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The 24 players who can win The 2018 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 had Sergio Garcia as one of my 20 players that could win the Masters. Despite Sergio’s lack of success at Augusta, he came away with the Green Jacket.

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. This year the projected Critical Holes are Nos. 3, 13, 14 and 15.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Filtered Out: Amateurs and First-Time Attendees

  • Wesley Bryan
  • Austin Cook
  • Harry Ellis (a)
  • Tony Finau
  • Dylan Frittelli
  • Doug Ghim (a)
  • Patton Kizzire
  • Satoshin Kodaira
  • Haotong Li
  • Yuxin Lin (a)
  • Yusaku Miyazato
  • Joaquin Niemann (a)
  • Matt Parziale (a)
  • Doc Redman (a)
  • Xander Schauffele
  • Shubhankar Sharma

These first-time invitees are a little less battle tested on the big stage than the previous years’ first time invitees, although Finau, Schauffele and Li show some real promise in the future at Augusta. I also filtered out 11 past champions that I do not believe can compete at Augusta National anymore.

Filtered Out: Improbable Past Champions

  • Angel Cabrera
  • Fred Couples
  • Trevor Immelman
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Larry Mize
  • Mark O’Meara
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Vijay Singh
  • 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 mid-70s this year. Unless that changes by 30+ degrees and the wind gusts double, I don’t see Johnson having a very good chance to win the event. Along with Johnson, I would also eliminate these shorter hitters:

Filtered-Out: Short Hitters

  • Adam Hadwin
  • Brian Harman
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Ryan Moore
  • Pat Perez
  • Ted Potter, Jr.
  • Chez Reavie
  • Webb Simpson
  • Kyle Stanley
  • Si Woo Kim

A part of the game that is just as critical as distance is the trajectory height a player can create. Last year, I filtered out nine players for hitting the ball too low. Four of the nine missed the cut. One of the picks, Paul Casey, finished T6. His instructor, Peter Kostis, recommended that I not just look solely at the Apex Height metric, but also look at carry distance when it comes to the trajectory the player puts on the ball. I have done that for this year’s Masters picks and have eliminated four players.

Filtered Out: Low-Ball Hitters

  • Jason Dufner
  • Branden Grace
  • Russell Henley
  • Ian Poulter

Since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters that have previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s filter them out as well.

Filtered Out: Never Made the Cut at Augusta

  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Tyrrell Hatton
  • Alex Noren
  • Jhonattan Vegas

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

Filtered Out: Missed the Cut in Houston

  • Rafa Cabrera-Bello
  • Yuta Ikeda
  • Martin Kaymer

Lastly, I have filtered out the weak performers from the “Red Zone,” approach shots from 175-225 yards. While Augusta is known for its greens, the winners are determined mostly by the quality of their approach shots throughout the event. In fact, nine of the last 10 champions have hit at least 49 Greens in Regulation during the week.

The key shots where the most strokes are gained/lost at Augusta National are from the Red Zone. Last year, I had 17 players filtered out for poor Red Zone play. Outside of Kevin Chappell (T7), almost all of those players performed poorly.

Filtered Out: Weak from 175-225 Yards

  • Kiradech Aphibarnrat
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Jason Day
  • Ross Fisher
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Billy Horschel
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Brendan Steele
  • Bernd Wiesberger
  • Danny Willett

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Dustin Johnson. He currently ranks 176th from the Red Zone despite historically being an excellent Red Zone performer. At his current rate, he would like need to dominate Augusta off the tee with his prodigious length and putt very well to win the Green Jacket. But the numbers don’t like a player’s odds of being able to do that on such an approach shot oriented course.

That leaves us with 24 players that can win the Masters. Their Vegas Odds, which are subject to change, are in parentheses. My personal top-10 picks are just below.

The 24 players who can win the 2018 Masters

  • Paul Casey (22/1)
  • Kevin Chappell (100/1)
  • Bryson DeChambeau (66/1)
  • Rickie Fowler (18/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (28/1)
  • Charley Hoffman (80/1)
  • Mark Leishman (66/1)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (25/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (9/1)
  • Phil Mickelson (16/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (50/1)
  • Thomas Pieters (66/1)
  • Jon Rahm (18/1)
  • Patrick Reed (40/1)
  • Justin Rose (20/1)
  • Adam Scott (33/1)
  • Cameron Smith (150/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (10/1)
  • Henrik Stenson (40/1)
  • Justin Thomas (10/1)
  • Jimmy Walker (150/1)
  • Bubba Watson (14/1)
  • Gary Woodland (150/1)
  • Tiger Woods (11/1)

My Personal Top-10 Picks

  • Paul Casey (22/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (9/1)
  • Phil Mickelson (16/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (50/1)
  • Jon Rahm (18/1)
  • Patrick Reed (40/1)
  • Justin Rose (20/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (10/1)
  • Justin Thomas (10/1)
  • Bubba Watson (14/1)

Click here for up-to-date betting odds on The Masters.

