Long hitters, strong putters and aggressive players. Those are the types of golfers who win the Masters. The average winner over the past 12 years shoots 9.6-under par, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and doesn’t miss greens. Of the past 18 winners, all of them ranked in the top six for greens in regulation. Success heading into the event also is a prerequisite: Nick Faldo, in 1989, is the last player to win the event without a top-20 ranking that season on tour.
Tiger Woods certainly has the momentum heading into Augusta, but he falls short of some of those bench marks. He ranks outside the top 100 in world ranking and in greens in regulation percentage. However, although he is struggling to consistently find the fairway during his impressive comeback season, he’s not having any difficulty generating power. Woods ranks No. 36 for driving distance and his tee shots average of 304 yards, well above the tour average of 295 yards.
Considering the greens at Augusta are so difficult, attacking the flag on approach shots is critical, according to 15th Club. Thus far, Woods has been unflinching. On approach shots, Woods ranks 12th on tour in going for green — birdie or better percentage (68.8 percent) and is tied for 26th in average distance after the going-for-it shot (22.2 feet). Moreover, only 13 players on tour average more strokes gained on approach shots than Woods (.727).
Given his overall profile and history, Woods will be a deserving contender for the green jacket. But his bid for another Masters victory will likely come down to six holes, three with which he could struggle and three on which he’s scored well in the past.
Where Woods could struggle
No. 1 Tea Olive
Par 4, 445 yards
The opening hole requires a straight tee shot, and Woods ranks outside the top 150 in fairway percentage and outside the top 200 in distance from the edge of the fairway. There are extremely difficult putts to follow. Players historically average 4.24 strokes on the first hole and Woods has bogeyed the hole five times since 2010 and has a scoring average of 4.0 over his past 20 rounds. As 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott put it, “If you can start your round off with a four there, I feel like it’s a birdie.” The value of starting strong is clear: Each of the past three Masters winners averaged par or better on the opening hole, with a combined scoring average of 3.83 strokes.
No. 4 Flowering Crab Apple
Par 3, 240 yards
The boomerang-shaped fourth hole has given Woods difficulty over the past 20 rounds. Woods has bogeyed it nine times with a scoring average of 3.35. Each of the past three Masters winners have averaged par or better, with a combined scoring average of 3.17 strokes.
No. 12 Golden Bell
Par 3, 155 yards
The 12th hole will require pinpoint placement off the tee and par 3s have been problematic for Woods this season. He is 11 shots over par on his 18 par 3s played, which puts him 104th on the tour in that category.
It may be the shortest hole at Augusta, but three bunkers and Rae’s Creek surround it. Players historically average 3.28 strokes. This hole was bogeyed only once by a player who won the Masters in the past three years, with the three champions combining to average 2.83 strokes.
Where Woods should score well
No. 2 Pink Dogwood
Par 5, 575 yards
The second hole requires an easy draw and for players to avoid the bunkers if they want to score well. Woods is more than capable of that, plus he ranks sixth in strokes gained around the green. Woods has logged 20 rounds at Augusta since 2010 and has finished with par or better on the second hole in each one, with a scoring average of 4.68. Each of the past three Masters winners have averaged par or better, with a combined scoring average of 4.67 strokes.
No. 8 Yellow Jasmine
Par 5, 570 yards
Woods can smash his tee shot at No. 8 and will have plenty of room to work with, even if his erratic tendencies come into play. In the 16-round stretch he’s had at Augusta over the past eight years, Woods has finished with par or better on this hole in all but one round, with a scoring average of 4.43. Each of the last three Masters winners scored in the red, with a combined scoring average of 4.5 strokes.
No. 15 Firethorn
Par 5, 530 yards
At No. 15, Woods will need to avoid the water near the green and attack the flagstick. Since 2010, Woods has finished with par or better in all but two rounds, with a scoring average of 4.81. Of the past three Masters winners, only Danny Willett averaged par or worse, with a combined scoring average of 4.58 strokes.
Although he traditionally has more rounds under his belt at this point in the season, Woods’s performances have been nothing but encouraging, even for skeptics. Armed with a game well-suited for courses such as Augusta National, don’t be surprised if Woods wins the Masters, which would be his first major victory since 2008.
More on the Masters: