Phil Mickelson has said driving down Magnolia Lane and getting on the grounds at Augusta National Golf Club invigorates him and inspires him to play his best. Coming off a strong West Coast Swing, and having just won the WGC-Mexico Championship, Mickelson will be one of the favorites to win the 2018 Masters when it starts in three weeks.
But what do the numbers have to say about his chances of winning a fourth green jacket, and how does his current level of play compare to how he was playing before his Masters wins?
As the chart below reveals, Mickelson was playing at a very high level before the 2004 Masters, and in fact he led the PGA Tour in strokes gained: total (2.563) heading into that event.
He was driving and putting better before his win at the 2006 Masters, and his play from the fairway and around the green was nearly as good. But Lefty’s driving and short-game edge over the field were almost gone heading into the 2010 Masters. Surprisingly, he was giving away strokes on the green – he had a negative strokes gained: putting average heading into that Masters.
This season, through the Valspar Championship, the same chart shows that Mickelson’s ballstriking is at the same level as his previous pre-Masters winning seasons, and his short game is solid. But he is actually putting significantly better than he had before any of his wins at Augusta. Mickelson is ranked No. 2 in strokes gained: putting (1.082) this season, trailing only Jason Day.
Puzzlingly, through eight events this season, Mickelson is giving away strokes off the tee. He has a strokes gained: off-the-tee average of -0.098, which ranks 131st on the PGA Tour.
That rank and number are deceiving. As the chart below shows, after a terrible start to the season, Mickelson has driven the ball well in his most recent three starts and is two months removed from his awful driving week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
At TPC Scottsdale, Mickelson overcame a strokes gained: off-the-tee average of -0.98 and still earned a T-5 finish because his ballstriking from the fairways and putting were outstanding. He ranked sixth in that event five weeks ago in strokes gained: approach-the-green (1.159) and third in strokes gained: putting (1.7).
On the eve of his win in Mexico, Mickelson said, “I’m putting the ball in play better, my iron play is back, my short game is back, I’ve been putting well, so overall I’ve been playing well, and the scores are starting to reflect it.”
With no extreme rough at Augusta National, just a “second cut”, and the course traditionally set up to give players a chance to recover from poor tee shots, look for Mickelson to be able to hit a lot of drivers off the tees and not be penalized too harshly if he misses the fairways.
At 47, Mickelson would be the oldest winner of the Masters. But based on the numbers and the trend in his driving, the quality of his ballstriking and putting, and his experience around the course, there is no reason to think he will not be in the mix on the back nine Sunday. Gwk