Top Picks to Win the 2021 Masters Tournament

April 6, 2021 in Analytics, Data, Featured

AMEND’s data experts share their standout picks for the 2021 Master Tournament using the same model that hit 7 out of 10 Top-Ten finishers in the 2020 Masters Tournament

With only a mere five months between the ’20 and ’21 Masters Tournaments, it feels like just yesterday we were watching Tiger place the green jacket on DJ’s shoulders. Whether in November or April, the drive down Magnolia Lane elicits excitement regardless of the time of year. In 2021, there are players looking to make a comeback and others looking to make a name for themselves. The anticipation leading up to the first tee is palpable and we hope to provide some insight into your Masters viewing experience.

Analysis

Following our 2020 analysis, we gathered player-level PGA Tour data from the last ten years via pgatour.com, as well as Masters Tournament results from 2011 to 2020 via masters.com. This information was then added to our model which predicts the player with the highest likelihood of finishing at the top of the leaderboard.

Methodology

With this key information, we specify a model that predicts each player’s total score in the tournament using their prior-year PGA Tour averages in various statistical categories deemed to be relevant (definitions below). We then apply a lasso regression method to predict each player’s finishing position based on the important individual factors (Strokes gained putting, strokes gained tee to green, scoring average, and bounce back %). We hypothesize that, due to the inherent unpredictability of a golf tournament, the predictive power of any one specific statistical category should be limited. The lasso regression is our method of choice because it imposes constraints on both important and unimportant variables in the training set leading us to the most predictive variables highlighted below.

Strokes Gained Putting: Player performance putting. It compares how many putts a player took to the expected number of strokes to hole out based on the initial distance to the pin.

Strokes Gained tee to green: Number of strokes better or worse an individual player was than the field on average per round.

Scoring Average: Total stokes per player, per round, on average.

Bounce Back %: Player’s ability to follow a bad hole (over par) with a good hole (under par).

Using our model and the statistically relevant variables, we designed the ideal make-up of a Masters Tournament champion. Based on individual player performance leading to the Masters, we predict who will have the best chance to win. Our results for the 2021 Masters Tournament follow:

Top 10

We believe one of these golfers is going to win The Masters.

Projected FinishGolferOdds
1Patrick Cantlay+2200
2Dustin Johnson+850
3Justin Thomas+1000
4Matt Jones+12000
5Rory McIlroy+1400
6Xander Schauffele+2000
7Tony Finau+2700
8Jon Rahm+1100
9Bryson Dechambeau+900
10Joaquin Niemann+4800

Sleepers

If you followed our sleeper recommendations from the 2020 Masters (Scottie Scheffler (+5000): T19, Sungjae Im (+5000): T2, Cameron Smith (+8000): T2), you could have impressed quite a few people. We hope to provide the same level of accuracy and value in this year’s picks just five months later:

Matt Jones (+12000): “Who the heck is Matt Jones?” He has two PGA tour wins in his 20-year career. He’s coming up on his second-ever appearance at the Masters and he is 40 years old. Matt’s ball-striking is superb, and he is on a hot streak after his second ever PGA Tour win at the Honda Classic earlier this year. Matt Jones could very well be the value play of the weekend.

Joaquin Niemann (+4800): Joaquin is rolling into Masters week sitting at 11 in FedEx Cup rankings. So far in 2021, he has had three top-10 finishes to accompany his one PGA Tour victory in his very young career. At 22 years old with a very solid resume, he is flying under the radar walking into Augusta. We expect this youngster to card some excellent scores going into the weekend.

Cameron Smith (+3700): Following an incredible showing at the 2020 Masters Tournament just five months ago, we had to pull him back up. Odds are much less favorable (with good reason), but his ability to navigate Augusta can’t be ignored. With only two wins on tour in his 8-year career, he is a bit of a stretch to repeat his performance, but we expect Cam to splash into the top-10 yet again.

