Cracking the Augusta code

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When it comes to revealing its secrets, Augusta National is about as obliging as the Third Reich’s Enigma cipher machine. The layout has driven many of golf’s most gifted players to utter distraction, players who had games seemingly tailor-made for a course that, we are told, suits players who can shape their shots and putt like a god when it matters.

Lee Trevino, Ernie Els and Greg Norman should all have won there. They are just three great players among many who never worked it out, despite having numerous attempts to crack it. Others who are equally talented and suited to the course, like Angel Cabrera or Vijay Singh, took years to work out the formula. By comparison, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and, most recently, Bubba Watson have all demonstrated that once you know the code you can find it time and again.

So what are the secrets of this mercurial course? And why do some players never seem to discover them while others are able to conquer its demons time and time again? We’ve scrutinised the numbers of the last 10 winners... and what we discovered may well surprise you.

Bubba

Bubba Watson
2014 

8 Under

Score: 280, eight under par
Driving distance: 305.6yds (1st)
Fairways hit: 56% (T13)
Greens in regulation: 69% (T5)
Putting: 116 (T16)

Eagles: 1
Birdies: 15
Pars: 47
Bogeys: 9
Others: 0

Key stats: 1st in driving distance. Tied 5th in greens in regulation

An incredible 366-yard drive at the par-5 13th in the last round set up Watson’s charge for the finishing line and an impressive closing 69. But it wasn’t just raw power that provided Watson with an edge. When he missed fairways, his drives weren’t wild enough to put him in serious trouble. His impressive figures for greens in regulation bear testament to his recovery skills.

scott

Adam Scott
2013 

8 Under

Score: 280, eight under par
Driving distance: 293.8yds (18th)
Fairways hit: 44% (T49)
GiR: 76% (1st)
Putting: 120 (T39) 

Eagles: 0
Birdies: 15
Pars: 51
Bogeys: 6
Others:

Key stats: 1st in GiR, 6 bogeys all week

After gifting the Open to Ernie Els the previous summer, Scott was aware of how costly small errors under pressure could be when chasing a major. His stats show he kept his game and head under control. He ranked 1st in GiR for the first time at Augusta and recorded just six bogeys all week, with none coming after Sunday’s first hole.

Bubba

Bubba Watson
2012 

8 Under

Score: 278, 10 under par
Driving distance: 290.4yds (4th)
Fairways hit: 51% (T46)
GiR: 74% (T4)
Putting: 120 (T37) 

Eagles: 0
Birdies:19
Pars: 44
Bogeys: 9
Others: 0 

Key stats: Tied 46 in driving accuracy, 4th in GiR.

His amazing recovery at the 10th in the play-off won Bubba his first Masters, but it was, by his own admission, the latest in a series of superb iron rescues from the trees that kept him hitting greens, despite ranking low on driving accuracy. He even made a phenomenal save at the 11th on Friday, when he was on the cut mark at 3 over, a low hooking 9-iron through trees that saved par and saw him into the weekend.

schwartzel

Charl Schwartzel
2011 

8 Under

Score: 280, eight under
Driving distance: 278.4yds (44th)
Fairways hit: 51% (T31)
GiR: 68% (T18)
Putting: 107 (2nd)  

Eagles: 2
Birdies:17 
Pars: 46
Bogeys: 7
Others: 0

Key stat: 2nd in putting 

Schwartzel took tips from veterans, including Nick Price, who told him to practise the fastest putts whenever he could in the weeks leading up to The Masters. It worked – he ranked 2nd in putting, requiring just 107 strokes on the greens over four rounds. For perspective, his best performance on the dance floors of Augusta before or since is 27th, with 117 putts.

mickelson

Phil Mickelson
2010 

8 Under

Score: 272, 16 under par
Driving distance: 297.1yds (2nd)
Fairways hit: 47% (T44)
GiR: 75% (T3)
Putting: 116 (T13) 

Eagles: 3
Birdies:16
Pars: 47
Bogeys: 6
Others: 0 

Key stats: 2nd in driving distance, tied 3rd in GiR

A classic Mickelson victory: long off the tee, missing more fairways than finding them but also striking superb approach shots. It will be remembered for his dramatic eagle-eagle-birdie on 13, 14 and 15 on Saturday to move into second, three strokes clear of the field; but what clinched this victory was his composure as his total of just six bogeys for the whole week testifies.

cabrera

Angel Cabrera
2009 

8 Under

Score: 276, 12 under par
Driving distance: 284.5yds (11th)
Fairways hit: 46% (48th)
GiR: 69% (T14)
Putting: 113 (T12)  

Eagles: 0
Birdies:20
Pars: 44
Bogeys: 8
Others: 0

Key stat: Tied 12th in putting

Long off the tee and a natural drawer of the ball, Cabrera’s long game is tailor-made for Augusta, but his best finish up until 2009 was a tie for 8th, largely because of his inconsistent putting. Helping him on this occasion was a new belly putter, which powered him to his best ever Masters score and his best putting rank to date – his average in nine Masters starts was 26th.

