The Loop

Why a good first round at the 2017 Masters only sort of matters


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For the first round of the 2017 Masters the winds are expected to blow north of 20 miles per hour for most of the day, leading to the possibility of some high scores. History tells us that likely will end any hopes for a green jacket come Sunday.

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 30 years has the winner of the Masters been in the top spot after the first 18 holes (Trevor Immelman in 2008 was T-1; Jordan Spieth solo first in 2015). So does that mean you’re OK if you chop it up on Thursday? Not exactly.

Fact is solid play during the opening round is nearly a requisite to winning the Masters. 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 10 Masters played from 1997 through 2006, the average first-round score of the eventual champion was 71.2 and not a single one shot in the 60s. In the next 10 years from 2007 through last year, the eventual champion averaged 68.4 and eight of the 10 shot in the 60s (Zach Johnson’s 71 in 2007 and Danny Willett’s 70 last year the exceptions). All of the last 10 Masters champs have been in the top 10 after the first round, with an average position of 5.1. 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, Tiger Woods took 74 blows in 2005’s opening round and went on to climb over 32 players over the final 54 holes for the win.

Still, that’s not the preferred method of doing things. If you’re seeking a winner of the 2017 Masters, skip past the first guy on the leader board at the end of today. But don’t go too far past that. The likely winner is in the next five or six names.