US Masters 2020: Riviera can help solve Augusta puzzle

Adam Scott's win at Riviera could be of huge importance for Augusta
Adam Scott's win at Riviera could be of huge importance for Augusta
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Dave Tindall examines the links between Riviera and Augusta and looks at how the leading Masters contenders are shaping up...

"Bubba talks about how creativity is a key weapon at both courses and he produced the best recent example of correlating form between the two layouts when winning at both Riviera and Augusta in 2014. Weir pulled off the same double in 2003."

While Tiger Woods' top 15 finish in last year's Genesis Invitational didn't leap off the page as a major hint that he would go on to win the Masters, it did help establish the link between form at Riviera and Augusta National.

The two layouts have some obvious differences but both tree-lined tracks are often referred to as "second-shot" courses.

Bubba Watson has won three times at Riviera and twice at Augusta while the reverse figures apply to Phil Mickelson. Mike Weir has won at both venues since the turn of the century and so has Adam Scott who gained his second win at Riviera (his first was over 36 holes so not official) on Sunday.

And it goes on. Where was triple Masters champion Nick Faldo's last win on American soil? That would be Riviera in 1997.

Bubba talks about how creativity is a key weapon at both courses and he produced the best recent example of correlating form between the two layouts when winning at both Riviera and Augusta in 2014. Weir pulled off the same double in 2003.

One other reason the two might be linked is proximity on the calendar. The Genesis is less than two months before the annual Masters showdown so it's easy to see how good form from Riviera can be carried to Augusta.

A look at the last 11 Masters winners shows that eight chose to stop off at Riviera earlier that season so just playing the Genesis is a useful pointer.

But it's notable how many did well.

Six of the eight who did put Riviera on their schedule walked off with a top 15. Tiger (T15) was the latest, Bubba produced a win (2014) and a tied 13th in 2012, Scott was T10 at Riviera before landing the Masters green jacket in 2013 and Jordan Spieth was tied fourth at the 2015 Genesis ahead of Masters win.

One other that really helps hammer home the link is Angel Cabrera. The big Argentine did virtually nothing in regular Tour events on American soil but ahead of his shock 2009 Masters win he dropped a hint by finishing tied 13th at Riviera.

Cabrera ranked 4th for Driving Distance and 11th for Greens In Regulation in the Genesis that year, showing that some of the key parts of his game needed for Masters success were working well.

It was a similar story with Tiger. He hit more than 70% (ranked 4th) of the hard-to-hit greens at Riviera to show that his iron game was on track in the build-up to Augusta.

Sergio's relatively modest tied 49th at the Genesis ahead of his 2017 Masters win doesn't appear to offer any further correlations but the Spaniard was 7th for GIR at Riviera that year; his putter just hadn't heated up yet.

In summary, if trying to identify this year's Masters winner, there's a good chance they were playing at Riviera last week.

But the best clues are provided by how well those candidates struck the ball at Riviera so we need to look closely at the modern-day upgrade on greens in regulation - Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee To Green.

How the top 10 in the Masters betting are shaping up

Rory McIlroy

Two starts for Rory in the new decade and two top fives. In both the Farmers Insurance (T3) and the Genesis (T5), he was ranked in the top five for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green so he's striking it like a potential Masters winner although not yet putting like one. Also third at the Zozo and a winner of the WGC-HSBC, McIlroy's form on the PGA Tour this season reads 3-1-3-5.

Odds: 15/2. Looking on course for another big challenge but is his chance that much clearer than others given the emotional baggage he carries to the Masters?

Tiger Woods

Is last year's fairytale a glorious swansong never to be repeated? Tiger won't be thinking that and, notably, he still seems able to win tournaments despite the huge reduction in his levels of practice. That was the case when winning the Zozo in Japan in October and taking T9 at Torrey Pines, ranking 8th in SG: Approach and 6th for SG: Tee To Green, although he was strangely subdued at Riviera when finishing 68th and last of those who made the cut after weekend rounds of 76-77. He lost 8.020 strokes with the putter which slightly gives him a pass.

Odds: 10/1. The five-time green jacket winner has won the Masters back-to-back before and successfully defended a major on four occasions. Masters No.6 seems viable although his Riviera performance opens up some doubts.

Jon Rahm

After starting 2020 by finishing runner-up at Torrey Pines, the big Spaniard has rather disappointed in front his home college fans in Phoenix (T9) and again at Riviera (T17). Looking at his numbers in last week's Genesis, Rahm only scraped into the top 20 due to a hot putter (fifth SG: Putting). He actually registered a minus SG: Tee To Green and SG: Approach figures so his Riviera display wasn't an ideal dress rehearsal.

