It’s a huge week as the world will focus on Augusta National for the first major of the 2015 PGA Season – the Masters. In what is arguably the biggest golf contest of the year, DraftKings will be pushing their biggest PGA contest of all time – the $2.2M PGA Millionaire Maker.
The Masters is one of the most unique fields of the entire year. It’s usually around 90-100 players, and it includes a handful of older past champions who generally are there for the experience and not to compete. For this reason, just qualifying for the Masters is an achievement in itself. The cut line for this event is also unique. The cut still takes place after Friday, but only the top 50 plus ties, plus all those within 10 shots of the lead will play the weekend. The field this week contains all of the top players in the world. Late qualifiers include Paul Casey, Branden Grace and Anirban Lahiri. Tiger Woods also recently confirmed he will be playing.
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia
Par 72, 7400-7500 yards depending on setup
Augusta National was built on the site of an old tree sanctuary. It opened back in 1933 and all of its holes have names associated with its surroundings (trees, flowers etc.). Augusta National is a long par 72 course that contains a lot of elevation, fast greens with harsh edges and runoffs, and some water in very strategic places. It was redesigned in 2002 after Tiger Woods proved that new technology was simply making it too easy for the modern PGA player. The course now plays quite long, and the winning score has varied since then between -16 and +1 but has tended to fall in the -8 to -12 range most years. Weather conditions, as always, will play a large role in how the course plays. As of now, rain is in the forecast and could make for soft greens and allow for better scores.
Last Five Winners
2014 – Bubba Watson
2013 – Adam Scott
2012 – Bubba Watson
2011 – Charl Schwartzel
2010 – Phil Mickelson
What Will it Take to Succeed at Augusta National?
Augusta National is a true test of a player’s all-around game. Length is important, as the course contains many long par 4’s, and scoring well on the par 5’s is vital. However, the greens are some of the fastest on tour and contain many harsh slopes and elevations. Dealing with the length of the course and knowing the nuances of the greens are both vital to success. Because the course is so unique and presents so many different challenges for the players, experience playing Augusta is often one of the largest indicators of success. Not since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 has a first-timer ever won at Augusta.
Who has had Success Here?
Due to the difficulty of the course, it’s not surprising to see that even the best players have one or two blemishes on their record here. Additionally, because experience is such a huge factor, those who have played the course more should be given more consideration, even if they have a few missed cuts on their record. With that in mind, since 2007 Lee Westwood has made the cut here every single time (8 in a row) and landed finishes of 7-8-3-11-2 in that span. Countryman Ian Poulter has a very nice record at Augusta as well, having only missed one cut in 10 visits, while also landing two top ten’s in that span. Matt Kuchar has played at Augusta each of the past five years and never missed the cut, he’s landed 5-8-3 placings in the past three years. Adam Scott has been lights out on Augusta since he went to a long putter. He’s made the cut each of the past five years and posted a win and a 2nd in that span. And finally, since 2000, Tiger Woods has only finished outside of the top 6 on three occasions.
Who has Struggled Here?
Agai,n it’s important to emphasize that most players have had at least one poor trip to Augusta. Still, for some the course has proved to be consistently difficult. Keegan Bradley has played at Augusta three times now and went MC-54-27 in that span – he’s still figuring the course out. Sergio Garcia has played here every year since 2000 and does have three top tens but has also missed 4 cuts and finished outside the top 30 on five occasions. Zach Johnson won here in a huge upset in 2007, but since then he has missed three cuts and only cracked the top 20 once. Lastly, two time major winner Martin Kaymer has played the Masters 7 times. He’s missed four cuts and never finished better than 31st.
What Statistics are Important?
Due to the difficult nature of this test, there are several different statistics you could look at this week. Driving distance and strokes gained tee-to-green have been two of the most important statistics over time, especially when trying to find a winner. The last five years the winner has ranked 1-23-1-43-13 in driving distance on tour for the year. Similarly the winner over that span has also ranked 7-5-3-16-6 in strokes gained tee-to-green. Two other statistics I would keep in mind are par 5 scoring and three-putt avoidance. Scoring on the par 5’s is always vital to having a good week, as the par 5’s at Augusta are short and, in many ways, present the only real legitimate scoring chances the players get all week. Winners at Augusta over the past ten years have collectively gone -84 on the par 5’s. Three putt avoidance is also a good stat to use to help identify players who will be able to handle the very tricky and technical greens better than most.
It’s very easy to overthink things in a week like this. Look for players who have experience and have been playing solidly thus far in 2015. Use stats like three putt avoidance and par 5 scoring to help you identify some players who might be overlooked who may be good value plays for the week. Additionally, look to the top of the driving distance and strokes gained tee-to-green categories to help you decide who might be the best choice from the top tier of salary on Draftkings.
My Pick to Win: Dustin Johnson
Johnson may not have the brightest history at Augusta, but he absolutely has the game to succeed there. Johnson is currently ranked 1st in both driving distance and strokes gained tee-to-green on tour, which exemplifies just how well he is playing since his comeback. Johnson seems like a new player since his return, and I think this is the week he breaks through and lands his first major and the green jacket.