We’ve trawled through the archives and the most important performance metrics at Augusta National to answer the key questions and reveal the players most likely to be slipping into a Green Jacket this April.
Today’s Golfer’s 2022 Major coverage is brought to you in association with TaylorMade.
We’ve trawled through Augusta’s archives, listened to the experts and picked apart hundreds of PGA Tour stats to narrow down the field and identify who will win the year’s opening Major.
THE MASTERS: Inside Augusta National’s clubhouse
Can Hideki Matsuyama win back-to-back Masters Tournaments?
Only three defending champions – Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods – have gone back-to-back, but Hideki Matsuyama has quietly evolved into something of an Augusta specialist with three top 10s and no missed cuts since 2016.
He’s always been a confidence player and, given he’s won twice on the PGA Tour since October, you can easily put forward a strong case for Matsuyama doing it all over again in April.
The counter argument is that he won’t be able to avoid the frenzied media circus that often comes with shouldering the hopes of a golf-obsessed nation on the biggest stage. Last year the pandemic kept all but a few Japanese reporters from following his every move at Augusta National – something the publicity-shy Matsuyama admitted was a big stress reliever – but it’s unlikely he’ll be afforded the same level of freedom in April.
Besides, others before him have struggled with the weight of the Green Jacket, so it wouldn’t surprise us if he became the fourth defending champion in the last six years to make an early exit. After all, only four of the past 20 winners have finished in the top 10 the following year.
Will Tiger Woods play in the 2022 Masters?
Trying to predict Tiger’s next move is almost as hard as holing a four footer on the last without shaking.
One man who does operate in Tiger’s circle is 11-time Tour winner John Cook, who told the Golf Channel that he doesn’t expect to see Tiger play again until the PNC Championship in December.
In truth, we can’t see the 46-year-old passing up the chance to play the 150th Open at St Andrews – even if only half fit – but if Augusta does come too early, one fan will be seriously out of pocket. According to SuperBook Nevada, one punter placed a $1,046 wager at 100-1 odds for Tiger to win the 2022 Masters.
Has Augusta National changed since last year?
Course changes have almost become a tradition at Augusta National. This year is no different and we can reveal they’ve introduced ‘significant changes’, which means the course will play to a record length this April.
Even though they have capacity to extend the 13th, they’ve opted against pushing the tee back (for now) and have instead focused their attentions on lengthening two other iconic holes.
The par-4 11th – historically the second-hardest hole on the course – will now play to 520 yards after the tee box was moved back by 15 yards and to the golfer’s left – most likely to bring the water into play more down the left side. It now plays 10 yards longer than the par-5 13th!
However, perhaps the biggest difference will be seen on the par-5 15th, which has been lengthened by an extra 20 yards to 550 yards. The new tee box will almost certainly bring the water at the front of the green into play a lot more, which might even produce the same kind of drama we’ve seen on the 12th in recent years. Here’s hoping anyway!
The course will play to 7,510 yards, an increase of 35 yards compared to 2021. Intriguingly, 13 yards has also been added to the back of the 18th tee, though the official yardage remains the same at 465 yards.
Will a European player win the Masters?
Would it surprise you to learn that Europe has produced just two winners of the Masters since the turn of the millennium?
Just as surprising is that only two Europeans (Jon Rahm and Justin Rose) featured on the first page of the leaderboard last year.
There’s no denying that European golf is going through something of a transitional period (how else do we explain what happened at the Ryder Cup?), but we can at least take comfort from the form of Rahm and Viktor Hovland, who’s now up to No.4 in the world after winning three times since November.
Currently, there are 19 Europeans in the field and six of them (Rahm, Hovland, Rory, Matt Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and Danny Willett) have won on the PGA Tour or DP World Tour in the last year which, if you believe in trends, is often a precursor to success at Augusta…
What trends should we look out for?
1. Augusta rewards form
If you want a surprise Major champion, look away from Augusta. The last 12 winners were all ranked inside the world’s top 30 heading into the tournament. Since the inception of the World Ranking in 1986, more Masters champions have been No.1 in the world (five) than ranked outside the top 40 (two) at the time of their victory.
2. Experience counts
In the past 25 years, only two players under the age of 25 have triumphed at Augusta: Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jordan Spieth in 2015, both of whom were 21 at the time.
What’s more, only three Masters rookies have won the tournament, the most recent being Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Incidentally, the closest an amateur has come to winning was in 1956, when Ken Venturi shot 80 and squandered a four-shot lead in the final round.
3. Course nous makes a big difference
History shows us that players usually need a few appearances to get to grips with Augusta before winning their first Green Jacket. In fact, trawl back and we see that 23 of the past 30 Masters champions had previously made at least four appearances at Augusta National.
Bear in mind that Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland have only made two so far…
Can Rory McIlroy finally win the Masters and complete the career Grand Slam?
Remarkably, this will be Rory’s eighth attempt at completing the career Grand Slam. And it doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.
It’s amazing to think he’s never finished higher than fourth, albeit he had collected six top 10s in his last seven appearances at Augusta until he missed the cut last year.
Often, he has a habit of putting together three good rounds and one bad one – and the same old problems were apparent when he self-destructed at the Dubai Desert Classic to carelessly toss away victory.
It’s often said that he is too good not to win at Augusta, but it no longer feels like a foregone conclusion.
He’s 32 now and one shy of the record number of attempts needed by Mark O’Meara to win a Green Jacket (15). The longer the wait goes on, the harder it will be…
What are the most important things needed to win the Masters?