Odds: 11/1. Rahm is striking it well off the tee and putting it nicely but he'll need to sharpen up his irons for Augusta. His SG: Around The Greens numbers also need to improve. He's very capable of quickly making those adjustments.

Brooks Koepka

T34 Abu Dhabi. T17 Saudi International. T43 Genesis Invitational. Sure, Koepka can slightly go through the motions outside of the majors but his lacklustre results so far are also due to rust after an injury lay-off. He's been slow to find his best game although the main problem so far is with the putter as he recorded decent SG: Tee To Green numbers in both Abu Dhabi and at Riviera (Saudi wasn't measured).

Odds: 12/1. Time is ticking but given his record in the majors he still gives the feeling that it'll be alright on the night when he pulls up at Augusta National. Between now and then, it's the short game that needs most work.

Dustin Johnson

DJ has some great results at both Riviera and Augusta National and his T10 at the former on Sunday was his ninth top 10 at the Genesis. After striking it poorly at Pebble Beach (T32), Johnson ranked 8th in SG: Tee To Green at Riviera so that was a promising turnaround. He was fairly solid across the board in all categories so this was a useful stepping stone.

Odds: 14/1. DJ's game looks to be trending in the right direction and he appears to have shaken off his post-injury rust better than Koepka with whom he shared second place at last year's Masters. These odds could easily tumble between now and April.

Justin Thomas

It's been boom or bust for Thomas so far in 2020. He won the Sentry Tournament of Champions and finished (a slightly backdoor) third in Phoenix but missed the cut at the Sony and the Genesis. Crashing out at halfway at Riviera doesn't bode well for Masters success that same year and his numbers last week were poor: negative for both SG: Tee To Green and SG: Putting

Odds: 14/1. A confusing set of results so far for Thomas who is the only big star yet to have a top 10 at Augusta. He should have won at Riviera last year don't forget (ended third) so he has performed well on this correlating course. Potential Masters backers will want to see him build some more consistent form (especially with the putter) during the Florida Swing.

Patrick Cantlay

Cantlay opened 2020 with a top four in the limited-field Sentry TOC event in Hawaii but hasn't quite hit the heights since with T34 in Abu Dhabi, T11 at Pebble and T17 at The Genesis. The good news to emerge from Riviera was that he struck it well, ranking 18th Off The Tee, 7th in Approach and 5th Tee To Green. The putter is currently cold and his Around The Green figures are modest so it's time to sharpen that short game.

Odds: 22/1. It gets a little forgotten that Cantlay was briefly leading the Masters on the back nine in last year's final round before being overtaken so he has the game for Augusta. The odds could offer some value given what he's capable of.

Xander Schauffele

After finishing runner-up at the WGC-HSBC and Sentry TOC either side of Christmas, Schauffele has cooled a little. He missed the cut at Torrey Pines, faded on Sunday to end T16 in Phoenix and never got in the hunt when T23 at Riviera. But take out Torrey and his Tee To Green rankings in the other four events were 4th, 1st, 6th and 9th (2nd greens in regulation at Riviera). By contrast, apart from the HSBC, he lost strokes on the greens at the other three, ranking 53rd for SG: Putting at both Phoenix and Riviera.

Odds: 22/1. A similar profile to Cantlay overall so he also could prove a nice price. As with his fellow American, Schauffele was leading last year's Masters on the back nine (finished tied second), is striking it nicely but the flatstick needs to heat up.

Adam Scott

The perfect way to highlight the Augusta-Riviera link was to see a former Masters winner take the trophy on Sunday and it played out to perfection with Scott lifting the silverware despite an eight-week layoff. Scott ranked third in both SG: Approach and SG: Tee To Green during his Riviera win and was solid enough with the putter (27th) and Around The Greens (17th). The victory prompted an eight-point cut in his Masters odds.

Odds: 25/1. If Scott takes his Riviera form to Augusta, he'll have every chance of repeating his Masters win from 2013. As well as the impressive numbers, he looked mentally smart and strong and they are another necessary part of the armoury for an Augusta champ.

Jordan Spieth

After T55 at Torrey Pines and a missed cut in Phoenix seemed to confirm that Spieth was still in a slump, he came out and finished T9 at Pebble, ranking 1st in SG: Approach and SG: Tee To Green. Was he back? Nope. At Riviera, he stumbled to T59, ranking 66th (-4.971 App) and 54th (-2.048) TTG) in those same two categories. His putter is lukewarm so the only area of consistent excellence is Around The Green where he was third at Riviera and Torrey Pines and seventh at Pebble.

Odds: 25/1. Perhaps the most interesting candidate of the lot to assess. Some will happily pull the trigger at 25s and there's still a case. His work around the greens is Augusta-sharp, he's always putted well at the Masters and he can get away with it off the tee. If Spieth's iron play matches his Pebble levels, watch out!

Dave Tindall,

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