THE MASTERS 2019 Preview
Course: Augusta National Golf Club
- Par 72, 7475 yards
- Fairways: Bermuda
- Rough: Rye and Bluegrass
- Greens: Bentgrass (Lightning fast; probably 13+ on the stimp or closer to 14)
- Average Green Size: 6500 sq. ft. (about average for the TOUR)
- Water Hazards: 6
- Field: 86 players; Cut is Top 50 and ties as well as all players within 10 shots of the lead
- 18 Hole Stroke Average: 73.62 (+1.62 OVER par)
- Easiest Hole: #2 “Pink Dogwood” (Par 5, 575 yards downhill; 4.67 stroke average)
- Hardest Hole: #11 “White Dogwood” (Par 4, 505 yards; Bogey rate of 37%; 4.38 stroke average)
- Average Cut Line over the last 7 years: +5
The best week in golf (or in my opinion, all of sports) is upon us and if the thought of Azaleas, Verne Lundquist, Amen Corner, Jim Nantz saying “A tradition unlike any other… Hello Friends,” and the iconic Masters theme music doesn’t get you excited (Masters Theme)… then I don’t know what to tell you. I am obviously biased as a mega-golf fan and avid player, but this is truly the most special place in sports and when I was lucky enough to attend in 2012 with my father, it’s an experience that can’t be explained nor adequately presented with even the best 4K television. This event can never be over-hyped and whether the finish comes down to the 72nd hole on Sunday, or beyond, or if it’s a runaway like we saw Spieth do in 2015, the best golf on the most majestic course in the world is put on display for all of us to see year in and year out. How lucky are we?
Above I put some quick facts for those interested and general information about the tournament and since this has been played here once or twice, most know the many intricacies of Augusta, the type of very exclusive and limited field it brings, and what you have to do to win. However, as I try to always improve my research process and gather as much data as well as subjectivity as possible, we can always find new nuggets, quotes, or tidbits to help pick some WINNERS, or rather, weed out the losers.
Let’s look at the scorecard in which I’ve listed the usual Par, length, average approach distance, rank in difficulty, average strokes, and Birdie-or-Better % (BoB); however, I’ve also added some hole by hole notes which can be meaningless, have some quips (see #15), or just some birdie/bogey facts, etc.
As we look above, we can gain a lot of knowledge about the type of player it takes to succeed at Augusta and for the most part, with of course some outliers, very similar skills are required to not only make the cut but be there on Sunday. If you take a look at both the table at the top, which provides the average approach shot distance per par type and look above at some of the tougher holes, it may seem rudimentary to analyze hitting greens, but this course has an extremely low GIR%. Why? If you count them up, including Par 5s, about 13 of 18 (depending on Driving Distance), or 72%, of approaches are 175 yards or more. The committee lengthened the 5th hole this year to 495 yards and with how this course is designed with several doglegs and fairway bunkers, the true yardage of this course is closer to 7600-7700 yards. A good example of this would be #5, in which you see 495 yards, but your approach is well over 200 yards and therefore that BoB% is under 10%. The other important stat that may also seem obvious is Par 5 BoB%. I believe Patrick Reed last year went -13 Par 5s en route to victory and with the Par 5 birdie rate sitting around 40%, you are losing strokes on the field by making a par or worse. #2 is an eagle opportunity for many due to the severe downhill, #13, the last leg of Amen Corner, leaves a long approach or a flip wedge, and #15, unless you’re Sergio, should be very reachable in two as well. The ability to not drop too many shots and scramble to save par on these quick greens on the Par 4s while taking advantage of opportunities on Par 5s should put you ahead of most of the field.
