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The 23 Players Who Can Win The Masters

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Last year, I created a filter to help predict the golfers that were most likely to win the Masters. I got the list down to 23 players. In the end, eight of the top-10 finishers were on that list of 23 players that included the eventual winner Adam Scott and runner-up Angel Cabrera.

Before I discuss my picks of 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 versus the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in score exists. Going into last year, the critical holes were Nos. 7, 12, 15, 17 and 18. However, after last year, the data is trending differently and now the critical holes are Nos. 7, 12, 13 and 18. With the Eisenhower Tree and some other trees down after the winter storms this year, I would suspect that No. 17 will be easier and it may be a long time before the 17th is a critical hole at the Masters again. Either way, I would watch out for this new set of critical holes as the tournament goes along.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the past champions who are well past their time being competitive and the amateurs.

  • Matthew Fitzpatrick (amateur)
  • Oliver Goss (amateur)
  • Chang-Woo Lee (amateur)
  • Michael McCoy (amateur)
  • Jordan Niebrugge (amateur)
  • Garrick Porteous (amateur)
  • Fred Couples (past champion)
  • Ben Crenshaw (past champion)
  • Bernhard Langer (past champion)
  • Sandy Lyle (past champion)
  • Mark O’Meara (past champion)
  • Larry Mize (past champion)
  • Jose Maria Olazabal (past champion)
  • Craig Stadler (past champion)
  • Tom Watson (past champion)
  • Mike Weir (past champion)
  • Ian Woosnam (past champion)

I also eliminated any first time invitees, as the only first time invitee to ever win at Augusta was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

  • Jonas Blixt
  • Steven Bowditch
  • Roberto Castro
  • Brendon de Jonge
  • Graham DeLaet
  • Victor Dubuisson
  • Harris English
  • Derek Ernst
  • Matt Every
  • Steven Gallacher
  • Billy Horschel
  • Matt Jones
  • Chris Kirk
  • Joost Luiten
  • Patrick Reed
  • Jordan Spieth
  • Kevin Stadler
  • Jimmy Walker

I will say that this group of 1st time invitees is one of the strongest in recent memory with golfers like Bowditch, DeLaet, English, Ernst, Every, Horschel, Jones, Kirk, Reed, Spieth, Stadler and Walker all appearing to be good fits for Augusta National. So, if there is ever a year where somebody may break the first time invitee curse, this is it.

I also eliminated the players who missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open this week because historically the odds of a player missing the cut the previous week and winning the next week are extremely slim. Those players include:

  • Darren Clarke
  • Peter Hanson
  • Trevor Immelman
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Martin Kaymer
  • Louis Oosthuizen
  • Ian Poulter
  • Scott Stallings
  • Kevin Streelman

I also eliminated John Senden, as he has only made the cut once in three tries Augusta and the odds of winning go way down for golfers that have struggled to make the cut at the course.

I also filtered out the European and Asian players on which I do not have substantial data:

  • Francesco Molinari
  • Thongchai Jaidee
  • Thomas Bjorn
  • Jamie Donaldson
  • Thorbjorn Olesen

Over the past 10 years, Augusta National has heavily favored longer hitters that hit the ball high and well from what I call ‘”The Danger Zone.” The Danger Zone is all approach shots from 175-to-225 yards, and it is biggest key to Augusta National, because without quality Danger Zone play at the Masters the golfer will not be successful.

While Augusta National is known for its greens, the make percentage on putts is fairly high from inside 15 feet; likely due to the excellent putting surfaces. The real difficulty on the greens at Augusta is from longer than 20 feet away. Between the undulations and the super-fast green speed, it becomes a task to not three-putt the long ones at Augusta. The big reason why long hitters do so well at Augusta now is that the course plays like a par 68 for them, and that allows them to get away with putting worse. So, if a player is not long, they had better bring good putting and Danger Zone play with them.

Moving on with the list, I eliminated players who I think are too short to play well at Augusta National. They include:

  • Tim Clark
  • Jim Furyk
  • Zach Johnson
  • David Lynn
  • KJ Choi

While Zach Johnson is a previous champion, he also won in a year where there were record low temperatures. This helped Johnson because the longer hitters could not play the par-5’s like a par-4 and that shifted the advantage toward him and his excellent wedge play. Unless there are either cold or wet conditions, I highly doubt the players I just listed stand much of a chance of winning.

I’ve also taken out the low-ball hitters off my list of potential winners. They include:

  • Sang-Moon Bae
  • Jason Dufner
  • Ken Duke
  • Branden Grace
  • Miguel Jimenez
  • Matteo Manassero
  • Graeme McDowell
  • D.A. Points
  • Boo Weekley
  • Y.E. Yang

That leads me to filtering out the last group of players who have struggled from the Danger Zone this year. They are:

  • Lucas Glover
  • Ernie Els
  • Rickie Fowler
  • Bill Haas
  • Russell Henley
  • John Huh
  • Ryan Moore
  • Webb Simpson
  • Lee Westwood

That leaves me with the 23 players who can win the Masters. They are listed alphabetically.

