Inside the Numbers: Jordan Spieth Missed the One Fairway That’s Most Critical to Hit

April 10, 2016
Jordan Spieth Nichols.jpg

Jordan Spieth just about had one arm in the green jacket walking off the 16th green on Saturday, but after hitting back-to-back tee shots wide right on 17 and 18 he closed bogey-double, allowing a slew of challengers back into the tournament.

Spieth’s driving had been shaky early with three missed fairways in his first five tee shots. At the 3rd hole he went deep right into the trees, but managed to play a shot toward the green and make par. At the 7th he went right again and made bogey. From there, only the double at the 11th had tripped him up.

Wayward tee shots are not part of Spieth’s typical game. He averages 5% more fairways hit than the Tour average. He is also of course of golf’s best grinders; after getting out of position, few players combine his ability to chip and make clutch putts. But his game is best when he’s splitting fairways, attacking pins, and lining up birdie putts. On 17 the miss bit him, as he couldn’t get up and down for par after punching out. He went even further right on 18 and again punched out, but this time compounded his error with a sloppy chip and poor lag putt, leading to a double.

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Missing at the 18th was the critical error of his round. Most holes at Augusta National are playable to a point if you miss the fairway- with one exception. The penalty for missing the 18th fairway has been double the size of the rest of the holes (0.52 strokes more versus 0.24 strokes more) through the first three rounds of this year’s event. The 18th hole also played as the most penalizing for a missed fairway in 2015 (0.44 strokes more versus 0.29 strokes more). Spieth watched amateur Bryson DeChambeau make triple here after going wide left Friday. He experienced his own pain Saturday.

Spieth’s blunders at the 17th and 18th really opened the Masters back up. Ken Pomeroy’s Golf Win Probability twitter account showed Spieth as a 74% favorite walking off the 16th green with no challenger higher than 10% to win. Post-round, Pomeroy’s numbers showed Spieth at 45% likely to win – slightly higher than the 40% chance betting odds give him. In other words, Spieth’s bogey-double closing holes cost him about 25-30% probability of winning and gave guys like Jason Day and Dustin Johnson a big opportunity.

Spieth certainly is still in the driver’s seat but he’ll once again have to rely on the flatstick (+6.8 strokes gained on the field through three days) if he’s going to close out his second straight Masters victory.