Master? I Hardly Knower

Been a few weeks but we are back in a big way with a tradition unlike any other. If the first word of the title did not give it away, its Masters week and I could not be more excited. *Stephan from SNL voice* this week will have everything. We’re talking Pimento cheese sandwiches, azaleas, a disturbingly low amount of squirrels roaming the grounds (seriously WHERE TF ARE THE SQUIRRELS), and I haven’t even gotten to the golfers.

Rory has his maybe best shot to win the green jacket and finally complete the coveted grand slam. Scottie is trying to be the first repeat winner since some guy named Tiger Woods (who will also be teeing it up for his quarterly golf tournament). And we got the LIV boys comingling with the PGA Tour for the first time in a major since the two tours solidified their rosters and their rivalry. The Masters Dinner hosted by Scottie will be awkward and I am here for it. Let’s get into it, what a week.

The Course

  • Course: Augusta National (Duh)
  • Location: Augusta Georgia (also Duh)
  • Designer: Dr. Alister MacKenzie with remodels throughout the years
  • Length: Par 72; 7,545 yards

Augusta National has the rare ability to adapt and evolve with the game of golf. Currently there is talk about the golf balls being nerfed due to the game becoming a driver/wedge sport, which is not the most exciting product in my opinion but my handicap is too high to even qualify me to be disparaged by Justin Thomas’s recent comments regarding the potential rule chance so I will skip most of that other conversation except to say if every course had the luxuries Augusta national had, the ball change would not be necessary. Augusta National is constantly adding yardage and challenges to their already challenging course. Golf Digest has an excellent interactive page that shows all the changes in Augusta National’s history, the most recent being a full remodel in 2011.

The most important changes were arguably made in the mid 2000s in what many called “Tiger Proofing” the course. I cannot go into the whole remodel (any of them) but the tiger proofing was so fierce, that left handed golfers won the Masters for the first, second, AND third times in the four years after Tiger went back to back in 01-02. Tiger won in 05 because he was Tiger Bleeping Woods. The most significant change in this year’s remodel saw the par 5 13th go from 510 yards to 545 yards. In prior years, the 13th hole was the easiest hole on the course, playing .23 strokes under par with it playing as low as .526 strokes under par in 2019. While a 545 yard par 5 will still keep it as a relatively easy hole, the dogleg left means a monster drive up the left side will be the only way to cut the corner now. It is more likely that we will see players play up the right side and try to get onto the green with a long iron now instead of past years where most players really only needed a mid iron to set up an eagle opportunity.

The is not a ton of detailed strokes gained data from Augusta (just 2021 and 2022), but (a massive data base that has a lot of golf data tools. I get a lot of my strokes gained data from there and if you want to do more with data and golf go check it out) found that the most correlated stat to finding success at Augusta National has been strokes gained tee-to-green. This is pretty common when you think about it, being good at getting to the green is going to be valuable anywhere, but RRG modeling has strokes gained tee-to-green being more important for success at Augusta National than any course on the PGA TOUR except one. Gaining ten strokes T2G is as close to a guaranteed top 5 as it gets and Brooks Koepka is the only player to gain more than three strokes T2G and miss the cut but that required losing over 5 strokes putting.

Augusta National has two more key course statistics ranked in the top ten of importance over all PGA TOUR courses. Driving distance at Augusta National is ranked 6th amongst all courses. The longer the course the more important it is to hit it far (nuggets like this are why y’all keep coming back) and Augusta is long and only getting longer.

Strokes gained around the green at Augusta national is ranked 7th. This sets up a fun dichotomy where it is vital to hit it far but touch around the green is just as important. Rory’s 2022 masters performance leads the around the green field with 7.76 strokes gained last year but both Hideki Matsuyama and Scottie Scheffler gained 5.8 strokes around the green in their victories. Once again Augusta National shows why they host one of the best sports events of the year. The around the green game is where the most excitement happens. Chip ins always get the crowd going and arguably Tiger’s most famous shot is the chip in on 16.

