Was the 2019 Masters the best leaderboard of all-time? Here’s what math has to say

July 7, 2019

The drama at the Masters this year was heightened by a veritable who’s who at the top of the leaderboard. At one point, the top five leaders all had major titles on their résumé. The top-10 finishers included many of the world’s top-10 players, including Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Xander Schauffele and Rickie Fowler.

Was this the best leaderboard ever? Off I went to measure its place in history. Two ingredients determine the quality of any leaderboard: tournament finish positions, and the corresponding players’ star rankings. For the star rank, I used individual ranks in Strokes Gained Total for the season. (Similar results were obtained using OWGR data and FedEx Cup finish positions.) A perfectly stacked final leaderboard would have the biggest star win, the next biggest star finish second, and so on. (This has never happened, by the way.) I awarded one point for the biggest star winning, 0.95 points if he came in second, 0.95*0.95 points if he came in third, etc. Similarly, if the second-biggest star won, I gave 0.95 points; if the third-biggest star won I gave 0.95*0.95 points. You get the idea. Using data from 2010 to the current season, I added all of the points for the top 15 finish positions in every full-field event. As expected, this method generated the most points possible for a perfectly stacked leaderboard and allotted much fewer points when the top finish positions were dominated by non-star players. And you know what? The most stacked event was the 2019 Masters!

Since this new metric passed the smell test with flying colors, I combined the results across all seasons from 1983 to 2019 to discover which tournaments consistently featured the most attractive leaderboards on average. Not surprisingly, the four majors came out on top: Masters, Open Championship, PGA Championship and then the U.S. Open. The most stacked regular Tour event? That distinction belongs to Jack Nicklaus’s tournament, the Memorial.

From 1983 to 2019, the second-most stacked leaderboard was the 2000 Masters, won by Vijay Singh. The most stacked leaderboard in this 36-year span goes to the 2000 Open Championship, held at the Old Course, with Tiger at the top of his game. Wow—2000 was quite a year for golf fans! And since I know you’re dying to ask, the least stacked board since 1983 was the ’92 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic won by Richard Zokol. Hey, every crop has its cream. Data simply proves that it’s the richest on the grandest stages.

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