Golf365 Analysis: The trends and numbers that matter ahead of the final round of the 2018 Masters

With just 18 holes to play, Matt Cooper looks closely at tournament history and the leading contenders to win this year’s Green Jacket.

Masters Comebacks

As noted in the Masters A to Z, the phrase “Anyone can win it” is a popular one ahead of the final day of this tournament. History, on the other hand, tells us that we can rule a few people out. The last man to win from outside the top ten? Art Wall Jr in 1959.

Nick Faldo famously won from six strokes back in 1996, but since then? 21 tournaments and 21 winners who were tied fifth or better after 54 holes, 17 of them tied second or better.

The 2017 WGC Match Play Link

As noted on
these pages a few weeks ago, there is a trend-slash-example-of-being-fooled-by-randomness which ties every Masters tournament with the previous year’s WGC World Match Play. No less than 12 of the last 14 Green Jacket winners made the last 16 of the latter. If that tendency is upheld only one man in the top five can win: Jon Rahm. (It might also hint at either Bubba Watson or Marc Leishman pulling off something very, very dramatic.)

The Bogey Man

As Dave Tindall pointed out on Saturday, Bogey Avoidance is a key statistic at Augusta with not one of the last ten winners losing more than ten shots to the card. Bear that in mind. The player by player previews below includes the bogey count through 54 holes.

1. Patrick Reed 69-66-67 for 14-under, bogey count: 8 (5/4 fav)

Since leaving the 12th green on Thursday with his score on level-par he has been little short of extraordinary, his brilliance displayed in a series of devastating three-hole bursts. Five times he has reeled off a hat-trick of birdies and on a sixth occasion, late into the third round, he went one better to par with eagle-par-eagle.

What has been less-frequently noted is that four times he posted a bogey immediately after those runs (and did so two holes later another time). It’s not exactly been debilitating, but it is an interesting quirk: the birdie blitzes are required because he is close to that bogey count water mark. He won’t care a jot, however, if the par breakers keep dropping.

Will the Rory re-match be a positive or a negative? And how intense will be the major championship pressure? When players yet to win a major have held a first 54-hole lead at Augusta, they’ve struggled. In the 21st century 12 have been in that position and just two converted the win. Reed aims to make it three, but has a couple of ghosts in the closet: his last two 54-hole leads (the 2014 QL National and 2017 Wells Fargo Championship) were lost when he carded a 77 and a 75.

He said: “There’s a lot of stuff you can do at the Ryder Cup that you can’t do at Augusta National. I’m not out there to play Rory. I’m out there to play the golf course.”

2. Rory McIlroy 69-71-65 for 11-under, bogey count: 4 (7/4)

That McIlroy is aiming to not only win a first Green Jacket, but also complete a Career Grand Slam is in itself reason to be somewhat sceptical of numbers. When players are that good, they make light of factors which impose or facilitate others. Perhaps more telling, in his case, than numbers are questions.

Like Reed, what is the potential impact of the Ryder Cup re-match? And what of his walk from the ninth green to the tenth tee? He’s giving every impression of a golfer ready to face his demons there head on. Is that a false impression or a strong one? It would be a fine story were he to slay them in style. What of the tournament dynamic? Reed and McIlroy might end up tied in a two-man tussle, they might also be caught or go backwards, they could conceivably become so focussed on each other that they overlook a fast finisher on their blindside.

McIlroy broken par in his last five final rounds at Augusta, going sub-70 four times, suggesting he’s every chance, at the very least, of forcing Reed to break par himself.

He said: “I’m ready. I’m really excited to go out there tomorrow and show everyone what I’ve got, show Patrick Reed what I’ve got. All the pressure’s on him tomorrow. I’m hoping to come in and spoil the party.”

3. Rickie Fowler 70-72-65 for 9-under, bogey count: 5 (8/1)

Putted with a stick of celery on Friday (three three-putts) and a magic wand on Saturday (26 putts in total), transforming his chances in the process.

The 27th time he has been in the top three after 54 holes and he has five wins from that position, but never from further than two strokes back. Yet to win a major, of course. An itch he is ready to scratch? Needs something superb to prevent further irritation.

He said: “It’s going to take my putter staying hot. We did a great job today. We’re in striking distance. We’ll see what happens.”

4. Jon Rahm 75-68-65 for 8-under, bogey count: 8 (16/1)

Has completed a superb recovery this week and is now 29 holes without a bogey, but that becomes a problem as the pressure to maintain the run rises and he has very little wiggle room with that bogey count. Was eight shots back after 36-holes and only Jack Burke Jr. has ever overcome such a deficit to win at Augusta.

Knows how to go low in the final round to win though. Shot 65 to claim the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, leaping from T13th after 54 holes as he turned a three-shot deficit into a three-shot win. Also won the Irish Open with a 65, and his last two titles with 67s.

He said: “I realized every time I missed a fairway I made a bogey. So I just focussed on making sure I hit the fairways. I executed that really well on the back nine.”

5. Henrik Stenson 69-70-70 for 7-under, bogey count: 6 (33/1)

Prior to this year the Swede had never gone sub-70 at Augusta before Sunday, and he’s still only done it once (Thursday’s 69). Much better news is that his last four final round laps of Augusta were all under-par and three of them sub-70.

All but one of his 18 individual stroke play victories have come from resting in the top two with 18 holes to play. The exception was when T5th in the 2006 BMW International Open, yet just the three shots back.

He said: “I’m doing a lot of things good, but the long game is not where I need to have it. Just not getting it close enough and I can’t challenge off the tee the way I would have liked either.”