The Masters: The secret stat that could help predict this year’s Augusta winner

With the year’s first Major less than a month away, we pinpoint the key skills that bode well for a tilt at the Green Jacket.

The Masters has always taken pride in tradition and old-fashioned values.

And for many years that outlook extended to stats too.

We were given the basics of Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Greens In Regulation, Scrambling and Putting Average but what of Strokes Gained stats: the new favoured metric for breaking down a golfer's performance?

Thankfully, these have started to appear and that could help lead us towards the identity of this year's winner.

To look forward, we need to look back so, using Strokes Gained numbers, how did Hideki Matsuyama pave the way for victory last year?

And were there any patterns among the leading finishers?

Let's take a deep dive.

Hideka Matsuyama - Winner

Hideki Matsuyama celebrates his Masters win

Matsuyama landed the Green Jacket with a tally of 10-under in 2021. This is how he rated in the various statistical categories:

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 17th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 4th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 4th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 2nd

Strokes Gained: Putting - 23rd

Will Zalatoris - Runner-up

Zalatoris threatened to become the first debutant to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 but ended up just a shot short. These were his stats:

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 5th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 9th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 31st

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 7th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 7th

Xander Schauffele - Tied 3rd

Xander Schauffele

Schauffele emerged as Matsuyama's biggest challenger at one point but took a triple-bogey six at the 16th to blow his chance. His stats:

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 8th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 18th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 3rd

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 3rd

Strokes Gained: Putting - 41st

Jordan Spieth - Tied 3rd

Spieth, the winner in 2015, added to his brilliant record at Augusta by finishing in a tie for third spot. This is how he did it:

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 9th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 7th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 1st

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 1st

Strokes Gained: Putting - 53rd

Jon Rahm - Tied 5th

Jon Rahm at the 2020 Masters

Rahm was rather treading water for the first three days but burst through the field on Sunday with a best-of-the-day 66 to climb up to tied fifth. These were his numbers:

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 1st

Strokes Gained: Approach - 39th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 9th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 4th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 28th

Marc Leishman - Tied 5th

The Aussie has played well at Augusta before and secured his third top 10 finish with another strong performance:

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 47th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 6th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 7th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 6th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 20th

Justin Rose - 7th

Justin Rose in action on day three of the 2021 Masters

The Englishman made another strong bid for the Green Jacket but eventually faded to solo seventh after a closing 75.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 35th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 21st

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 20th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 24th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 4th

Corey Conners - Tied 8th

The Canadian played to type in 2021, utilising a strong long game to finish tied eighth - his second straight top 10 at Augusta.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 16th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 1st

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 48th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 5th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 35th

Patrick Reed - Tied 8th

Patrick Reed in action

The 2018 winner made it three top 10s in the last four years after being just one of four players on Sunday to shoot in the 60s.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 40th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 28th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 26th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 33rd

Strokes Gained: Putting - 2nd

Cameron Smith - Tied 10th

The newly-crowned Players Championship winner finished tied fifth in 2018 and runner-up in 2020 and continued his fine play at Augusta with a third top 10.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 21st

Strokes Gained: Approach - 18th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 8th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 9th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 34th

Tony Finau - Tied 10th

Tony Finau

Another familiar presence in the top 10, Finau added to his T5 in 2019 and T10 in 2018 with an impressive display.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 51st

Strokes Gained: Approach - 11th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 2nd

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 8th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 35th

Crunching the numbers

Let's collate those stats from last year's top 10 by listing each ranking and obtaining an average.

Off The Tee: 17, 5, 8, 9, 1, 47, 35, 16, 40, 21, 51. Average = 22.73

Approach: 4, 9, 18, 7, 39, 6, 21, 1, 28, 18, 11. Average = 14.73

Around The Green: 4, 31, 3, 1, 9, 7, 20, 48, 26. Average = 14.45

Tee To Green: 2, 7, 3, 1, 4, 6, 24, 5, 33, 9, 8. Average = 9.27

Putting: 23, 7, 41, 53, 28, 20, 4, 35, 2, 34, 35. Average = 25.64

Conclusions

Tee To Green - a measurement of Off The Tee, Approach and Around The Green - is the best pointer (Average = 9.27) and nine of the top 11 last year ranked ninth or better in that stat.

But within that, it's interesting to note that Around The Green (14.45) comes out on top, edging out Approach (14.73) and clearly beating Off The Tee (22.73). Putting, meanwhile, surprisingly comes last (25.64).

The popular belief for Augusta is that approach play is king on what is often described as a "second-shot course".

"A bit of magic around the greens" is another common quote although the modern view is that it would be secondary to dialled in irons.

In a typical PGA Tour event, Around The Green is often the weakest pointer to success and yet at Augusta it appears to count for plenty. Just ask Tiger!

It certainly stood out last year compared to driving or putting and seven of the top 11 finishers ranked in the top 10 for Around The Green, way higher than we'd see normally.

By contrast, five of the top 11 recorded negative SG: Putting figures and only three of those were ranked in the top 19 on the greens.

Using datagolf's stats from last year's Masters, Off The Tee and Approach were almost in line with the PGA Tour average for those two stats since 2015.

In addition, if again going on the 2021 Masters numbers, Putting at Augusta was less important than it is at an average event but Around The Green was rated far higher than it is at a standard tournament.

Breaking down last year at Augusta using old-fashioned Driving stats, Distance worked out more important than at a regular event while Accuracy worked out less important: again, that would be in line with the usual perception at Augusta where bombers thrive despite missing fairways.

Scottie Scheffler

Of course, having more years of data would help but 2020 is dubious given how the course played so differently due to the event being held in November due to the pandemic. In 2019, the Tee To Green numbers aren't broken down.

So, how can we predict this year's winner?

Answer: Look for a big hitter high up in the Around The Green stats.

Some candidates?

Joaquin Niemann - 52nd Driving Distance, 6th Around The Green

Patrick Cantlay - 48th Driving Distance, 13th Around The Green

Luke List - 7th Driving Distance, 16th Around The Green

Justin Thomas - 16th Driving Distance, 28th Around The Green

Scottie Scheffler - 21st Driving Distance, 36th Around The Green

Xander Schauffele - 21st Driving Distance, 38th Around The Green

READ MORE: Cameron Smith wins Players Championship after birdie blitz

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