The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who will win the Masters? A gambler’s guide to the best bets.

Before you head to the touch screen, read all about what a Masters winner usually looks like. (Wayne Parry/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

We obviously don’t know who is going to win this year’s Masters. But going through the profiles of past champions, we can get a pretty good idea about how a winner usually looks entering the tournament. This will help us narrow things down to the point where we can target a few golfers. Here are a few things to keep in mind before submitting your bets for this year’s tournament at Augusta National.

All odds from or DraftKings.

The 2021 Masters: TV info and everything you need to know

From Action Network’s Jason Sobel: Over the past 10 Masters, none of the 13 pretournament favorites (co-favorites included) have won the tournament, but none of them have finished worse than 40th, either. This year’s Masters favorite as of Monday: Dustin Johnson at +800 (8-1 odds).

• Johnson’s win in November continued the trend of Masters champions having had previous success at Augusta National. Johnson was the seventh Masters champion out of the past 11 and the 11th out of 16 to have a previous green jacket or top-10 finish.

The previous Masters winners who are playing this week and have at least a viable chance to win: Johnson, Jordan Spieth (+1000), Patrick Reed (+3000), Adam Scott (+8000), Sergio Garcia (+8000), Bubba Watson (+12500) and Danny Willett (+20000). Among the players near the top of the odds board with previous Masters top-10s: Jon Rahm (+1200), Justin Thomas (+1600), Rory McIlroy (+1600), Xander Schauffele (+1800), Patrick Cantlay (+3000) and Tony Finau (+3500).

One person not on those lists is U.S. Open champion and world No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau (+1200), whose best finish at the Masters was a tie for 21st as an amateur in 2016.

Only three Masters rookies have won the tournament, the most recent being Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. This year’s non-amateur first-timers: Will Zalatoris (+12500), Carlos Ortiz (+25000) and Robert MacIntyre (+25000).

• Yes, Masters winners tend to be golfers who previously have done well at Augusta, but only three golfers — Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods — have won back-to-back green jackets. Even finishing near the top of the leader board again is tough: Of the past 19 defending champions, only four have finished in the top 10 the following year (and three missed the cut). Over the past 14 Masters, Spieth is the only defending champion to finish better than 14th; he tied for second in 2016.

• Of the past 21 Masters winners, 15 entered the tournament ranked in the top 12 of the Official World Golf Ranking. This year’s top 12 entering the tournament: Johnson, Thomas, Rahm, Collin Morikawa, DeChambeau, Schauffele, Reed, Tyrrell Hatton, Webb Simpson, Cantlay, Brooks Koepka, McIlroy.

• Each of the past 10 Augusta winners had at least two top-12 stroke-play finishes in the calendar year leading up to the Masters, either on the PGA Tour or the European Tour.


With long-shot Masters winners a rarity, here are a few golfers from the top of the odds board who could end up with a new green jacket Sunday:

Jordan Spieth (+1000): At the start of 2019, Spieth was ranked 18th in the world. By late January of this year, he had plummeted to 92nd, with missed cuts and noncompetitive finishes all over the place. But Spieth won last weekend’s Texas Open for his first title in nearly four years, has four other top-10s and hasn’t missed a cut over his past six tournaments. And even though he’s still struggling to keep his tee shots in the fairway (he ranks 151st in strokes gained off the tee this season), there’s still plenty to like in his game right now, especially for a former Masters champion who has finished no worse than third in four of his seven Augusta National appearances.

The good news is that Spieth is entering this year’s Masters on a higher note than he did in 2019. Before that major, he was averaging one stroke fewer per round over the past 50 rounds than you would expect from an average golfer. This year he is gaining almost five strokes more heading into the Masters, a mark on par with the top 10 golfers in the world.

One minor caveat: Golfers who win the week before the Masters have struggled to replicate that performance at Augusta National, and only two have won back-to-back (Phil Mickelson in 2006 and Sandy Lyle in 1988). Still, Johnson tied for second in the tournament that immediately preceded his Masters win in November. Also, here are Spieth’s performances in the tournaments that immediately preceded his three major titles: a tie for second, a tie for third and a win before the 2017 British Open.

Justin Thomas (+1200): Not the odds-on favorite? Check. Previous success at Augusta National? Thomas broke through in November for his first Masters top 10, finishing fourth. Ranked in the top 12? He’s No. 2. Strong finishes in the previous 365 days? Thomas won his most recent stroke-play tournament (the Players Championship), finished tied for eighth at the U.S. Open in October and won one other tournament after the PGA Tour returned from its pandemic hiatus. Oh, and he leads the PGA Tour in the par-4 birdie or better statistic, which could be crucial: Of the past eight Masters champions, six ranked first or second in the field in par-4 scoring.

The forecast from Data Golf pegs Thomas’s overall skill advantage, compiled after taking into account his recent play, age, statistical performance and historical performance and experience at Augusta, to be plus-2.3 strokes gained on the field, the fourth-highest rating among this year’s participants.

Viktor Hovland (+3000): Throw out the fact that he’s only 23 and has only one Masters appearance under his belt (a tie for 32nd and low-amateur win in 2019). Hovland has risen to 14th in the world rankings in an astonishingly short amount of time and has a win, two second-place ties and a tie for fifth this season. He missed the cut at the Players, but don’t be scared off. He ranks fifth on tour in strokes gained off the tee (0.77 per round) and 11th in strokes gained tee to green (1.26 per round).

Hovland’s going to win a major sooner rather than later.