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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, 2017 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

61 Comments

61 Comments

  1. DrRob1963

    Apr 12, 2018 at 8:34 am

    You should add a “Can’t Putt” catagory

  2. Grant

    Apr 11, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Hey Rich,

    Nice job on this! Wondering if you do this for the other majors as well?

  3. Tal

    Apr 9, 2018 at 3:21 am

    Great job on this! You picked the winner again.

  4. Woody

    Apr 8, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Hey man, I give you props. You had Reed in your top 10..expert proved right.

  5. Eddie Von Eric

    Apr 4, 2018 at 10:58 am

    Richies expert analysis is equivalent to that big deuce I dropped this morning in the IHOP bathroom.

  6. Kris

    Apr 3, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Great article. Fun to read.

  7. Jack Nicholas

    Apr 3, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    RG, mathematical probabilities are scary, huh. You should sharpen your pin and just stick away and leave the real analysis to the brainier ones of the species. Go bet some of your benjamins on Woosnam, Mize et al and see how far you get.

  8. kevin

    Apr 3, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    every stat i see has DJ in top 20 relative to approach shots within 175-200yds.

    https://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.337.html

  9. J

    Apr 3, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Any of the field you see that can place top 10 or 20 outside of your top 24 to win?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 4, 2018 at 10:18 am

      I could see Dustin winning. If he can get his Red Zone play back to its old self, it can happen. Otherwise, he has to drive the ball ridiculously well and putt well to make up for it. It can happen, just a tall task. Kuchar is playing well right now and if the conditions start to favor him he could do something. Russell Henley is currently ranked #1 from the Red Zone. If the conditions work out for him, he could contend.

  10. Cliff Hartman

    Apr 3, 2018 at 10:15 am

    I don’t see where you have accounted for Daniel Berger???

    • Charles Aspinal

      Apr 3, 2018 at 1:04 pm

      You beat me to it; I have same question.

  11. Dan

    Apr 3, 2018 at 7:15 am

    Cameron Smith is a first timer right? He’s on the list of 24 though. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  12. Undershooter30

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    Reed doesn’t hit it high enough to win. He has the right to left ball flight but his shot height is very low.

  13. Trevor Heathers

    Apr 2, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    LOL that picture of Rich is from 20 years ago! Check out his video on Bebettergolf. He’s fat too.

    • Liam Pierce

      Apr 3, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      I know its hilarious. Guy is such an egomaniac that he has to post a picture of when he was young.

  14. Liz Murray

    Apr 2, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    Love your predictions every year! My question is do you think Matsuyama‘s recent injury will affect his playing this weekend?

    • Rich Hunt

      Apr 3, 2018 at 8:43 am

      Thank you.

      Tough to say as it’s difficult to predict if the injury and his game heals in time or not. That’s why I put him in the top-24, but not in the top-10.

  15. Michaele11111

    Apr 2, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    Pretty lame stuff. Very full of holes.

    • Joel

      Apr 2, 2018 at 9:45 pm

      Boo, this comment. Just, booooooo.

      This is a fun article every year.

  16. nyguy

    Apr 2, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    The #1 Player in the world doesn’t have a chance?? lol ridiculous.

    • Jack Nicholas

      Apr 3, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      Number 1 never wins The Masters. Hasn’t ever happened so it’s mathematically less likely.

    • Kris

      Apr 3, 2018 at 9:01 pm

      Yes. He was disqualified because of his 200-225 accuracy this year. Lmao.

  17. Robert

    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Rich please elaborate as to how is Jason Day weak from 175 yards when he is T33 according to pgatour.com?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 3:58 pm

      I am not sure what metrics you are looking at. For instance, just take a look at his play from 175-200 yards from the fairway where he ranks 199th: https://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.337.html

      Generally, Day’s largest weakness in his game over the years has been from 150-200 yards. He uses his driving, short game play and great putting to overcome that. But that is a tall task to do at Augusta.

  18. kevin

    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Really enjoy this column. ignore the haters! Thanks Rich

  19. Zac

    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Since when is Kyle Stanley a short hitter?!?!

