Why Bubba Watson Will Win The 2014 Masters

Last time I made a headline like that, I tipped Bill Haas to win the 2013 PGA Championship. Whilst he did finish inside the top-25, he didn’t win, so I feel I have some making up to do to those who followed my logic.

Introducing Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. aka Bubba.

Image

Before you put all your eggs in Adam Scott or Rory McIlroy’s basket, hear me out on why this could well be Bubba’s year (again).

Experience

If you are reading this and unaware that Bubba already has a Green Jacket in his wardrobe, I suggest my blog possibly isn’t for you. Whilst many considered it a shock that Bubba broke through in such dramatic fashion, I was one of “those guys” that had bet on Bubba that week. In fact, I picked Donald, Oosthuizen and Bubba. Whilst Donald finished a lowly T32, it was a delight to sit on my sofa and watch Bubba and Louis battle it out in a win-win scenario for me.

For the record, I’m roughly 0-for-11 in major championship betting since that day.

Anyway, back to Bubba. He has proved he can win at Augusta. His length, shot-shaping and touch around the greens should serve him well.

Consider this, the average Masters appearances before a first win is 6. Whilst Bubba was ahead of schedule, winning in his 4th appearance, he tees it up this week at Augusta for the 6th time, primed for another green jacket.

Length

Chicks dig the long ball, and so does Augusta National. 10 of the last 14 Masters champions have ranked inside the top-30 on the PGA Tour in driving distance in the year they won.

You don’t get adverts using the term “Bubba Long” if you’re not a long hitter. This season Bubba is averaging over 317 yards per drive on the PGA Tour. That’s seven yards further than anyone else.

Unsurprisingly he also ranks #1 in this year’s field in driving distance and will look to use that length on Augusta’s key holes, specifically 2, 5, 8, 11, 13, 15 and 17.

3-Putting

Watch Bubba’s putting stroke, or his body language on the greens, and you may come the conclusion that he is a weak, less-than-confident putter. However, look at the numbers and you’re impression may change.

Bubba is having a career best year in terms of Strokes Gained Putting, ranking 50th on Tour, saving just over a shot on the field over the course of four days.

However, Augusta’s greens are a different story. It is not always about making putts, but getting them close enough to make the next one. Avoiding 3-putts can be even more crucial than holing certain putts. And when it comes to 3-putt avoidance Bubba is in a rare-run of form. He ranks 5th on the PGA Tour, 3-putting just 1.56% of the time. None of the four men above him in that ranking are in the field this week.

At the risk of cursing Bubba, he also holds the longest streak on the PGA Tour of avoiding a 3-putt. He has gone 255 holes without three-jacking, 107 holes more than the next best streak.

Short Putting

In the same way that avoiding 3-putts at Augusta is crucial, making those 3 and 4 foot comebackers can be a major advantage. Having the confidence to hole a 5ft, downhill, left-to-right putt on the back-nine on Sunday can make or break a green jacket charge.

Bubba ranks 7th on the PGA Tour on putts inside 5 feet, making 214 of 218 attempts, tied with fellow Masters-hopeful Sergio Garcia. Only Hunter Mahan and Gary Woodland, in the field this week, rank above Bubba in this category. 

Form

Quietly, this season, Bubba Watson has climbed his way up the world rankings. He started the year ranked 30th, yet drove down Magnolia Lane on Monday morning ranked as the 12th best player on the planet.

19 of the last 26 Masters winners have been ranked inside the top-15 in the world when they won, so perhaps Bubba is peaking at the right time.

In the five events he has completed in 2014, he has a win and two runner-up finishes. Since October 2013, Bubba has played eight events and hasn’t finished worse than 30th.

Headlines

You might have picked up on the fact I said “events he has completed” in that last section. The reason for the wording is that Bubba withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational 3 weeks ago after opening with a 83.