Less important is strokes gained putting. Scottie won gaining 2.85 strokes putting and Hideki won with less than 2 strokes gained putting while Danny Willett gained 8.52 strokes putting and left The Masters with 12th place finish (-2.12 strokes gained Tee to Green will do that). As mentioned with Brooks earlier, you cannot be a terrible putter (crosses off potential masters champion from my list of potential life moments) and hope to compete but the faster you’re on the green, the better.

Tee-to-green talent with an emphasis on driving distance and around the green play lines up with past winners. Scottie is a ball striking dynamo with a putter that can go cold, though it usually doesn’t go cold until after Augusta. As are Hideki, 2020 winner Dustin Johnson and 2019 winner Tiger Woods. It is the Masters so the best players in the world will be there. Who can master the tee to green game will walk away with the green jacket.

The LIVing it up at the masters

For the first time since Cam Smith took the Open Championship trophy and his talents to LIV Golf, the PGA Tour and the LIV tour will all be in the same place. We have seen guys from the two tours at the same European tournaments, where tees have been thrown and barbs have been traded but this is the first chance LIV has to prove they are more than a cash grab. 18 LIV golfers will be amongst the 80 teeing it up this week and while a green jacket would mean a lot to any of the guys there, a LIV player winning it will be LIV’s biggest moment yet. LIV is struggling right now. Their television ratings are abysmal and their golfers have been dropping down the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) because their tournaments are not seen as competitive events. LIV only plays 54 holes with no cuts and small fields. OWGR uses strength of field to rank players (among other metrics) so if the fields are not seen as competitive, LIV golfers could struggle to qualify for events like the Masters in the future. If LIV can leave Augusta with the last two major championship winners in their midst, they might finally be able to convince the golfing world that they are a competitive league.

But who can win for LIV. I have long said there is two real competitive golfers in LIV with a few halves. Cam Smith and Dustin Johnson are the two real competitors while Brooks and Bryson Dechambeau are half way competitive if you think they can return to major winning form. Brooks did win LIV Orlando this weekend after I wrote a majority of this section but data golf gave the win an xWin metric of 0.042 meaning Brooks’s strokes gained performance would have been good enough to lead a PGA Tour event just 4% (and that’s after 54 holes not 72). Guys like Joaquin Neiman and Abe Ancer are two excellent golfers that used to be fun medium/longshots in tournaments like these, but what little we can see from their recent form do not leave much hope. The two LIV tournaments this year (now three, thank god I did some proof reading) have been won by Danny Lee and Charles Howell III (and Brooks). Not to knock them but neither guy is anywhere near sniffing a Masters invitation with a combined 4 PGA tour wins before defecting and we just discussed Brooks. Should DJ, Cam, and the others mentioned win every LIV tournament? No of course not. But Bryson isn’t competitive anymore, spending more time at the range than actually playing golf, and while DJ and Cam have both played well for the most part, it is impossible to know if they are in competitive shape at this time. Cam has played 31 competitive rounds since the Open, and DJ has only played 24 rounds in that time. Contrast that to the trio of Rory (48), Rahm (60) and Scottie (60) who have all more than doubled DJ’s play and we can see a lot clearer who the PGA Tour players are right now. Tournament golf and paycheck golf are different things and the LIV guys have a lot of pressure to show LIV is true tournament golf. If the LIV guys miss the cut in droves, next year might not see many LIV guys at the invite only Masters. Not getting to play in the most important tournaments could see even less guys being willing to play for the LIV tour. LIV needs to have a good showing this weekend or it will be a DED tour.

The App

The masters app might legitimately be the greatest app of all time. During the filming of Full Swing, the Netflix documentary on the PGA TOUR, it was reported that Netflix executives described it as having the second best user interface of any app they’ve dealt with, a close second only to their own Netflix app. It is insane and unnecessary to have an app be that good for only one week of the year, but that’s the Masters. Get the app and join Loot Sports fantasy challenge. Winner gets probably nothing but hound me enough and I’ll send you a sleeve of golf balls.

Rory, the Green Jacket, and the Grand Slam

Of all the storylines, all the players, all the possibilities, nothing would be more important for the game and any individual player than Rory getting his first green jacket and completing the golf major grand slam. Rory finished second last year at Augusta but it took a final round 64 to vault him from +1 to -7, so yes he was second but it was a noncompetitive second place (few players in the world are better than Rory when he is out of contention on Sunday). That being said, the second place finish was his 7th top ten in his last nine masters appearances so the course success is about as good as it gets without a green jacket.

