Cabrera scrambled his way to Masters victory

April, 13, 2009

There was no shortage of storylines or lack of excitement this week at Augusta.

First, there was the wild three-man playoff including the potential for the oldest major champion in history with Kenny Perry.

Add in a rare Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson final-round pairing in a major that provided some Sunday fireworks, a new single-round Augusta National birdie record, the last Masters for Gary Player and Fuzzy Zoeller, plus an all-world par save on the first playoff hole by eventual champion Angel Cabrera.

This week the stats blog touches on all this excitement, focusing on the numbers that led Cabrera to become a multiple major champion.

Going into Augusta, greens in regulation was the key statistic to watch this week. It was once again an excellent predictor of success. The top 10 on the final leaderboard averaged 70.72 percent of GIR, a nearly 10 percent increase over the field average of 61.93 percent.

Runner-up Perry led the field in GIR at 76.39 percent. Cabrera did not have a standout week in terms of ball-striking overall, hitting only 58.93 percent of his fairways (48th place) but a respectable 69.44 percent of his greens (T-14.)

Cabrera was able to get up and down nearly three-quarters of the time this week, ranking him T-7 in scrambling. What separated Cabrera from the field was his timing and short game execution when it mattered the most.

Cabrera's scrambling rate on the slippery slopes of Augusta National's greens is impressive by itself. When you consider the timing of this scrambling and putting, Cabrera earned his victory as much as Perry lost the tournament. Down the closing stretch of regulation in his final round, Cabrera 1-putted the last four greens, going birdie-birdie-par-par.

His most impressive save was to follow on the first playoff hole. Cabrera missed off the tee well right in the trees and attempted to get near the green rather than punch out. A very fortunate kick left out of the trees put him back in the fairway -- the equivalent of a punch out from the trouble. He was able to stuff it to 6 feet and make the putt for his third consecutive successful scrambling conversion.

Cabrera's most impressive stat on the week might be his birdie conversion rate of 40 percent. He made the most of his birdie chances, converting two out of every five birdie putts, ranking him fourth in the field. To put this into context, the tour leader this year in birdie conversion is PGA Tour money list leader Geoff Ogilvy at 39.07 percent.

Cabrera was able to best Ogilvy's mark amid major championship pressure. The leader in birdie conversion this week was Anthony Kim at a whopping 55 percent. Of Kim's 22 birdies, 11 came in his record-setting second round, besting Nick Price's single-round birdie record at Augusta by one.

Key statistics from 2009 Masters top 10 finishers

Player GIR % Scrambling Putting Avg. Birdie or better conv. %
Angel Cabrera 69.44% (T14) 72.73% (T7) 1.700 (5) 40.00% (T4)
Kenny Perry 76.39% (T1) 76.47% (4) 1.782 (25) 30.91% (24)
Chad Campbell 70.83% (T11) 66.67% (14) 1.725 (8) 37.25% (9)
Shingo Katayama 73.61% (5) 78.95% (2) 1.811 (31) 32.08% (19)
Phil Mickelson 69.44% (T14) 59.09% (T27) 1.780 (T23) 36.00% (T10)
Steve Stricker 68.06% (T19) 82.61% (1) 1.735 (9) 26.53% (37)
Steve Flesch 63.89% (T30) 73.08% (6) 1.739 (T11) 28.89% (32)
Tiger Woods 72.22% (T6) 60.00% (26) 1.808 (29) 30.77% (T25)
John Merrick 69.44% (T14) 72.73% (T7) 1.780 (T23) 36.00% (T10)
Jim Furyk 70.83% (T11) 61.90% (22) 1.745 (14) 29.41% (T30)
Sean O'Hair 75.00% (4) 61.11% (23) 1.778 (T21) 35.19% (12)
Hunter Mahan 69.44% (T14) 72.73% (T7) 1.740 (13) 40.00% (T4)
Tour Average 61.93% 55.37% 1.810 29.63%

The Tiger-Phil pairing
Woods and Mickelson made for some great excitement on Sunday, both coming within 1 shot of the lead at different times. This marks the third time the two have been paired together on Sunday at a major, the other two being the 1997 PGA Championship and the 2001 Masters.

Tiger had a very solid week with his irons, hitting 72.2 percent of his greens (T-6). He totaled 52 GIR on the week. That is the most greens he has hit in a year he didn't win the Masters.

In his four victories, Tiger has hit at least 54 greens on the week. His short game numbers, however, were very pedestrian, scrambling at 60 percent (26th place) and averaging 1.808 putts per GIR (29th). Woods and Mickelson had the worst scrambling rates of the top 10 finishers.

It was missed fairways that hurt Tiger the most this week, especially down the stretch. Woods bogeyed the last two holes, missing both fairways, both greens and failing to get up and down both times. It's a rare event to see Tiger fail to execute at that point of a major championship. For the week, Tiger was 5 over when he missed the fairway, compared to 12 under when he found the short grass.

