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Tuesday, April 5, 2011
The 8 steps to picking a Masters winner

By Matt Willis
ESPN.com

For all of us dealing with cold temperatures and blanketed under snow for the last several months, it might seem hard to believe. But yes, Virginia, it is golf season.

Although the PGA Tour has had several tournaments already this year, this weekend the season of major championships will be teed off in Augusta with the Masters.

During the week, you'll see and hear a lot of pundits, prognosticators and people like me giving their Masters picks. They'll pick 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. Many will still just pick Tiger Woods.

But here in the ESPN Stats & Information group, we do things a little differently. We love the 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 why golfers cannot win this weekend at Augusta, taking them out in groups at a time. I'll keep going until there is only one golfer remaining in the field, and by process of elimination, he must be the man they'll be fitting for the green jacket. I call this little diddy The Eliminator.

Let me save us both a little bit of time right off the top by telling you that an amateur has never won the Masters, and that following the first two Masters (in 1934 and '35), only one Masters rookie has won, that being Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. That takes 21 off the starting field of 99.

This next step is sure to take its fair share of criticism. In the past couple of years, Fred Couples and Tom Watson have given people some thrills at major championships, but you know what they didn't do? Win. I'm here to pick just a winner, not a contender. The fact is that the past 12 Masters winners have all been under the age of 40, so we'll eliminate 25 of those remaining, down to 53.

You need to have some victory experience. Dating back to 1948, there's been only one Masters champion, Bernhard Langer in 1985, who got his first career PGA Tour win in this event. That trims a neat nine off the remaining list.

Make sure to check out last year's Masters when you're making your pick. Thirteen straight Masters winners made the cut in the previous year's Masters. That takes out 21 more who weren't above the cut line last year, leaving us with 23.

Watney
Nick Watney will be slipping on the green jacket come Sunday night ... at least according to our Elimintator expert.

Let's glance back at the last major played, the PGA Championship. That's because nine of the last 11 Masters winners finished in the top 50 in the previous year's PGA Championship. Another 11 hit the bricks, and there's a dozen left.

More Masters success needed. Six of the past seven and 15 of the past 19 Masters winners each had a previous top-10 finish in the event. The remaining dozen are chopped in half, and six are left.

Finally, six of the past 10 Masters winners had already won a PGA Tour event earlier in the season. Five golfers haven't gotten that done yet, and we're left with a sole survivor.

We've seen nine different winners in the past nine majors, and I like a first-time major champion Sunday. I'm picking Nick Watney to slip on the green jacket. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Masters Eliminator: Step-by-Step:
1. No amateur has ever won the Masters.
(6 eliminated, 93 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: David Chung, Jin Jeong, Lion Kim, Hideki Matsuyama, Nathan Smith, Peter Uihlein

2. Masters rookies won the first two Masters in 1934 and 1935, but only once since (Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979).
(15 eliminated, 78 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: Arjun Atwal, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Hiroyuki Fujita, Peter Hanson, Gregory Havret, Charley Hoffman, Kyung-Tae Kim, Martin Laird, Jeff Overton, D.A. Points, Kevin Streelman, Jhonattan Vegas, Mark Wilson, Gary Woodland

3. The past 11 Masters winners were all under 40; the last 40-plus winner was 41-year-old Mark O'Meara in 1998.
(25 eliminated, 53 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: Angel Cabrera, Alex Cejka, K.J. Choi, Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Anders Hansen, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Robert Karlsson, Jerry Kelly, Davis Love III, Sandy Lyle, Phil Mickelson, Larry Mize, Mark O'Meara, Jose Maria Olazabal, Vijay Singh, Craig Stadler, Steve Stricker, David Toms, Tom Watson, Mike Weir, Ian Woosnam

4. There's been only one first-time PGA Tour winner at the Masters since 1948: Bernhard Langer in 1985.
(9 eliminated, 44 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: Ricky Barnes, Ross Fisher, Yuta Ikeda, Ryo Ishikawa, Steve Marino, Edoardo Molinari, Kevin Na, Alvaro Quiros, Charl Schwartzel

5. The past 12 Masters winners all made the cut at the previous year's Masters.
(21 eliminated, 23 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley, Jason Bohn, Jonathan Byrd, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Tim Clark, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Ryan Palmer, Carl Pettersson, Justin Rose, Rory Sabbatini, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson, Bo Van Pelt, Bubba Watson

6. Nine of the past 11 Masters winners had a top-50 finish at the last year's PGA Championship.
(11 eliminated, 12 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: Robert Allenby, Sergio Garcia, Lucas Glover, Bill Haas, Trevor Immelman, Ryan Moore, Sean O'Hair, Geoff Ogilvy, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Y.E. Yang

7. Six of the past seven and 15 of the past 19 Masters winners had a previous Masters top-10 finish.
(6 eliminated, 6 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: Ben Crane, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari, Heath Slocum, Camilo Villegas

8. Six of the past 10 Masters winners had a PGA Tour victory earlier that season.
(5 eliminated, 1 remaining)
Golfers eliminated: Zach Johnson, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott, Tiger Woods

Your winner: Nick Watney

Matt Willis has been a researcher with the ESPN Stats & Information Group since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows.