At Augusta National, who’s hot often doesn’t matter

Scottie Scheffler and wife Meredith, 2023 Players Championship,Pom March Cp 11Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Scottie Scheffler and wife Meredith, 2023 Players Championship,Pom March Cp 11Syndication: Florida Times-Union /

It’s pretty clear that Scottie Scheffler is the hot player entering the Masters. He’s not only the defending champ, he’s won two of his last five starts and finished top four in two of the others.

He ranks first in the Official World Golf Ranking and third on the current FedEx Cup points list.

All this would be very good news for Scheffler’s hopes of repeating at Augusta National except for one thing: Historically the Masters is not especially kind to the hot player.

The challenging thing about identifying a likely Masters winner is that there really is no good formula to do so.

It’s true that in recent seasons the Masters has produced winners who entered the event flaming hot. That’s what Scheffler did last year and it’s also what Dustin Johnson did when he won the 2020 November Masters.

But if you look back on the last 10 Masters – that would be since Adam Scott’s victory in 2013 – the champion was as likely to emerge from the anonymous middle as from among the hot guys. Sergio Garcia fit that tepid profile in 2017, and so did Patrick Reed one season later. They weren’t alone.

When Hideki Matsuyama won in 2021, he was coming off a streak of five appearances in which he had failed to land a top 10 spot while missing a cut. Scott and Woods both had only one top 10 – in Woods’ case it was literally a tie for tenth – leading in to their 2013 and 2019 Masters victories.

Watson failed to even complete his last Masters prep.

Withdrawing from the 2014 Arnold Palmer and sitting out the leadup month.

In short, you can certainly measure how hot a player is by looking at his recent performances. But you cannot take from that any assurance that his hot streak will continue. Augusta can be fickle.

If you look at the recent records of the consensus contenders, Scheffler’s stands out. Since February, he has won the WM Phoenix and the Players, he tied for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, for 12th at the Genesis, and took fourth place at last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. By Tour standards, that’s red hot.

Sam Burns will bring his victory at the Match Play to Augusta National. One week earlier he was sixth at the Valspar. That sounds hot. But Burns’ record is actually a mixed bag; his last five starts also include missed cuts at both the Arnold Palmer and Genesis Invitationals.

As noted regarding Matsuyama in 2021 (and also Reed in 2018), a recent missed cut is not an automatic bar to victory. But two missed cuts in the last five starts? That hasn’t happened in a while.

A month ago Jon Rahm was the hot guy. He finished third in Phoenix and won the Genesis. But Rahm’s recent showings have looked more ordinary, including finishes in the 30s at the Arnold Palmer and WGC-Dell Match Play, and a withdrawal from the Players Championship.

Still, as has also been noted, mediocre play leading up to the Masters is also not a disqualifier.

A high world ranking is also no guarantee of success. Granted, Scheffler in 2022 and Johnson in 2020 were both No. 1 when they conquered Augusta National. But a few months after his victory, Johnson returned for the 2021 event still holding the World No. 1 designation…and missed the cut. So did Justin Rose in 2019.

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Phil Mickelson (2014), Rickie Fowler (2016), and Henrik Stenson (2017) were all top five in the world when they missed cuts.

The average OWGR ranking entering the event of the last 10 Masters winners was outside the top 10, 10.7 to be precise. That might be very good news for Justin Thomas, the current No. 11.

Thomas also fits the profile in one other aspect; his recent record has been all over the place. His last five events include two top 10s (fourth at Phoenix, 10th at Valspar) offset by ties for 20th, 21st, and 60th.