Interesting Trends (thanks to Betfair for pointing out many of these trends)
Everyone loves a good trend, or trends, and Augusta is always chalk full of them. There are so many trends and narratives that I’ve tried to find what is not only interesting and probably meaningless but also what is predictive and useful in picking contenders and eventual winners. First, the interesting:
- 10 of the last 10 winners were NOT the defending champion (sorry Reed)
- 10 of the last 10 winners were NOT the World. #1 (sorry DJ)
- 10 of the last 10 winners had at least 2 Top 15 finishes that season
- 9 of the last 10 winners were under 40 (Tiger is the exception that will break this rule)
- 9 of the last 10 winners played in at least one Masters (debutants normally struggle)
- 9 of the last 10 winners had a previous Top 30 at Augusta
- 9 of the last 10 winners posted a Top 10 earlier in the season
- 9 of the last 10 winners had a Top 30 finish or better in at least 1 of their last 2 starts
If you don’t follow Steve Bamford from Golf Betting System either online or Twitter (@Bamfordgolf), well you should because his write up every week is spectacular, and he has picked tons of winners over the years. Him and his guys found, at least in their opinion, two of the most predictive stats and keys to success at Augusta were: 1) Distance to Apex (distance in yards from the Tee to the Apex measured on both Par 4 and Par 5 tee shots) and 2) Going for the Green on Par 5s. This all makes sense because as I mentioned before, the course’s “true” yardage is something more of 7600-7700 yards and it would follow suit that those who have a high ball flight (and play a draw by the way) have an advantage. Further, Par 4 BoB rate is also key as it’s the biggest leg up on the field you can get seeing as the Par 4s average about 0.2 strokes over par year over year. Below I have constructed a few tables: 1) the last 10 winners and their rank in “Distance to Apex (DTA),” “Going for the Green (GFG),” and “Par 4 BoB (for the last 5 winners) leading into their Masters victory. The 2nd, much larger table, consists of every player qualified, in alphabetical order and lists their current rank for the given categories as well as their rank against the average of the last 10 winners and the highest/lowest. What I mean by the average is the average DTA over the last 10 years, which is 26.2 and the average for GFG, which is 22. Further, to capture the “worst” you can be, I measured each player’s rank against the best rank (which was Bubba who spectacularly ranked 1st in both DTA and GFG heading into 2012 and 2014) and against the worst rank (Spieth, who won despite heading in with a rank of 67 in DTA and 66 in GFG). You will see “NA” ranks for players like old man Ian Woosnam who obviously has no stats, as well as any amateurs or Euro players who don’t have enough measured stats on the PGA TOUR.
Key Stats and Stats Needed to Compete
Key Stats – Last 8, 12, 24, and 50 Rounds (courtesy of FantasyNational.com)
In order of importance (excluding SG: T2G since it’s ALWAYS key):
- SG: BS
- SG: APP Blend (175+ yards)
- SG: OTT (with emphasis on Driving Distance)
- SG: Par 5s
- GIRs Gained
- BoB Gained
Above are the stats that I think have been and will continue to be the most important for competing at Augusta. One that was found to be extremely predictive was by Colin Drew, of Daily Roto (@drewby417 on Twitter) was SG: Off-The-Tee. This would coincide with the important of Driving to Apex and Going for the Green as clearly Driving Distance can be a distinct advantage. SG: OTT the tee here actually ranks up very highly in correlation with SG: APP which is rare, as most tournaments see SG: APP being at least 2x or 3x MORE impactful than any other strokes gained measurement. Further, the ability to hit these tough to nail greens and scramble across the lightning fast Bentgrass will keep you in the hunt as well. As most probably remember, last year I felt like Patrick Reed got up and down from EVERYWHERE and he would either chip it to a few feet or drain every 5-10 foot par save he was presented. I think one stat I would caution is the inclusion of SG: Putting because while many good putters have won here, such as Spieth (until this year), Tiger, and when he wants to be, Bubba, we have also seen numerous BAD putters capture a green jacket, such as Sergio or Adam Scott. I think it’s valuable to look at putters who might excel better on fast (or on FantasyNational LIGHTNING greens), but as many knows, putting is the most variable stat in golf and guys can flip the switch by tournament, by round, or even on different nines. Target elite ball strikers who are good with long irons, longer hitters are preferred, and can scramble when they get into trouble. Here is my preliminary Top 25, purely stats, based on a custom model from FantasyNational that averages the players’ last 4, 8, 12, 24, 50, and 100 rounds.
