Masters week: it’s finally here. The week we’ve been waiting for since Rory McIlroy took last year’s PGA Championship in the dark at Valhalla. For some, maybe most notably Jordan Spieth, the countdown to this year’s tournament began the day after last year’s ended.
Since 2000 the Masters has produced winners of all shapes, sizes and playing styles, but one stat unites almost all of them: Only three Masters champs since 2000 won without finishing in the top five in greens in regulation. Adam Scott in 2013, Phil Mickelson in 2004 and Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002 led the field in GIR en route to victory. Who are the only three since 2000 to win without excelling in the stat? Charl Schwartzel (2011; T18 in GIR), Angel Cabrera (2009; T14 in GIR) and Mike Weir (2003; T37 in GIR).
Augusta’s fast and undulating greens, tight lies and length often put a premium on scrambling, but a player with his best approach-shot game can avoid such treachery around the greens. With GIR stats, past finishes and current form as guidelines, here are our picks for this week, complete with a look at what irons each player will have in the bag:
Jason Day 12/1
The Aussie and three-time PGA Tour winner typically brings his best talents to Augusta National, as evidenced by a T2 finish in 2011 and a solo third in 2013. Day’s putting ultimately failed him down the stretch both years, but he likely learned from those close calls. Day currently ranks third in GIR this season at 72.22% and is T2 on tour in birdie average with 4.63 per round. His length (ninth in driving distance at 305.1 yards), touch around the greens (seventh in scrambling at 66.7%) and past success in big events combine to make Day a nearly unavoidable pick this week.
The 27-year-old will have TaylorMade RSi2 irons in the bag at Augusta. His set is 3-PW with an RSi TP 2-iron.
Hideki Matsuyama 60/1
Matsuyama has only competed in the Masters three times; his debut as an amateur in 2011 produced his best finish: T27. Only 19 at the time, Matsuyama shot an impressive four-under 68 in the third round. This season, he’s 11th in GIR at 70.83% and has four top-five finishes including three in his last seven events. The 23-year-old is fourth on tour in holes per eagle (73.8) and will likely be licking his chops on Augusta National’s tempting and gettable par 5s. He’s also first on tour in total driving, a stat that combines distance and accuracy off the tee, and third in strokes gained/tee to green. If you’re looking to ride a ball-striker this week, Matsuyama might be your guy.
Matsuyama is playing Srixon’s newest set of blades, the Z 945 in 4-PW.
Jimmy Walker 20/1
Walker finished T8 last year in his first appearance at Augusta National—with a third-round 76—and happened to finish T4 in GIR. Though he’s currently 27th in GIR at 69.72%, Walker tends to win when he’s striking the ball well. He led the field in GIR two weeks ago at the Valero Texas Open and won, and did the same en route to victory at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. Walker is also third in strokes gained/putting, first in birdie average (4.7) and sixth in scoring average (69.714). A final-round Masters leaderboard without J-Walk in the mix would be shocking.
Walker will be playing the Titleist 714 MB irons, a true blade.
Henrik Stenson 20/1
It’s a safe bet that Stenson is hungry after his close call at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he led by two after 54 holes but finished second due to a faulty putter. Stenson has often been called the best player without a major title, and he’s finished top five in four of the last six dating to a solo second at the 2013 British Open. The Swede is first this season in scoring average (69.301), second in GIR at 72.92%, second in strokes gained/tee-to-green and second in approach shot distance to the hole from 175-200 yards (32’2”). That last stat may be the most important at Augusta National.
Stenson will be playing a set of Callaway Legacy Black irons.
Who is your pick? Check back Monday to see who won the 2015 Masters, how they did it and which club(s) played the biggest role in victory.