Hot Takes

Steer clear of Morikawa: Collin certainly has a lot of hype around him going into Masters week. He is projected to be top-10 based on betting odds and is currently ranked 22 in FedEx Cup rankings. There is absolutely no doubt that he is an incredible golfer who will be competing for many more majors in the years to come but do not expect him to go home with the green jacket this week.

Spieth finishes outside the top 10: This is a bold one that has the potential to frustrate a lot of patrons. After accumulating five top-10 finishes so far in 2021, including a win just last week at the Valero Texas Open, many fans are calling for Jordan to have a much-needed comeback performance at Augusta. Going into the tournament he is currently 7th in FedEx Cup rankings and 5th in betting odds. Betting against a golfer on a hot streak is traditionally not a good idea, but due to Spieth’s volatile trend over the past couple of seasons as well as his recent performance at the Masters, we feel strongly about avoiding the Texan.

Conclusion

Whether you are riding with a sleeper or simply looking to enjoy some spring golf, there’s sure to be fireworks coming down the stretch at Augusta.

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Appendix

Full Model Results: (Note: Players without sufficient sample size of rounds played were excluded)

Projected Finish

Golfer

1

Patrick Cantlay

2

Dustin Johnson

3

Justin Thomas

4

Matt Jones

5

Rory McIlroy

6

Xander Schauffele

7

Tony Finau

8

Jon Rahm

9

Bryson Dechambeau

10

JoaquIn Niemann

11

Cameron Smith

12

Brooks Koepka

13

Daniel Berger

14

Jordan Spieth

15

Danny Willett

16

Will Zalatoris

17

Jason Kokrak

18

Adam Scott

19

Si Woo Kim

20

Ryan Palmer

21

Sergio Garcia

22

Webb Simpson

23

Harris English

24

Brian Harman

25

Paul Casey

26

Tyrrell Hatton

27

Zach Johnson

28

Sungjae Im

29

Matthew Wolff

30

Mackenzie Hughes

31

Carlos Ortiz

32

Viktor Hovland

33

Lanto Griffin

34

Patrick Reed

35

Hideki Matsuyama

36

Jason Day

37

Matt Wallace

38

Francesco Molinari

39

Lee Westwood

40

Max Homa

41

Louis Oosthuizen

42

Shane Lowry

43

Bernd Wiesberger

44

Scottie Scheffler

45

Corey Conners

46

Christiaan Bezuidenhout

47

Collin Morikawa

48

Charl Schwartzel

49

Jimmy Walker

50

Bubba Watson

51

Phil Mickelson

52

Dylan Frittelli

53

Billy Horschel

54

Ian Poulter

55

Michael Thompson

56

Justin Rose

57

Kevin Na

58

Abraham Ancer

59

Tommy Fleetwood

60

Marc Leishman

61

Brendon Todd

62

Gary Woodland

63

Brian Gay

64

Victor Perez

65

Hudson Swafford

66

Jim Herman

67

Cameron Champ

68

Kevin Kisner

69

Martin Laird

70

Henrik Stenson

71

Matt Kuchar

72

Matthew Fitzpatrick

73

Rickie Fowler

74

Robert MacIntyre

75

Sebastian Munoz

76

Byeong Hun An

77

Erik Van Rooyen

78

Rasmus Hojgaard

79

CT Pan

80

Chez Reavie

81

Graeme McDowell

82

Bernhard Langer

83

Fred Couples

84

Tyler Strafaci

85

Vijay Singh

86

Charles Obsorne

87

Joe Long

88

Jose Maria Olazabal

89

Larry Mize

90

Mike Weir

91

Sandy Lyle

Authors

tom-millea-AMEND

Tom Millea is a Senior Project Leader at AMEND Consulting. Specializing in Operations, he focuses primarily on business turnarounds, interim leadership, and change management. Aside from work, Tom loves golf, spending time with friends and family, and cheering on The Ohio State Buckeyes.