|22||Rafa Cabrera Bello|
I thought I would end this preview with some interesting notes I picked up in the very informative book by Joe Peta, “A 2019 Masters Preview,” in which he went through the entire database of shots in 2018 and broke it down into strokes gained data, since Augusta famously never publishes that data and keeps it to themselves. I encourage everyone to buy this book both this year and in the future! Here are some notes that I found interesting in general, but I think are useful to analyze since Augusta plays so similar each year (except for 2007 where it was very tough) and what it takes to win. I narrowed it down to those who finished in the Top 30 (and coincidentally finished even or better for the tournament).
- Last year Bubba gained 8.92 strokes off the tee… that is INSANE. He finished 5th as he actually lost strokes on approach but to me, that’s the biggest anomaly as we look at someone that based on numbers, probably should have and definitely could have won this tournament.
- Patrick Reed’s SG numbers en route to victory:
- SG: OTT – 3.35 (10th in the FULL field)
- SG: APP/ARG – 5.21 (15th in the FULL field)
- SG: P – 8.56 (2nd in the FULL field)
- Everyone saw Rory stall in Round 4 and never make any sort of charge, but as we get into the data it’s crazy to compare him to the rest of how the leaderboard finished
- For the week, Rory finished 3rd in SG: OTT, 18th in SG: APP, 35th in SG: P
- Rory lost -3.51 strokes to the field in round 4 and was in the bottom 5 performances on the day among the 53 players that made the cut
- Paul Casey finished 27 out of the Top 30 in SG: OTT, 22nd in APP/ARG in the Top 30, and 4th in SG: P… tough to analyze that performance despite his T15 finish
- Branden Grace was 28th of 30 in SG: OTT, 3rd in APP/ARG, and 30 of 30 in SG: P… brutal but he still managed a T24 finish
- Kisner was lucky to finish in the Top 30; he ranked 1st in the FULL field in putting, gaining 8.82 strokes on the greens but finished dead last, 30 of 30, in SG: APP (lost -8.25 strokes on APP)
- Jordan Spieth gained 13.1… THIRTEEN POINT ONE strokes on approaches last year… Think he likes this course? The next closest was Stenson who gained 9.8 on approaches
- 5 of the Top 10 finishers last year also ended up Top 10 in Driving Distance through 2018
- Stenson was the only one outside the Top 40 in DD to finish in the Top 20 in 2018
I enjoy writing this preview and as mentioned above this is my favorite week of the entire year but at the end of the day, and it can be backed up by both us watching and with data, there will always be a degree of randomness and some guy can ride his hot putter the entire way and it can shield how they’re really playing, which leads to a high leaderboard finish (i.e. Casey and Rahm last year). I think the most important things to look at if you’re not a data junkie or degen like me who will gloss over stats and trends and narratives and anything else under the sun is this FAVORS BOMBERS, not that shorter hitters can’t succeed, but they definitely have an advantage. You want to compare guys’ long-term form vs. short term form because historically strong iron players, such as Tiger, Justin Thomas, Keegan Bradley (ew), Henrik Stenson, and Hideki Matsuyama obviously know what they’re doing but guys like Rory, Kuchar, Kisner, Xander, Wallace, and Mitchell have been hot fire with their irons over the last 12/24, etc. rounds. I can’t believe I’ve droned on until now and not mentioned it, but COURSE HISTORY does matter this week. There is a constant debate, especially on Golf Twitter, whether or not it factors in but the correlation to success here via Course History is about 0.4, via Joe Peta, whereas on most courses it’s around 0.17. That is staggering and as Peta says on a recent podcast, most guys need 20,30, or more rounds here to truly understand the undulations and how to read these greens; Augusta does not provide detailed yardage books like the rest of the TOUR. You must figure out the slopes by walking and playing, which would explain why debutants do not have a ton of success here historically. Focus on ball strikers, guys who don’t 3 putt too often and can putt on fast greens (use futureoffantasy.com) and have at least had some experience at Augusta!