Wednesday 16 January 2019

Unlocking secrets of how to secure that green jacket

Daniel Zeqiri analyses the statistics to discover attributes best suited to taming Augusta National

Daniel Zeqiri

A left-hander has won six of the past 15 Masters. Canadian Mike Weir was an unlikely champion in 2003, big-hitting Bubba Watson prevailed in 2012 and 2014 and Phil Mickelson has three Green Jackets.

The simplest explanation would be that Watson and Mickelson are two exceptional golfers who happen to be left-handed.

Nevertheless, there is logic behind the idea that Augusta National presents lefties with a slight advantage.

A striking feature of the course is the number of dog-leg lefts. Tee shots on the second, fifth, ninth, 10th, 13th and 14th present the player with a fairway that swoops in this direction.

For the right-hander, the ideal shot shape on these drives is a draw, where the club attacks the ball from inside the target line to produce topspin.

The result is a shot that arcs from right to left. The ball travels a little further than a straight shot, but is harder to control.

For the left-hander, however, a right-to-left trajectory is a 'fade'. The club strikes the ball from outside-to-in, producing a shot with additional backspin.

The fade does not travel as far as the draw, but lands softly and is the shape favoured by players prioritising accuracy.

So, when most players are trying to hit the more risky draw, Mickelson and Watson are more likely to get into a strong position on the fairway.

Chew up the par-fives

The logic is simplistic but irrefutable. The four par-fives on the course (holes two, eight, 13 and 15) rank as the four easiest holes statistically, so if a player does not make his share of birdies, he will be losing strokes on the field.

The combined winning scores of the past 11 Masters is 108-under par. On the four par-fives alone, they are 84-under par. The one exception was Danny Willett, who played them in level-par en route to claiming the Green Jacket in 2016.

Making hay on these holes is not necessarily about raw power - 2007 winner Zach Johnson played every par-five as a three-shotter and wedged his way to the Green Jacket.

Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and defending champion Sergio Garcia are leading contenders in the top 10 for par-five scoring on the PGA Tour this season.

Rory McIlroy will take confidence from the fact that he is 52-under par on the fives after nine Masters appearances.

Strength off the tee

Analysis by GolfCare shows that the Masters champion since 2010 finds 67.8pc of fairways on average, with a driving distance of 291.2 yards.

Weather conditions play their part. If the fairways are dry and running fast, it brings shorter hitters into the reckoning.

Augusta National was once known as a 'second-shot' course, with wide fairways and no rough, placing little premium on driving.

Since the turn of the millennium, it has been lengthened considerably, with a cut of rough grown and new trees planted. It is now a much sterner test of ball-striking.

According to Justin Ray, Golf Channel's senior researcher, four of the past six Masters champions ranked first or second for strokes gained off the tee on the PGA Tour.

This season, Spaniard Jon Rahm tops that field.

Experience not essential

Fuzzy Zoeller was the last to win the Masters on his first Augusta start, in 1979. Knowledge of the course's nuances has traditionally been prized, with plenty of anecdotal evidence that it takes a few visits to perfect strategy.

The average age of a Masters winner is 31. However, eight of the past nine Major champions have been first-time winners.

Jordan Spieth came close to breaking the rookie's curse in 2014 when he finished tied for second, winning the very next year.

Players are hitting the tour more prepared than ever, and a good caddie and detailed yardage book could help a youngster prevail. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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