Whilst I wouldn’t normally tip a player who arrives at The Masters on the back of an 83, Bubba said that “bad allergies” led to him making an 11 as well as 7 in his opening round at Bay Hill: “It’s hard to focus when you’re heads all discombobulated from medicine and pollen”

Whilst I hope that his allergies remain under control this week (at a course where each hole is famously named after a flower), I do think he has flown under-the-radar following his Bay Hill WD.

Bubba is one of the best, most in-form players in the world, entering an event he won two years ago, yet he has evaded most of the attention, despite the Tiger-less field. And that is why I honestly believe he will win this year’s Masters.

Before you ask, he is 28/1.

 

 

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The 8 Players That Can Statistically Win The Masters

There are 97 players in the field at Augusta, but how many of those players can actually win this year’s green jacket?

Everyone and their neighbour has a tip of who they think will win the Masters, but if you take a look at the numbers, there is a rough correlation of what it takes to win the green jacket. After all, it is the only Major that takes place on the same course, therefore it should provide some trends.

I crunched the numbers and here’s my logic.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the 97 players that will tee it up on Thursday:

all

Potential Winners: 97

Obviously one big name is missing, but nonetheless the field is full of the game’s top players and hottest names. However, to start the cull, let’s eliminate those players that don’t get paid. It’s great that Augusta invites amateurs to play, but they are not going to win. Enjoy the Crow’s Nest guys, but goodbye for now.

amateurs

Potential Winners = 91

Now we have a professional group of athletes, but it still seems too big. Another courtesy Augusta extends is inviting back past champions. So along with those names, let’s bid farewell to anyone aged over 50. After all, Jack was the oldest Masters champion winning the ’86 green jacket, aged 46.

over50

Potential Winners = 80

Sad to lose the likes of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Fred Couples, but this is about winning a Major on a long (possibly wet) Augusta layout. So 80 players, that still seems like a lot.

This year’s event sees the most number of first-timers (24) since the second edition of the Masters in 1935. Whilst that group, with the likes of Spieth, Reed, English, DeLaet, Dubuisson etc, has some a strong pedigree, Augusta doesn’t favour rookies. Only Fuzzy Zoeller has won in his visit to Augusta since the first two winners of the Masters. Therefore first-timers, be sure to pick up some memorabilia, try a Pimento Cheese sandwich and soak up the atmosphere, this will not be your year.

firsttimers

Potential Winners = 62

I myself may have a wager on a certain rookie (cough…Harris English!), but history is hard to deny. Course knowledge and being familiar with the fast, undulating greens cannot be underrated. So we have 62 potential winners.

In the same way first-timers tend not to do well, those who’ve done well here before tend to do well again. Thus, the only Masters Champion that did not make the cut the year before winning was a certain, 20-year old amateur named Eldrick Woods in 1996. Therefore, let’s scrub anyone that didn’t make the cut last year.

previouscut

Potential Winners = 42

Less than half the field remains, and many of the top names have survived. So let’s dive even deeper.

A closer look at a Masters Champion résumé highlights the fact that 20 of the last 24 champions had a top-5 finish, within the season, prior to arriving at Augusta. Obviously some degree of form is important, so let’s cut those who haven’t cashed in a top-5 check this season.

top5inseason

Potential Winners = 22

Now we’re getting somewhere. Just 22 players remain, all with serious Masters potential. However, we can cut it further.

An even deeper look into recent form suggests that winning prior to the Masters is key. 21 of the last 25 Masters Champions had won an event within 30 events of playing the Masters. So, no recent silverware? No love here, let’s cut the bridesmaids.

winwithin30events

Potential Winners: 15

Couple of big names stumbled there, but most of the biggest names remain, so let’s keep digging. Rather than recent form, how about recent Masters form? 21 of the last 25 champions had, at some point in their career, registered a top-20 finish at Augusta prior to winning. Sorry John Senden, but your time is up.

top20mastersfinish

Potential Winners: 14

Our John Senden-less group is still pretty strong and large. How can we cut it down further? Looking at the weather in Augusta, it appears conditions will be wet and cooler than normal. For that reason distance will be crucial. A look at recent green jacket winners shows that 13 of the last 14 winners (excuse Zach Johnson) ranked inside the top-70 in driving distance in the year they won The Masters. Therefore, for our final cut, let’s lose the short hitters, ranked lower than 70th in driving distance.

drivingdistance

Potential Winners: 8

So we have it, our elite eight. Unsurprisingly the two co-favourites, McIlroy and Scott, made the cut. However, not many would have guessed that 44-year old Ernie Els would be in with a chance this week.

