Masters, Big Five Style

The Big 5 are preparing for the Masters in a couple weeks. The numbers give us a bit of insight into what to expect… and don’t think it will be Tiger going low early or Phil finishing like a thoroughbred.

The Numbers GameTiger, Phil, Retief, Vijay, and Ernie. They will all be in Georgia in less than one week, ready to tackle the new and (cough, ahem) “improved” Augusta. While you’re busy contemplating your fantasy team rosters, I’ve compiled a few statistics on these “big five” that may interest you.

Without question, The Masters is Tiger’s best major. Since turning professional, Tiger has won in Augusta four out of nine times (44%).

Year   Tiger  Phil  Retief  Ernie  Vijay
1990   N/A    N/A   N/A     MC     N/A
1991   N/A    T46   N/A     55     N/A
1992   N/A    N/A   N/A     DQ     N/A
1993   N/A    T34   N/A     T34    N/A
1994   N/A    N/A   N/A     T8     T27
1995   T41    T7    N/A     MC     MC
1996   MC     3     N/A     T12    T39
1997   1      MC    N/A     MC     T17
1998   T8     T12   MC      T16    MC
1999   T18    T6    N/A     T27    T24
2000   5      T7    T40     T7     1
2001   1      3     MC      T6     T18
2002   1      3     2       T5     7
2003   T15    3     T13     T6     T6
2004   T22    1     T13     2      T6
2005   T1     10    T3      47     T5

Even when Tiger didn’t win, he typically finished high: his worst finish is a T22. Tiger is a near lock to be in the hunt on Sunday. What is interesting about Tiger is his scores before the final round. I talked last week about how previous winners didn’t necessarily get off to a good start. Tiger is no different. Here’s his averages by day:

Thursday   72.73
Friday     70.18
Saturday   69.20
Sunday     71.10

That first number jumps out at you. In 11 trips to Augusta, Woods’ first round average is over par. Hard to imagine for the four-time champion… but again only three winners since 1990 shot an opening round in the 60s. Tiger nearly shot himself in the foot last year with his 74 but recovered well. Another little fact about Woods and the first round: he’s never broken 70. Ever. Not even when winning by 12 shots in 1997.

On the other hand, in Tiger’s four victories he never shot over 70 on Friday or Saturday, averaging 66.38 in those eight rounds. He finished strong as well, always shooting under par in the final round, but Friday and moving day are his specialty at Augusta.

Since 1999 Lefty has averaged just under fifth in the Masters… better than all the anyone else. He’s been an even surer bet at Augusta than Tiger. His worst finish in this span was 10th last year. Just about any pro would take that!

Unlike Tiger, Phil has had some success on Thursday. In fact, it is his best day of the four.

Thursday   70.61
Friday     70.76
Saturday   71.17
Sunday     71.67

Phil seems to lose some steam throughout the week… averaging over a shot more on Sunday than the opening round. It is interesting to note that in 2004 during his victory, Mickelson followed an opening-round of 72 with three successive 69s. 2004 and 1999 were the only years he opened with his worst round. So, look for Lefty to get off to a good start. If not, he might have trouble catching up.

Goosen had his best year in 2002 when he fired three rounds under 70 but stumbled at the finish with a 74. This went against his normal slow start at Augusta.

Thursday   72.85
Friday     72.71
Saturday   72.00
Sunday     71.00

I expect better things from Retief in future Masters. He has the game and nerve to win and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already. He had a great chance in 2002 going into the final round tied with Tiger but couldn’t pull it off. If Retief manages to keep from shooting over par in any of his rounds, he’ll have a good chance. Sounds simple, but he hasn’t done it in any of his trips to Augusta yet. He has had a round of 74 or more every year. That has been the killer for him.

Always a bridesmaid but never a bride. Of the big five, Ernie has finished second twice… once to Vijay and the other time to Phil. In both of those rounds he finished strong, shooting 67 and 68. Unfortunately, those were the only two sub-70 Sunday rounds for Els at Augusta.

Ernie is another guy who doesn’t get off to a great start in the Masters… and like Tiger has never shot a sub-70 first round.

Thursday   72.75
Friday     69.83
Saturday   71.90
Sunday     72.00

Again, like Woods he gets off to a rough start and makes up for it in the middle rounds. His 80 in 1999 didn’t help that Sunday average. Still, other than his two seconds, he’s also been in the top six three other times. I still wonder if he is 100% back from his knee injury. Every week he looks a bit better.

He’s not only one of the best major performer, but one of the most consistent as well. Just like the other big five, you’ll expect them to do well. With Vijay, I’m disappointed if he’s not there in the end. At the Masters, Vijay has been a factor, especially since his win in 2000.

As for Vijay’s numbers at the Masters, they are probably the worst of the big five. That is due to some less-than-stellar rounds earlier in his career. Since 2000 it has been much, much better.

Thursday   72.17
Friday     72.25
Saturday   71.30
Sunday     72.70

It’s hard to break Vijay’s numbers apart because there isn’t any great days or bad days. He’s been consistent across all rounds. Imagine that, Vijay Singh, consistent. The only bad thing, he hasn’t gone REALLY low very often… only shooting under 68 twice in 44 rounds. If he does early at Augusta, it could mean good things.

I love making predictions just to see how wrong I can be. I’ve been reminded by this with my NCAA bracket. I must be insane because, like the saying goes, I keep trying the same thing over and expect a different result. So just for fun, here are my round-by-round predictions for the big five:

        R1  R2  R3  R4  Total
Tiger   71  69  68  69  -11
Phil    69  73  70  67  -9
Retief   74  69  72  73  E  
Ernie   71  67  73  70  -7
Vijay   68  71  73  69  -7

So there you have it. I think Tiger is going to win it with Phil and some others within striking distance. Have fun picking me apart after the Masters… as long as you make some too.

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