Elijah Proffitt is a Senior Analyst focusing on technical solutions for clients. He loves the challenge of solving complex technical issues. He is passionate about data and technology, and his unique skill set covering methods in analytics, economics, and information technology helps him break down problems and hone in on solutions. He believes that good fortune happens at the intersection of opportunity and preparation, and that resilience and determination are the keys to success.

March Madness Bracket Predictions

March 18, 2021 in Analytics, Data, Featured

Let the madness begin…  

This year, teams faced strict protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19, which lead to many delayed games, canceled practices, and altered travel plans. Despite the challenges surrounding this year, the 2021 edition of March Madness is set to tip-off at noon on 3/19 (play-in games on 3/18). In a year with so much uncertainty, we’re here to help shed a little light on what the numbers say about this year’s tournamentSo, if you’re still tinkering with your bracket or want to see what upsets to cheer for – read on.

To help make our predictions, we did what we do best – gather as much data as possible and determine “the how” to utilize it most effectively. Our dataset includes box score results for each Men’s NCAA Division 1 basketball game. This dataset includes traditional stats, such as points scored, assists, etc., and advanced stats such as defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, etc. Though these stats are highly effective in predicting college basketball games, we took it one step further and developed weighted moving averages for our selected features. For example, using a team’s offensive efficiency for each game of the season, we can calculate a weighted moving average – giving higher weights to more recent games. This helps to identify which teams are improving entering into the tournament and which are regressing.  

After completing the dataset, it was time to build the model – the final model we landed on predicts the outcome for each potential matchup (over 2000!) in the tournament – giving the probability that Team A beats Team B. Using these probabilities, the entire tournament is simulated 100,000 times to find the most common outcomes round-by-round.

The results are in… below are the most common winners for each game from the Elite Eight to the Championship.

Gonzaga was the big winner of our simulation, winning the tournament over 21,000 times – beating out Houston (15,000 wins). Upon reviewing the results, it is evident that the model favors teams with high offensive efficiency (OF) & defensive efficiency (DF). Having both is key for making a deep run in the tournament, as you play a variety of teams with different playing styles. If you read our article last week, it will not be a surprise to see Gonzaga, Michigan, Baylor, & Houston in the Final Four as all of these teams are in the Top 25 in OF & DF. UConn is a bit of a sleeper team, making the Elite 8 consistently as a 7 seed. However, they also rank just inside the Top 25 in both OF & DF, giving them the balance needed.  

Although the simulation didn’t result in any 10-16 seeds making a Cinderella run, there are a few teams that did make it to the Sweet 16 fairly consistently. If you’re looking to spice up your bracket with a few upsets, look no further than these teams.  

In addition to watching for these upsets – consider what the high seeded teams are in the same portion of the bracket as these teams – they are primed to be early exits, despite a successful season and generous ranking from the committee. A few of these teams are Ohio State, Arkansas, Alabama.


Forward-looking predictive and prescriptive analytics can uncover insights that explain how your business operates. Our world-class data scientists clearly explain predictive insights and incorporate them into company strategy.


joe-ratterman-AMEND

Joe Ratterman is a Project Leader focusing on technical solutions for clients. His skills and interests include process automation, data wrangling, and predictive modeling. Using these skills, he is able to build custom, sustainable tools to drive growth and efficiency gains for clients from a variety of industries.

Fill out the form below if you’re interested in partnering with AMEND to dig deep into your data to unlock value in your organization.

2021 March Madness Tips

March 12, 2021 in Analytics, Data, Featured

Madness. It’s back. The NCAA Tournament may look a little different this year, but the 68-team, single-elimination event will soon be capturing the attention of the nation – and making brackets a thing again. Here are some tips and considerations from our data analytics team for succeeding in your office pool, along with insights you can apply to your business.

