Strokes gained: Augusta
At the 2018 Masters, Jordan Spieth recorded a final round 64 to finish alone in third place. With that result, he became the only player in Masters history with four top-three finishes in his first five career starts.
That fact alone would throw him into the discussion of ‘best start ever to a Masters career.’ But at 15th Club, we wanted to know the answer for certain. We created a database of every round in Masters history, charting the number of strokes a player gained against the field in every round ever played at Augusta National Golf Club.
Digging into the numbers did not disappoint.
Spieth’s case for the best start ever to a Masters career
Through five Masters starts, Jordan Spieth has gained a total of 65.2 strokes against the field. That is, by far, the most through five starts in the history of the Masters Tournament.
Ralph Guldahl, the 1939 champion, is second on that list with 57.2 strokes gained in his first five starts, stretching from 1937 to 1941. Arnold Palmer is third with 54.8 strokes gained in his first five Masters.
Through five Masters starts, Jack Nicklaus had one victory and averaged 2.33 strokes gained against the field per round. Through Tiger Woods’ first five, he had one victory and averaged 1.99 strokes gained per round. Spieth’s total of 3.26 per round dwarfs those two.
Both Jack and Tiger played the Masters as amateurs, while Spieth did not (he turned professional and won on the PGA Tour while still a teenager). So how does the comparison change when measuring the first five starts as a pro?
Here, the results alter, but still shine a positive light on Spieth’s success. Nicklaus was the greatest performer in Masters history through five starts as a pro, gaining 73.2 strokes against the field. Tiger is second, at 69.9, while Spieth is third (65.2).
In fact, since 1980, there are only five instances of a player gaining 65 or more strokes against the field during a five-year span at the Masters. One of them is Tiger’s first-five-as-a-pro run (69.9), three belong to Phil Mickelson between 2000-2006, and the other is Spieth.
Jordan’s strokes gained superlatives don’t end there. There are 334 players with at least 20 rounds played in Masters history. Spieth’s 3.26 strokes gained per round are the best of that group. Ben Hogan is second on that list (2.52) while Woods is third (2.47).
Spieth has beaten the field scoring average in 85 percent of his Masters rounds. That is also most all-time among players with 20 or more rounds – Woods is second all-time at 84.1 percent.
Spieth’s 3.26 strokes gained per round are by far the most of any player this decade with 12 or more rounds played. Second-best in that span is Justin Rose, at 2.26 per round. Lee Westwood is third, at 2.17.
Jordan leads several traditional statistics, as well. Spieth has the best scoring average (70.05) among all players in Masters history with at least 20 rounds played. Woods (70.93) and Mickelson (71.30) are second and third. He’s 39-under-par in the last five years at Augusta National, 12 strokes better than anyone else during that span (Rose, 27-under).
The dominance of Hogan
Though Spieth’s run since 2014 at Augusta National has been remarkable, nobody surpasses Ben Hogan when it comes to being totally dominant at The Masters.
Hogan owns the three most dominant five-year strokes gained stretches in the history of The Masters: from 1951 to 1955, he gained 88.3 strokes against the field – nearly four-and-a-half strokes per round. The second and third-most dominant runs in history were Hogan from 1950 to 1954 (84.1) and 1952 to 1956 (79.8).
Through no fault of his own, Hogan’s numbers there might be a little skewed. For one, there was no cut at The Masters until 1957, providing off-form players more opportunities to shoot poor scores, therefore increasing the field scoring average. A higher field scoring average in a particular round means that the elite Hogan would be gaining more strokes on said field.
Secondly, field depth can be called into question when some trends emerge. There are 12 instances in Masters history where a player gained 70 strokes or more against the field in a five-year span. All 12 of those instances happened before 1970. Of the 24 greatest five-year stretches in that statistic, only one happened after 1970: Tiger Woods, from 1997 to 2001.