    • Nate

      Apr 2, 2018 at 1:52 pm

      never. dude’s a beast

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Kyle ranks 140th in driving distance and 114th in club speed. He altered his swing a few years ago to drop his club speed from 117 mph to about 112 mph. Still strikes it great, but the numbers indicate that unless the wind picks up, winning at Augusta isn’t likely. In fact, it’s supposed to rain at ANGC which would only favor the longer hitters.

      • Kris

        Apr 3, 2018 at 9:04 pm

        Rain helps the shorter players. See Johnson Z. And Weir M.

        Makes the greens easier to hold. Which is a way bigger advantage than distance.

        • Richie Hunt

          Apr 4, 2018 at 10:12 am

          Zach didn’t have rain. He had record low temperatures and high wind gusts. Even the bombers had trouble going for the par-5’s in two shots when Zach won.

          Generally on Tour, rain helps the bombers. But since there is no rough to really speak of at ANGC, I can see it helping shorter hitters a little. The time that Weir won, Weir was one of the very best in the world from inside 200 yards, so it wasn’t like he couldn’t play.

    • Matt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      My sediments exactly!

    • kevin

      Apr 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      He’s 140th in driving distance in 2018.

      c’mon people…these stats aren’t that hard to look up.

  20. Megabill

    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    How can you filter based on 175-225 performance? Doesn’t 100 to 175 have more influence on the winner?

    Does the 175-225 stat really influence who becomes champion?

    Also many filtered by that stat hit it so far that they rarely have to hit in from that distance.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 2, 2018 at 4:03 pm

      Shots from 100-175 yards do not have more ‘influence’ on the winner. And Tour players on average hit more shots per round from 150-200 yards than they do from 75-150 yards. It’s also not all about the frequency of shots. But it’s about the deviation in results. Combine those two at ANGC and that’s why you see players that perform well from there on top of the leaderboard.

  21. brad

    Apr 2, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Xander Schauffele will make the cut, and Daniel Berger will be in the mix.

  22. Dan

    Apr 2, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Not a perfect system because none is but would anyone seriously take the rest of the field over Richies 24?
    I’d say DJ and Jason Day are tough ones but his list looks pretty good…. Fleetwood, Carera Bello, Noren maybe?

    List looks good to me

  23. Ryan Schmidlin

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Where is Daniel Berger on this list????

  24. Max

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:52 am

    I mean, if you look at last year’s results, many of the guys you filtered out finished in the top 10 and were probably a lucky bounce/bad break away from being in contention. Let’s also not forget guys like Bernhard Langer and Soren Kjeldsen were in contention a few years ago.

    I like the analysis, though, and the winner is more likely to be on your list than not.

    • Tal

      Apr 2, 2018 at 6:49 pm

      He’s not trying to predict the top 10, he’s trying to predict a single winner as as you say, they’re most likely on that list. I believe Rich has shortlisted the winner for the last 2 years, if I’m not mistaken.

  25. juststeve

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:35 am

    Very bold to rule out Dustin Johnson. Lets see if you’re right.

    • Kris

      Apr 3, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Not really bold, actually. If he doesn’t win the tournament Rich is right.

  26. Courtney (not female)

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:32 am

    What a backwards way of thinking, thoughts on Tiger getting to tee it up?

  27. dat

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:26 am

    A fair assessment, but you forgot about whoever wins the par 3 contest automatically being out of the running based on past data.

  28. Tim Braun

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Jason Day would be the one that I would question not being on your list. With his driving ability and his top putting that outweighs the approach shot debate. I’m not saying he is going to win, but Gary Woodland or Cameron Smith??? Certainly we can make a substitution.

  29. Mikec

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:21 am

    No filter is perfect, but this system seems to be a very logical way to get down to a set of names to wager — from there it is old fashioned gut and handicapping based on form etc — but I like the approach of thinning the field

  30. Oscar

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:20 am

    what about Daniel Berger?

  31. RG

    Apr 2, 2018 at 11:03 am

    You filtered out a guy (Danny Willett) whose already shown he can win. This shows the inherent problem in your prediction filter. Oh, and statistically speaking any of those players CAN win the Master’s and I reject the null hypothesis that you present.

    • Al Czervik

      Apr 2, 2018 at 11:36 am

      He is talking about the 2018 Masters. Dude is 296th in the world.

      • Al Czervik

        Apr 2, 2018 at 11:41 am

        The real problem is that his Improbable Past Champions filter didn’t catch him. I would be far more shocked if Willett made a run than say Cabrera or even Langer.

    • Josh

      Apr 2, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      I made a lot of money on Danny Willett two years ago, but I wouldn’t bet one red cent that he’ll ever win another Masters. Dude was a fluke who only won cause Jordan blew it. For the record I also had a stake in Spieth so it was a good weekend.

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