Played at the iconic and stunning Augusta National, the US Masters is the only one of the major championships played at the same venue every year.
Augusta National was founded at the start of the Great Depression and when the first edition of what was originally called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament was staged in 1934, the club had just 76 paid up members. That was someway short of the planned 1,800 and the inaugural winner, Horton Smith, along with all the top finishers, had to wait for 17 members to club together to raise the purse before he received his winnings.
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia.
Par 72, 7,510 yards
Scoring average in 2021 when 7,475 yards – 73.06
Originally the brainchild of Bobby Jones, Augusta National was founded by him and Clifford Roberts – a wealthy New York investment banker.
Designed by Jones and Alister Mackenzie, who died before the course was finished, Augusta National was built on the site of an old nursery and all the holes are named after a tree or shrub.
It officially opened in January 1933, and it’s been evolving ever since and to such an extent recently that the original designers would barely recognise the place.
The Bermuda greens were changed to bent grass and the fairways were tightened at the end of the last century before a major overhaul was orchestrated by Tom Fazio in 2002. More than half the holes were lengthened and tightened and now that the 11th and 15th holes have been lengthened slightly (details here), at just over 7,500 yards now, it’s a long course.
The last change to the course prior to this year’s alterations was a surprising one, as they lengthened the already long par four fifth by 40 yards. It was the sixth hardest hole in 2018 and historically it’s been the fifth hardest, but it’s now been the toughest hole on the course in each of the last three renewals – averaging 4.34 in 2019, 4.27 in 2020 and 4.43 last year.
Augusta plays even longer than its already demanding yardage because the fairways are all cut in the same direction – towards the tee-boxes – so balls tend to land and stop fairly quickly.
After an understandable absence over the last two years, the Par Three Competition is back this year and live on Sky Sports from 19:00 UK time on Wednesday and live coverage of the tournament itself starts at 14:00 on Thursday UK time.
Coverage then starts at 14:00 again on Friday, at 20:00 on Saturday, and at 19:00 on Sunday.
Last 12 Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2021 – Hideki Matsuyama -10 70.069/1
2020 – Dustin Johnson -20 9.89/1
2019 – Tiger Woods -13 22.021/1
2018 – Patrick Reed -15 70.069/1
2017 – Sergio Garcia -9 50.049/1 (playoff)
2016 – Danny Willett -5 70.069/1
2015 – Jordan Spieth -18 13.012/1
2014 – Bubba Watson -8 28.027/1
2013 – Adam Scott -9 28.027/1 (playoff)
2012 – Bubba Watson -10 55.054/1 (playoff)
2011 – Charl Schwartzel -14 90.089/1
2010 – Phil Mickelson -16 11.010/1
What Will it Take to Win the US Masters?
To provide an at-a-glance picture of what’s required at Augusta, here are the average ratings for the last 15 winners in all the key stats.
Driving Accuracy – 26.67
Driving Distance – 22
G.I.R – 6.26
Putting Average – 11.33
Although Augusta is tree-lined, Driving Accuracy is the least important stat to consider. The trees are well-established, and the branches are high so errant drives aren’t always punished. Length of the tee is advantageous and historically much more important than accuracy, but it hasn’t been an absolute imperative of late.
Last year’s winner, Hideki Matsuyama, Tiger Woods, Danny Willett, Jordan Spieth, Charl Schwartzel and Zach Johnson have all won here in the last 15 years with DD rankings of 47th 44th, 32nd, 52nd, 40th and 57th respectively but most victors give it a good whack.
Dustin Johnson, in November 2020, and the two winners before Tiger in 2019, all ranked sixth for Driving Distance, seven of the last 14 winners have ranked inside the top-six for DD and Bubba Watson hit it further than anyone off the tee when he won his second Green Jacket in 2014.
Matsuyama only ranked seventh for Greens In Regulation last year but the next three on the leaderboard ranked second, first and fourth and eight of the top-10 in the GIR rankings finished inside the top-10. Collin Morikawa, who finished tied for 18th, and Tommy Fleetwood, who finished tied for 46th, were the two who didn’t.
The two winners before Matsuyama both ranked number one for GIR and 12 of the last 15 winners have ranked seventh or better so that’s obviously a key stat and so too is Scrambling.
The 2019 winner, Woods, only ranked 47th for Scrambling but the last 15 winners have still averaged only 10.26 so the ability to get up-and-down repeatedly is vital.
Reed topped the Putting Average stats in 2018 but Matsuyama only ranked 26th and amongst the list of winners above are a number of players that have had their fair share of woes on the greens – including Matsuyama.
The fast, slopey, often treacherous, glass-like surfaces are hard for everyone and it almost levels the field out a bit.