immelman

Trevor Immelman
2008 

8 Under

Score: 280, eight under par
Driving distance: 287.5yds (4th)
Fairways hit: 67% (1st)
GiR: 71% (T2)
Putting: 112 (T4)

Eagles: 0
Birdies: 15
Pars: 51
Bogeys: 5
Others: 

Key stats:  2nd greens in regulation, 10 under par for the par 4s 

The South African upped his long game to win his first and only Green Jacket. His best ‘fairways hit’ ranking was a T38 in five Masters starts prior to 2008. He also had a superb week with his irons, illustrated on the exacting par 4s where he was 10 under par over the four rounds, seven better than anyone else. His superlative approach shots also kept his putting average down – he took just 112 putts, the week’s fourth lowest total.

johnson

Zach Johnson
2007 

8 Under

Score: 289, one over par
Driving distance: 265yds (57th)
Fairways hit: 63% (T2)
GiR: 61% (T4)
Putting: 112 (T10) 

Eagles: 0
Birdies: 15
Pars: 41
Bogeys: 16
Others:

Key stats: Tied 4th in greens in regulation, 11 under par for the par 5s

One of the tour’s shorter hitters, Johnson played a percentage game on Augusta’s dangerous long holes by laying up to wedge range. Power players like Tiger and Retief Goosen couldn’t use their muscle to overcome the long holes in the cool conditions and a relentless birdie barrage took Johnson two clear of them, despite being 15 yards shorter on average from the tee that week. Also played the par 5s two shots better than anyone else.

mickelson

Phil Mickelson
2006

8 Under

Score: 281, seven under par
Driving distance: 299.3yds (1st)
Fairways hit: 49% (T36)
GiR: 69% (T4)
Putting: 116 (T16) 

Eagles: 0
Birdies: 18
Pars: 43
Bogeys: 11
Others:

Key stats: Tied 9th in driving accuracy, 1st in GiR

Augusta was stretched to 7,445 yards in 2006 (up 155 yards) so while Mickelson had employed a controlled fade off the tee in 2004, he now needed more bang. His driving accuracy suffered but not by big enough margins to stop him hitting greens in regulation. And he peaked at the right time, birdieing the par-5 13th and 15th. Only a meaningless bogey on the 18th prevented him from playing the final round without a blemish.

woods

Tiger Woods
2005 

8 Under

Score: 280, eight under par
Driving distance: 292.4yds (4th)
Fairways hit: 44% (49)
GiR: 75% (2)
Putting: 115 (T10) 

Eagles: 0
Birdies: 24
Pars: 36
Bogeys: 12
Others:

Key stats: 4th in driving distance, 2nd in GiR

Best remembered for Woods’ outrageous chip-in on the 16th in the final round which had 20 feet of break, but his victory was set up by his tee shots. Recovering his driving mojo, Tiger’s 292.4 driving distance stat was 4th longest in the field, his best ranking since his last victory in 2001. That had a major knock-on effect as he was also 2nd in GiR.

Deciphering the code: What our analysis proves about winning The Masters.

The classic opinion is that the Masters is won with the driver and putter. But the figures reveal something else…

Length does help...
On the evidence of the last 10 winners, it helps to hit it long off the tee. Only one of our champions (Zach Johnson) averaged less than 285 yards for the tournament, and he had a compensatory strategy which was complemented by freakishly cool weather. 

And putting is a factor…
The previous 10 winners averaged just 115 putts in winning, marginally less than 29 putts per round. The advice Charl Schwartzel sought on this subject certainly gave him the edge he needed to win. His tally of 107 putts in 2011 was amazing – fewer than 27 per round – although the best putter in 2011 was our own Luke Donald, who notched up just 102 strokes with his magic wand. It was the performance of his life on the greens and he finished in a tie for 4th.

But they’re not as crucial as stellar approach play!
It takes more than a red-hot putter to win a Green Jacket, and perhaps the most telling numbers of all are in the greens-in-regulation category. Just two of the 10 previous winners finished outside the top five in this discipline. And the two exceptions, Charl Schwartzel and Angel Cabrera, still performed strongly, both hitting nearly 70% of the greens during their winning weeks. The numbers also reveal that you can hit a lot of greens in regulation at Augusta without hitting a high proportion of the fairways. In 2012, Bubba Watson ranked 46th in driving accuracy and was often deep in the trees but hit a series of miraculous recovery shots day after day and finished T4 in GiR.

Conclusion: Augusta is a second-shot golf course
If a player hits those greens in regulation consistently then, as long as he keeps a semblance of control from tee and keeps his putter warm, he should at least be in contention come Sunday afternoon.

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