The Masters Eliminator 2015
It's always an informative exercise to sift through a golf field, especially a Major, and in lieu of trying to pick the winner to instead try and eliminate players from consideration. It certainly makes for a simpler betting and fantasy focus if one can find a way to make those eliminations!
This approach is especially relevant for events such as The Masters where the course and associated traditions and activities have remained largely unchanged over the years.
Some Potential Eliminatory Data
Nationality: Europeans have won 11 Masters starting with Seve in 1980 up to Olazabal's 2nd win in 1999, but have won none since; it's therefore comfortable to oppose Euro's again this year.
Par 3 Contest: Of superficial interest is that the winner of the traditional Par 3 Contest has, since its inception in 1960, never gone on to win The Masters so, if you believe in that type of trend, wait until Wednesday's results are through to help eliminate at least one more player from your consideration!
Consistency: The past four Masters winners (Schwartzel, Watson, Scott & Watson) all displayed the same remarkable consistency during the lead-in to their wins with: with no missed cuts and at least 50% of their starts resulting in Top10's prior to winning their Green Jackets.
First-Timers: In the entire history of The Masters only one first-timer, Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, won. Newbies can thus be discounted.
Age: Jack Nicklaus, famously, won at the age of 46 but there have been no Nicklaus's around since Tiger Woods succumbed to injury. In fact, since Mark O'Meara won in 1998, no player aged 40 or over has won The Masters and professional golf at the top level has been steadily becoming a younger player's game.
A course 'apprenticeship' does seem to be a prerequisite at Augusta National. Since the turn of the century all winners had previously placed at worst 32nd (Zach Johnson; 2007) at a prior Augusta visit.
Longshots: I've been pre-pricing The Masters since 1993 and no player has won during the intervening years who rated longer than 150.00 with me so those longer shots (typically more than half the field) can be discarded from consideration with some confidence.
Let's go: Ok, now that some ground rules have been laid they can be allied with important course specific requirements such as: driving, scrambling and putting to underpin the elimination exercise.
Eliminator #1 - Price
Starting with the current 99-player field, we firstly sweep away players I rate 150.00 or longer. This immediately disposes of 57 players, including notable names such as: GMac, Dubuisson, Stricker, Couples, Ogilvy & Singh.
Eliminator #2 - Age
Among the remaining 42 players, those 40 and over 'oldies' go next and we lose 5 terrific players, all of whom will be on many persons' Masters shortlists: Westwood, Cabrera, Mickelson, Harrington & Furyk! So now we're down to 37 theoretical winning chances.
Eliminator #3 - Missed Cuts
As pointed out above, in recent years there has been no Green Jacket for players who have missed a cut since New Year. It's a very harsh rule, as anybody can have an off-week, but recent history supports such a criterion.
Among this group of discards we lose some highly notable names: Spieth, McIlroy, Schwartzel, Kaymer, Dustin & Zach Johnson, Scott, Rose, Stenson, Snedeker & Garcia. And Tiger Woods.
Now, suddenly, we have just 9 names left, a vastly more manageable number! They are, in order of favouritism: Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Brooks Koepka, Ryan Moore & Hunter Mahan.
Eliminator #4 - Course Form
Applying the course form 'rules' we now have to wave a reluctant goodbye to two of the absolute young guns of world golf: the only remaining course debutant (Brooks Koepka) and Patrick Reed who has a missed cut in his only prior start at Augusta. Now we're down to 7.
Eliminator #5 - Form since the starts of 2015
Here we say goodbye to players who fail to meet the '50% of starts resulting in Top10's' in 2015 standard.
Firstly, we very easily lose Hunter Mahan & Rickie Fowler who both have zero Top10's so far this year; you simply can't win The Masters off that sort of mediocre form background; Augusta will find you out!
Secondly, we say goodbye to: Matt Kuchar & Ryan Moore who both lack the required amount of that Top10 form.
It must be said that losing these two at this point makes absolute sense to me as Kuchar and Moore would otherwise also be downgradable for reasons of:
Perennial Major under-achievement (Kuch) and; Shortish driving distance (Moore; 279yds).
Both, however, having survived the cut to this point might perhaps merit a Top10 or Top20 bet.
Well, just three players are left. None are Europeans and all meet every rule applied thus far. They are: Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker & Jason Day and these three now merit closer scrutiny.
It's interesting that all three remaining contenders have strong negatives associated with them:
Bubba is coming off an interrupted preparation due to the death of a close friend;
Jimmy has never felt that 'Major-heat' down the stretch on a Sunday afternoon, nor has he ever won a Major while;
Jason is perceived as somewhat fragile or injury-prone & an Augusta nearly-man with a close 2nd behind Schwartzel in 2011 & 3rd behind the Scott-Cabrera playoff in 2013 among his four starts to date.
