2017 at 9:39 am

        Not very long.*

        *Relative to PGA Tour long hitters.

  29. Holden Wisener

    Apr 3, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Blasphemy, Jordan will win

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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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