Still, the dominance Hogan displayed during the early 1950s at The Masters was truly remarkable: from 1950 to 1956, he won twice, finished runner-up twice, and never finished worse than tied for eighth.
More records for Jack Nicklaus
When combing through numbers at any of the major championships, it’s not difficult to unearth new statistical truths about The Golden Bear.
Jack beat the field scoring average at The Masters a staggering 121 times in his career, 19 more times than anyone else. The only others to do it 100 or more times are Gary Player (102) and Sam Snead (101).
Jack beat the field average by five or more shots on 24 different occasions in his career – five more times that anyone else (Snead, 19). He beat the field by 3 or more shots a ridiculous 56 times, eleven more than Ben Hogan’s second-best total of 45.
Jack compares favourably to other modern-day legends in the strokes gained category, as well. Through their age-42 Masters performances, Nicklaus averaged 2.69 strokes gained against the field at Augusta National. Tiger Woods has averaged 2.47. Through age 48, Nicklaus averaged 2.55 strokes gained per round at The Masters, while Phil Mickelson is at 2.11 per round.
Tiger’s “Win For The Ages” Truly Was
The early part of Tiger Woods’ professional career was a statistical supernova that might never be fully appreciated. His performance at the 1997 Masters was something that will likely never be matched.
Tiger gained 25.9 strokes against the field that week, most of any player in any single Masters all-time. Cary Middlecoff’s 1955 seven-stroke win comes in second on that list at 25.5, while Raymond Floyd’s historic triumph in 1976 is third, at 25.3 strokes gained against the field.
And in case you are wondering, at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Woods was even more dominant – he gained 29.2 strokes on the field that week.
Leaderboards By The Decade
With this week being the final Masters of the 2010s, we thought it would be interesting to look through who has led in strokes gained per round at The Masters, decade-by-decade. Using a minimum threshold of 16 rounds per decade, here is how it stacks up:
1930s: Gene Sarazen, 2.62
1940s: Ben Hogan, 3.23
1950s: Ben Hogan, 3.34
1960s: Arnold Palmer, 3.12
1970s: Jack Nicklaus, 3.21
1980s: Seve Ballesteros, 2.59
1990s: Jose Maria Olazabal, 2.32
2000s: Tiger Woods, 3.04
2010s: Jordan Spieth, 3.26
Odds, ends and the underrated
*Lloyd Mangrum never won The Masters, but he finished fourth or better on seven different occasions and has a claim to stake as one of the most underrated performers in this Tournament’s history. Mangrum is fourth all-time in strokes gained per round, at 2.16. The only three players with a better career average are Spieth (3.26), Hogan (2.52) and Woods (2.47).
*Rickie Fowler finished runner-up last year, his best career finish to date at The Masters. His 16.1 strokes gained against the field for the week was the most of any player not to win the Tournament since Lee Westwood in 2010 (17.2). Fowler’s strokes gained total would have been good enough to win 41 of the 81 previous Masters, including ten of the prior 12.
*Anthony Kim made eleven birdies in the second round of the 2009 Masters, the most of any player in a single round at Augusta National. Just how promising was the beginning to his Masters career? Since 1990, there are 235 players with ten or more rounds played at The Masters. Four of those players have averaged 1.9 strokes gained against the field or better: Spieth, Woods, Mickelson and Kim.
*In 2012, Bo Van Pelt lit up Augusta National on Sunday with a final round 64. Van Pelt gained 8.87 strokes on the field that day – the third-highest total in a final round in the history of The Masters. Only Ernie Els in 2004 and Greg Norman in 1988 have posted higher strokes gained totals in the final round at Augusta National.
*From 1998 through 2001, David Duval came achingly close to winning The Masters, finishing second, sixth, third and second again. Duval was a combined 14-under in the final round of those events. Among the 291 players in Masters history with five or more final rounds played, Duval has the highest fourth round strokes gained average ever in the Tournament at 3.0. Mangrum is second on that list (2.98).