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Tiger at Augusta: What Stats Lead to a Win?

Ahh, finally, it is spring time in Augusta, Georgia. If you are a golf fan, Master’s week provides a never ending series of rites of spring. Pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches, cheap beer, azaleas blooming, Magnolia Lane, and the list goes on and on. For the past 15 years or so, one thing you could always include on that list is Tiger Woods playing his best golf. No matter what the state of his game, Tiger shows up in a big way at Augusta.

He has won this tournament four times. As a professional, he has sixteen appearances and has finished outside the top 15 only three times. He holds virtually every ass-kicking related record at Augusta. As an example, he lapped the field as a 21 year old in 1997 with a remarkable eighteen under par performance. He ended up winning by a previously unheard of twelve strokes.

But everyone knows that. If you don’t, welcome back to the planet Earth after what I assume was an extended vacation on the dark side of the moon.

What adds up for a Tiger win at Augusta? I went back and took a look at all sixteen of Tiger’s Master’s appearances to see if there was a pattern or trend that leads to victory. STATISTICAL ANALYSIS PEOPLE!

So here’s what I did. I took a look at his scoring on par 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s. His driving stats and greens in regulation to see if there is one statistic that stands out and ultimately leads to victory.

Here is the initial chart. (Click for a larger image, green highlighted indicated a win. Get it? Green? As in the Green Jacket? That’s why I get paid the big bucks, folks.)

Tiger at Augusta

Some things that jump out right away:

-          Tiger will take care of the par 5’s. In 16 years, Tiger averages seven under par for the par 5’s throughout the tournament. In fact, the only time he didn’t, he had his worst finish ever. That was last year when he was only one under for the week.

-          You have to hit greens to win at Augusta. In Tiger’s four wins, he hit at least 75%.

-          Driving accuracy may or may not matter. As Hank Haney said in our sit-down this past weekend, hitting it far is important. Accuracy may be an overrated stat, as long as you can bomb it. When Tiger won at Augusta, he wasn’t necessarily the most accurate driver of the ball. Look at 2005. He only hit 57% of the fairways and still took home a green jacket.

Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? Let’s look at the four wins more closely.

Tiger Wins at Augusta

Tiger won in 1997, 2001, 2002, and 2005. What stats led to a W for Eldrick?

-          As I mentioned above, Tiger took advantage of the par 5’s. He always does. But where do you put yourself in contention? Score well on the par 4’s. If you think about it, that makes sense. Most professionals will score well on the par 5’s, but where you separate yourself is making birdies on par 4’s. In Tiger’s four wins, he averaged almost six under par on the par 4’s. Par 3’s don’t seem to matter much as long as you keep it around even par for the week.

-          Also mentioned above, greens in regulation might be the most important stat. In his victories at Augusta, Tiger averaged over 77% in GIR. That means three fourths of the time, Tiger had a look at birdie. That will help you win any golf tournament, folks.

-          Driving distance seems to be the important stat off the tee. For this week to translate to a win for Tiger, he’ll need to average over 290 off the tee.

-          Yes I know it is nice to hit fairways, but it is not 100% necessary for a win. In fact, Tiger hit a little more than half the fairways in his four wins. So in summation, hit is long all the time, straight some of the time.

Let’s look at the flip side. Are there stats that will put Tiger outside the top ten?

Tiger Outside the Top 10

-          Well for one thing, Tiger needs to shoot under par. Unless this is an extremely difficult year in terms of course conditions, the top ten players will likely finish under par. When Tiger has finished outside the top ten, he was over par.

-          Tiger still averaged under par on the par 5’s in these not so great performances. But on the par 4’s, he was over par. That’s obviously not going to get it done. The par 3’s remain indifferent.

-          As you would expect, GIR are lower when Tiger finishes outside the top ten. It’s tough to get up and down consistently at Augusta. Hit greens if you want to be in contention.

So what does all this mean? Well, I am going to try and create a formula for a Tiger win, top ten, or, uh, not top ten.

Win – In order to win, Tiger needs to be nine under on the par 5’s and five under on par 4’s. He also needs to hit at least 75% of the greens and average 290 off the tee.

Top Ten – Tiger can be around even on the par 3’s and 4’s. But he needs to score on the par 5’s. And if he can still average 290 off the tee and hit 65% of the greens, he’ll finish in the top ten.

Not Top Ten – This is something that most people don’t think will happen, myself included. But if it does, Tiger won’t be scoring anywhere, including the par 5’s. He won’t be hitting 65% of the greens and he will be averaging below 290 from the tee box.

So let’s see if it plays out. Watch the stats this week and see if my theory pans out. 

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