Some people would say that Bubba winning back-to-back Masters is highly improbable but I'd counter by pointing out that he's already had exposure to the extra distraction of being the defending champion and it's been done before by: Woods, Faldo & Nicklaus.
So, we have:
A 36-y-o 'veteran' with six Augusta starts including two wins;
A late-developing 36-y-o 'youngster' with just last year's 8th on his Augusta resumé plus;
A much younger 27-y-o Aussie who has proved he can handle the course over four visits.
We could try and separate them on quality (ie PGA Tour) wins, where Bubba predominates, but it's not exactly a simple conclusion to draw:
Bubba has recorded 7 wins since his first in 2010. These include two Masters and he's won 4 of 5 playoffs in which he has been involved, so we know he can handle pressure;
Jimmy, after 187 winless starts on the PGA Tour, has won five times (and lost a playoff; to Reed) since breaking through in October 2013 while;
Jason has just 3 career wins (& a playoff loss) though 9 years younger. Among his wins are a playoff triumph and an extra holes World Matchplay victory, suggesting he's not exactly shaky under pressure either.
The ability to drive it long is paramount at Augusta and inspection of the driving distance stats for this season to date tells us that there's little to choose between these three 'bombers':
Bubba is hitting it 309yds on average;
Jimmy 301yds and;
The ability to shape drives with a right-to-left draw, or in Bubba's case a fade, is of material assistance on at least four holes at Augusta and Bubba thus wins narrowly in the driving stakes assessment.
Silky and superior putting skills are paramount on what are always fast, sometimes lightning fast, bermuda / rye greens. A look at the 'Total Putting' stats for this season tells us that:
Bubba ranks 11th;
Jimmy 9th and;
In the related, and arguably more significant, category 'Overall putting average' the rankings are:
Jimmy 36th and;
In summary, Jason Day loses ground when contemplating putting, while Bubba clearly comes out on top. In fact, putting is so important that this alone could be argued to be sufficient to elevate Walker above Day in these rankings!
The ability to get out of trouble and up-and-down is just about as critical as scoring birdies & eagles at Augusta National. Examination of the 'Scrambling' stats for this season to date tells us:
Bubba ranks 2nd;
Jimmy 84th and;
Watson, who has a strong propensity for getting into and out of trouble, and Day thus predominate while Walker loses ground in this category.
So, Who Will Win?
In selecting Bubba Watson to win The Masters it's firstly necessary to convince oneself that he can overcome the recent death of a (very) close friend and the resultant upsetting of what would have been a carefully planned playing schedule - resulting in him missing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and thus entering Masters Week not having played competitively since the Cadillac (5-8 March).
That said, if any golfer on the planet can ignore distractions and just go out and simply play his natural game with freedom, that player is arguably Bubba Watson, and he did withdraw from Bay Hill, though under different circumstances, prior to winning The Masters last year!
Thus, for reasons of: his personality type, his Major record versus the other two and his superior driving, scrambling & putting stats Gerry Lester Watson Jr's the winning selection here.
If you believe his pre-tournament disruptions will have a significant impact on his scoring then Jimmy Walker's your man!
It feels utterly bizarre to have gone through an entire eliminatory process without spending time on the golfer of his generation, Tiger Woods, the next best, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger's heir apparent, Rory McIlroy!
We all know about Tiger's travails and we all want him back playing and in contention. However, I hope that he, as a proud man and fierce competitor, doesn't run the unnecessary risk of global ridicule and humiliation by playing Augusta first-up since early February and potentially flunking or walking off.
I'm hoping to see him teeing it up next in a Major at Chambers Bay in June or St Andrews in July, ideally following a couple of half-decent tune-up performances in lesser tournaments.
Phil is these days somewhat diminished by arthritis and age; he's 44 (45 in June) and has managed just one Top10 (PGA Championship; August 2014) since his 2nd in Abu Dhabi 15 months ago! Also, he hasn't won, anything, since that Open Championship in July 2013!
I'm sure he'll improve at Augusta, he always does, but it's impossible to recommend him on that form background and it's likely that his long period of influence in Majors is almost over.
Rory has not been at his dominating best thus far in 2015, mainly owing to the state of his short game. That wedge problem, his missed cut at the Honda and the probable existence of a bit of psychological scar tissue from his 2011 implosion at Augusta, combine to suggest to me that though he (albeit narrowly) deserves to be the favourite, his 6.50 price is simply too short to make him an attractive betting proposition here.
He'll certainly win at Augusta, multiple times perhaps, before his career is over and thus complete that rare career Grand Slam. I have doubts it'll be in 2015.
Finally, best of luck to all persons getting financially involved in The Masters. I reckon it's the best golf event of any non-Ryder Cup year and it's played on what I believe is the best made-for-television golf course on the planet as well.
MJ Miller (Mike)
3 April 2015.
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