Masters Statistics & (Some) Predictions

Here’s a view of the winning scores from par since the inception of the tournament.

Difference from par and year.
Difference from par and year.

The early years saw little variability, but since the 60s there were a lot more very high or low scores; variability increased. Tiger Woods had his biggest year in 1997 with 18 under, but poor Zach Johnson in a small typhoon in 2007 cleared with field with 1 over.

The best projection for this year is a score 10 under, with a 90% chance it will be between 4 and 15 under.

Youth does not have a significant, or at least overwhelming, advantage. Some 72% of the winners were 30 or older, and 14% 40 or older. The oldest was, as everybody knows, Jack Nicklaus who took home the Green Jacket at 46 in 1986. The youngest was Tiger Woods, just 22 in 1997. There isn’t an clear signal that suggests older or younger players are coming out ahead.

Age of winner by year.
Age of winner by year.

Don’t forget that many of the “mini-trends” visible are from golfers winning more than one title, and necessarily aging in between victories.

Large margins of victory are rare. Tiger Woods had the biggest, a 12-shot lead in 1997, followed by Jack Nicklaus with a 9-shot gap in 1965, with Raymond Floyd in third place with an 8-shot margin in 1976. Ties are common: nearly 21% of time there is a sudden-death playoff. A 1-shot lead is the most usual outcome, happening 28% of the time, followed by a 2-shot lead at 23% of the time, and 3-shot victory at about 12%. Margins of victory 4 or more shots about 16% of the time.

Margin of victory by year.
Margin of victory by year.

The trend, if any, seems to be for closer margins of victory with the occasional break out.

Here’s another indication age doesn’t play that much of a role. There are no clear signals in age and the difference from par or the margin of victory (some jittering has been added to this plot to separate close points). Of course, age does play some role. There aren’t any 10-year-olds nor 60-year-olds making the cuts. Once a player gets past the cut, his age is not of much predictive value—however much it may mean to the player’s aching bones!

Good news for "old" men.
Good news for “old” men.

Players from these once Unite States took home about 3 out of every 4 Green Jackets, winning 74% of the time. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the next most winningest country is South African with just over 6% of the victories, followed closely by Spain, with about 5%. The Brits took almost 4%, the Germans just under 3%. Only 7 other countries took anything (there were 11 winning countries in all).

Most players have only won once: 65% of the tournaments were by a man who never repeated. About 19% of the time saw a golfer winning twice, around 10% were three-peaters, two men (Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods), or 4%, won 4 times, and only one time did anybody win 6 (Jack Nicklaus, of course).

Who will win this year’s tourney? I have no idea. But to make a guess, I like this Jordan Spieth fellow, though he’s awfully young. (This is posting on Friday, but was written right before the tournament started.)


  1. John B()

    : Zach Johnson in a small typhoon in 2007

    Was it Global Warming?

    Can this post be trusted? I don’t see any hockey sticks anywhere!

  2. BTW: Jack also won once, twice, three times, four times, five times and of course as you reported, six times. Statistics, Damn them!

  3. Uncle Mike

    Congrats on your accurate prediction !!!!!!!!!!!

    But did you make the wager? Will you next time?

  4. Andrew

    Is it possible to mark up the “winners’ ages” chart with lines indicating the age progression of those who won multiple titles? Eg: it must be possible to draw a straight line through all of the times Jack N. won.

  5. Briggs


    I did that once, but the plot was pretty ugly. If I have time, I’ll have another go.

    Uncle Mike,

    I’ll have to settle for the approbation of my readers, gambling being a state monopoly.

  6. Don

    About that 10 under par……

    Wow, how many were better than that. The course played easy in 2015. It is already plotting its revenge for 2016.

  7. JB

    First a piece of Irish wisdom: you should always listen to a bookie. For they have a saying, ‘Money tells a good story,’ and somewhere in their odds is a kind of science-fiction existentialism that decrees that we, the people, know everything. In other words, betting patterns often make for good, unconscious soothsaying.

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