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The 21 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 who 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, Tiger Woods was one of my 22 players that could win the Masters. Tiger was at 14/1 odds, but two of the top contenders, Brooks Koepka (25/1) and Francesco Molinari (22/1) were also on my list of players who could win the Masters.

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 No. 8, 13, 14, and 15.

The 15th hole, Fire Thorn, should be considered the most pivotal hole on the course as over the last five Masters the top finishers in the event have gained 0.546 strokes per round on the hole. The next closest hole in terms of the top finishers gaining strokes is the 14th hole, Chinese Fir, where the top finishers have only gained 0.274 strokes per round.

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.

Abraham Ancer
John Augenstein (a)
Christiann Bezuidenhout
Cameron Champ
Tyler Duncan
Abel Gallegos (a)
Lanto Griffin
Max Homa
Sungjae Im
Jazz Janewattananond
Sung Kang
Jason Kokrak
Nate Lashley
Yuxin Lin (a)
Lukas Michel (a)
Collin Morikawa
Sebastian Munoz
Andy Ogletree (a)
Carlos Ortiz
CT Pan
Victor Perez
JT Poston
Andrew Putnam
Scottie Scheffler
James Sugrue (a)
Nick Taylor
Erik van Rooyen
Matthew Wolff

Out of the professional first-time invitees the data ranks Jason Kokrak as the best fit, Matthew Wolff the second-best fit, and Cameron Champ the third-best fit. Champ is one of the more fascinating players for the Masters because he has arguably the fastest ball speed on Tour, but he has the lowest launch angle on Tour (6.2 degrees) and produces roughly the Tour average in terms of apex height. Augusta is generally a high ball hitting golf course as low-ball hitters that were superior players and ballstrikers have notoriously struggled at Augusta. It will be interesting if he can carry the trees on some tee shots with his super-low launch angle.

I also filtered out eight past champions I do not believe can contend at Augusta National anymore

Fred Couples
Trevor Immelman
Bernhard Langer
Sandy Lyle
Larry Mize
Jose Maria Olazabal
Vijay Singh
Mike Weir

The Zach Johnson debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always 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 5s, his strength.

This year, the forecast calls for temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s. There is some rain in the forecast. Rain and wind can be tricky in projecting possible winners of an event as it is dependent upon the course design and how exactly the rain and wind is impacting the field. In the past at Augusta, rain has provided a small advantage to shorter hitters. This is believed to be due to helping the shorter hitters hold the green on long approach shots.

The forecast calls for light winds. Over the past 20 years, the winds have given some shorter hitters the advantage because there is a tendency for shorter hitters to be better with their wedges and short games around the green. Wind makes it more difficult for players to reach the par 5s in two shots and causes more missed greens in regulation and thus the advantage shifts to better wedge players. But unless the forecast or wind changes, there is no sense in not filtering out players that are too short to win at Augusta National.

Rafa Cabrera Bello
Matthew Fitzpatrick
Justin Harding
Shugo Imahira
Zach Johnson
Kevin Kisner
Matt Kuchar
Andrew Landry
Graeme McDowell
Kevin Na
Ian Poulter
Chez Reavie
Webb Simpson
Brandt Snedeker
Brendon Todd

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 seven players for hitting the ball too low. Out of those seven players, the best finish was Si Woo Kim at T-21. I use a combination of max height, carry distance, and launch angle to determine if the following players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta.

Lucas Glover
Charles Howell III
Si Woo Kim
Patrick Reed

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.

Dylan Frittelli
Matt Wallace

I will also filter out the players who missed the cut at Houston. Historically, players that miss the cut the week prior have a substantially lower likelihood of winning the following week compared to the players that made the cut in the previous week or did not play at all.

Sergio Garcia
Phil Mickelson
Charl Schwartzel
Jordan Spieth
Henrik Stenson
Jimmy Walker
Lee Westwood

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, 10 of the last 11 champions have hit at least 49 Greens in Regulation during the week.

Jason Day
Tommy Fleetwood
Adam Hadwin
Billy Horschel
Xander Schauffele
Cameron Smith
Bernd Wiesberger
Danny Willett
Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods will go down as the surprise filtered-out player, but he has not hit the ball well from the Red Zone in recent performances and his ball speed has dropped to roughly 172 mph. With a slow down in speed, it’s not uncommon for iron play performance to follow.

