PICKING A MASTERS CHAMPION
The Masters is upon about to tee of in the morning. For those of you filling in your Masters picks in any pool you might be in, we have some analysis to consider.
What does a Masters Champion look like? Well, he looks like Tiger Woods. Or does he? A contrarian to those picking Tiger would point to the simple fact he has not won in eight years. However, Tiger has been in the hunt each of those years finishing an astounding T3, T2, 2nd, T6, T4, T4 and T40 in those years. He is always in the hunt and having a chance on Sunday is all you are looking for (as Nicklaus’ duffel bag full of career 2nd place finishes can attest. Tiger is the clear favorite.
However, let’s look a bit deeper to see what a Masters winner looks like when it is not Tiger. Champions also sort of looks like Phil Mickelson (and I’m not talking gout Angel Cabrera). Phil has won three green jackets and is playing well. We’ve shown here that Phil tends to play well when he plays the week prior, as he did in Houston last week.
Let’s put it this way, since 2001, Tiger and Phil have won 50% of the Masters. In terms of dominating duos, the five of six won by Woods and Mickelson between 2001-06 is only surpassed the astounding seven of nine won by Palmer and Nicklaus between 1958-66 and matched the five of six won by Hogan and Snead between 1949-54.
The real question is who else? Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
We looked at the results since 2002 when the major changes were made to the course. Instead of just the winners, we also included the players that finished second or within 2 strokes of the lead. This gave us a bigger sample size.
AGE? 27 OR OLDER PLEASE
While there is a sense that players are getting better at a younger age, this is not the case for major champions and especially the Masters.
Since 2002, the average age of the Masters Champion has been 32.6 years of age. Other than Tiger’s generational win in 1997, players tend to be at least 27 years old. In the past 50 years, only four players younger than 27 have won the green jacket: Tiger, Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Charl Schwartzel (albeit he was only a few months shy of 27). The Open Championship also skews older while the PGA Championship (McIlroy, Keegan Bradley and John Daly) even the US. Open (Webb Simpson, McIlroy and even back to Ernie Els) has had some younger winners. Again, this is excluding the unusual young brilliance of Tiger Woods.
Of course McIlroy is only 24 but he just may be worthy of such lofty company -- having already won two Majors at such a young age and in such impressive fashion. His U.S. Open win should have cleaned up any scars from last year’s Masters.
However, this skewing toward older players puts Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson Webb Simpson and Michael Campbell right on the edge of the maturity needed to win and probably knocks out Rickie Fowler, Russell Henley and Thorbjorn Oleson
We extended this analysis to the contenters over the past 11 years. Of the winners, runners-up or anyone within 2 strokes of the winner, in the past 11 years only Jason Day was under 27 years old at the respective time:
Phil Mickelson (5 instances)
Lee Westwood (2 instances)
Tiger Woods (4 instances)
Retief Goosen (2 instances)
NATIONALIY? - MAYBE THE US TEAM SHOULD ASK TO HOLD THE RYDER CUP AT AUGUSTA
This is most likely silly seeing the history of Faldo, Ballesteros and Olazabel. Even so, it is somewhat notable that since the lengthening of the course and introduction of the second cut, Europeans have been shut out.
Unless you are American, with one exception (Mike Weir from Canada) you are from south of the equator with an Argentine and two South Africans.
In fact, if you were a contender, 84% were either American or from South of Equator. It’s been tough on the Europeans since the course changes. Come to think of it, the US Ryder Cup team should ask Augusta if they could hold the Ryder Cup there. In the 11 Masters since the Major changes of 2002, Americans have won 7 times and no Europeans (1 Canadian, 1 Argentine and 2 South Africans). Notably, no Europeans! Yet, in the 20 years prior to 2002, Europeans won 10 times, i.e. 50% of the time.
There can be many theories about this but it is not because European golf has gotten weaker. Perhaps the length and style of Augusta have changed so as to require less of the European style shot-making that Ballesteros, Olazabal and Faldo could produce.
