US Masters 2021: What will it take to win the season's first major?

Golfer Daniel Berger
Improving Daniel Berger has a recent Pebble Beach win in the bag

A fortnight out from the opening major of 2021, Paul Krishnamurty has scoured 21st century Augusta trends to narrow down his shortlist...

"No Masters debutant has won here since 1979 and in the 42 years since, only Reed and Woods (as a rookie) had missed the previous cut there."

Played at the same venue since 1934, there is no major quite like the US Masters. The challenge at Augusta National is unique and previous results there offer very clear signals. Looking back through all the 21 renewals from this century, these five pointers provide essential clues towards solving the puzzle.

The cream almost always rise to the top

All the major championships have been dominated by the best players in recent years - the last 35 went to somebody inside the world's top-50. Make that the top-30 for the last 11 Masters champions.

We all love backing an outsider in golf but it rarely pays dividends here. The last winner to start the week at odds of 100.099/1 or better was Angel Cabrera in 2009.

Combining the last two criteria, a cross can be placed against seven contenders. Four of the current top-30 - Kevin Na, Ryan Palmer, Abraham Ancer and Harris English - are above 100.099/1 in the betting. Three of those below 100.099/1 - Scottie Scheffler, Sergio Garcia and Jason Day - are ranked outside the top-30.

Excellent recent form is near essential

Remember there are two counting results before the Masters, so do update the aforementioned rankings and odds on the week itself. So too, recent form figures.

Twelve of the 21 champions this century had won in the same calendar year. At the time of writing, during the WGC Matchplay, 11 of the 34 meeting either of the previous criteria - top-30 in the world or below 100.099/1 in the betting - have done so.

Dustin Johnson at Augusta.jpg

They are Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson Dechambeau, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Paul Casey, Daniel Berger, Kevin Na, Tyrrell Hatton and Harris English.

To narrow it down further, five of the last seven champions had won one of their last five starts. Right now, that applies to six - DJ, Dechambeau, Thomas, Morikawa, Reed and Berger. More could qualify at the Matchplay or next week's Texas Open.

These three courses correlate well

Historically the Genesis Invitational, played at Riviera, is the best correlating course to Augusta. All four winners of the WGC Mexico Championship at Chapultepec won a Masters.

Besides Johnson, who has won at both, among the world's top-30, only Scott has won at Riviera recently. This year's champion Max Homa is currently ranked 37th. Reed won in Mexico.

Expanding this to runners-up, Justin Thomas has filled that position in both. Dechambeau, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood have been runner-up at Chapultepec. Tony Finau twice at Riviera.

Although many of the Americans never play the Dubai Desert Classic, the Emirates Course has long offered a formline. The 2016 and 2017 champions went on to land relatively surprising wins at Augusta in that same year and, going back to their pomp, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els repeatedly challenged in both.

The defending champion there is Paul Casey, who has also finished top-three in both the aforementioned courses. Dechambeau is also a former champion.

Previous Augusta form is a massive plus

Few if any courses in the world take more learning than Augusta. No Masters debutant has won here since 1979 and in the 42 years since, only Reed and Woods (as a rookie) had missed the previous cut there. That potential disqualifier would apply to Hatton, Day and Matthew Wolff.

All bar five Masters champions this century had previously finished top-20 there. Hatton and Wolff also fail on that score, along with Dechambeau, Morikawa and Joaquin Niemann.

Check these four stats

Ideally, you need to be long off the tee and magical around the greens to conquer Augusta. I'd focus on the following four stats.

Driving distance. Dechambeau leads the tour average at 320 yards off the tee. Also in the top-15 are McIlroy (3rd), Wolff (5th), Johnson (8th), Niemann (9th) and Garcia (15th). At 291 and 287 yards on average respectively, Fitzpatrick and Na look too short.

Scrambling is massively important at Augusta. Top-ranked amongst the main contenders are Simpson (2nd), Cantlay (3rd), English (7th) and Casey (15th).

Strokes gained: around the green perfectly combines short game skills. Top ranked here are Na (3rd), Cantlay (5th), Simpson (8th), Oosthuizen (9th), Johnson (10th), Thomas (15th).

Famously, this tournament is determined by par-five performance. The leading notables here are Cameron Smith (3rd), Homa (5th), Matsuyama (8th), Rahm (12th), Palmer (15th).

Conclusion

The favourite Dustin Johnson features positively in all five sections. Justin Thomas has no negatives. That is of course reflected by their market status. The other principals all fail on at least one score. In Dechambeau's case, it was only the lack of a top-20 finish at Augusta.

At bigger odds, Paul Casey qualifies on each count. Patrick Reed only fails by failing to feature amongst stats leaders.

PaulCasey1280.JPG

Daniel Berger could be interesting. He fails when it comes to form at correlating courses and doesn't feature among the stats leaders, but the first set of numbers were recorded before his vast improvement over the past 18 months.

He hasn't played Augusta since 2018 but his three finishes, at this much inferior stage of his career, were a respectable 10th, 27th and 32nd. With eight places available, he and Casey appeal as each-way punts.


Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty


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