By the numbers: Momentum heading into Masters may be overrated

Mar 29, 2018; Humble, TX, USA; Phil Mickelson of the United States sets up his putt on the tenth green during first round of the Houston Open golf tournament at Golf Club of Houston - The Tournament Course. Mandatory Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports John Glaser/USA TODAY Sports

By the numbers: Momentum heading into Masters may be overrated

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By the numbers: Momentum heading into Masters may be overrated

Any golfer who received mail in late December from the Augusta National Golf Club, inviting him to take part in the 2018 Masters, cherishes the letter. It signifies that they did something special, such as win a PGA Tour event or a prestigious amateur tournament, or attained a high world ranking.

Some golfers will drive down Magnolia Lane this week on a hot streak, having won a tournament or recently finished high on a few leaderboards. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson has won twice in 2018. Three-time winner Phil Mickelson won a World Golf Championship and had a strong West Coast Swing. Last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year, Justin Thomas, has climbed to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking thanks to winning the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges and Honda Classic, losing in a playoff to Mickelson at the WGC-Mexico Championship and finishing fourth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Other achievements that earned players a spot in the field at this week’s Masters may have taken place a long time ago. For example, China’s HaoTong Li is playing this week because he was among the top four finishers at last July’s British Open. Martin Kaymer got his invitation because he has won a U.S. Open within the previous five years – the German’s exemption for winning the 2012 U.S. Open at Pinehurst runs out after this season’s Masters.

Recent results not always reliable

Given a choice, any competitor would rather enter the Masters playing at a high level, but when it comes to forecasting how well a golfer will fare at Augusta National, recent results are surprisingly un-predictive.

Only two golfers won their previous start before winning the Masters: Tiger Woods in 2001 (Players Championship) and Phil Mickelson in 2006 (BellSouth Classic).

Factoring in the position of players when they missed the cut, the table below shows that since 2000, the average finishing position for a Masters winner in the last tournament he played before his triumph was 28.71. (Bubba Watson withdrew from the 2014 Arnold Palmer Invitational due to effects of allergies and medication after shooting 83.)

The average finishing position of Masters winners two events before winning was 19.83, and the average three events before winning was 19.94.

Some years, it seemed almost inevitable that a player was going to win the Masters, like in 2015 after Jordan Spieth finished second, second and first at the three tournaments he played before winning. Woods finished first, first and 13th before winning his third Masters in 2001, and Watson finished fourth, second and second before he came through in 2012 to win his first.

Vijay Singh did not enter the 2000 Masters on form, having finished tied for 33rd at the Players Championship, tied for 29th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 50th at the Honda Classic. But he still slipped into a green jacket after defeating Ernie Els by three shots.

Missed cuts are OK, too

Several golfers missed the cut in tune-up events before winning at Augusta, including Angel Cabrera. The Argentine tied for 32nd at the Honda Classic, then missed the cut at Bay Hill and the Shell Houston Open before winning the 2009 Masters.

Before Mike Weir won the 2003 Masters, he missed the cut by finishing tied for 103rd after two rounds at the BellSouth Classic. The week before Trevor Immelman won the 2008 Masters, he finished tied for 73rd after two rounds at the Shell Houston Open and missed the cut.

Golfers who have won this year such as Watson, Mickelson, Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Jon Rahm rightfully will be considered among the favorites this week at Augusta National. It can be a tough place to find your confidence. But past results have shown players can come to the course off-form and still win. Gwk

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