Does momentum matter at the Masters? What it means for Tiger Woods at Augusta National
The Masters begins in two weeks, and Tiger Woods is the Vegas favorite to grab the green jacket. A position that's a byproduct of Woods' recent performance, with the 42-year-old turning in consecutive top-five finishes at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational. It's worth remembering these numbers are reflective of the betting habits of the public rather than the forecast of odds makers; conversely, fans aren't dropping real money on a player routinely missing cuts.
It's a rejuvenation that's instilled belief that Woods can find the winner's circle at Augusta National for the first time since 2005. However, though no one wants to come into Georgia cold, does momentum really matter at the Masters?
Well, it depends on how you define "momentum."
If that word is delineated with "win," there's some correlation. Yes, the past four Masters winners—Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson—won at least one event in the preceding two months to the tournament. But theirs is a recent trend, as only one of the previous six victors, Charl Schwartzel, notched a pre-Augusta W. If you want to extrapolate to 2003, add three—Phil Mickelson, Woods and Mike Weir—to the Venn Diagram. Meaning the Masters champ has already hit pay dirt before strolling down Magnolia Lane over half the time in the past 15 years.
Tiger, obviously, has not found himself atop the leader board at Sunday's end in five attempts this season. But many don't confine momentum to merely wins; reasonable observers would consider Woods' three straight top-12 finishes as "feeling it." So we went back to the 15-year set and analyzed how many Masters winners posted multiple top-15s in their Augusta National warm-up.
The short answer? Damn near all of 'em.
Analyzing a player's five previous tournament results leading up to the Masters, seven of the past eight champions, and 12 of the past 15, have multiple top-15 finishes. And if you narrow the focus to the past six years, five of the past six winners have recorded three or more top-15s, with Willett the lone exception.
Viewing this data through another prism, only two players came out of the woodwork to claim their share of immortality since 2003: Angel Cabrera (previous five tournaments: MC-MC-T32-T33-T13) and Trevor Immelman (MC-T40-T48-T65-MC). Schwartzel wasn't lighting the world on fire, although did begin 2011 with three consecutive top eights, including a win at the Joburg Open.
Woods will have plenty of obstacles in pursuit of his 15th major, particularly his driving woes (eight of the past nine winners ranked inside the top 25 in strokes gained: off-the-tee entering Augusta National; Tiger stands in 148th at the moment). But a lack of reps won't be one of them. If recent history is any indication, Woods' Masters tune-up meets the prerequisite for green jacket candidacy.