  1. Keegan Bradley
  2. Angel Cabrera
  3. Stewart Cink
  4. Jason Day
  5. Luke Donald
  6. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
  7. Sergio Garcia
  8. Matt Kuchar
  9. Marc Leishman
  10. Hunter Mahan
  11. Hideki Matsuyama
  12. Rory McIlroy
  13. Phil Mickelson
  14. Justin Rose
  15. Charl Schwartzel
  16. Adam Scott
  17. Vijay Singh
  18. Brandt Snedeker
  19. Henrik Stenson
  20. Steve Stricker
  21. Nick Watney
  22. Bubba Watson
  23. Gary Woodland

Of those 23 players, here are my top-10 picks to win The Masters:

  • Rory McIlroy (9/1)*
  • Adam Scott (9/1)
  • Phil Mickelson (11/1)
  • Jason Day (14/1)
  • Matt Kuchar (20/1)
  • Bubba Watson (25/1)
  • Justin Rose (28/1)
  • Brandt Snedeker (33/1)
  • Keegan Bradley (33/1)
  • Marc Leishman (100/1)

*Odds from Bovada accurate as of 4/7/14 at 11 a.m.

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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 [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

86 Comments

86 Comments

  1. In Ly Nhua Nap Cau

    Jan 2, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Very informative and interesting article. Well done.

    Love Leishman as a surprise pick.

  2. mua c?n h? safira khang ?i?n

    Aug 25, 2018 at 4:13 am

    Very informative and interesting article. Well done.
    Love Leishman as a surprise pick.

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    Oct 8, 2014 at 4:39 am

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    • c?n h? sapphire

      Jul 11, 2018 at 12:55 pm

      thought this was a great read and the more i read it the more i liked it . this week its so falling to place that rory ,phil and adam scott are the three to watch but if you want a hint of form –bradley ,scott and big phil are the three that you should take a dart and stick the wage packet on one of them

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  6. Bubba W., Orlando

    Apr 14, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Great performances by Spieth, Blixt, Kuchar and Langer

    • Bubba W., Orlando

      Apr 14, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      btw, isnt it amazing to see Langer and Couples still doing so well against the young guns?

  7. DavePelz4

    Apr 14, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Technically, there have been 3 first time winners. Horton Smith won the very first Invitational tournament held at ANGC. Gene Sarazen also was a winner in his first tournament.

  8. cole

    Apr 13, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Nice Top tens. Picking three of ten seems good to me!

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks. The winner was more important to me. The editor, Zak, asked me who I had and I picked Bubba.

      I also stated that I thought this was the best group of 1st time invitees we had since I can remember. I think the 1st time invitee curse is mostly due to the hoopla and hysteria of going to the Masters for the first time. Even if you’ve played the course before, the actual tournament is a different story. I think the other part behind the curse is that there is a lot of pressure of winning the Masters for the first time combined with the likelihood of it being your first major championship victory.

  9. bigbadbullfrog

    Apr 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

    “Keegan Bradley has a major under his belt. I think he has more than the stomach for it. In fact, I think he screams ‘GET IN MY BELLY!’” SMH. He’s saying ‘get in my belly’ to the weekend breakfast special at Waffle House because he certainly isn’t making the cut.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      And Zach Johnson doesn’t appear to be making the cut either. The main point is that saying Keegan doesn’t have the stomach to win a major…..and he’s already won a major doesn’t make much sense.

  10. Dennis

    Apr 9, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Very solid list. Sure the winner is in.
    I will follow the frenchie Dubuisson, he was just amazing at the WGC Matchplay Championship.

  11. Kevin McGarrahan

    Apr 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I would not count out Patrick Reed. Although it is his first time at the Masters, it is not his first time playing Augusta National. He attended Augusta State University and played some of his collegiate golf at Augusta. That gives him a large advantage over all the other first timers.

    • Rich

      Apr 11, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      Yes it certainly seemed to help him…………………….

    • brad

      May 1, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Honestly I don’t see him as a fixture. I think he’ll play well every few years, but then remain in that 60-70 bracket in the world ranks. Attitude is everything, and he lacks it. He did play well for a few weeks though.

  12. Denis Larkin

    Apr 9, 2014 at 6:33 am

    thought this was a great read and the more i read it the more i liked it . this week its so falling to place that rory ,phil and adam scott are the three to watch but if you want a hint of form –bradley ,scott and big phil are the three that you should take a dart and stick the wage packet on one of them .

  13. Tony Peace

    Apr 9, 2014 at 5:48 am

    Well,you’ve eliminated my 4 picks of Zach,Ricky,Ernie & Trev Immelmann. Interesting to see how you fare. Good luck.

  14. baljit

    Apr 9, 2014 at 12:52 am

    The guy condemning Rory clearly has not seen him hit balls in person.

    Striking out the first timers based on tournament history sounds logical. but looking at the qualities of the first timers in field, Im not surprised if one of them wins

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2014 at 10:47 am

      I do think that this is the best 1-time invitee group of golfers we have had in a long time. It wouldn’t shock me if a player won, but it’s historically been difficult to win the first time playing any event on Tour. Particularly the Masters.