For those interested in backing this group, here’s how their current odds look:

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At this stage, I’d like to clarify that I expect 20% of any future winnings of bets placed based on the information contained within this blog. Be sure to tweet me Sunday night to thank me for my research!

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Broke Back (and pressure) Mounting

bb2

At what point we start to worry about Tiger Woods? With on-going signs of a bad back and continued signs of poor play, is Tiger’s season, or possibly even his career, in jeopardy?

Don’t roll your eyes just yet, I’m just getting started.

I tend to hold off on opinion of players until the sample size is large enough to evaluate. That is simple statistics. However, dive a little deeper into Tiger’s numbers and one or two alarm bells start ringing.

Is it time to stop hitting snooze and wake up to the fact this is getting serious? Allow me to play both sides of the debate:

Argument: “He is hurting, but he’ll be ready for Augusta”

No doubt, Tiger’s finished in the top-6 at Augusta in 8 of the last 9 Masters. However, he is in the midst of his largest-ever, 22-event, major drought. Whilst he has been close at Augusta, he hasn’t exactly be in with a chance (i.e. within four shots) of winning since 2008.

“You know if he gets in contention, he’ll close it out”

Perhaps, but don’t forget he blew his last 54-hole lead at his own event at Sherwood Country Club in December and hasn’t lead a Major going into the last round since 2009, when he lost to YE Yang at the PGA Championship. Since Tiger last added silverware to his Major mantelpiece, 19 different players have won a major, 15 of them for the first time. Are we really still in the Tiger-era?

“Whatever, he can’t be in a slump, he won 5 times last year”

True, but he hasn’t won for 11 events. That might sound like much, but he’s only had three longer win-droughts in his career (and only one in the last 10 years). In fact, Tiger hasn’t registered a top-10 in an official PGA Tour event in over six months.

“It’s still very early in the year”

Is it really? We’ve already had 16 PGA Tour events this season. For the first time in his career Tiger hasn’t registered a finish inside the top-20 in his first 4 events of the year. In four events, he has finished MDF, T41st, WD, T25th. For a guy that cherry picks his schedule, is that not worrying?

“Well he has shown signs of potential”

Yes he has, but so has my 3-year old niece. Winning events takes four rounds. Four good rounds, not one. Tiger’s played 265 holes in 2014 and he is 5-over par. That folks, is not good. By comparison, “in-a-slump” Rory McIlroy is 28-under having played just one more event.

“Ok, but he’s been injured”

Exactly. And it’s not even his knee. Back problems in golf are no laughing matter, just ask Fred Couples or Ben Hogan. Tiger seems to be clenching his back more than he is clenching his fist in celebration. He keeps telling everyone he’s fine, but the last 18 months have been full of concern for his health.

“Whatever you say, he is still number one in the world”

Yes. For Now. Five wins will do that. But look closely and you’ll see that Adam Scott has a very good chance of becoming #1 in the coming weeks. Tiger’s lead in the world rankings is the lowest it has been more than 10 months. Anyone that knows the rankings system knows that the rankings tend to show ‘what have you done for me lately’. Tiger’s five wins in 2013 are loosing influence each week.

Listen, I am not writing Tiger off. Any golf fan knows better than that. I just think ‘the field’ has more than caught up. And they’re younger and healthier than Tiger.

All golfers go through slumps, just look at McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott or Henrik Stenson. My concern is that Tiger’s form may be impacted by his injuries. The best thing for Tiger, the game and all us fans is if he goes off, gets healthy and drives down Magnolia Lane ready, and able, to compete.

