The Masters method: Golfers who slip on a Green Jacket usually contended in a Major the year before

Creating a long-list of likely winners this week? The Majors of 2021 are a great place to start.

Remember how Danny Willett stepped up when he had the opportunity to win the Masters?

As he left the 15th green and headed towards the next tee the Yorkshireman was suddenly aware that his Sunday had changed.

Until that point, he had been hanging in there. Not out of desperation, but in the knowledge that Jordan Spieth, a few holes behind, was leading the tournament with something to spare.

But that situation had changed. Willett had just made an eagle-3 and Spieth an absolute Horlicks of the 12th.

"What impressed me so much," Jack Nicklaus wrote on social media the next day, "is that when (Willett) realized he was in a position to win, he finished it - and that's the mark of a champion."

What was it the 18-time Major Champion had seen? Willett stepped up to the tee and knocked his tee shot to six feet. Playing partner Lee Westwood's limp effort, just finding the front of the green, was striking in its contrast.

For many, it was a shock to see Willett so bold and also to reflect that even before then he had played the final round in such a disciplined fashion - making the most of his good shots, dealing maturely with the bad ones, set to pounce when (and if) the chance to win revealed itself.

What we'd forgotten, maybe, is that eight months earlier he'd actually told us that he'd been privy to insider information. Well, maybe nothing quite so underhand, but he did have the best seat in the house as Zach Johnson's final round playing partner when the American won the 2015 Open.

Willett had ended rounds one and two in second on the leaderboard, but would eventually finish that week in a tie for sixth. When he talked to the media behind the R&A clubhouse after the final lap he said: "We've been in contention pretty much from the get-go. I played some good golf. We're going to finish maybe four or five back so, you know, they can easily be picked up, so there's a lot of positives to be taken."

Pretty much typical post-round fare, but then Willett paused and added: "I think it's good to play with someone like Zach today, who could potentially win it. I can actually look back and see how he won it, what he did, what he didn't do, and stuff like that I can learn from."

Johnson later lifted the Claret Jug and, eight months on, Willett was not just playing another final round in-contention, his crash course in how to win had helped him seal the deal.

And guess what? Willett is far from alone.

In fact, Masters winners have often been involved in the white heat of battle in Major Championships shortly ahead of their triumphs.

Let's take a look at the last 10 winners.

Hideki Matsuyama

The Japanese star had finished 13th in the previous year's Masters (which took place in November) and before that, in the US Open, he had been fourth heading into the final round before finishing 17th.

Dustin Johnson

DJ had been bubbling, finishing sixth in the US Open two months before his win and second in the PGA Championship (when leading after 54 holes).

Tiger Woods

Not only was Woods second in the previous year's final Major, the PGA Championship, he was sixth in the Open before that (when briefly leading during the final round).

Patrick Reed

Deja vu! He was second in the previous year's PGA Championship, missed the cut in the Open, but has been 13th in the US Open before that.

Sergio Garcia

The Spaniard missed the cut in the PGA Championship but before that had finished fifth in both the Open and US Open

Danny Willett

Only 54th in the PGA Championship but before that enjoyed his cramming session at the Home of Golf.

Jordan Spieth

He didn't contend in the last three of the previous year's Majors, but he had been second in the Masters (when sharing the 54 hole lead).

Bubba Watson

No top 30 in the previous year's four Majors.

Adam Scott

Adam Scott US Masters 2013
Adam Scott US Masters 2013

The Australian was 11th in the PGA Championship (when third after three rounds) and second in the Open (when leading for more or less all of the first 68 holes).

Bubba Watson

A best of T30th in the previous year's Majors (it's worth noting that both Watson's wins came shortly after he finished third at the WGC Cadillac Championship - in other words, he was recently tested in elite company).

Conclusion

Let's be brutal about it. Other than Bubba Watson the winners have contended in a previous year's Major without winning one.

Good news for these golfers - Jordan Spieth, Louis Oosthuizen, Dylan Frittelli, Scottie Scheffler, Corey Conners, Harris English, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Russell Henley, Mackenzie Hughes, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman and Justin Rose.

It's a long-list, but a good place to start.

READ MORE: The Masters and Majlis connection: More to it than victories for Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia?

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