Searching for a Specialist: The Masters
The first major is upon us this week as a field of 87 golfers head to Augusta National Golf Club.
The course is a par 72 that stretches out to nearly 7,500 yards now. It’s a course that requires a lot of drivers, but it allows that because the landing areas are generous. The course yields eagle chances, but overall it’s very tough. It features SPEEDY, bentgrass greens.
If you are new to the specialist search, here is a quick primer. The goal of this article is to look at a few key angles for the upcoming event and compare each golfer’s performance in those angles against their long-term baseline. For a golfer to get bucketed as a specialist, they must improve over their baseline in all five angles. At the bottom, I also include a table with the full-field rankings in each angle.
Reviewing last week, Nick Taylor was the specialist and popped with a hole-in-one but overall settled for 52nd place. Ryan Palmer was the secondary specialist and he missed the cut. Booo. It’s been a quiet month for specialists after a fast start to 2019. The Masters would be a great spot to fly back up and post a top-heavy finish.
This week we look at Performance on Bentgrass Greens, Hard Courses, Driver-Heavy Courses, Easy-to-Hit Fairways, and Fast Greens.
Here we go…
Augusta National overseeeds their bermuda from tee-to-green (with ryegrass) but once you reach the putting surfaces you deal with bentgrass.
The 10 Bentgrass Specialists:
Satoshi Kodaira (0.729 sg:bentgrass vs. -0.17 sg:total)
Hao Tong Li (1.186 sg:bentgrass vs. 0.623 sg:total)
Brooks Koepka (2.772 sg:bentgrass vs. 2.268 sg:total)
Martin Kaymer (1.625 sg:bentgrass vs. 1.166 sg:total)
Rickie Fowler (2.922 sg:bentgrass vs. 2.519 sg:total)
Kyle Stanley (1.596 sg:bentgrass vs. 1.241 sg:total)
Justin Rose (3.161 sg:bentgrass vs. 2.819 sg:total)
Michael Kim (0.615 sg:bentgrass vs. 0.339 sg:total)
Jordan Spieth (2.752 sg:bentgrass vs. 2.505 sg:total)
Keegan Bradley (1.892 sg:bentgrass vs. 1.654 sg:total)
Quantity: The golfers that have the most strokes gained on Bentgrass Greens since 2014 are Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, and Justin Rose.
If you look at the top 4 putters over the last 4 years at the Masters (SG Putting per Round) then you’ll see Fowler, Spieth, Rose, and DJ at the top. They all show up on the quantity list while Fowler, Rose, and Spieth show up on the Performance versus Baseline list, as well. A good sign for top-tier names like Koepka and Finau who also make appearances on these lists.
Since 2010 the field has averaged 73.37 strokes here at Augusta National.
Anything over 0.75 RTP I consider a tough course so +1.37 easily fits the bill.
The Top 10 Hard Course Specialists:
Hao Tong Li (1.611 sg:hard vs. 0.623 sg:total)
Satoshi Kodaira (0.74 sg:hard vs. -0.17 sg:total)
Danny Willett (1.321 sg:hard vs. 0.612 sg:total)
Jordan Spieth (3.207 sg:hard vs. 2.505 sg:total)
Bubba Watson (2.424 sg:hard vs. 1.821 sg:total)
Louis Oosthuizen (2.447 sg:hard vs. 1.884 sg:total)
Michael Kim (0.832 sg:hard vs. 0.339 sg:total)
Brooks Koepka (2.75 sg:hard vs. 2.268 sg:total)
Charl Schwartzel (1.783 sg:hard vs. 1.341 sg:total)
Charley Hoffman (1.977 sg:hard vs. 1.548 sg:total)
Quantity: Golfers with the most weighted strokes gained on hard courses since 2014 are Jordan Spieth, Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Patrick Reed.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that four past Masters champs show up on the Hard Course vs Baseline list (Willett, Spieth, Bubba, Charl). There is also Charley who loves to pop here and Oosthy who has a runner-up finish. Could Hao Tong be ready to take the next step?
