In 1953, Ben Hogan set the Masters record with a 72-hole score of 274. The following year Sam Snead won with 289. A strong young buck from Ohio named Jack Nicklaus shattered Hogan’s record in 1965, firing 271, playing a brand of golf unfamiliar to Bob Jones and everyone else. The next year, Nicklaus became the first to successfully defend the title, but his winning score was 17 shots higher.
Jordan Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ record of 270 in 2015. The following year Spieth let the green jacket slip away on the 12th hole and Danny Willett closed strong to win — at 283.
Notice the trend? Augusta National can be tamed. But it usually bites back.
After world No. 1 Dustin Johnson destroyed the defenseless course five months ago in the first fall Masters, expect a similar scenario to unfold this week, if the weather cooperates. The field has set records for scoring average each of the last two years, and for the first time in tournament history the winning score has been 13 under or better in three consecutive years.
Don’t expect a U.S. Open to break out in Augusta this week and it will still likely require a double-digit under-par total to join the exclusive club of champions. Just don’t expect another onslaught. The greens are certain to be firmer than they were last fall when three inches of rain on Thursday morning turned them from soft to mushy. Essentially every veteran asked about the conditions said this has the potential to be the fastest, firmest Masters in recent memory. Kevin Kisner described them as “a little spicy” — on a Monday morning.
Some other notes: In seven of the last eight years the Masters winner was ranked in the top 12 in the world. Patrick Reed is the outlier but he was in the top 25. The last two champions led the field in greens in regulation. Recent champions Garcia, Willett and Spieth were also in the top six in that area.
Keep an eye on the weather. After warm, dry practice days, there’s a chance of rain each round of the tournament (30-50 percent) with the possibility of Friday thunderstorms and gusting winds (please, golf gods!) on the weekend.
We emphasized the fast, firm greens in our models this week and put a focus on recent performance, past performance at Augusta National, performance on long par 4s and all par 5s, in particular the four beauties on this Alister Mackenzie design. Surviving the 1st, 5th, 10th and 11th holes is a good formula for victory and avoiding disasters is also imperative. It’s difficult to remain in contention if your ball keeps falling into the water.
The Bargain Bin
- Matt Kuchar, Max Homa, Sebastian Munoz, Ryan Palmer, Matt Wallace
We also added a pair of bonus plays this week. You only come to Augusta in the springtime once a year.
As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
27. Webb Simpson – He’s 30-under par on the par 5s the last three years and has made five of his six eagles in that span on those holes. Learned how to play the course (T-20, T-5, T-10). Hasn’t hit enough greens in regulation to be a serious threat, never ranking better than 21st in the field in the category. Has two top 10s in five events in 2021.
26. Joaquin Niemann – Was forced to withdraw from the 2020 Masters due to a positive COVID-19 test, but he’s a smart selection with terrific value this week. Missed the cut in 2019 as the world’s top-ranked amateur but his game has evolved since. Finished outside the top 30 only once in his last seven tournaments.
25. Louis Oosthuizen – Lost in a playoff in 2012, missed the cut the following year and has made the last seven cuts, finishing in the top 25 five times. Ranks 12th in the field in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds anywhere, eighth in SG: Around the Greens (firm conditions) and 13th in par-5 efficiency over the last 36 rounds. Hasn’t played them particularly well in recent Masters, although he’s second in par-4 scoring (450-500 yards).
24. Lee Westwood – Has made the cut in 16 of 19 Masters appearances, posting six top 10s including a T-2 in 2016 and T-3 in 2012. Gained 6.3 and 4.4 strokes on approach in his back-to-back runner ups in Florida last month and the short game was also sharp. Keep an eye on the weather. He’ll be tough if the conditions remain firm and fast. He’s third in the field on par 4s between 450-500 yards.
23. Jason Day – Missed the cut in the fall Masters but prior to that had six top 25s in the previous seven starts here. Historically scores well on these par 5s. Approach play is obviously critical at Augusta National and he gained 2.2 strokes on the field at the Players. Sounded confident and said his body feels great in pre-tournament interviews.
22. Paul Casey – Seems to be in a good place with his attitude and the results speak for themselves. Has been no worse than T-12 in six worldwide starts in 2021 with a victory in Dubai against a solid field. He’s finished in the top 10 in 5 of 14 Masters appearances and is third in the field in SG: Approach in the last 36 rounds on firm greens.
21. Tony Finau – He’s 33 under on the 48 par 5s he’s played in four Masters appearances. That’s the good news. The models, fueled by his early 2021 success and past record here (two top 10s in three starts) love him. But the game hasn’t been as strong of late (two missed cuts and failed to advance out of group at WGC-Match Play).
20. Sungjae Im – Flourished in Masters debut (T-2 in 2020), has finished 28th or better in his last five starts on the PGA Tour and should be fresh following a rare week off. His poor iron play of late is troubling (has been worse than the field average in four of the last five starts).
19. Daniel Berger – Has to be excited (too much so?) to drive down Magnolia Lane for the first time since 2018. Not great in SG: Approach on firm greens (57th in the field) but he’s a gamer who has been 32nd or better in three previous Masters appearances. Hard to exclude considering how well he’s played since the Tour resumed last June.