The Green Jacket brigade even did him a favour this year, removing the tree that caused Tiger to injure his knee in 2011.

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Statistical Assessment Of The Premier League Title Race

“I use statistics the same way a drunk uses a lamp post — for support rather than illumination.”

Those were the wise words of Scottish rugby coach, Scott Johnson. Whilst he may be better seeing if that same lamp post could win a line out in the Six Nations, his approach is interesting.

Football fans are fickle animals. One day their on top of the world, the next their slumping, calling for change and throwing in the towel.

To take a different approach, I thought I would illuminate the current position of the top teams in the Premier League as they break for an FA Cup weekend.

Here’s the current table in a Cann Table format:

cann

In order to take a look and compare the strength of team’s schedules moving forward, I need to take a look at how good teams are playing at home and away.

Here’s a look at the league table with home and away performance. Black signals a team that averages 2 or more points (either at home or away), grey shows teams that average between 1 and 2 points and white is less than a point/game.

homeandaway

Having figured out where teams are dangerous (i.e. Spurs away more than home), I put together teams remaining schedules and categorized each game as tough, average or easy based on the points the opposition team picks up either home or away.

fixturesClick to enlarge

So where do I go from there?

Well I was curious how the teams stack up based on their remaining schedule, based both on the average points of their opponents (either home or away) as well as the average league position of the teams remaining.

Here’s that info as the teams stand in the league:

remainingstats

Here’s the strength of schedule rank based on average points/game of the opposition. Once again, this is based on where (home or away) a team will face their opposition.

For example, if you’re playing Stoke City at home, they average just 0.46 points/game away from home. Whereas they average 1.62 points/game at the Britannia Stadium.

points

Seems like good news for Cardiff and Fulham, but how does that change when you look at it based on the average league position of the remaining opponents:

position

Possibly good news for Mourinho, and it doesn’t look good for Poyet and Sunderland.

But let’s take a closer look at the top teams and see how their schedules shape up moving into the final third of the season.

Chelsea:

Somewhat under-the-radar they find themselves top of the table, thanks in large part to their performances at StamfordBridge. They are unbeaten at home, winning 11 of their 13 matches. Impressive, but don’t forget Mourinho hasn’t lost any of his 72 home league fixtures as Chelsea boss.

Chelsea have a surprisingly straight forward schedule from now on. Visits from Spurs and Arsenal as well as an away match at Anfield are the “tough” fixtures remaining. With just 5 of their 12 games versus teams in the top half of the table, expect Chelsea to be in the hunt come May 11th.

Key Matches: Spurs (H), Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A)

Arsenal:

It seems many are ready to jump off the Gunner-bandwagon and call quits on Arsenal’s title hopes. One win from four has dropped them out of fourth and with their upcoming schedule; many believe their title bid will suffer:

Next 10 Games:

Vs Liverpool (FA Cup)
Vs Bayern Munich (Champions League)
Vs Sunderland (Premier League)
At Stoke City (Premier League)
Vs Swansea (Premier League)
At Bayern Munich (Champions League)
At Spurs (Premier League)
At Chelsea (Premier League)
Vs Man City (Premier League)
At Everton (Premier League)

Perhaps the best thing for their titles hopes would be to be blown away in the first leg of the Champions League matchup with Bayern Munich. Following that they have the key string of games in their remaining schedule facing Spurs, Chelsea, City and Everton… in consecutive league matches.

However, they will look to continue their consistent form that sees them as the only team that average 2 or more points both home (2.31) and away (2.0).

Key Matches: Chelsea (A), Everton (A), City (H)

Man City:

The goal-scoring juggernaut has struggled of late. Three hours of goalless football has seen them drop to 3rd. In fact, Liverpool have now scored just two goals less than City this season, albeit in one more game (City’s last game vs Sunderland was postponed).

They may have the best home record in the league, but their away record is the worst in the top-4 and with away fixtures at Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Man Utd still on the schedule, it will need to improve. 9 of the last 10 Premier League champions have finished with a points tally of more than 85 points. If City were to just average a point from those four away games, and win their other 9 remaining games, they would finish with 85 points exactly. Would that be enough? Away form for City is crucial.