Last year’s first and second, Matsuyama and Will Zalatoris, ranked 175th and 122nd for Strokes Gained Putting on the PGA Tour last season and the two playoff protagonists in 2017, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, ended the 2017 season ranking 112th and 168th for SGP so although I wouldn’t go out of my way to find a poor putter, it’s a bit of myth that only the best putters win here.
Those stats show that the secrets to success here are to find plenty of greens and to get up-and-down successfully when one is missed but what’s often the most important factor is how you play the long holes.
Here are the total scores to par for the last 15 winners on the par threes, fours and fives.
Par threes -4
Par fours -28
Par fives -132
The fact that Danny Willett won here in 2016 having played the long holes in just level par is astounding and it must be viewed as an anomaly. Sergio only played them in seven-under-par in 2017 and even that was an unusually low score.
Patrick Reed smashed them up four years ago -playing them in 13 under-par, despite failing to pick up a shot on any of the four on Sunday – and the last two winners have played them in 11 under-par.
Phil Mickelson played them in 13-under-par in 2006 and yet his winning total was just seven-under and even when relatively short hitter, Zach Johnson, won with an over par winning total 15 years ago, he still played the long holes in 11 under-par.
If you’re only going to look at just one stat before the off, Par 5 performance would be the one I’d suggest.
Angles In & Augusta Trends
Patrick Reed’s course form coming into the championship, reading MC-22-49-MC, was pretty poor in 2018, and he was the first winner since Tiger Woods in 1997 to have missed the cut the previous year.
They’re the only two winners not to have played rounds three and four in the year before they won since Fuzzy Zoeller won on debut in 1979 so not playing over the weekend on your previous visit is a significant negative.
Another no-no used to be backing anyone yet to break 70 around Augusta. Up until 2015, 23 of the previous 24 winners had all previously shot a round in the 60s but following Reed’s win, and the victories of Jordan Spieth in 2015 and Danny Willett in 2016, three of the last seven winners had failed to break 70 before they won. And they hadn’t played in the tournament as often as most winners either.
Both Spieth and Willett had only played Augusta once before they won and that really went against the grain given previous course form is usually vital.
Other than the first two winners of the event, Fuzzy Zoeller (in 1979) is still the only debutant to win the US Masters and most winners have been around Augusta National enough times to get to know its unique nuisances.
On average, first time winners have played the event six times and I loved the way Ernie Els highlighted how much of a knowledge bank gets collected over the years when he said after round one five years ago that conditions had reminded him of the third round in 2000!
Matsuyama’s victory 12 months ago came on his 10th visit to Augusta.
Although plenty of experience is a big plus and the average age of the winners is 32, age had been a bit of a barrier until 2019. Prior to Tiger’s win at the age of 43, Mark O’Meara, who took the title at the age of 41 back in 1998, had been the last man to win in his 40s.
Hot recent form a big plus
Course form stands up really well and past winners have a fine record, with as many as 17 different players having won the title more than once, but over the last decade, strong current form has often counted for plenty.
Matsuyama managed to win 12 months ago despite a relatively poor start to the year. He’d finished 30th in the Valero Texas Open in his penultimate start and in 10 previous starts in 2021, 15th at the WGC Workday Championship was his best finish but since Phil Mickelson won his third title in 2010, having produced just one top-ten from seven previous starts that year (eighth at the AT&T Pebble Beach), every winner bar Matsuyama has telegraphed their wellbeing.
As many as six of 10 winners between Phil and Hideki had won a tournament earlier in the year and the four that hadn’t lifted a trophy still produced at least one eye-catching recent performance.
Prior to his first victory in 2012, Bubba Watson had finished runner-up in the WGC – Cadillac Championship at Doral, Adam Scott was third in that event at Doral 12 months later before winning here in 2013, Patrick Reed finished second at the Valspar Championship in 2018, and having won the Tour Championship in his final start in 2018, Tiger finished inside the top-ten at the WGC in Mexico and he played well at the WGC Matchplay in his final start, winning his group and knocking out Rory McIlroy before losing in the quarter-finals.
Riviera form a huge pointer
The number of World Golf Championships has been reduced from four to two this year and the WGC Championship, won last by Collin Morikawa when known as the WGC Workday, is one of the casualties, but it looks a great event to look back on given the eight winners before Morikawa all won the Masters.
When known as the WGC-Mexico Championship between 2017 and 2020 and played at the tree-lined Club de Golf Chapultepec, the event was won by Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, and Dustin Johnson (twice) and prior to that, when the tournament was called the WGC-American Express and staged at Doral, the four renewals between 2013 and 2016 were won by a US Masters winner. And it could easily have been nine winners in-a-row…
Justin Rose, who traded at a low of 1.171/6 before losing in extra time to Sergio Garcia in the 2017 US Masters, won the 2012 edition at Doral but form at Riviera is arguably the best correlating course angle in.
