Masters week is finally here. Golf fans everywhere are quietly holding their breath as the long-awaited stroll down Magnolia Lane quickly approaches. With only one day left before the start of the tournament, everyone is looking to answer the same question: “Who is going to win the Masters?” Whether you are looking for a leg up in your office pool or bragging rights between friends, our prediction hopes to answer your questions.

Since 1934, The Masters Tournament has been one of the most prestigious competitions in all of golf. It has long been said that earning the green jacket at Augusta National is far and away the most coveted honor in the sport. From the history of the famed course to the accolades that come with becoming a champion, winning at Augusta cannot be overstated.

So…Who will be the lucky winner of the most glorious award in all of golf? This year, we believe we have the answer.

Analysis

There is no shortage of statistics when it comes to the sport of golf. Whether you are looking at driving distance, greens in regulation, putting performance, or strokes gained, it is very easy to get bogged down in the infinite amount of data that is available. The hardest part is figuring out which of these factors really matter. To determine this, we have to look at what makes up a champion at Augusta.

Methodology

We are interested in predicting who has the highest likelihood of finishing first in the upcoming Masters tournament. We gathered player level PGA Tour data for every year from 2010 through 2020 from pgatour.com, and gathered Masters tournament results data for every year from 2011 through 2019 from masters.com.

Next, we specify a model that predicts each player’s finishing position in a Masters tournament using their prior year PGA Tour averages in various statistical categories. We apply a lasso regression method to predict each player’s finish, training our model on the 2011 through 2019 Masters results (using 2010 through 2018 PGA Tour data) and then employing our model to predict the 2020 Masters winner using 2020 PGA Tour data [1]. We hypothesize that, due to the inherent unpredictability of a golf tournament, the predictive power of any one specific statistical category should be limited. Lasso regression imposes constraints on both important and non-important variables in the training set, even forcing the predictive power of the most redundant variables to zero.

After testing our model on the 2011-2019 Masters results, we found that the most relevant factors in predicting Masters performance are Strokes Gained (putting and tee to green), Scoring Average, and Bounce Back %. The most nonrelevant variables were PGA Tour Rank, Putting Average, and Rough Tendency.

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).

Top 10

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

Projected Finish Golfer Odds (via Oddshark)
1 Justin Thomas +1100
2 Bryson DeChambeau +800
3 Webb Simpson +3300
4 Jon Rahm +1000
5 Patrick Reed +2800
6 Dustin Johnson +900
7 Xander Schauffele +1400
8 Patrick Cantlay +2500
9 Sungjae Im +5000
10 Rory McIlroy +1200

Sleepers

Everyone loves to get behind an underdog. Based on performance data, we believe these three sleepers have a good chance of scoring low at The Masters.

Scottie Scheffler (+5000): After an incredible showing at the PGA Championship earlier this season (T4), this young golfer’s poise and natural ability should propel him to a nice finish during his first Masters appearance.

Sungjae Im (+5000): Another young gun looking to make a name for himself, Sungjae shows a lot of promise coming into his first Masters tournament. After a big victory at the Honda Classic earlier this season and a top 25 finish at the US Open, he has a great chance at shooting some low scores at Augusta. If he can keep it together over the first two days, expect Sungjae to make a run at the jacket headed into the weekend.

Cameron Smith (+8000): Perhaps the biggest sleeper in the group but not one to take lightly, we predict Cam to come in hot after his performance at the Zozo earlier this season. If he shows up the way he did in 2018 (T5), he could make a legitimate run at the green jacket. Expect this Aussie to display some stellar ball striking and to make a great case for himself early in the tournament.

Hot Takes

Brooks Koepka finishes outside of the top 10: Koepka’s season has been rocky to say the least. Between knee (then hip) injuries plaguing him for most of the season, it is safe to say he is not walking into the tournament at 100%. The only flat areas at Augusta seem to be the tee boxes which will only cause Brooks more trouble down the stretch. His shining light came last week where he finished 5th in Houston, but his ball striking seemed to be a bit lackluster. Brooks is an outstanding golfer who is definitely due for a Masters victory, but don’t expect his major-trophy case to gain a green jacket this weekend.

Conclusion

Picking a winner for any golf tournament – let alone The Masters – is an incredibly difficult task. Whether you are diving into an analysis or just going with your gut, its safe to say that come Sunday we will all be watching with enjoyment.


Appendix

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

Projected Finish Golfer
1 Justin Thomas
2 Bryson DeChambeau
3 Webb Simpson
4 Jon Rahm
5 Patrick Reed
6 Dustin Johnson
7 Xander Schauffele
8 Patrick Cantlay
9 Sungjae Im
10 Rory McIlroy
11 Jason Day 
12 Collin Morikawa 
13 Tony Finau 
14 Tommy Fleetwood 
15 Tyrrell Hatton 
16 Cameron Smith 
17 Hideki Matsuyama 
18 Justin Rose 
19 Shane Lowry 
20 Adam Hadwin 
21 Gary Woodland 
22 Sergio Garcia 
23 Kevin Na 
24 Ian Poulter 
25 Lucas Glover 

Projected Finish Golfer
26 Lanto Griffin 
27 Adam Scott 
28 J.T. Poston 
29 Abraham Ancer 
30 Phil Mickelson 
31 Billy Horschel 
32 Zach Johnson 
33 Matt Wallace 
34 Brandt Snedeker 
35 Cameron Champ 
36 Kevin Kisner 
37 Matt Kuchar 
38 Charles Howell III 
39 Byeong Hun An 
40 Danny Willett 
41 Dylan Frittelli 
42 Jordan Spieth 
43 Jason Kokrak 
44 Rickie Fowler 
45 Matthew Fitzpatrick 
46 Brendon Todd 
47 Matthew Wolff 
48 Paul Casey 
49 Bubba Watson 
50 Si Woo Kim 
51 Louis Oosthuizen 
52 Corey Conners 
53 Max Homa 
54 Brooks Koepka 
55 Sung Kang 
56 Tyler Duncan 
57 Nick Taylor 
58 Marc Leishman 
59 Chez Reavie 
60 Nate Lashley 
61 Andrew Landry 
62 C.T. Pan 
63 Jimmy Walker 
64 Andrew Putnam 
65 Graeme McDowell 

[1] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Masters tournament was delayed from April until November. This gives us a unique opportunity to use 2020 PGA Tour statistics to predict the 2020 Masters outcome.


Authors

tom-millea-AMEND

Tom Millea is a 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.


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