Key Matches: Arsenal (A), Liverpool (A), Everton (A)

Liverpool:

After 89 minutes of their last game, popular opinion was that Liverpool were playing for 4th. But after a 90th minute winner, they are now title-contenders. Bookies favour them at 8/1 more than Arsenal at 10/1. Why? Their remaining Champions-League-less schedule may have something to do with that.

Liverpool are one of only two teams that have no away fixtures remaining versus the current top-6 (other: HullCity). By points average and average position their schedule seems pretty… well, pretty average. A closer looks shows that they are one of only a handful of teams that have no “tough” games in their final six matches (others: Spurs, Cardiff and Fulham).

Based on average points from opponents (specifically home or away), the toughest game Liverpool have remaining is Spurs at home. However, many will see the City and Chelsea games at Anfield in April as the tipping point of their season.

The majority (7 of 12) of Liverpool’s remaining games are against teams currently in the top half. Upcoming matches against Swansea and Southampton will be crucial to keeping any title aspirations alive.

Key Matches: Spurs (H), City (H), Chelsea (H)

Spurs:

It’s been a strange year at White Hart Lane. Sherwood has inspired some good recent form post-AVB, but Spurs home form has let them down. 15 goals in 13 games at home has hurt their chances of returning to the Champions League.

Saying that, their away form has been incredible: 21 goals and just 2 losses. In 13 games away from home they’ve picked up enough points (29) to be in the top half of the table, above Swansea.

The good news moving forward is that despite some European football they have the easiest schedule in terms of opponents average league position (11.83).

They have fewer games versus the big-7 (Chelsea, Arsenal, City, Liverpool, Spurs, Everton, Utd) than anyone else in the league, and a soft finish to the season should see them make a late charge for the top-4, if not more.

Key Matches: Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H)

Everton:

Is the Martinez Mojo running low? Having started the season in dazzling form, losing just 1 of their first 17 matches, they’ve now lost two in two weeks to their closest rivals (Liverpool and Spurs).

According to points average, they have the 4th easiest schedule left, with just one “tough” match in their final dozen matches, and even that’s at home (Arsenal).

8 points out of fourth currently, they would need to repeat the form of earlier in the season to make a charge. With Lukaku out, they will look to rely heavily on Mirallas, Deulofeu and potentially their new 6’7” forward, Lacina Traore.

Key Matches: Arsenal (H), Man City (H).

Other Notes:

- Cardiff have the easiest remaining schedule based on points average of opposition (1.19).

- West Ham face the toughest schedule based on points average of opposition (1.56).

- Sunderland have the toughest schedule in terms of opponents average league position (8.92).

- Spurs have the easiest schedule in terms of opponents average league position (11.83)

- Man Utd are 11 points back. No team has ever come back from 11 points this late in the season to finish fourth.

- Only one of Liverpool’s remaining 12 games is considered “easy”.

- Sunderland still have to play five of the current top-6 away from home.

- Norwich City’s final four matches: vs Liverpool, at Man Utd, at Chelsea, vs Arsenal.

- Four teams have picked up more points away from home than at home (Spurs, Newcastle, Villa and Sunderland).

- Stoke have the biggest difference between home and away form, averaging 1.62 pts/game at home, but just 0.46 away (worst in the league).

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PGA Tour Career Earnings Cann Table

Ok, I’m now obsessed with the Cann Table.

Having done the World Rankings earlier this week, I thought I’d see how it portrayed the PGA Tour’s Career Earnings list. Here’s the current top-50 earnings in PGA Tour history:

earnings1

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Tiger & Torrey

Among the dozens of affairs that came out during the Tiger scandal, one affair that wasn’t mentioned was that with Torrey.

Located on the West Coast of the US, Torrey and Tiger have had an ongoing relationship since 1998. In that time, Tiger has visited Torrey on an annual basis around this time of year and often left with a massive smile on his face and a massive… check in his pocket.