That leaves the following 21 players who can win the Masters

Byeong Hun An (400/1)
Patrick Cantlay (25/1)
Paul Casey (80/1)
Bryson DeChambeau (8/1)
Tony Finau (28/1)
Rickie Fowler (50/1)
Tyrrell Hatton (28/1)
Dustin Johnson (9/1)
Brooks Koepka (16/1)
Marc Leishman (150/1)
Shane Lowry (80/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (28/1)
Rory McIlroy (12/1)
Louis Oosthuizen (66/1)
Jon Rahm (10/1)
Justin Rose (66/1)
Adam Scott (66/1)
Justin Thomas (11/1)
Bubba Watson (28/1)
Gary Woodland (125/1)
Corey Conners (200/1)

Here are my personal top-10 picks

Bryson DeChambeau (8/1)
Dustin Johnson (9/1)
Jon Rahm (10/1)
Rory McIlroy (12/1)
Brook Koepka (16/1)
Tony Finau (28/1)
Tyrrell Hatton (28/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (28/1)
Justin Rose (66/1)
Adam Scott (66/1)

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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

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Pingback: 5 things we learned Friday at the Masters – GolfWRX

  2. JoeB

    Nov 11, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    What about Francesco Molinari?

  3. ScottM

    Nov 11, 2020 at 9:21 am

    “The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong – why do people keep repeating this?

    Horton Smith was a first-time attendee when he won the inaugural tournament in 1934. As was Gene Sarazen a year later.

    Look at the 1934 results on the official Masters website:

    “Smith remains one of three players to win in his first start at Augusta National Golf Club.”

  4. Pingback: Lee Elder: Honored, honorary starter at ANGC this year | Garcia out with COVID-19 | Why can win the Masters (and why Tiger can’t) – GolfWRX

  5. Travis

    Nov 10, 2020 at 4:41 am

    Your comment about those who miss the cut the week before is also false. Jordan Speith was cut the year before his win.

  6. freeze

    Nov 9, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta. Puts Patrick Reed in that category who won at Augusta 2 years ago, complete fail

    • Dan

      Nov 10, 2020 at 12:13 am

      Other multi time winners s thy hit it “too” low:
      Palmer
      Player
      Floyd
      Jimmy Demaret
      Jose Olazabal
      Faldo
      Crenshaw

      I mean, I understand the point he’s trying to make in the article but statistics are only a stepping off point.

      • mike

        Nov 10, 2020 at 9:25 am

        Isn’t Augusta a completely different course by now since all those on your list won? Plays a lot different with the extra length I would imagine, and that is probably where you need the height. Its longer and firmer now.

        • Ty Web

          Nov 10, 2020 at 4:45 pm

          Mike makes a good point Dan. There is not a single player you listed that can win.

    • Chris

      Nov 11, 2020 at 10:44 pm

      Thank You!! I was going to make the same comment!!

  7. Dan

    Nov 9, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    I’ll take the rest of the field against your top 10…

  8. J

    Nov 9, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    Rahmbo.

  9. Garrett

    Nov 9, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    I know this is pretty much a good article, but you eliminated recent champions with your logic!! I mean, Patrick Reed and Tiger literally JUST won the event. You should give them (and others) their own category – the “these guys are so good they defy logic” category.

    • Rich

      Nov 9, 2020 at 10:25 pm

      He did not eliminate Tiger and Reed for having won The Masters before. Go back and reread. They fell into other categories. The former winners he eliminated are older guys.

    • Richie Hunt

      Nov 11, 2020 at 8:02 am

      Just because they won doesn’t mean that they will win, again. Tiger’s play at last year’s Masters is far different than it has been since the return from the Tour suspending play. He’s lost about 7-8 mph of ball speed and his iron play has been very bad.

      Reed is hitting the ball very low right now and his iron play has not been all that hot. Recency trumps credentials.

  10. William

    Nov 9, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    I really like Louie Oo. and root for him to do well. But, is he not both short and low? How does he make the list? Good from “red zone”?

  11. Blade Junkie

    Nov 9, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    where’s Molinari ?

  12. Miamistomp

    Nov 9, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    fInau -no way
    Morikawa and Redd I think have a chance

  13. Pingback: Masters 2020 staff picks – GolfWRX

  14. Bubbert

    Nov 9, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    As much as I like Finau (and I do) he could find ways to lose even if he was the single contestant teeing up…

  15. ChristianR

    Nov 9, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Garcia out for Covid.
    Rose been very near to win two times, I agree but lately not so much game from him aside couple of good rounds in his latest event.
    Really curious on Bryson approach.

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GolfWRX is live from Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open, where a strong field is assembled for the second leg of the West Coast Swing.

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