The best weekend in spring is upon us. Welcome to Masters week, everyone.
Golf’s most beloved event will tee off Thursday with considerable intrigue. For the first time since 1994, Tiger Woods will not participate in the Masters. Welcome to the new wide-open era of golf.
Twenty different players have won the last 22 majors since the 2008 PGA Championship. In that span, only Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson have won multiple titles.
That stat just shows the immense parity that has developed in recent years in professional golf. Woods has battled personal and professional issues. McIlroy has struggled to put together consistent major success. Mickelson’s stat sheet has 18 top-ten majors finishes in the last ten years, but has a string of cuts and mid-50s finishes buried in there as well.
The power vacuum in golf is open. Will another unknown step up in the clutch this week at Augusta? Or will a veteran like Mickelson add to his legend?
For the sake of argument, let’s assume someone outside the 20 previous winners will take the green jacket. That eliminates the following golfers: Keegan Bradley, Angel Cabrera, Stewart Cink, Darren Clarke, Jason Dufner, Ernie Els, Lucas Glover, Trevor Immelman, Martin Kaymer, McDowell, McIlroy, Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Woods and Yang Yong-eun.
That narrows the field slightly, but let’s go back into the grab bag for another fun Master’s stat.
The Masters has been won 17 times since 1986 by a player ranked inside the top-ten of the Official World Golf Ranking.
If we eliminate McIlroy, Mickelson, Rose, Scott and Woods out of that top-ten list, that leaves us with Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Henrik Stenson.
Five out of the last ten Masters winners were first-time green jacket winners. So, we toss out Johnson. Each of the last three winners finished outside of the top-five the year before, so goodbye, Mr. Day.
Only three golfers remain: Garcia, Kuchar and Stenson. The final stat to determine our Masters champion will be average finish at Augusta.
In Stenson’s eight appearances, his average place is 46.7, with high marks of 17th in 2007 and 2008. Garcia has an average finish of 34.2 in his 15 starts, with his highest being a fourth place finish in 2004. Kuchar has built a progressively better record at Augusta, toting an average mark of 27.7 in his seven tournaments.
With those numbers in mind, I predict Matt Kuchar will be the 2014 Masters champion.
He’s a late bloomer in the PGA, having missed the Masters between 2003 and 2009. His marks in 1998, 1999 and 2002 pale in comparison to his work in the four tournaments since 2010. A third-place effort in 2012 and eighth-place finish last year were bolstered by strong first and third round play.
If Kuchar can find a way to replicate his success from the last two years and ride the momentum of a second-place finish at last week’s Shell Houston Open, he’ll earn a green jacket on Sunday.