Using stats and science we’ve identified who will win the Masters golf tournament 2021 and slip on the Green Jacket at Augusta National on April 11.
Today's Golfer's 2021 Major coverage is brought to you in association with TaylorMade.
With a little help from stats guru Justin Ray and the 15th Club, 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.
For full disclosure, we did predict Justin Thomas would win the 2020 Masters – and he ‘only’ finished 4th. But we also said Tiger Woods would win in 2019 and look what happened there. Our system works (at least 50 percent of the time) and since the unpredictability of playing the course in November is no longer a factor, we should have a better of idea of what to expect...
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Masters winner have pedigree
Most winners have been around Augusta enough times to know which pins you can – and can’t – attack. Over two-thirds of the last 30 champions had made the top 10 at least once before, while six of the last eight finished fourth or better at a previous Masters.
It should also come as no surprise that 17 different players have won twice or more, though that trend has given way to seven players in the last 10 years tasting Major success for the first time at Augusta National. It’s a trend which stands out across all Major Championships, with 80 percent of the last 19 titles going to first timers.
Dustin Johnson was an anomaly in that regard, but he did continue a run which has seen the last 11 winners at Augusta ranked inside the World’s top 30. In fact, since the World Rankings were created, just two of the last 35 winners of the Masters – Zach Johnson in 2007 and Angel Cabrera in 2009 – sat outside the World’s top 40 at the time of slipping on the Green Jacket.
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, 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 – which bodes well for Justin Thomas this year. In fact, 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 13th appearance, in case you were wondering. Unlucky for some.
You can’t win a Masters playing catch-up
While it’s true that none of the last 23 winners have played the opening hole under par, making a fast start is a big factor if you want to contend on Sunday.
We’ve already highlighted how this is a problem for Rory in Majors, so it’s worth noting that since 1998 only two players (Phil Mickelson and Tiger) have won the tournament after finishing the first round outside the top 10. Key to their success was ‘moving day’ on Saturday and making sure they were in the final group on Sunday.
Brand Snedeker once noted that “your odds of winning increase dramatically if you’re there,” and the stats bear that out. Twenty-one of the last 25 winners have come from inside the final group, while third-round leaders have a 68 percent win/conversion rate during that period.
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The Masters winner takes advantage of the par 5s
Except for Craig Stadler in 1982 and Danny Willett in 2016, every champion in history has played the par 5s under par. Last year the long holes ranked as the four easiest on the course, with the 575-yard 2nd yielding a 4.47 scoring average.
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DJ ended up eagling the hole twice and joined a list of 28 champions who finished the week a combined 10 under par or better on the par 5s. Interestingly, Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele rank among the best performers on par 5s this season, while DJ and Justin Thomas don’t even make the top 50…
Driving accuracy isn’t that important at Augusta. Hitting greens in regulation is
This might explain why Tiger has had so much success at the Masters in the past. A player’s approach shot performance — both leading up to the Masters and during that week — has proven to have the strongest correlation to success at Augusta National.
While only one of the past 20 Masters winners finished in the top 50 for driving accuracy during the previous season’s PGA Tour, four of the last six have come out on top for strokes gained approach during the week.
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Jack Nicklaus often describes Augusta as a second-shot golf course and other than the tee boxes, you won’t find many flat spots on the property. The swirling wind and side-hill stances are perhaps the only constants and you don’t have to search too far to find a quote from a player calling it the ultimate test of ball control and course management. It’s one of the reasons why so many first timers struggle and why Justin Thomas – widely considered the best iron player in the game – is always so highly fancied.
DJ currently leads the way in approach shot performance on the PGA Tour, but Thomas has never finished the season outside the top six over the last four years.
You don’t have to be a great putter to win The Masters
Patrick Reed may have topped the putting stats three years ago, but only two of the last 12 winners have ranked inside the top 12 for average putts per green.
Of greater importance is the ability to chip and pitch well, especially when you consider the field last year missed an average of six greens per round. Augusta’s greens are so notoriously tricky to hit – and hold – that even the best ball-strikers will miss their fair share. That’s why you need a killer short game if you want to have any hope of putting on the Green Jacket on Sunday.
All but one of the last 12 Masters winners ranked inside the top 10 in ‘scrambling’ during the week. Patrick Cantlay is the standout name in the top 10 for both scrambling and strokes gained: around the green on the PGA Tour this season, though it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the in-form Daniel Berger and US Open runner-up Matthew Wolff (pictured above) have been losing strokes on the field.
Form counts for a lot at Augusta National
If you want a surprise winner, the Masters probably isn’t your best bet. The last seven winners were not only ranked inside the top 11 of the PGA Tour’s scoring average statistic during the season of their victory, but they had also won another event in the 12 months prior. Currently, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Webb Simpson are the only players who fulfil both criteria this season.
Dustin Johnson is the man to beat in this year's Masters
Brooks Koepka couldn’t help himself when he suggested the softer conditions in November suited Dustin Johnson’s power-game, but the truth is that DJ dominated the second half of 2020 in a way we haven’t seen since Tiger’s heyday. It was no fluke that in a seven-tournament stretch between August and November, the 36-year-old won three times, had two runner-up finishes and ended the year with a Green Jacket, a $15 million FedEx Cup bonus and the title of World No.1.
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With such a quick turnaround this year, we can’t see past him going back-to-back and continuing where he left off. He has finished in the top 10 in each of his last five Masters appearances and is currently riding a wave of 11 consecutive rounds under par at the Masters, one better than Tiger Woods managed between 2000 and 2002. He still has a tendency to blow hot and cold with the putter, but he’s so good across all the other key strokes gained metrics right now that even his B-game may be good enough to get the job done.
But... does Riviera reveal an Augusta Master?
One of the more curious trends in golf relates to how 12 different winners of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera also own a Green Jacket, which is why you might want to keep an eye on this year’s champion, Max Homa...