      • baljit

        Apr 30, 2014 at 9:45 am

        and two newbies nearly won it…i rest my case

  15. LMB

    Apr 8, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I get the way you did this list, but you have Vijay Singh on there with a chance to win but not Bernhard Langer? IMHO Bernhard is a much more solid/consistant player and would probably wipe the floor with Vijay if they were competing in matchplay.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2014 at 10:51 am

      Vijay hits it higher and longer. He is also striking the ball quite well this year, particularly from 175-225 yards.

      • LMB

        Apr 14, 2014 at 11:59 pm

        Langer T-8…..Vijay???? No where to be seen. I rest my case.

  16. Nagar

    Apr 8, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Good article. I feel Jason Day has a huge chance in winning. He has been near or near a bouts for 3 years now and is due for a major win.

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  18. Rob

    Apr 8, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    No love for Dufner? He may not win, but I’d bet on a top 10 finish for the Dufman.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2014 at 10:54 am

      2nd lowest trajectory on Tour. Also plays a fade. Love him as a player, but Augusta is a tough fit for him.

  19. PBGS

    Apr 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Luke Donald is considered long enough?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2014 at 10:55 am

      Not just based off distance, but club head speed. Luke is generating about 111 to 112 mph of club head speed. Trajectory is so important at ANGC and Luke has enough speed and hits it high. He’s borderline, but since he’s played very well in the past, I gave him the nod.

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  21. Mathieu

    Apr 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    very interesting, thanks,
    any thoughts on Dubuisson, even if he’s never played Augusta?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Good driver of the ball that excels from 125-175 yard shots (ranked #1 on Tour). But poor from the Danger Zone (142nd) mainly because he has struggled to keep those shots in the fairway. He could stand a good chance here because he’s 8th in shots from the fairway and the rough at ANGC is negligible. Has putted terribly this year (174th in Putts Gained)

      • Mathieu

        Apr 11, 2014 at 2:00 am

        I guess he’s learning how to play in the USA. I think stats don’t count for him this year he’s improving every week, espacially on putting (slower greens in europe), we’ll see then. thanks

  22. Javier

    Apr 8, 2014 at 6:10 am

    A very reasonable list, I like it.
    Agree with you; Rory, Mickelson and Scott are the favorites, but I’d love that any of the Spaniards win the tournament, specially Sergio or Jimenez.

  23. Kyle

    Apr 8, 2014 at 4:34 am

    Not sure how the weathers going to be but i seen on the news yesterdays practice rounds were cancelled due to storms, Would you say the wetter weather will play into other players hands vs certain others?

    Anyone any idea about if Jason Days hand is ok? Nick Faldo mentioned he had injured it yesterday

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 8, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Depends on how wet it gets. If it makes for the greens to be softer, then the shorter hitters that strike their long approach shots well (i.e. Zach) have more of a chance. If it is soaked and the ball is not rolling off the tee, then it could start to favor their longer hitters because they can carry it further.

  24. Joel

    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    In my humble opinion, I believe at ANGC, the “danger zone” should be differentiated between 175-200 and 200-225. A player could be pretty average from 200-225(Bubba Watson) but solid from 175ish and win. The same goes for Lee Westwood, and even though he’s not as long as Bubba, I think he plays to his strengths and weaknesses when it comes to 200+ approaches. Also, for what it’s worth, Zach Johnson is ahead of both Kuchar and Snedeker in regards to distance in 2014. I like him over both of those guys. That being said, 8 out of 10 on this list is flat out amazing.

    • Joel

      Apr 7, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      Sorry for the duplicate entries there. For some reason my 1st comment didnt show up for several hours. I suppose I’m REALLY pushing for Zach Johnson.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 8, 2014 at 9:01 am

      When I examine courses and what approach shots have the most strokes gained/lost from I actually look at it in 25-yard increments instead of 50-yard increments. Both 175-200 yards and 200-225 yards are where a lot of strokes are lost and gained. Not only on the par-4’s and par-3’s, but on the par-5’s. So if a long hitter like Bubba bombs one on a par-5 and has 215 yards into the hole, it doesn’t do him much good if he can’t execute from 215 yards.

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  26. Sky

    Apr 7, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    I think it’s a very solid list. I would call Kuchar a shorter hitter and a low ball hitter though.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 8, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Thanks, Sky. I base short hitting not only on distance, but club head speed. I base low ball hitting based on what the Max Height averages reported from ShotLink. Kuchar is not terribly short nor does he hit it terribly low. I will say like Luke Donald, he’s on the borderline (Donald actually hits it high). But given his success here in the past in good weather conditions and his recent play I put him on the list.

  27. Nick Boyd

    Apr 7, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Fred Couples seems to be in the mix every year on sunday, thats the one that sticks out to me as a booboo. Interesting process of elimination and good read overall!

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 8, 2014 at 1:21 am

      My issue with Freddie is I don’t think his back would hold up.