When looking for whether a course is driver friendly it’s wise to look at past quotes from big hitters.
Bubba made it clear when he said this. “you go to Augusta, everybody hits a lot of drivers. You can hit drivers and it’s a bigger golf course. At the same time, there’s not a lot of rough. There’s thick trees but not a lot of branches.”
The Top 10 Driver-Heavy Specialists:
Corey Conners (1.739 sg:driver-heavy vs. 0.894 sg:total)
Danny Willett (1.303 sg:driver-heavy vs. 0.612 sg:total)
Satoshi Kodaira (0.345 sg:driver-heavy vs. -0.17 sg:total)
Bubba Watson (2.336 sg:driver-heavy vs. 1.821 sg:total)
Paul Casey (2.837 sg:driver-heavy vs. 2.372 sg:total)
Xander Schauffele (2.214 sg:driver-heavy vs. 1.866 sg:total)
Michael Kim (0.68 sg:driver-heavy vs. 0.339 sg:total)
Si Woo Kim (1.39 sg:driver-heavy vs. 1.065 sg:total)
J.B. Holmes (1.809 sg:driver-heavy vs. 1.493 sg:total)
Jon Rahm (2.882 sg:driver-heavy vs. 2.569 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained on Driver-Heavy Courses since 2014 are Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, and Justin Thomas.
On the flip side of the equation, we see Francesco Molinari down at -0.507 in this angle. Perhaps that plays into why his record is so poor here at Augusta National. Or maybe his new found distance will help him post a new personal best this week.
When a course yields a high rate of fairways hit then you generally assume that golfers are laying back off the tee.
Based on the angle above, we know that’s not the case. Golfers are pounding driver at ANGC but still able to hit about 68% of fairways because of the generous landing areas.
The Top 10 Easy Fairway Specialists:
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (1.724 sg:easy fairways vs. 1.159 sg:total)
Xander Schauffele (2.343 sg:easy fairways vs. 1.866 sg:total)
Danny Willett (1.049 sg:easy fairways vs. 0.612 sg:total)
Keith Mitchell (1.644 sg:easy fairways vs. 1.217 sg:total)
Jordan Spieth (2.922 sg:easy fairways vs. 2.505 sg:total)
Louis Oosthuizen (2.295 sg:easy fairways vs. 1.884 sg:total)
Jimmy Walker (1.656 sg:easy fairways vs. 1.293 sg:total)
Patrick Reed (2.297 sg:easy fairways vs. 1.936 sg:total)
Andrew Landry (1.015 sg:easy fairways vs. 0.678 sg:total)
Justin Rose (3.151 sg:easy fairways vs. 2.819 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained on Easy Fairway Courses since 2014 are Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Patrick Reed.
When fairways are easy to hit, it generally turns the course into a second and/or third-shot golf course because approach shots from the fairway are easier. Even if you are coming in with mid-irons like you see this week at ANGC.
Performance on Fast Greens
“These greens, as fast as they are, and some of the pin placements, every three footer is a real challenge. It can get away from you and you could end up with ten feet coming back.” – Matt Kuchar
“I’ve always felt comfortable on really fast greens.” – Paul Casey
“It was fairly soft, but obviously the greens run very, very fast on this golf course.” – Ian Poulter
The Top 10 Fast Green Specialists:
Kyle Stanley (1.914 sg:fast greens vs. 1.241 sg:total)
Bryson DeChambeau (2.384 sg:fast greens vs. 1.854 sg:total)
Aaron Wise (1.826 sg:fast greens vs. 1.489 sg:total)
Ian Poulter (1.968 sg:fast greens vs. 1.632 sg:total)
Justin Thomas (2.78 sg:fast greens vs. 2.501 sg:total)
Emiliano Grillo (1.936 sg:fast greens vs. 1.661 sg:total)
Marc Leishman (2.249 sg:fast greens vs. 1.997 sg:total)
Adam Scott (2.418 sg:fast greens vs. 2.181 sg:total)
Matthew Fitzpatrick (1.63 sg:fast greens vs. 1.42 sg:total)
Matt Kuchar (2.394 sg:fast greens vs. 2.196 sg:total)
Quantity: Most weighted strokes gained on Fast Greens since 2014 are Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, and Hideki Matsuyama.
