Augusta National, like no other venue tests a player’s patience, persistence, and concentration. To win The Masters, players need to contend for 63 holes then charge on the back nine on Sunday. More important than shooting a very low round is avoiding a bad day. A deep dive into the tournament archives reveals that over the last 60 years, avoiding one bad number has been the key to Masters victory.
Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest Masters player of all time. From 1959 through 1993, Jack had only three rounds of 77 or worse in 125 played; just incredible consistency. He won with two 74s on the card in 1963 and a 76 in the second round in 1966. But when players card a 77, it’s basically over. In the last 62 years, only Nick Faldo in 1989 has won the tournament after recording a 77 for one of his four rounds. Go back to Sam Snead in 1952, for the next round of 77, to find another champion. So as we don our green jackets and settle into marathon coverage with our pimento cheese sandwiches, know that as soon as your favorite shoots 5-over for the day, he’s cooked. Just ask Greg Norman (1996) how that works.
For 2015, let’s see who can avoid the big number and who’s primed to win it. Get your Calcutta ready.
Group 1: “Masters Champions.” (Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods) Adam Scott has shot three 77s or worse in 48 Masters rounds, but none since 2008. Good recent consistency, ball striking is in excellent form, but his putting is horrible after switching from the broomstick. Might make the cut, but you gotta roll the rock. He will not contend. Defending champion Bubba Watson is in excellent form. Bombs it off the tee, short game is razor sharp, 2/24 at 77 or worse with rounds in 2011 and 2013 respectively, and he’s controlling his emotions. Great value play at 10/1 odds. Three time champion, Phil Mickelson has played 84 Masters rounds and fired only two at 77 or worse; amazing consistency for the proverbial roller coaster rider. But Lefty will hit 45 years old in June and hasn’t been in good form over the past two Masters. Scores are going up with age. Maybe he makes the cut. Tiger Woods; no chance. Just listed as a courtesy.
Group 2: “Other Major Winners.” (Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose) Rory McIlroy brings the Air 3-Iron show to Georgia and is a bit off mentally. Game is suited for Augusta with his high ball flight, but five of 22 Masters rounds are at 77 or worse; with one each in the last five tournaments. Enough talent to finish top-10 in his sleep, but I want to see him get over the psychological dumpster on this track before I ride him. Martin Kaymer has only one 77 out of 20 rounds but has never finished higher than 31st. You need to be a great chipper to win at Augusta. Kaymer is not and is more comfortable putting from off the green. I don’t like the fit. He will make the cut but bide his time waiting to defend at the U.S. Open. Justin Rose has only three bad rounds out of 36 and has never missed a Masters cut. Last five years have all been top-25 finishes. Is moving in the right direction and is more seasoned with pressure since his U.S. Open victory. Will be in the top-10.
Group 3: “First Major?” (Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Ricky Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Jason Day) Matt Kuchar has the best shot in this cast. His short game and putting could be best on tour and the ex-Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is very comfortable on the grounds. Could be his year but he already feels overdue. Dustin Johnson is playing great but doesn’t have the short game to win here. Sergio Garcia has a long record of futility at Augusta. Six bad rounds out of 54 were mostly early in his career, but he’s got that choke mentality on the back nine on Sunday and that’s where The Masters is won. Ricky Fowler tied for fifth last year and has not missed a cut in his four appearances. With only one bad round in 16, I look for a top-10. Henrik Stenson is the world’s #2 player, but as Judge Smails said in Caddyshack, “Some people just don’t belong.”
Henrik hasn’t belonged at Augusta because the course is in his head. He’s got three rounds in the 80s and five at 77 or worse out of 30. Awesome ball striker but historically poor around the greens, despite some improvement this year. Despite the angst, he’ll rebound and post a top-20. I keep asking myself when Jordan Spieth will win a major. He’s always in contention, but burns a little hot at times and must control his temper in this event. He’s not the straightest ball striker but that won’t hurt him at Augusta. Missing 3-5 foot putts will, and I’m not sure he’s sold on this looking at the hole part time putting method. If he figures it out, could win it. Patrick Reed is not one of the top five players in the world but is in the top 10. Awesome in match play format but has a very short Masters history. Needs more seasoning and will not contend this year. Jason Day was my pick last year and continues to disappoint. Always gets close and seems to make back-to-back bogeys at the wrong time. Flights it high like Rory and is suited for the venue, but struggles to control his distances on short irons. Miss with too many wedges here and you can’t win it. Look for another top-10.
Winner: Bubba Watson to repeat and weep.
Runner Up: Jordan Spieth cools his jets and gets closer than ever
Third: Rory McIlroy keeps all his clubs in the bag, breaks the bad number streak, but no career slam this year
Who do you like?