      • Nick Boyd

        Apr 8, 2014 at 5:53 pm

        Its Augusta – Freddy lives for Augusta

    • Jack Michaels

      Apr 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      I agree. Couples’ history at Augusta is so stella in recent years, plus his form on the Champions Tour has been great. At the 175/1 I got I think that Freddy is a solid each way bet.

  28. leftright

    Apr 7, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Rich,
    I’ll give you your 10 and take the rest for $100. Please email me if you want the bet and anyone else who wants the bet I’ll take it. You take Rich’s 10 and I’ll take the rest.

    • leftright

      Apr 7, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      I only made this comment to be sort of in your face because it is going to be real wet this year it seems. Brings many others into play. Personally I hop Phil wins…ABT.

    • Jason

      Apr 9, 2014 at 12:40 am

      Ill take the bet of his top 23 Vs Field. 10 vs 80 is a little lopsided.

  29. Joel

    Apr 7, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Maybe I’m a dork but I love this stuff, and 8 out of 10 is incredible. If I can play devils advocate, it seems to me that there are players where “Danger Zone” avoidance is more important than danger zone play. Westwood and Watson are two that come to mind. Is it possible the sample size is smaller for them because they’re aware of this weakness? Both struggle from 200-225 but neither often leave themselves that far out(on 4’s or 5’s at Augusta.) It seems obvious but I wonder if Bubba had the fewest “danger zone” attempts two years ago. You have Zach Johnson listed as “too short” but he actually leads Snedeker and Kuchar in driving distance in 2014-I think he’s got a legitimate shot. For a longshot, and I know his putting can be sketchy, but I like Woodland. I have no statistics to back it up either:)

  30. Kevin

    Apr 7, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    I really liked this article, a great way to look at this topic.

    My one question is, why didn’t Luke Donald fall into your “too short” category? I don’t feel he’s any longer than the others you mentioned. His average finish in driving distance is in the high 160s or low 170s, so there’s only like 10 guys on the PGA Tour each year who, on average, hit their drives shorter than him.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 7, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      I measure ‘too short’ not only on distance, but based on club head speed. Donald also hits the ball much higher. He’s really on the borderline, but since he has played well at ANGC in the past, I kept him in the top-23

  31. west

    Apr 7, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Whaaaaat?!?! Making predictions like this are “speculative” at best. Sports, especially golf, has soooo many factors you couldn’t possibly factor or weigh them all in a way that might contribute to making an accurate prediction. Can’t wait to see how things turn out this week. You’re playing the lotto here, and my only prediction is that someone will win that is not on your top ten list…

    • west

      Apr 7, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Did the Final Four teach you nothing this year? 😉

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 7, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      There are many common trends that and statistical probabilities that favor certain types of players on each course on Tour. Your odds of seeing somebody like Tim Clark win here are very slim. Yet, a course like Sawgrass will play much more into his favor and is why he has won there. Last year, 8 of the top-10 finishers were in my final 23. The only players that were not were Jason Day (bad Danger Zone play) and Thorbjorn Olesen (a European player I have no data on).

      • Keith

        Apr 7, 2014 at 3:33 pm

        Day is 16th on the Fed Ex Cup and Won the World Cup and the World Matchplay? How is that in the Danger Zone.

  32. John

    Apr 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Very informative and interesting article. Well done.

    Love Leishman as a surprise pick.

    • Mx

      Apr 7, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      Not really a surprise as he has already played extremely well at augusta. Can’t remember what year it was though. I would never rule out DJ, Poulter and, after last years performance, Thorbjorn Olesen.

      • John

        Apr 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm

        his odds are 100/1 to win. I’d call that a surprise if he did.

  33. Dude McDude

    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:56 am

    “They are, in no particular order”

    Except they are in alphabetical order…

  34. Jamie Kennedy

    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:43 am

    FYI – Senden has made the cut. He finished T35th last year.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      You know what? You’re right. When I was looking at his past history on Wikipedia, I got the columns screwed up. I think he stands a chance since he is a good Danger Zone player (shots from 150+ yards), but his record at ANGC has not been good.

  35. nikkyd

    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Rory mcilroy has got to be the most over rated young player on tour. And a whiner at best.

    • T

      Apr 7, 2014 at 11:26 am

      do you have any stats to back that up??? Seeing as this is an article about statistics…not ridiculous intangibles…regardless how is a two time major winner before the age of 24 overrated?

      • Pudo

        Apr 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm

        Word! Rors is Top Notch material! If he was a Yankee he’d be your man all day long.! Wake the f**k up Nikkyd!

    • Jacob

      Apr 7, 2014 at 11:42 am

      2 Majors championships is over-rated? You have very high standards sir.

    • Sean Edwards

      Apr 7, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      Overrated? Two majors, and three wins in 4 weeks? Overrated?? He has more talent in his pinky than half of the tour players. Quit making ignorant statements with no evidence to back it up. Go Rory!!!