Greens in regulation
Distance helps, but stellar iron play so often separates the pretenders from the contenders – and the stats bear that out. In five of the last seven Masters, the champion has ranked in the top five for strokes gained approach. If you go back even further, 17 of the last 22 Masters winners have ranked inside the top six for greens hit in regulation during the week of their victory.
Augusta’s ferociously sloping greens and run-off areas create small landing spots that can be difficult to hit. That’s why you need a deft short game if you want to wear a Green Jacket.
Thirteen of the last 15 Masters winners ranked inside the top 10 in ‘scrambling’ (getting up and down from off the green) during the week.
Big gains can be made by avoiding multiple three-putts at Augusta.
The PGA Tour average for three putts is three percent; at Augusta that jumps to nearly six percent. When DJ and Danny Willett won, they only had a single three-putt all week.
How important is it to make eagles and birdies on holes 2, 8, 13 and 15? Last year the long holes ranked as the four easiest on the course, with the 575-yard 2nd yielding a 4.6897 scoring average.
The past four winners of the Masters – Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed – played the par 5s in a combined 43-under par.
Rookies ‘nearly’ never win The Masters
Other than the first two winners of the event, Fuzzy Zoeller is the only newbie in the tournament’s 84-year history to don the Green Jacket – and that was way back in 1979. Golf’s ironman Sungjae Im did come close to breaking the ‘streak’ when he finished tied second on his debut in November 2020, though perhaps that had more to do with the unpredictability of playing the event in November and without fans.
There’s no ignoring that experience counts for a lot at Augusta, but perhaps not quite as much as you might think. Tiger’s victory at the age of 43 in 2019 was only the seventh time a 40-something has come out on top. The average age of the winner is actually 32, while it typically takes someone six attempts to win their first Green Jacket. Only eight golfers have won their first Green Jacket past their 10th attempt, while Sergio Garcia is the only man in 84 years to have won past his 15th attempt.
This year will be Rory McIlroy’s 14th appearance, in case you were wondering.
THE MASTERS: What does the Masters champion win?
Who are the men to beat at this year’s Masters?
Our top pick = Patrick Cantlay
GIR Last season: 10th (this season: T90th)
Scrambling Last season: 1st (this season: 8th)
Three-putt avoidance Last season: T131st (this season: T5th)
Par 5 scoring Last season: T7th (this season: 1st)
Masters starts 5
Masters cuts made 3
Best Masters finish T9th (2019)
The much-fancied American has continued where he left off after winning three times in as many months last season and being voted PGA Tour Player of the Year.
He just broke the record for the most consecutive rounds (21) in the 60s and has catapulted up to third in the World Rankings. His underwhelming record in Major championships (he has just two top 10s in 19 tries) might make you doubt his credentials, but in his last three visits to Augusta he has shot a 64 and a 66 so he knows how to get the job done. It shouldn’t be forgotten, either, that he won Low Amateur honours there 10 years ago and briefly held a share of the lead with three holes to go before Tiger stole the show in 2019. If he can stay injury free, we think it’s only a matter of time before all the advice he’s been getting from Fred Couples, his ‘Augusta mentor’, pays off. This could be his best chance.
The bookies’ favourite = Jon Rahm
GIR This season: 2nd (Last season: 2nd)
Scrambling This season: T19th (Last season: 71st)
Three-putt avoidance This season: 15th (Last season: T16th)
Par 5 scoring This season: T3rd (Last season: T12th)
Masters starts 5
Masters cuts made 5
Best Masters finish 4th (2018)
The World No.1 is as short as 7-1 with some bookmakers to win the Green Jacket – and for good reason.
As well as being a supreme ball striker like Cantlay, the 27-year-old has been a consistent presence on the first page of leaderboards with nine top 10s in his last 14 starts worldwide, dating back to his first Major victory at the US Open. He also has four straight top 10s at the Masters and is currently on a run of 15 consecutive rounds of par or better at the Masters, one behind Tiger’s record.
Think that’s impressive? He’s a combined 40 under par at Augusta since his opening round in 2018, with an absurd scoring average of 63.33. He’ll take some beating.
The form player = Cameron Smith
GIR This season: T103rd (Last season: 12th)
Scrambling This season: 28th (Last season: 81st)
Three-putt avoidance This season: T2nd (Last season: T16th)
Par 5 scoring This season: T1st (Last season: 2nd)
Masters starts 5
Masters cuts made 5
Best Masters finish T2nd (2020)
Has a man with a mullet ever won The Masters? Given his ability to shape the ball both ways, Cameron Smith has a game which is built for Augusta.
He’s not the straightest nor longest hitter, but driving metrics have never mattered as much at Augusta.
The Aussie has three top-10 finishes in his last four appearances there and remains the only golfer to post four rounds in the 60s at the same Masters.
It also helps that he is playing the best golf of his life right now. He is second only to Collin Morikawa for best scoring average on the PGA Tour this season and has only missed three cuts since June 2020. Odds of 25-1 look like a steal.
RELATED: Augusta Icon: Amen Corner
Who’s your money on?
Selected odds for the 2022 Masters Tournament
8-1 Jon Rahm
12-1 Jordan Spieth
12-1 Rory McIlroy
12-1 Collin Morikawa
14-1 Justin Thomas
14-1 Dustin Johnson
16-1 Bryson DeChambeau
16-1 Patrick Cantlay
18-1 Xander Schauffele
18-1 Brooks Koepka
22-1 Viktor Hovland
25-1 Hideki Matsuyama
25-1 Cameron Smith
33-1 Patrick Reed
40-1 Tyrrell Hatton
50-1 Tommy Fleetwood
60-1 Tiger Woods
66-1 Sergio Garcia
66-1 Bubba Watson
80-1 Phil Mickelson
80-1 Lee Westwood