Not only has Rory had success at Augusta of late, he is playing some of the best golf of his career. Since winning the Tour championship last year, Rory has 8 top five finishes including two wins. A missed cut at the PLAYERS is the only red flag in a sea of success but he followed that poor showing with at the Match Play with revamped driver, a new putter, and a third place finish. Rory gained strokes across the board at Match Play (strokes gained data is weird but Rory spent Saturday 16 under over two rounds so the math checks out) and the PLAYERS missed cut definitely looks more like an outlier than a trend.

The problem for Rory is Scottie and Jon Rahm have both been as good if not better than him this year. All three were paired together at the PLAYERS and while Rahm left with an illness, Scottie won the thing gaining 17 strokes tee-to-green as Rory left before the third round started and Rahm has won 5 times this year already.

When LIV showed up and the PGA Tour was in panic mode, Rory stepped up as the (not so) shadow commissioner and righted the ship not just with his words, but with his play. Without him, who knows how many guys jump to LIV. Rory brought money and stability to the PGA tour and if this was a movie it would finish with him putting on the green jacket at the end of the week. For betting purposes, I would be most likely to take the big three vs. the field at +190 on draft kings or take whoever has the longest odds of the big three (currently Rahm at +850) but it would be nice to see Rory cap a really interesting 6 months for him with a green jacket and entrance into the grand slam club.

Scottie and the Menu

When I say ‘the menu” I don’t mean the excellent 2022 flick starring Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik and Anya-Joy Taylor as Margot, though it sounds like the Masters champion’s dinner hosted by Scottie will have more drama than the movie. As previously noted, this Masters tournament will feature all eligible LIV and PGA tour players and in the sparse interactions prior, it has been nothing short of catty between the two leagues. Patrick Reed threw a tee at Rory after Rory refused to acknowledge him at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic and a war of words has been nonstop whenever a journalist brings up the opposing tour. This all comes to a head at the Scottie’s dinner where everyone will be in the same room to “honor” Scottie and his dominant green jacket win last year. it is funny that the Masters dinner with the most potential for drama is being hosted by the most easy going man in the room. Brooks in the Full Swing Documentary on Netflix noted how Scottie is probably just going up there and hitting the ball without thinking, a compliment I promise. That is a good way to describe Scottie overall. He is just a guy that love golf and god. And his recent play has had him as an easy going golf god. They are golfers so I don’t expect many fireworks but I fear Chef Slowik would have an issue with Scottie’s menu selections.

Cheeseburger sliders (served Scottie Style whatever that is), firecracker shrimp, and tortilla soup as appetizers has Applebees across the country suing for copy right infringement and Ribeye steak or redfish for the main entre are not bad but not mind blowing, especially after Hideki’s phenomenal menu just a year prior. I will never say anything bad about a skillet cookie but milk and cookies ice cream as the topper is a choice. Scottie also has to give a speech that night which I expect to be “thank you for coming, let’s eat” as death stares are being fired around the room. I wonder what Chef Slowik would serve if he won the Masters?

Now for Scottie the golfer. Because I have a propensity to write about the favorites, Scottie has been written about quite a bit in my short time doing this but I will repeat what I say every time. If he gains strokes putting he will probably win the tournament. Scottie gained .11 strokes putting at THE PLAYERS and had the tournament in the bag by the back nine on Saturday. That is what happens when you gain SEVENTEEN strokes Tee-to-green. There are outliers who don’t win tournaments while gaining 16 or more strokes tee-to -green (Gary Woodland gained 21 strokes T2G in the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open and ended up T18 somehow) but if Scottie can gain anything near that many strokes T2G this week he will walk to his second consecutive green jacket.