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      He’s won 2 majors including a blow-out victory at the US Open and won the PGA decisively. He was leading the Masters in decisive fashion until blowing up on the final day. And then he did the interview afterward despite being heartbroken (he had yet to have won a major at that time) and handled the interview as professionally and as maturely as anybody I have ever seen. And he’s only 24 years old. He hasn’t been perfect in his behavior, but he has acted very maturely, kindly and in general I find him to be a terrific representative of the game of golf.

    • Craig Peckham

      Apr 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

      I have said this for a while about Rory McIlroy; he has only won primarily in ‘soft’ conditions. As Tiger once said about Rory, he will win more when he learns the nuances of the game. If it rains before or during the Masters week and the wind stays down, look for Rory to be in contention (Top 5), otherwise I don’t think he will be in the Top 10. He simply doesn’t have the variety of shots, or doesn’t have the confidence yet to use when called for. As for Mr. Richie Hunt, I am surprised that in your statistical analysis you didn’t factor in age. Aren’t most Masters winners over 30 and primarily under 35 (with some exceptions of course). The age factor presumably would mean enough PGA Tour and competitive experience combined with athletic ability.

      • Björn

        Apr 9, 2014 at 2:43 am

        Rory grew up playing Royal County Down. One of the best golf courses in the workd and without a doubt one of the windiest. It also has very firm greens and requires a reportoir of shots that no course in the US requires. I think he has it all.

  36. T

    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Love the article and the in depth statistical analysis. I do have a question or two about where you get your stats. Let’s take Ryan Moore for instance. He is currently ranked #2 in GIR from 175-200 yds & #11 in Approaches from the same distance as of the SHO so should he really be eliminated because of the “danger zone” stat? He may not be a solid contender but his current form and history at Augusta make him an intriguing pick just below the favorites.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 7, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Danger Zone is based on proximity to the cup. It is also based on shots from 175-225 yards. What is interesting is that I created a formula that took proximity to the cup and the % of greens *missed*. The lowest combination of the two would be the ‘best.’ I’ve found that from 125-175 yards being the best at these two (prox 2 cup + greens missed %), this was statistically very important. But from 175+ yards, not so much. From 175+ yards it is more about getting the ball closer to the hole.

      I don’t have this off the top of my head, but Moore was ranked in the bottom half in Danger Zone play this year. So I think you’re likely over-valueing GIR % from that distance and not counting in shots from 200-225 yards.

  37. Nick

    Apr 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Zach Johnson is too short to play Augusta? Really? He’s as long as he was in 2007… when he won at Augusta.

    • Matt

      Apr 7, 2014 at 11:10 am

      I think Rich explained why he said ZJ was too short and gave a brief explanation to why he believes he was able to compete in 07.

      • leftright

        Apr 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm

        The most important stat is “who has got the head for it.” That pretty much eliminates 5 of the 10 off the bat. You have to fail before you succeed and Snedeker, Leishman, Day, Bradley and Kuchar have to fail first, despite the PGA wins. None of those guys have to stomach for it yet.

        • kent

          Apr 7, 2014 at 8:43 pm

          leftright….while I do agree with you that many of those do not likely have the stomach, Watson disproved that theory with his win a couple years ago. As much fun as he is to watch, I can’t remember a more shaky looking player in contention (not sure if you caught his skulled chip earlier this year). And yet, he hit one great shot from the trees to earn his jacket. I’d certainly put my money on all those you listed over Bubba a couple years ago.

          • leftright

            Apr 8, 2014 at 3:00 pm

            I sort of agree but if Bubba had Tiger or Jack’s “stomach” he would have won 15 majors by now. They talk about Tiger’s talent but Bubba may have the most talent ever. Essentially, and this is from personal experience and speaking with many real good players, 99% of golfers really don’t have the stomach for it. The mind is the most underrated part of golf and most underrated skill. I personally would like to see more psychiatric articles because my mind is beating me to death most of the time and probably many of you. Do the hibijeebees control you or do you control them? Tiger and Jack controlled them best if they even had them.

        • Richie Hunt

          Apr 8, 2014 at 1:23 am

          Keegan Bradley has a major under his belt. I think he has more than the stomach for it. In fact, I think he screams ‘GET IN MY BELLY!’

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19th Hole

Vincenzi: 2024 Mexico Open First Round Leader picks

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The Mexico Open begins on Thursday at beautiful Vidanta Vallarta. The tournament will have a full field this week with most of the big names on the PGA Tour taking the week off.

In the past two editions of the tournament, there have been seven first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the seven, six have come from the morning wave. At first glance, there certainly looks to be an advantage to having an early tee time this week in Mexico but with such a small sample size I won’t put too much stock in that and take a balanced approach.

As of Tuesday, the wind doesn’t look as if it will play a factor at all during round one. It will be about hot and sunny for most of the day with wind gusts never exceeding 7 MPH.

This week, I used the Betsperts Rabbit Hole to see each players floor/ceiling. You can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Mexico Open First-Round-Leader Selections

Jhonnatan Vegas +6000 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 12:15 p.m. Local Time

After a long injury layoff, it certainly seems as if Jhonnatan Vegas is “back”. In his most recent start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Venezuelan gained 7.2 strokes ball striking, which was his best performance in the category since June of 2022.

