Commentary

The Eliminator: Why Westwood will win

Originally Published: April 6, 2009
By Matt Willis | ESPN Research

This week, the world's best 96 golfers will be teeing it up at Augusta National, with dreams of having to give their measurements for that green jacket. Is it a lot of work for a single sport coat? Perhaps, but this is a special piece of formal wear.

Throughout the week, many pundits and people like me will be giving their Masters picks. Who to watch, who to fear and who'll be there when the smoke settles Sunday. Some will pick those who look good going in; others will go with a hunch; most will just give up and pick Tiger Woods.

But we here in the ESPN Research Department do things a little differently. We love numbers, and using them to best illustrate what's going on in the world of sports. So what I'm going to do is pick a Masters winner based solely on statistics, trends and streaks. But it's not quite that easy.

What I do is give you reasons that certain golfers cannot win this weekend at Augusta, taking out a group at a time. I'll keep going until there is only one golfer remaining in the field, and by the process of elimination, he must be the man they'll be fitting for the green jacket. I call this "The Eliminator."

Let's combine the first two steps, to save everybody a little bit of time. Step 1: No amateur has ever won the Masters. Step 2: Since 1936, only one Masters rookie has won the green jacket: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. That takes 18 right off the top, so we're under way.

After Tom Watson contended for the win at last year's British Open, you might think age isn't a factor. Wrong! Watson didn't end up winning that event, and I'm here solely to pick a winner. Each of the past 11 Masters champions was under 40 at the time of his victory. We'll lop off another 25 from the field.

There would be no better place for a golfer to celebrate his first career PGA Tour victory than on the 72nd hole at Augusta, but let's get real. It doesn't happen. Since 1948, the only golfer to get his first career win at Augusta was Bernhard Langer in 1985. That crushes the dreams of another 16 golfers this weekend.

It might seem clichéd, but to win at Augusta, you have to have played well … at Augusta. More importantly, you must have played well there recently. The past dozen Masters champions all made the cut at the previous year's Masters. Taking a quick scan of last year's results reveals another 15 golfers who don't fit that requirement, and the field thins even further.

We can make that trend historical, too. Five of the past six and 14 of the past 18 Masters winners each had a previous top-10 finish at the Masters. Another nine are gone, including such big names as Geoff Ogilvy, Ian Poulter and Camilo Villegas. Do away with them!

Are you still with me? Let's take a look at major performance, namely the most recent major played: the 2009 PGA Championship. Historically, you need a good run at the PGA to win the Masters. In fact, five of the past six Masters winners finished in the top 25 at the previous year's PGA Championship. Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk are among the 10 golfers taken out, which leaves us with a mere four.

Now I'll take you from four to one. Strange as it might seem, each of the past three Masters winners entered the event with just one career PGA Tour win on his résumé. That's a trend I see continuing, which is bad news for Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington and Hunter Mahan.

Eight steps later, we have a winner. I like Lee Westwood to slip on the green jacket come Sunday, the first major victory for the player currently ranked fourth in the world. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Masters Eliminator -- Step-by-step
1. No amateur has ever won the Masters.
(Six golfers out, 90 remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
Byeong-Hun An
Brad Benjamin
Chang-won Han
Matteo Manassero
Ben Martin
Nathan Smith

2. Masters rookies won the first two Masters in 1934 and '35, but since then only once: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
(12 golfers out, 78 remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
Jason Dufner
Simon Dyson
Brian Gay
Nathan Green
Bill Haas
Yuta Ikeda
Marc Leishman
Steve Marino
Francesco Molinari
Kevin Na
Charl Schwartzel
Chris Wood

3. The past 11 Masters winners were all under 40; before that, the winner was 41-year-old Mark O'Meara in 1998.
(24 golfers out, 53 remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
Angel Cabrera
Michael Campbell
Fred Couples
Ben Crenshaw
Ernie Els
Steve Flesch
Retief Goosen
Todd Hamilton
Thongchai Jaidee
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Robert Karlsson
Jerry Kelly
Bernhard Langer
Sandy Lyle
Larry Mize
Mark O'Meara
Kenny Perry
Vijay Singh
Craig Stadler
Steve Stricker
David Toms
Scott Verplank
Tom Watson
Ian Woosnam

4. There's been only one first-time PGA Tour winner at the Masters since 1948: Bernhard Langer in 1985.
(16 golfers out, 38 remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
Ricky Barnes
Tim Clark
Ross Fisher
Anders Hansen
Soren Hansen
Ryo Ishikawa
Shingo Katayama
Martin Kaymer
Soren Kjeldsen
Graeme McDowell
Rory McIlroy
John Merrick
Edoardo Molinari
Louis Oosthuizen
Alvaro Quiros
Oliver Wilson

5. The past 12 Masters winners all made the cut at the previous year's Masters.
(15 golfers out, 23 remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
K.J. Choi
Stewart Cink
Ben Crane
David Duval
Lucas Glover
Zach Johnson
Matt Kuchar
Justin Leonard
Ryan Moore
Ryan Palmer
John Rollins
Adam Scott
John Senden
Heath Slocum
Y.E. Yang

6. Five of the past six and 14 of the past 18 Masters winners had a previous top-10 finish at the Masters.
(Nine golfers out, 14 remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
Robert Allenby
Ben Curtis
Dustin Johnson
Anthony Kim
Geoff Ogilvy
Ian Poulter
Henrik Stenson
Camilo Villegas
Nick Watney

7. Five of the past six Masters winners had a top-25 finish at the previous year's PGA Championship.
(10 golfers out, four remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
Chad Campbell
Paul Casey
Luke Donald
Jim Furyk
Sergio Garcia
Trevor Immelman
Phil Mickelson
Sean O'Hair
Rory Sabbatini
Mike Weir

8. The past three Masters winners only had one previous PGA Tour victory.
(Three golfers out, one remaining)

Golfers Eliminated
Padraig Harrington
Hunter Mahan
Tiger Woods

Your winner … Lee Westwood

Matt Willis has been a researcher with the ESPN Stats & Information Group since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. You can reach Matt at ESPNMattWillis@yahoo.com.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.