Get the End Right

It may sound obvious before the tournament, but the end matters far more than the beginning, as more points are awarded for wins in later rounds. The leader after Day 1 rarely wins it all. The teams most likely to make it deep into the tournament are those with the fewest exploitable weaknesses. Focus on keeping those around in your bracket. 2021 Tip: Gonzaga, Michigan, Baylor, Houston, and Illinois are the current teams in the Top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Survive

Forcing upsets early can eliminate good teams from your bracket. Only take chances with matchups you think will be close. Also, head-to-head matchups and styles of play only really matter in the first week of the tournament. From the Sweet 16 on, the chances you’ll have every match up correct are so small that it’s not worth emphasizing specific matchups.

Anatomy of an Upset

Whereas the most likely teams to win the championship are those with the fewest exploitable weaknesses, upsets are most likely to occur early in the tournament by teams that can exploit weaknesses with elite traits (such as forcing turnovers, shooting threes well and at a high volume, offensively rebounding at a high rate or having one dominant player who can take over a game). They also tend to come from teams that play a unique brand of basketball – especially if that includes slowing the game down to minimize possible margin. 2021 Tip: Teams currently outside the Top 25 who fit this profile include Liberty, Colorado State, Abilene Christian, Western Kentucky, and Winthrop.

Best vs. Most Deserving

While this season presents new challenges in determining who is most deserving of being in the tournament and at what seed, that’s not your job. Your job is identifying who is best; who should win. When filling out a bracket, you can ignore seeds. Each committee is different, and committees are built to reward resumes, not talent.

Size of the Pool

Let’s talk game theory. The larger the pool, the more important it is to differentiate your answers from the norm and take chances. For small office pools, it’s best to go with exactly what you think the most likely outcome is going to be. In larger pools, it can be beneficial to look at some of the 60/40 games and work in upsets. 2021 Tip: Final Four sleepers – Teams currently projected outside of the top two seeds in consensus brackets who have a good chance to advance to the Final Four include Houston, Florida State, Purdue, and Colorado.

How does this correlate to business?

In AMEND’s experience across a variety of industries and hundreds of businesses performing operations excellence, technology, business intelligence, and data science work, many of the same concepts apply. These include:

  • Focus on what matters – In basketball, a possession can only end one of three ways – a shot, a turnover, or a foul. A possession can be extended with an offensive rebound. Predicting outcomes in basketball only needs to consider how successful (or not) teams will be at these four things: shooting, turnovers, fouling, and rebounding. Everything else is just a step in addressing these four items. In business, there are often just four to five critical focal points to consider when truly evaluating the health of the company or a department. Focus on identifying and fully understanding those.

  • Consider the objective – What’s the problem at hand? The general public places too much emphasis on tournament seeding. The committee’s objective of choosing and seeding 68 teams is very different than trying to determine who will win games between those teams. Too often, businesses do not fully understand the objective or the problem they are trying to solve. Einstein once said (paraphrasing) that if he had an hour to solve a problem to save the world, he would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes solving it. Fully understanding the problem makes it much easier to solve.

  • Outcomes that have not occurred in the past can be predicted in the future – it’s true. It is unlikely that two teams in the tournament already played each other, especially with the exact same set of healthy players – yet we can still come up with a prediction for each game by knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each team. Predicting possible future events in business needs to allow for the possibility that future states fall outside of previously seen ranges or expectations.

  • Process over results – Over time, having as much context and doing things the objectively sound way will win out. Overly reacting to actual outcomes, while human nature, is dangerous. Brackets that a member of our team published have finished in the 90th+ percentile in 13 of 15 years and 99th+ six times. That’s really good. Changing an approach due to the outcomes of the two years that didn’t fall in 90th or better would have been a mistake. It’s certainly understandable to evaluate processes and learn from the past, but one result should not guide decision-making.

Our team develops solutions to fit your performance-driving KPIs and support your short and long-term strategy planning. Fill out the form below if you’re interested in partnering with AMEND to dig deep into your data to unlock value in your organization.