Vegas loves playing on Paspalum, and while he struggles with the putter often, he’s been consistent putting on these slow and spongey surfaces. I expect the big man to have a great week in Mexico.

Harry Hall +9000 (BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:14 a.m. Local Time

While you wouldn’t expect an Englishman in a flat cap to play his best golf in tropical paradises, that’s certainly been the case for the 24-year-old throughout his career thus far. The 6’4″ UNLV product with a soft touch around the greens has shined in places such as Puerto Rico and Puntacana as well as at Vidanta Vallarta last year.

Hall is a fantastic putter, which never will hurt you in the first-round leader market.

Adrien Dumont de Chassart 100-1 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:54 p.m. Local Time

Those who have been following me this season know that I’m high on this 23-year-old bomber from Belgium. With off the tee prowess being a major point of emphasis at Vidanta Vallarta, it makes sense to give him another crack at the first-round lead once again this week.

In his most recent start at TPC Scottsdale, ADDC gained 4.0 strokes off the tee.

Fred Biondi 130-1 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:47 a.m. Local Time

Fred Biondi recently won a National Championship as a Florida Gator and has loved playing on coastal courses throughout the early part of his career. In the fall, the Brazilian finished 13th at the Butterfield Bermuda and 23rd at the RSM Classic, with both events having fields either stronger or comparable to this one.

Biondi is a good iron player and putter and should be comfortable playing in Mexico.

Scott Piercy 150-1 (BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:25 a.m. Local Time

Scott Piercy got in the field this week after Will Zalatoris withdrew following a strong performance at the Genesis Invitational. Piercy may be well past his prime, but this is the type of event where the 47-year-old has thrived over the years.

Piercy has been prone to fast starts and has finished in the top-5 after the first round 32 times in his career and has been within two of the lead in the first round 45 times. He’s also been great on Paspalum, boasting finishes of 6th at the 2018 OHL, 7th at the 2015 CIMB Classic and 4th at the 2016 OHL.

Sebastian Vazquez 300-1 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:21 p.m. Local Time

Sebastian Vasquez is a name that many golf fans won’t be familiar with but has played some good golf in South America over the course of his career. At last year’s Mexico Open, Vazquez shot an opening round 67. At last year’s World Wide Technology Championship at El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Vazquez closed his tournament with a Sunday 64, which was just two shots off the round of the day.

The Mexican has been playing this season on the Gira de Golf Profesional Mexicana and doing so relatively well. He also finished 38th at El Cardonal in a pretty strong PGA Tour field. Vazquez could come out and fire a low one while feeling extremely at ease playing in his home country.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta betting preview: Birdie machine ready to notch first PGA Tour title

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Mexico Open at Vidanta! For the third consecutive year, the PGA TOUR heads to beautiful Puerto Vallarta to play the Mexico Open.

The Greg Norman-designed Vidanta Vallarta is a par-71 measuring 7,456 yards. Prior to its inaugural event, the course was extended by over 250 yards to make it PGA TOUR ready, and there were nine new tee boxes and 106 new bunkers added to stiffen the test for the best players in the world.

The course features three par 5s. Also, the par-4 seventh will be drivable for the longer hitters, but the golfers will have to risk taking on some water if they want to go for it.

The field this week will consist of 132 players. Some notable players in the field include Tony Finau, Will Zalatoris, Keith Mitchell, Emiliano Grillo, Taylor Pendrith and Thorbjorn Olesen. 

Past Winners at Vidanta Villarta

  • 2023: Tony Finau (-24)
  • 2022: Jon Rahm (-17)

5 Key Stats For Vidanta Villarta

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value). 

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Vidanta Vallarta to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

1. Driving Distance

At almost 7,500 yards, Vidanta Villarta is a long par 71. The rough shouldn’t be much of a factor this week, which gives the advantage to the long hitters in the field.

Average Driving Distance Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Alejandro Tosti (+311.2)
  2. Sam Stevens (+310.4)
  3. Cameron Champ (+308.1)
  4. Patrick Rodgers (+305.1)
  5. Vincent Norrman (+304.7)

2. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

With the course playing long and greens likely being receptive, elite ball strikers should have an advantage more so than a good short game and strong putting.

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Jhonnatan Vegas (+1.10)
  2. Erik Van Rooyen (+.95)
  3. Taylor Pendrith (+.86)
  4. Tony Finau (+.81)
  5. Doug Ghim (+.74)

3. Course History

The first two editions of the event have produced plenty of leaderboard similarity. I’m looking to target players who like the golf course. 

Course History over past 8 rounds:

  1. Tony Finau (+4.05)
  2. Brandon Wu (+3.43)
  3. Davis Riley (+2.94)
  4. Cameron Champ (+2.55)
  5. Patrick Rodgers (+2.41)

4. Strokes Gained: Total in Weak Fields with Easy Scoring Conditions

Last year, the course played extremely easy, and this is one of the weakest fields we will see this year on the PGA Tour. 

