“Rest vs. Rust” Entering the Major Championships

April 1, 2020
Justin Ray

It’s one of the most used phrases by prognosticators entering every major championship: “Rest vs. Rust.” Players have differing philosophies on the subject, depending on what tournament the schedule is gearing up towards – and which player you ask.

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Phil Mickelson has seven top-ten finishes in majors since 2011 – he played in an official worldwide event the prior week in each instance. On the other hand, Adam Scott has finished fifth or better in eight major championships in the last decade, and only played the week before in two of those.

Statistically speaking, which choice has led to more success in major championships in recent years? To find out, we took every professional top-ten finish in each major from 2010 through 2019 – a collection of 451 results – and analyzed each schedule leading into those major championships.

THE MASTERS

Only three of the last ten Masters winners played the week before winning the Green Jacket: Mickelson in 2010, Charl Schwartzel in 2011 and Jordan Spieth in 2015. The other seven players had between one and three weeks off entering the Tournament.

This trend applies to all players who had high finishes during this stretch. Since 2010, nearly 60 percent of players to finish in the top-ten at Augusta National did so without playing in an official worldwide event the week prior. That figure is 58 percent for players who finished top-five.

ALL MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIPS

When analyzing all four majors, though, the picture is a little different. Sixty percent of major winners since 2010 did play in an official event the previous week. That includes all ten PGA Champions in that span – a number helped by the old scheduling of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a no-cut, OWGR-points bonanza – consistently being held the week prior.

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The larger disparity in the numbers comes when players take more than a week away from competition entering a major. Since 2010, nearly 84 percent of players to finish in the top-ten in a major had either one or zero weeks of rest entering play.

Only ten percent of major champions over the last decade (so, four in the last forty) had more than one week of rest entering their victory. The last player to have more than one week of rest from official play before a major win was Spieth at The Open Championship in 2017.

IMMEDIATE FORM

A player’s immediate form is always a source of conjecture for fans, bettors and analysts alike when sizing up a major championship field. But what does that finish last week tell us about a player’s chances?

Of the 24 major champions since 2010 who played in an official event the week before, only one missed the cut: Louis Oosthuizen, at the 2010 Scottish Open one week before lifting the Claret Jug at St Andrews. 16 of those 24 players finished in the top-20 the week before the major win.

Looking broader, there are 216 players who finished in the top-ten in majors from 2010 to 2019 who also played the previous week. Of that group, more than half finished in the top-25 in that prior event (55.6%). Only 16.2 percent missed the cut.

On the original 2020 calendar, this week would have been primed for the rest/rust debate: the Valero Texas Open was to serve as the final tune-up before focus shifted to Augusta, Georgia. When golf and life resumes – whenever that day is – the data will be prepared to help answer that question.

AN ANNIVERSARY & A SEVE-RORY TIE

Thursday, April 2, will mark 42 years since the late Seve Ballesteros won his first PGA Tour title, the 1978 Greater Greensboro Open (now known as the Wyndham Championship).

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Seve won the tournament at just 20 years, 11 months and 24 days old – making him the youngest PGA Tour winner born outside the United States since Harry Cooper in 1923. Ballesteros won despite making the cut on the number – 3-over, ten shots behind 36-hole co-leaders Wally Armstrong and Florentino Molina.

Thirty-two years later, at the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship, another 20-year-old European star would get his first PGA Tour win – also in North Carolina.

Rory McIlroy made the cut on the number, shot 66-62 on the weekend, and won his first PGA Tour title. His age? 20 years, 11 months and 28 days – just four days older than Ballesteros.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

There is only one instance in the last ten years of a player taking more than four weeks off from competition before finishing in the top-ten in a major. That was Woods, who finished tied for fourth at the 2010 Masters following the scandal and subsequent hiatus at the end of 2009.