Masters 2020: Why the first round of the Masters only sort of matters

November 11, 2020


The old saw that you can't win the Masters on Thursday, but you can lose it actually rings true. Fact is, only twice in the last 35 years has the winner of the Masters been in the top spot after the first 18 holes (Trevor Immelman in 2008 was T-1 and Jordan Spieth rocked it with an opening 64 in 2015). So does that mean you're better off chopping it up on Thursday? Not exactly.

Solid play during the opening round is nearly a requisite to donning the green jacket come Sunday night. For while Augusta National is thought of as a course where lots of ground can be made up in a hurry, if you're too far back after Thursday, the chances of a rally—while not impossible—simply aren't very good.

That's particularly true in recent history. In the last 14 Masters the winner has been in the top 10 after 18 holes every time except 2019 (Tiger Woods sat T-11 after an opening-round 70) and in the top seven 11 times. Nine of the last 12 winners have shot rounds in the 60s to begin their Masters quest and none have been north of 70. In other words, you don't have to be the best player on Thursday, but you better be pretty dang good.

Of course, that doesn't mean you're out of it if you have a rough day. Craig Stadler shot 75 in 1982 and went on to win. Ian Woosnam was T-31 after 18 holes in 1991 and got it done. And more recently, Woods gave it 74 in 2005's opening round and went on to climb over 32 other players over the final 54 holes.

Still, that's not the preferred method of doing things. If you're seeking a winner of the 2020 Masters, skip past the first guy on the leader board at the end of Thursday. But don't go too far past that. The likely winner is in the next five or six names.