SG: TOT Total in Weak Fields with Easy Scoring Conditions Past 24 Rounds

  1. Erik Van Rooyen (+1.84) 
  2. Mackenzie Hughes (+1.69) 
  3. S.H. Kim (+1.43)
  4. Michael Kim (+1.43)
  5. Tyler Duncan (+1.26)

5. Strokes Gained: Total in Caribbean

I’m not exactly sure if this part of Mexico would be considered “Caribbean”, but this statistic brings in all rounds from Corales, the Puerto Rico Open, and the Bermuda Championship, which all have close leaderboard correlation to the Mexico Open. This also brings in courses that feature Paspalum greens.

Strokes Gained: Total in Caribbean over past 24 Rounds

  1. Mackenzie Hughes (+3.14)
  2. Tony Finau (+2.73)
  3. Nicolai Hojgaard (+2.40)
  4. James Hahn (+2.35)
  5. Chad Ramey (+2.05)

The Mexico Open at Vidanta Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — Driving Distance (22%), SG: Ball Striking (28%), SG: Paspalum (16%), SG: Total in Weak Fields with Easy Scoring Conditions (16%) and Strokes Gained: Total in Caribbean (16%)

  1. Taylor Pendrith
  2. Erik Van Rooyen
  3. Carl Yuan
  4. Stephan Jaeger
  5. Mark Hubbard
  6. Matti Schmid
  7. Cameron Champ
  8. Vincent Whaley
  9. Ryan Moore
  10. Michael Kim

Mexico Open Picks

(All listed odds are at the time of writing)

Stephan Jaeger +2800 (BetMGM)

Despite not yet winning an event, Stephan Jaeger has been one of the most prolific birdie makers on the PGA Tour. In the field this season, he ranks 5th in the field in Birdie or Better percentage. 13th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 27th in Driving Distance.

Jaeger has had a tough time closing events while in contention, but his recent T3 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open in a strong field should have helped him build the necessary scar tissue it takes to win on the PGA Tour. He shot a final round 72 at Torrey Pines, which wasn’t a horrible result, but left him two shots behind eventual champion Mathieu Pavon.

In his two starts at the course, Jaeger has finished 15th and 18th. At this point in his career, he’s one of the most talented players in the field and should have what it takes to earn his first PGA Tour victory.

Keith Mitchell +3500 (DraftKings)

Keith Mitchell took last week off after a strong start to his 2024 campaign. He finished in a tie for 9th at the American Express in January and in a tie for 17th in his most recent start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Over his past 24 rounds, Mitchell ranks 12th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 21st in Driving Distance in the field.

When betting on events that feature Paspalum greens, I always look to target players who’ve had some success on the surface before, as it is quite unique. Mitchell hasn’t played in a great deal of those events over the past few seasons but does have a 2nd place finish at the Corales Puntacana Championship in 2018, which is a strong signal that he likes the surface and can take advantage of a weak field.

On a golf course where great drivers of the golf ball have a significant advantage, I’ll happily take a shot on Mitchell who’s gained strokes off the tee in every one of his starts this season.

Taylor Pendrith +3500 (DraftKings)

Over the past few seasons, Taylor Pendrith has been fantastic in the weaker field events on coastal tracks. In the fall, he finished 8th at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship and was 10th a few months ago at the Sony Open in Hawaii. In his past 24 rounds, the Canadian ranks 6th in Strokes Gained: Total in events that have easy scoring conditions and weak fields and 4th in Strokes Gained: Total in the Caribbean.

Vidanta Vallarta is a course where bombers thrive and Pendrith is one of the longer hitters on the PGA Tour. He ranks 19th in the field in Driving Distance as well as 4th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking in his past 24 rounds. He also ranks 2ndin the field in Birdie or Better percentage.

In addition to the obvious course fit, Pendrith is starting to play some good golf of late. He finished 9th at Torrey Pines a few weeks ago and has two top 10’s in his last three starts. With fellow Canadian Nick Taylor winning in Phoenix, the 32-year-old will be motivated to get in the winner’s circle in a year where the Presidents Cup will be played in Canada.

Cameron Champ +6500 (FanDuel)

Cameron Champ has become one of my favorite players to bet in the outright market over the years due to his volatility. In most circumstances, volatility is a bad thing in the gambling world, but in outright betting, it’s a trait that I target. Champ finishes at the bottom of the leaderboard far more often than he finishes at the top, but he wins golf tournaments at a much higher clip than his odds indicate.

One of the courses on Tour that Champ fits the most is Vidanta Vallarta. The 28-year-old absolutely pummels the ball and the course is set up for players who can get it out there off the tee. He ranks 4th in Driving Distance in the field and also ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Total for the first two editions of the Mexico Open at Vidanta.

By any metric, Champ is a poor putter on just about every surface, with one notable exception: Paspalum. He gains an average of .4 strokes per event on Paspalum as opposed to losing roughly .3 strokes on other surfaces.

Many will be concerned with Champ’s horrible start to 2024 where he’s missed the cut in all four of his starts. However, last season, Champ missed the cut in eight straight events prior to finishing 8th at the Mexico Open.

