Masters 2019: Does momentum really matter? What history says about Jordan Spieth's chances at Augusta National
Jordan Spieth hails from Dallas, but he's made the Masters his abode. In five starts at Augusta National, the 25-year-old has a win, two runner-ups, a third-place finish and an appearance in the penultimate group, and has held the lead at day's end in nine of 20 career rounds. For context, Tiger Woods, who's had his share of success at the tournament, has also led nine times … in 82 tries. Throw in a 70.05 scoring average, the best career mark among those in the Masters field, it's clear the Georgia confines speak to the three-time major winner.
And right now, the man is in desperate need of home cookin'.
While last season was, by Spieth's lofty standards, a disappointment, 2019 has been an unmitigated disaster. He's finished inside the top 40 just once in nine events and missed the cut four times. That includes a quick exit at the WGC-Dell Match Play, where Spieth showed flashes of potential but struggled throughout Wednesday and Friday rounds.
He's 213th in driving accuracy, 130th in approach, 175th in bogey avoidance and 166th in strokes gained. To find his name in the FedEx Cup standings, you'll need to scroll until you can scroll no more. Forget slump; Spieth's colder than a Scottish caddiemaster.
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 four of the last five Masters winners—Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, 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, Tiger 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 16 years. (Interestingly, only Spieth in '15, Woods in '05 and '01 and Fred Couples in '92 have won during the Florida swing in the past four decades.)
But many don't confine momentum to merely wins; reasonable observers would consider a handful of strong showings as "trending." So we went back to the 16-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, eight of the past nine champions, and 13 of the past 16, had multiple top-15 finishes. Narrow the focus to the past seven years reveals 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 Sunshine Tour's Joburg Open.
Spieth remains one of the Masters favorites at 20-1, and has one more chance to post a respectable showing at next week's Valero Texas Open. But if recent history is any indication, it may be too late for the Texan to right the ship for a second green jacket.