Playing on fast greens can make it really tough for some to scramble. That puts an emphasis on the iron play, but some of the elite short-game players also relish the challenge.
We now have five golfers that are positive in all five angles. Now we get to cut the fat for anyone that doesn’t fall inside the top 50 in form or baseline performance over the last year.
Jordan Spieth: 51st in Form
Patrick Reed: 53rd in Form
Charley Hoffman: 59th in One-Year Baseline
Shane Lowry: 83rd in Form
We have the course horse (Spieth), defending champ (Reed), and First-Round Specialist (Charley).
While the course fit is juicy for this bunch, it’s hard to fully trust any of them.
Somewhat similar to Brooks Koepka before his run of major championship titles, Finau has been feasting on the majors which are always played on tough courses.
Finau has posted top 20s in 6 of his first 11 majors played. Then you can add three T11 or better in five WGC stroke-play starts and Finau is becoming a big-game hunter, despite his reputation for beating up on weaker fields, since his only win came at the Puerto Rico Open.
One of those top 10s in the majors came at Augusta National last year when he managed a T10 on debut. He did that while battling a high ankle sprain that happened the day before the event started. I think a fully healthy Finau should have a good chance to match that finish, or even beat it.
He will be happy to leave bermuda and get some bentgrass back in his life.
Super Simple Specialist Ratings
The goal of this article is to isolate course fit, to see who should outperform their baseline.
However, anyone with common sense knows that baseline talent (and current form) can’t be ignored when handicapping golf.
Combining Long-Term Skill (L52) with Current Form and Specialist Rating, we get a Top 20 ranking that looks like this:
The specialist, Big Tony, sits at #9 on this list.
Brooks Koepka at #2 is probably the most interesting. He arrives without much fanfare (or form) but Augusta National should be a great course for him to get back into contention.
Best of luck everyone!
Below is a table with the full specialist data. Any fields with a 0 in them mean the sample size is not large enough. There is a minimum of 30 rounds to qualify for each angle.
The SG:TOTAL column is a baseline performance measure (since 2014). It is time-weighted so more recent results count for more than finishes from years ago.
HISTORY column is a weighted performance metric based on course history. I’ve made tiny adjustments for sample sizes, but be sure to check on number of course rounds before blindly following this number.
FORM looks at the total strokes gained, adjusted to field strength, over the last 6 weeks (PGA TOUR and European Tour).
SIMPLE RATING looks at Long-Term Skill (L52), FORM, and SPECIALIST RATING to create a simple rating that includes course fit but doesn’t overweight it.
L52 FORM looks at performance over the last 52 weeks across the PGA TOUR, Web.com Tour, and European Tour.
|Golfer||DK||FD||FDRFT||SG: Total||History||Form||Bentgrass||Driver||Fast||Easy FW||Hard Courses||Specialist Rating||Simple Rating||L52 Form|
|Hao Tong Li||$7,200||$9,400||$12,700||0.623||1.115||1.837||0.563||0||0||0||0.988||0.31||241||1.577|
|Si Woo Kim||$6,700||$8,800||$12,000||1.065||0.712||19.978||-0.117||0.325||0.198||-0.112||-0.051||0.049||211||1.55|
|Jose Maria Olazabal||$6,100||$7,000||$10,000||-0.028||-0.13||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||421||-4.594|
|Charles Howell III||$7,000||$8,600||$12,500||1.71||0.648||22.937||-0.417||0.038||-0.074||-0.062||-0.38||-0.179||204||2.008|
|Rafa Cabrera Bello||$7,500||$9,200||$12,600||1.938||1.085||17.241||0.008||-0.053||-0.535||-0.369||-0.081||-0.206||246||1.911|