Following DJ’s victory in 2020, a total of 12 Masters Champions have now won 24 editions of the Genesis Invitational and Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Tom Watson have all won multiple PGA Tour events at both Riviera and Augusta, so the courses obviously correlate nicely.
DJ had previously won the US Open and Tiger Woods won the US Masters for a fifth time in 2019 but the four winners before Woods, last year’s winner, Matsuyama, and eight of the last 11 US Masters winners were winning their first major championship and that’s a general trend across all the majors.
As many as 15 of the last 23 (65%) major championships have gone to a first-time major winner so don’t be surprised if we get another but do expect them to feature highly in the Official World Rankings because 38 of the last 39 majors have been won by someone inside the world’s top-50.
The odd man out is Phil Mickelson who defied all sorts of logic at last year’s US PGA Championship when he won at the age of 51 – ranking 115th in the world.
Last Eight Winner’s Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2021 – Hideki Matsuyama – led by four 1.9420/21
2020 – Dustin Johnson – led by four 1.422/5
2019 – Tiger Woods – tied second, trailed by two 4.94/1
2018 – Patrick Reed – led by three strokes 2.265/4
2017 – Sergio Garcia – tied for the lead with Justin Rose 6.05/1
2016 – Danny Willett – tied for fifth, trailing by three 22.021/1
2015 – Jordan Spieth – led by four 1.51/2
2014 – Bubba Watson – tied for the lead with Jordan Spieth 4.67/2
Up with the pace is the place to be at Augusta. DJ led or co-led after every round in 2020, Spieth also won wire-to-wire in 2015 and five of the last eight winners have led after both rounds two and three.
Tiger sat tied for 11th and four of the lead after the opening round in 2019 but that was the first time any winner had sat outside the top 10 since he sat tied for 33rd and seven off the lead in 2005.
Augusta National is NOT a catch-up course and a fast start is imperative. No year advertises that better than 2010, when Hunter Mahan, who finished tied 8th, was the only player to finish in the top-11 places that hadn’t been within two shots off Fred Couples’ first round lead. He’d sat tied for 22nd and was five back after round one.
You can also look to 2012, when the first four names on the day one leaderboard – Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Peter Hanson and Bubba Watson were all in the first six places at the finish.
Tiger and Phil Mickelson repeatedly buck the trends at Augusta and they’re the only two men to win the event having finished day one outside of the top 10 since Mark O’Meara won from tied 25th and five off the pace 24 years ago.
Although Matsuyama kicked off last year’s edition at 9:48 in the morning and three of the last four winners have now had a morning tee-time, the general trend of late has shown a late tee-time on day one to been beneficial.
The 2020 winner, DJ, was drawn in the afternoon on day one and he was the eighth winner to be assigned a PM tee-time in 10 years. Tiger Woods was drawn late in the morning (11:04) for his opening round in 2019 and Patrick Reed was the first winner in eight years to be drawn in the morning on day one in 2018, but he too teed off late in the morning, at 11:15.
Reed was one of only a few early starters to thrive on Thursday in 2018 and all things considered, an early start on Thursday can probably be viewed as a slight negative.
For more on what to expect on day four, please see the piece I wrote last week here.
Last year’s contenders likely to disappoint
Although course form stands up well and multiple winners are fairly common, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are the only players to win the US Masters back-to-back and something I’ve touched on in previous years is the poor performances often put up by players that contended the year before.
A number of 2019 contenders were in-the-mix in 2020 and the winner, DJ, had finished tied for second behind Tiger in the previous renewal but because of the pandemic, the 2020 edition was played in November and there was 19 months between the two renewals. That may have been a reason why we saw a couple of 2019 contenders back in the mix because it was business as usual last year.
Ordinarily, the contenders at the previous renewal tend to struggle and I suspect it’s something to do with mindset. Having held a chance to win the year before, expectations are no doubt higher the following year and that may explain why so many fail to figure. As a demonstration, here’s the top-10s from 2017, 2018 and 2020, with their finishing positions the following year in brackets.
1 Sergio Garcia (MC)
2 Justin Rose (12th)
3 Charl Schwartzel (MC)
T4 Matt Kuchar (28th)
T4 Thomas Pieters DNP
6 Paul Casey (15th)
T7 Rory McIlroy (5th)
T7 Kevin Chappell DNP
T9 Ryan Moore DNP
T9 Adam Scott (32nd)
1 Patrick Reed (T36)
2 Rickie Fowler (T9)
3 Jordan Spieth (T21)
4 Jon Rahm (T9)
5 Rory McIlroy (T21)
5 Cameron Smith (T51)
5 Henrik Stenson (T36)
5 Bubba Watson (T12)
9 Marc Leishman (T49)
10 Tony Finau (T5)
10 Dustin Johnson (T2)
1 Dustin Johnson (MC)
2 Sungjae Im (MC)
2 Cameron Smith (10)
4 Justin Thomas (21)
5 Rory McIlroy (MC)
5 Dylan Frittelli (MC)
7 Jon Rahm (5)
7 Brooks Koepka (MC)
7 CT Pan (MC)
10 Corey Conners (8)
10 Webb Simpson (12)
10 Patrick Reed (8)
None of the first nine form 2018 finished inside the top-eight in 2019 and the two players that finished tied for 10th were the only two to improve their positions.