18. Viktor Hovland – Earlier this week, I watched him grinding on his pitching in a quiet spot at the Augusta National practice facility. Cooled off after a torrid run in the early months of the season but his strength tee-to-green (seventh in ballstriking over last 50 rounds) can’t be overlooked. Finished T-32 as an amateur in 2019.
17. Cameron Smith – Made tournament history with four rounds in the 60s in November, taking advantage of the docile course. But proved he can play the course in firmer conditions in 2018, tying for fifth. He’s 11th in the field in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds anywhere and is fourth in the field in par-5 scoring.
16. Corey Conners – He’s finished in the top 20 in four of his last five starts, including a pair of top 10s and was T-10 in the fall. Would love his chances this week if his short game was sharper but the good news is he doesn’t miss many greens – fourth in SG: Approach, firm conditions. Never bad to arrive at Augusta in good form.
15. Xander Schauffele – After a year of remarkable consistent golf, enters the week on the heels of three poor efforts in a row. Still, thrives on the par 4s and is 15th in SG: Approach on firm greens. Tied for second here in 2019 and T-17 in the fall.
14. Brooks Koepka – He said the knee is fine. Swing looked solid on the practice tee on Monday and he’s a four-time major champion. Has finished 11-2-7 in his last three trips to the Masters. Leads the field in par-5 scoring over the last 36 rounds. Won in Scottsdale and finished second in the WGC-Workday in two of the last three starts.
13. Hideki Matsuyama – Main weakness in recent weeks has been the occasional errant drive but those aren’t as penal at Augusta National. Iron play is stellar and has five top 25s in last six Masters appearances.
12. Collin Morikawa – Leads the PGA Tour in SG: Approach, is third in birdies per round (4.69) and 10th in par-4 scoring average (3.96). Experimented with a right-to-left ball flight and struggled to T-44 in the 2020 Masters. Returning to his stock fade this week and is focused on producing perfect speed on the greens.
11. Sergio Garcia – Since his victory in 2017, has two missed cuts and a WD due to COVID-19. But his iron play was incredible in his last two starts, gaining eight shots on approach at the Players and more than six at the WGC-Workday. Believe his experience will be an asset in firmer conditions.
10. Si Woo Kim – Only three players are in the top 15 in SG: Approach and SG: Around-the-Green over the last 50 rounds on the PGA Tour — DJ, Thomas and Kim. Has finished 24-21-34 in last three Masters starts. Making a fifth appearance.
9. Bryson DeChambeau – Still not sure what to make of DeChambeau at Augusta National considering he’s played the par 5s only slightly better than the field average in his last 16 Masters rounds — although he’s trending upward there. (17 under the last two years). Struggled with distance control in the fall. Never better than T-21 in four Masters.
8. Rory McIlroy – He’s finished in the top 10 in six of his last seven Masters and earns a career Grand Slam with a victory. He ranks in the top 25 of every category in our model and finished in the top 10 in his last two tour starts. Maybe this is the year, when he’s flying completely under-the-radar entering the event. He has a 70.65 scoring average in the last five Masters.
7. Dustin Johnson – Nobody has played Augusta National better of late — 39 under in last 12 rounds with a runner-up, a win and five consecutive top 10s. So it’s hard to fade him too far. He can certainly find a groove at any moment but has sputtered of late with only one top 10 on the PGA Tour in 2021. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum from where his game was in November.
6. Patrick Cantlay – Loves putting on fast, undulating greens and possesses the ideal temperament and ball control to succeed here (T-9, T-17 the last two years). Ended a string of six consecutive top 20s with a missed cut at the Players, played well at the WGC-Match Play but didn’t escape his group. Spoke earlier this week about how the course engages his imagination.
5. Patrick Reed – The 2018 champion finished T-10 last November. Leads the field in par-4 scoring (450-500 yards) over the last 36 rounds. He’s also 10th in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds and has thrived on the par 5s in recent Masters. Can scramble as well as anyone in pro golf.
4. Matthew Fitzpatrick – Playing his seventh Masters and has only one top 10 to his credit. Inconsistent iron play hampered his efforts in recent appearances, however, he led the field in greens in regulation in 2016 when he was T-7. And in this field he’s eighth in SG: Approach on firm greens over the last 36 rounds. He’s finished 11th or better in his last four stroke-play starts.
3. Jon Rahm – Has finished in the top 10 in each of his three Masters appearances and celebrated the birth of his first child, a son, over the weekend. He’s in the top 10 in six of the seven categories on our model. Earlier this week, a veteran Tour caddie told me Rahm’s power and touch will produce multiple green jackets. No one should be surprised if he’s fitted for the first one on Sunday.
2. Jordan Spieth – And to think, weeks ago I was reluctant to welcome the young Texan back to the Power Rankings. Obviously, he earned his position and confirmed it, winning in his home state in convincing fashion last week. His record at Augusta National is phenomenal, of course. He’s 43 under in seven starts with a win, two runner ups and a third. What a story it would be on Sunday if he’s battling his friend listed below.
1. Justin Thomas – He’s trending upward at the Masters with these finishes the last five years: 39-22-17-12-4 Has bettered par in seven of the last eight rounds at Augusta National and over the last 50 rounds on Tour leads the field in SG: Approach and is fifth in SG: Around-the-Green. Has been at least 7 under on the par 5s in his last four Masters appearances. Elite iron play and pitching is a winning combination at Augusta.