Close your eyes and bet it. Embrace the volatility.

Jhonnatan Vegas +8000 (BetRivers)

Jhonnatan Vegas is one of my favorite players to bet on and I’m ecstatic to find a spot on the schedule that should suit the Venezuelan remarkably.

After an injury hiatus, Vegas is back playing consistent golf and has shown some flashes of his ceiling in his most recent start. At the Waste management Phoenix Open, the two-time Olympian finished 22nd and gained 7.2 two strokes ball striking comprised of 3.8 strokes off the tee and 3.2 on approach.

Coastal Paspalum is a surface Vegas has thrived at over the years. The 39-year-old has finishes 2nd (2021 Puerto Rico Open) and 4th (2022 Corales Puntacana) on Paspalum and should be extremely comfortable with the putter this week.

In his past 24 rounds, Vegas ranks 2nd in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking in the field and 22nd in Driving Distance. The big man will be letting it rip off the tee in Mexico this week.

Harry Hall +130000 (BetRivers)

Harry Hall has absolutely feasted on Paspalum greens over the course of his PGA Tour career. The Englishman absolutely loves playing on the coast and a good deal of his best finishes have come on this surface, including the 2023 Puerto Rico Open (7th), the 2023 Mexico Open (10th) 2023 Corales (13th), and the 2022 Great Exuma (19th).

Hall finished 10th at the event last year and arrives after a solid tied for 41st finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. We’ve seen longshots win this season with a hot putter and Hall is one of the best putters in the field.

Adrien Dumont De Chassart +20000 (FanDuel)

Adrien Dumont De Chassart is a young up-and-coming player I’ve committed to betting early in the 2024 season. That approach will certainly come with ebbs and flows but in the end, I am betting on the talent of the 23-year-old.

The Belgian possesses arguably the most desired trait in order to contend this week in Mexico: At his best, he’s an elite talent off the tee. ADDC gained 4.0 strokes off the tee in his last start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and should be able to let his drive loose at Vidanta Vallarta this week.

De Chassart is a proven winner on the Korn Ferry Tour and has the upside to take advantage of a weaker field this week in Mexico.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Golf mastery begins with your wedge game

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I’ve written multiple times about just how challenging this game is to learn. Nowhere else in life is the human body required to go through such a complex sequence of motions anywhere near this level of difficulty.

From learning how to properly hold a golf club and position your body in the right way to set up a fundamentally sound golf swing, to understanding the sequence of motions that get you to the top of the backswing, to executing a reverse sequence of motions through impact into the follow-through, well, there is just nothing else you do in life that is even remotely close.

I have always been fascinated by the technique aspect of the game, and thoroughly enjoy visiting with experienced teaching professionals, sharing ideas and concepts of how to help golfers in the most efficient manner. Recently, I made my 41st annual trip to the PGA Show in Orlando and had the opportunity to interact with a number of both old and new acquaintances, wherein we engaged in discussions about the best way to help golfers learn.

It is essentially inarguable that each position you pass through in the golf swing is a direct result of the position you passed through immediately prior, and each position will determine what happens next. In essence, the golf swing is a constant reminder that “you can’t get “there” from “here.”

An improper hold on the golf club completely prohibits the ability of the wrists to hinge and rotate correctly throughout the swing. While you can see some subtle differences in grips on the professional tours, those are limited to a preference for overlap vs. interlock style and slight variations in how strong or weak the hands are rotated. But all accomplished players hold the club in essentially the same way.

Likewise, a fundamentally unsound posture and ball position effectively prevent the body from moving in a way as to affect a sound takeaway, transition, and downswing/follow-through. Again, if you watch professional golfers, you’ll see only slight variations in posture and ball position, other than the changes based on the club they are about to hit. The slight differences you do see are mostly as an accommodation for varying heights – a 6’3” golfer simply cannot take the same posture at address as a 5’6” golfer, given that their club length for any given shot is very close to the same. [NOTE:  The length and lie specifications of tour player clubs do not vary nearly as much as you see coming out of the “custom-fitting” world.]

Finally, what your body core, arms and hands, and the golf club are doing through the impact zone is really not that much different in a 30-yard pitch shot than they are in a full swing 8-iron shot – the range of motion is just smaller and slower.

So, the point of today’s post is this: If you will learn to master the core fundamentals of the 30-yard basic pitch shot, your entire golf game will benefit.

There are a ton of good instructional videos to help you fully understand how the body and club work together on a routine pitch shot, so I strongly encourage you to watch, mimic, and learn. And for those of you who are “snowed in” for the coming weeks or months, the best way to learn this is in slow motion, without a ball in the way.

Almost all teaching professionals agree that a new and improved motion technique needs to be understood and learned before you put a ball into the equation. The key is lots of reps without worrying about ball impact. The ball is an intimidator to your focus on making the correct move — if a ball is there, your goal becomes to “hit the ball,” rather than to execute the proper sequence of motions you are trying to learn.

So, if you really want to get better through the bag, commit to learning how to execute a solid, repeating technique for 30-yard pitch shots.

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