At the pinnacle of professional golf, there are four dates that every player circles on their calendar.
The first falls on the second Sunday of April as the attention of the golfing world turns to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National for the year's first Major.
For some, simply securing a spot in the prestigious Masters field is the goal.
For those with higher aspirations, the goal is to win.
In Tiger Woods’ prime, every tournament he played leading into April was viewed through the lens of the upcoming Masters.
Tiger often emphasized how he used these tournaments to get meaningful “reps” and to reintroduce his body to the feelings of competition.
These weeks were still about winning (which Tiger did plenty of), but they were also about getting his game ready for Augusta.
In more recent years, other players have followed suit by similarly using the 3-month run-up to make necessary swing tweaks and equipment changes, all in a concerted effort to peak for The Masters.
Given the focus players place on peaking for the second week of April, let’s dig into how past winners have played leading up to their Masters victories:
This visualization plots the performance paths of each Masters Champion since 1997 in the two years before and after their Masters wins.
Hovering over a player’s image will highlight their path.
Each dot represents our estimate of a player’s skill
at that point in time; the solid green line shows the average skill of all 23 winners.
In an act of pure kindness, we have included a dropdown of the 2022 field, allowing you to display the current skill path of any player alongside the paths of past champions.
There is plenty to digest and explore, but here are some takeaways we found interesting:
The average Masters Champion since 1997 had an estimated skill of +1.6 strokes-gained per round the week prior to winning.
By our numbers, Angel Cabrera (2009) was the worst champion, having a skill of only +0.5 on the eve of his Masters triumph.
If you used this as a cutoff for having an outside shot at winning, 54 players in the 2022 field would qualify.
In the 2 years preceding their win, no Masters Champion saw their skill dip below 0 (the level of an average PGA Tour player).
In the 4 months leading up to The Masters, the winner’s skill level on average improved by 0.22 strokes per round.
While this appears to support the peaking theory outlined above, an uptick in a player's performance before winning is seen at all PGA Tour events.
It does, however, seem to be heightened for The Masters.
When you combine overall talent level and their Masters run-up trend, Justin Thomas looks to be in the best position to slip on the Green Jacket in 2022.
Scottie Scheffler, the new world #1, is following a similar path to that of the 2015 champ and fellow Texas Longhorn, Jordan Spieth.
The 0.27 stroke jump in the average Masters champion’s skill pre and post-Masters reflects the fact that every
one of them — even 2001 Tiger! — overperformed en route to their victories.