These stats show Rory McIlroy is ready to win the Masters

Rory McIlroy Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

These stats show Rory McIlroy is ready to win the Masters

By The Numbers

These stats show Rory McIlroy is ready to win the Masters

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As Rory McIlroy walked under the bleachers that separate the 17th green and the 18th tee, Dan Hicks, NBC’s play-by-play man in the 18th tower noted that only a third of the field had hit the 18th green in regulation on Sunday. Holding a one-shot lead, no one would have criticized McIlroy if he decided to hit a 3-wood off the tee.

Paul Azinger, NBC’s lead golf analyst, said, “He drives it as well as anyone in the world.”

Statistically, that’s true, as McIlroy ranked No. 1 in strokes gained off the tee heading into last week’s Players Championship. But with water running down the left side of the 18th hole, Azinger added, “This is a real killer, this tee shot, and I think if you’re Rory, at this point, you don’t need driver.”

Arriving on the tee and putting a glove on his left hand, McIlroy did not hesitate.

“He’s taking the big stick Zing,” Hicks squealed. Seconds later, McIlroy ripped a 288-yard drive that never went anywhere but straight.

“Right down the center,” called Jim Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s former caddie who now is an on-course analyst.

From 158 yards out, Rory hit his approach shot to 12 feet, took two putts and was the 2019 Players Championship winner.

As well as McIlroy has been playing this season, with six top-10 finishes in seven PGA Tour starts, this was his first victory. Now, with the Masters looming just three weeks away, speculation is running wild that this could finally be the year Rory wins at Augusta and completes the career Grand Slam.

He certainly passes the eye test, with a power game that appears perfectly suited to win on a long, open course like Augusta National, but how does his current game compare to recent winners on the eve of their victories?

The chart below shows McIlroy’s strokes gained statistics, along with the same stats for five of the last six Masters champions heading into Masters they won. (Danny Willett had only played eight measured rounds before the 2016 Masters and did not have official stats before he won.) As you can see, from an analytical perspective, Rory is playing at a higher overall level than all of them were before they slipped into a green jacket.

All of the recent Masters champions, with the exception of Patrick Reed, could be considered excellent drivers, but McIlroy’s strokes gained off the tee average (1.308) is bigger than the edge Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott enjoyed. McIlroy’s strokes gained approach the green average, which is a measure of effectiveness from the fairway, is also higher than each of these five recent winners.

Jordan Spieth was a marksman with his putter heading into the 2015 Masters, but it might surprise some to see that McIlroy’s strokes gained putting average this season is a respectable 0.326 (57th on the PGA Tour), better than Reed’s was heading into the 2018 Masters.

Great stats are not going to help McIlroy overcome the demons of Augusta National’s back-nine, but after winning at TPC Sawgrass for the first time he is playing at a level that could earn him a fifth career major and the tournament that he covets above all others.

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