The defending champ, DJ, was the world number one and favourite last year but he didn’t make the weekend and six of the top-nine in 2020 missed the cut last year.
John Rahm 13.5
Augusta Form 27-4-9-7-5
Current Form 3-10-21-17-55-9
Major Count – One
Last year’s US Open winner, and world number two, Jon Rahm, comes into the event under something of a cloud and he makes little appeal at the odds on offer.
Consistently ranking high with his tee-to-green game, the Spaniard hasn’t ben putting brilliantly this year but his record at Augusta is very good. His fifth last year was a particularly encouraging performance given it came so soon after the birth of his son as he would have been distracted and possibly fatigued.
Justin Thomas 15.5
Augusta Form 39-22-17-12-4-21
Current Form 20-8-6-33-3-35
Major Count – One
Justin Thomas was one of those to put in a disappointing effort last year after a strong performance in 2020 and he’s highly likely to improve on last year’s finish given he’s in better form than the figures suggest.
Thomas lost his way towards the end of the disjoined Players Championship last month but he threatened to defend that title and he finished third in the Valspar Championship the following week.
I wouldn’t read anything into his failure to progress out of the group at the WGC Matchplay last time out but it’s now five years since he won his one and only major, the US PGA Championship, and it’s a bit of a concern that he hasn’t won since last year’s Players.
Cameron Smith 17.016/1
Augusta Form 55-5-51-2-10
Current Form 4-1-MC-4-33-1
Major Count – None
Nicely rested after winning the Players and with a lovely bank of Augusta form, Cameron Smith has been very well-backed (from a high of 75.074/1) to win his first major.
He became the first man in history to shoot all four rounds in the 60s when a 140.0139/1 second to Dustin Johnson in 2020 and he could very easily become the second Aussie to don the famous Green Jacket but he’s too short for my liking now.
Scottie Scheffler 18.5
Augusta Form 19-18
Current Form 20-1-7-1-55-1
Major Count – None
Three wins in his last five starts have seen Scottie Scheffler go from being the best player not to have won the PGA Tour to officially the best on the planet but victory here would be another sizable leap and I’m not sure he’s ready for it.
Both his stroke-play victories, at the WM Phoenix Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational were from miles off the pace and his win last time out was in the WGC Match Play so although I’m being picky, he’s yet to win a stroke-play event the hard way.
Dustin Johnson 19.018/1
Augusta Form 30-38-38-13-MC-6-4-10-2-1-MC
Current Form 25-8-MC-9-39-4
Major Count – Two
Dustin Johnson is an attractive price at almost 20/1. He’s not the first to miss the cut when defending and he won’t be the last and if we ignore that, his recent form at Augusta is superb.
Horton Smith, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson all won their second Green Jacket two years after their first and DJ comes into the week in very decent form.
He reached the last four at the WGC-Matchplay last time out and he finished a very encouraging ninth in the Players last month. DJ has a largely poor record in Florida, with just one win in 34 starts and a top-ten % of only 17.6% so that was an eye-catching effort.
Rory McIlroy 22.021/1
Augusta Form 20-MC-15-40-25-8-4-10-7-5-21-5-MC
Current Form 12-3-10-13-33-MC
Major Count – Four
With two PGAs, an Open and a US Open title to his name, this is the one Rory McIlroy needs to complete the career Grad Slam but as every year ticks by, it feels that bit more elusive.
He came very close to winning the title way back in 2011 before his back-nine collapse saw him finish 15th and he’s had other chances since.
McIlroy doesn’t come into the event in sparkling form and he’s the only one of the market leaders that played the Valero Texas Open this week, where he missed the cut.
I’ll be back later in the week with the Find Me a 100 Winner column with a look at the outsiders but for now my only two picks are Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.
Spieth is currently in action in the Valero Texas Open, where he’s failed to defend the title, but his record here is so impressive I simply couldn’t leave him out at odds in excess of 20.019/1.
He’s not been the same confident player since he threw away the title back in 2016 when defending but with Augusta form figures reading 2-1-2-11-3-21-46-3, I thought he was worth chancing.
He hasn’t won anywhere since he won in Texas last year but he came very close to winning at Pebble Beach in February and he tends to repeatedly play well at certain venues. And Augusta is one he most certainly likes.
Dustin Johnson @ 19.5
Jordan Spieth @ 24.023/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter