The miraculous return of Tiger Woods to professional golf has made the 2022 Masters the most intriguing tournament in recent memory.
All eyes will be on El Tigre as he prowls around the azaleas of Augusta National – a course he knows better than anyone.
But can he win? That’s the ultimate question on everyone’s mind heading into the week.
Sportsbooks have certainly given him a chance as he ranks in the top 20 on most Masters odds lists, and it’s hard to count out a guy with five green jackets already hanging in his closet, no matter how long he’s been away from the game.
But whether you think Tiger can pull off the unthinkable, somebody will slip into a single-breasted, rye green number on Sunday evening. So, I thought it might be useful to look at what makes a Masters champion and if there are any commonalities that can point us toward who that might be this year.
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We’ll look at the last 10 Masters winners for this exercise, and nine of 10 were in their 20s or 30s. The outlier is, of course, Tiger, who won it in 2019 at 44. So, we think you con confidently knock off anyone 40+ from your list this year.
Defending or Previous Champion
Only three golfers in Masters history have won back-to-back championships: Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo. It hasn’t been done in 20 years. You can cross Hideki Matsuyama off the list, too. As for former winners, of the last 10, only Bubba Watson and Tiger had won previously.
Experience At The Masters
While it’s extremely unlikely we have a repeat champion at any point, let alone this season, there’s no doubt that knowledge of this golf course matters a great deal. The hilly, undulating nature of Augusta National means playing a lot of shots in awkward stances, hitting the ball above your feet, and needing to know where not to hit the ball as much as knowing where to hit it.
It should come as no surprise then that seven of the last 10 Masters champions had previously posted a top-10 result at Augusta and two of the other three finished inside the top 25.
Matsuyama, for example, finished T-11, 19th, T-32, T-13 in the four tournaments leading up to his win last year.
Dustin Johnson finished T-10 and T-2 the two years prior to his win.
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Form Heading Into The Masters
It turns out that playing well heading into the biggest tournament of the year is pretty important. And if we look back at the last 10 Masters winners, nine of them had posted a top-six finish in a major in one of the previous two seasons.
And while that shouldn’t be too surprising for the likes of Dustin Johnson, Tiger, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed or Bubba Watson (who won the Masters in 2012 and 2014), it might be surprising for the likes of Danny Willett and an older Sergio Garcia.
Willett actually finished tied for sixth in the 2015 Open Championship just a few months before his win at Augusta.
As for Garcia, he finished T-5 at the 2016 Open Championship a couple of majors prior to his win.
Adam Scott finished second in a now-famous collapse at the 2012 Open Championship prior to his 2013 Masters win.
The Role Of Statistics
Everyone talks about how important driving the ball is at Augusta, and how the accuracy of those drives doesn’t matter much because of how wide open the fairways are.
That would seem to be the case with most of the last 10 winners being known for being particularly long off the tee. So, we’re looking for a golfer who can bomb it.
Strokes Gained: Around The Green
While putting is a very important part of a solid round at Augusta, shots around the green are equally important, if not more so, because they set you up for easier putts.
Strokes Gained: Around the Green measures player performance on any shot within 30 yards of the edge of the green, and many previous Masters winners have been experts in this area.
Once again, we’re looking for a golfer currently proficient in this area.
If history is any indication, we’re looking for a golfer in his 20s or 30s who has finished in the top 10 in the Masters before, has recent major success, hits the long ball and is great around the greens.
There are a couple of guys who pop up when we consider that criteria.
Justin Thomas stands out immediately as he fits almost all of these criteria. Thomas is 28, finished fourth at the Masters in November 2020 (which is also his recent major success) and ranks pretty well in driving distance (16th) and SG: Around the Green (T-35th) this season.
Cameron Smith is another name to look out for. Smith is the right age, has finished T-10 or better in three of the last four Masters and is 21st in SG: Around the Green this season. The only knock on Smith’s game is his driving distance, which ranks outside the top 100 on tour this year.
Similar to Smith, Jon Rahm checks almost all the boxes. Rahm is young, has three finishes of T-9 or better in the last four Masters (he also won the U.S. Open and finished T-3 at the Open Championship last year) and is eighth on tour in driving distance. The knock on Rahm is his SG: Around the Green rank (170th), but he’s still the best golfer in the world and a worthy favorite.
Another couple of interesting names are Corey Conners and Si Woo Kim. Connors finished T-8 and T-10 in the last two Masters, is 30 years old, is 77th in driving distance and 105th in SG: Around the Green. Not the greatest stats, but respectable.
Kim, meanwhile, ranks tied for 41st in driving distance and 97th in SG: Around the Green (though he did finish fourth at the end of last season). And while Kim doesn’t have any results of T-6 or better at a major in his career, he did finish just outside the top 10 as a T-12 at last year’s Masters and has not been worse than T-34 in the last four tournaments at Augusta.