It is likely not simply an aberration based on the winner that can vary with a bounce here and a putt dropping there. If one also looks at the winners and anyone who finished within 2 strokes of the leader in the past 11 years, only 3 of those 32 players are European. 50% were American (which is within reason because 74% of the winners have been American). 34% were from south of the equator while 27% of the winners are from South of the Equator.
WORLD RANKING? IT MATTERS
No one is claiming the World Golf Rankings are perfect. However, they do seem to show that players in the top ten contend and win the Masters (no big surprise).
Since the course changes in 2002, a top ten player has won 59.26 percent of the time. When looking at contending players, it is a top 10 player in the world 40.63 percent of the time. While this may be skewed because of the success of Woods and Mickelson, it seems to be appropriate because they are both still at or near the top their games.
We also wanted to consider whether you are going up or down in the world rankings. Although it is a relatively long window, it does provide us with some indication as to whether a player is on form.
Also likely and appropriate skewed because of Tiger and Phil is considering whether the player has seen the pressure of Majors before.
Since 2002, an 62.5 % of the players that contended for the Masters also had a top 10 finish in a Major the prior year. 53.1% of those players also had a top 10 in a major the second year prior. Combined, 71.2% of the contenders were in the top 10 of a major sometime in the prior 2 years.
We put all of these factors together (with somewhat different weights) and gave each of the players in the top 100 World Golf Rankings in the field this week a score. The scores give difference weights to the factors described above (detail is beyond the scope of this article). Here are the results [click to zoom].
Now clearly this cannot be the end all and be all to out analysis. While the numbers like John Merrick (perfect age, momentum and American), we can also see he is not a strong putter if you look at the PGA Tour Statistics. Will that putter hold up at Augusta? Well, to be fair, Watson, Schwartzel and Mickelson do not have the greatest putting stats but can get hot – just like Merrick did this year to win.
Who does the TTS Predictilator like and dislike relative to the players world ranking?
TTS Predictilator Likes:
Keep in mind a couple of these likes are not necessarily to win but to perform well relative to expectations and their world ranking.
Justin Rose – everything sets up for Rose (age, experience, ranking) to make him the best bet not-named Tiger. Obviously this is not making news picking the 3rd ranked player in the world – however, his high relative score makes us wonder if he will finally break the European drought.
John Merrick – a super long shot but an American at the perfect age with momentum. He won’t win but if you’re in a money-based pool or he’s in one of the lower tier boxes, he may be worth a flyer … unless he’s in the same box as
Kevin Streelman – similar to Merrick, his world ranking momentum and age suggest he may make the cut although probably not win
Bill Haas – He’s proven to be a clutch player and now is old enough to win.
Richard Sterne – he’s South African and has some momentum … sound familiar?
Padraig Harrington – only ranked 52 in the world, it’s not just his past majors but he has momentum now and even had two top 10s last year in majors (Masters and U.S. Open). Even though he is 41, maybe he has one left in him and can win at a later age like Mickelson, Vijay Singh or Mark O’Meara.
TTS Predictilator Dislikes:
Obviously we don’t like a lot of players with a low ranking. However, among those players in the top 30 World Golf Rankings that are not setting up tell according to the TTS Predictilator:
Keegan Bradley – although a major champion, his still young age and stalled world ranking momentum may have him a little overrates.
Lee Westwood – the European with stalled world ranking momentum and approaching 40 makes him an unlikely winner despite strong major finishes last year
Charl Schwartzel – Schwartzel could prove the Predictilator wrong. Getting no credit for his win two year ago, he is a good age and already has a jacket. Not so bad and many experts like him. Despite the Predictilator numbers, we are neither positive nor negative towards Schwartzel.
Webb Simpson – Predictilator does not like his young age and negative momentum.
Rickie Fowler – youth and stalled momentum make Rickie a long-shot
Of course, we can run all the simulations and numbers in the world, if Tiger gets in the zone, there is not much anyone else can do Joshua.