Mickelson's putter got quite cold after his record-tying front nine on Sunday. His 30 got him within 1 shot of the lead. Lefty carded seven 1-putts on the front nine, but had only a single 1-putt on the back nine. We should have seen Lefty's finish coming: He was 9-under on the front nine for the week and even on the back nine.

• Cabrera was the only player this week to open with three rounds in the 60s. The Argentine became the 11th player in Masters history to do so following in the footsteps of 2008 champ Trevor Immelman. No player has ever posted four rounds in the 60s in a single Masters.

With his victory, Cabrera moved from No. 69 to 18th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He now has two PGA Tour wins in 114 starts and earned an exemption on the PGA Tour through 2014, a lifetime Masters invitation and five-year exemptions to the U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship and Players Championship.

With Cabrera's win coming from the final twosome, the Masters champion has come from the last Sunday pairing every year since 1991 with one exception -- Zach Johnson in 2007.

At 48, Perry moves from No. 11 to a career-best No. 6 in the world rankings. At one point during the 2007 season, he was ranked as low as 173rd. He began 2008 ranked 92nd but moved up to 14th to start 2009.

Had he won Sunday, Perry would have become the oldest Masters champion as well as the oldest major champion in golf history. Jack Nicklaus, at 46 years, 2 months, 23 days, owns the Augusta distinction for his 1986 Masters win, while Julius Boros' 1968 PGA Championship triumph at 48 years, 4 months, 18 days is the overall majors mark.

• Sunday's Tiger/Phil pairing marks the 24th time they have been paired together. Phil edged Tiger by a single stroke on Sunday (67 to 68), but Tiger still holds the head-to-head career lead at 11-9-4. Tiger has averaged 68.96 strokes compared to Phil's 70.13. But watch out … Phil is gaining on Tiger, going 4-1-1 in their past six pairings.

• With his T-6 finish, Woods now has 10 top-10 finishes in 13 professional starts at the Masters. The four-time champion has not won the event since 2005, a four-year drought that's the longest of his professional career at Augusta.

Mickelson, behind his fifth-place finish, now has 12 top-10s in 16 Masters appearances as a pro. He has two wins and a total of 10 top-10s in his past 11 trips to the Masters.

• After a front-nine, 6-under-par 30, Lefty tied three players for low front nine in Masters history. The others?
Johnny Miller, third round, 1975
Greg Norman, fourth round, 1988
K.J. Choi, second round, 2004
Phil Mickelson, fourth round, 2009

• John Merrick (T-6) had the best finish for a Masters first-timer among the 19 in the field this week. He qualified for the 2009 Masters by virtue of his T-6 finish at the 2008 U.S. Open.

• Dustin Johnson became just the second player in Masters history to make back-to-back eagles after accomplishing the feat on Nos. 13-14 on Sunday. Dan Pohl did it on the same two holes during the third round in 1982.

• On the eighth hole Sunday, Steve Stricker made his first bogey since the second hole of the second round Friday, ending a streak of 42 consecutive holes at even par or better. Stuart Appleby holds the Masters record for consecutive holes without a bogey at 50. He set the mark in 2001.

Todd Hamilton, the 2004 British Open champion, will return to the Masters next year after his T-15 finish (since the top 16 and ties punch their tickets for a return trip to Augusta). He made it into this year's field with his five-year British Open exemption, but that expired after this year.

• Jim Furyk did not miss a green in his opening round, finishing with a bogey-free 66. Thursday's round marks the sixth time in his career he's done that and first time since Round 1 of the 2005 Buick Open.

• Larry Mize, the 1987 Masters champion, had his best finish since 2000. The 50-year-old Mize, who ended up T-30, totaled 15 birdies on the week, surpassing both Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy's birdie total by one. Woods had 16 birdies on the week.

• Friday was an emotional day at Augusta as Gary Player competed in his final Masters. Player's round Friday was his 164th at Augusta, breaking the all-time record held by Jack Nicklaus. Player took 161 strokes this year, bringing his career total to 12,061 … also a Masters record.

• The opening hole of Amen Corner -- the 505-yard, par-4 11th -- was the most difficult relative to par at Augusta this year at 4.33 strokes. On the flip side, the 530-yard, par-5 15th played the easiest at 4.57 strokes.

So did the 2009 Masters resemble the previous year's event? In terms of scoring, players were able to go lower this week than last year.

2009 vs. 2008 course/field comparisons

2008 2009
First-round scoring average 74.180 72.250
Second-round scoring average 73.505 73.739
Third-round scoring average 72.758 72.119
Fourth-round scoring average 74.667 71.600
Cumulative scoring average 73.771 72.606
Players under par 10 34
Cutline +3 +1
Made Cut 45 50

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