I am, of course, talking about Torrey Pines, host to this week’s Farmers Insurance Open and Tiger Woods first event of 2014.

tw

Tiger once said ”Once we figure out what courses we like, we tend to play those.” I have a feeling there are fewer place in the world Tiger likes more than Torrey Pines.

His success at Torrey Pines is fairly incredible and he heads there this week with a good chance of becoming the second player to win 80 PGA Tour events, and the first to win 9 PGA Tour events at one course.

At 38 years old, Woods has 79 PGA Tour victories. He’s picked up those 79 wins at 25 different events. A closer look at those 25 events tells you that he’s actually won an event multiple times (18) more than twice as much as he’s won an event just once (7).

It seems local/course knowledge is one of the keys to Tiger’s success.

In fact, the last time Tiger won a non-Major/WGC event at a course he was playing for the first time was 16 years ago, at the 1998 BellSouth Classic.

Dive deeper into his 79 PGA wins and you’ll see that more than 30% of Tiger’s wins (24) have come on just three courses: Torrey Pines, Firestone and Bay Hill. Add together Tiger’s career earnings at those three venues and Tiger would rank 23rd on the career money list with more than $26.7m in earnings.

But back to Tiger and Torrey.

On Thursday, Tiger will tee it up at Torrey Pines for 15th time. In his previous 14 visits, Tiger has won 8 times and finished outside the top-10 just once. His wins include 7 Farmers Insurance Open (formerly the Buick Invitational) titles and one US Open in 2008.

To put that in perspective, Tiger has more wins at Torrey Pines (8 in 14 events) than Rory McIlroy has in his PGA Tour career (6 in 71 events).

Tiger’s played against 2,159 players at Torrey Pines, and beaten 2,081 of them. That is a win percentage of 96.39%.

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When it comes to Woods love affair with Torrey it appears, for Tiger at least, it was love at first sight. In his first 11 visits to Torrey Pines, he carded 30 rounds in the 60s, compared with just one over-par round.

In 56 total rounds on either the South or North Course, Woods is 174-under par with a stroke average of 68.80. His numbers suggest he is more likely to shoot 67 or less (18 times) than 71 or higher (16 times).

His earnings at Torrey Pines are pretty staggering:

$8,195,096 in total earnings
$585,364 per event
$146,341 per round
$8,106 per hole*
$2,120 per shot

So, is PGA Tour win No. 80 just a few days away?

These numbers would suggest yes and bookies have Tiger as a heavy 5/2 favourite. With a career winning percentage at Torrey Pines of 57%, it is maybe a surprise his odds are not lower.

With only Sam Snead ahead of him on the all-time PGA Tour wins list, Woods will look to get within two wins of the record this week. Snead won his 80th PGA Tour title in 1960 aged 47. Tiger would be in good-standing if he could home this year’s Farmer’s Insurance Open on Sunday, at the age of just 38.

Tune in this weekend to see if another photo of Tiger and Torrey will be added to the record books.

tigerwoods1*includes playoffs: 2 additional holes in 2006 and 73 holes at the 2008 US Open.

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World Rankings Cann Table

Much like numbers or statistics can put an achievement in context, a graphic or infographic can further explain the point a reporter/blogger/writer is trying to make.

Jenny Cann was a big Arsenal football fan and lover of stats. In 1998, she developed a table for displaying the Premier League standings, assigning teams to their points tally rather than their position in the league. Known as the Cann Table, the graphic is still used by many sources across the internet.

It proved especially popular recently in displaying the current battle for relegation going on in the Premier League.

I loved the idea.

In fact, I spent most of the weekend thinking about how I could use it to display statistics or rankings. But how could I make it translate or explain some aspect of golf?

Alas, I decided on the world rankings. So, using the Cann Table, here is the current top-50 players in the world, using the world rankings rating of average-points-per-event.

worldrankingcanntable

Conclusion: Tiger is in fact, very good.

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