Underrated in Scottie’s game is his around the green play. Not only is it consistently good, its incredibly clutch. Last year at the Masters, with Cam Smith charging, Scottie chipped in for birdie on three to go from 1 up on Cam Smith to basically clinching the title when Cam bogeyed from basically the same spot as Scottie’s chip in. He did the same this year at THE PLAYERS and there are countless more anecdotes of clutch chipping from Scottie. Yes, Rory gained more around the green last year than Scottie did at the Masters but that was buoyed by two garbage time chip ins (really though, Rory’s second place finish last year was offensively fake) but Scottie’s wedges are always there for him as a weapon to swing momentum his way in one of the few sports where I actually think momentum matters.

Winning back-to-back Masters does not happen often. The last guy to win consecutive years was (you guessed it) Tiger Woods in 01-02 and while Scottie has already defended a Phoenix Open this year, the burden of being the Masters Champ is a lot for anyone. There’s the dinner, more interviews than anyone would want to do and having to put the green jacket on the new winner among so many other obligations, it’ll make you forget you’re there to golf. But if anyone can repeat it is Scottie. He should be around the top of the leaderboard on Sunday and it will be interesting to see if he can put the green jacket on himself.

Masters Top Twelve

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Rory Mcilroy
  3. Jon Rahm
  4. Jordan Spieth
  5. Cameron Young
  6. Xander Schauffele
  7. Patrick Cantlay
  8. Max Homa
  9. Colin Morikawa
  10. Jason Day
  11. Sungjae Im
  12. Tony Finau

Final Player thoughts

Jordan Spieth

It has been eight years since Jordan won the Masters with a then Masters record -18 under par but his recent play has Spieth fans thinking this year could be the year Spieth finally puts the green jacket back on. In 2015 Jordan lost to two golfers over three tournaments before his Masters victory, so while his recent form is not nearly that good, 3 top fives in his last 6 show he is trending the right way. And his strokes gained data backs it up. With Jordan, it is very clear when he is not playing well. If the approach play is not there, neither is Jordan. But he’s been positive on approach for six straight weeks and his putter has been much better coming into the Masters this year than it has in years past. Jordan is always going to hit some “WTF” but his creativity and short game wizardry will always be there to bail him out. If he can get closer to playing “boring golf” and his putter comes through, Jordan can absolutely get back into the green jacket.

Cameron Young

I am at the point with Cam Young where I will fall for the upside every time until it cashes. He has been right there so many times, in so many big spots. Eight top three finishes in his first year plus on the PGA Tour, competing with the putter some weeks and the ball striking in others showing he has all the tools. yet, he is still without his first win as a Tour member. His lack of winning is the only reason why I am not all in on Young to win this week. Cam is coming off a second place finish at the Match play where he was arguably the best player on the course right up until he got beat 6&5 by Sam Burns in the championship match. It would be cool to see Cam win at Augusta for his first Tour victory but I just can’t imagine his first win being his biggest win.

The winner

Here we are now at the only reason why you read the previous 8 sections, to see who I will absolutely pick correctly to win the Masters. My “heart” wants to see Sungjae Im get the win and by heart I mean my 50-1 masters victory ticket that is sitting in my virtual wallet. Sungjae absolutely has the game to win here. He has finished top ten in 2 of the last three Masters and has positive strokes gained numbers across the board and his recent form is trending towards a Sungjae at the top of the leader board week. But I am not here to make a decision based off my own financial gains, instead I am here to make decisions based off a gut feeling verified by data (this is a lot of sarcasm for the written word). That is why I am announcing Colin Morikawa as the 2023 Masters champion. Colin has dominated two separate majors in an “oh my god ” fashion that had many thinking he’s he was about to be Tiger (or as close to Tiger as a human can be). But since the 2021 Open, Morikawa has been great, but he’s just been another one of the guys out there. Colin has been great tee-to-green every week the wind does not show up and while the weather is going to be cruddy in Augusta (something I assumed Augusta National just paid off god to keep the weather nice), it doesn’t look like the wind will be a major factor, especially if he gets PM/AM Thursday/Friday tee time. The putter has been inconsistent but but Colin’s recent T2G play mixed with a neutral to positive putter, would put Colin in contention. An old draft of this said Rahm, but where’s the fun in that? Everyone and their mom picked one of the big three or Spieth this week so I am here to tell you that Colin Morikawa will don the green jacket at the end of a wet and (hopefully) wild 2023.

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