Golf Magazine

Masters: What Does the First Round Lead Mean?

By Theteesheet @theteesheet


The Masters are underway and you are either playing hooky or at the office pretending to work. Well, there's a graphic below that looks like a spreadsheet so just click it to expand if someone walks by.

There's the old saw that the tournament does not begin until the back nine on Sunday. Is it funny or true? With the easier and more exciting Sunday setups in recent years to allow scoring, it certainly has felt that way. Even if it is true, it does not logically exclude the importance of the Thursday lead. Let's take a look at the numbers.

There's always a lot of excitement with the first round leader and some surprises (Brett Wetterich comes to mind in recent years - and he even held part of the lead after day 2). We took a specific look at the past 11 years (like yesterday's analysis with the TTS Predictilator, we chose 11 years because that was when the major course changes took place). Here is a specific look at what the first round leaders did:

2002 - 2012: Masters Round One Leaders and final results [click to enlarge]
2002 - 2012: Masters Round One Leaders and final results [click to enlarge]

Maybe it is time to get a bit excited if you hvae the first round lead. Of the 14 players with the lead (or tied) after the first round, 35% of the time that player finished in the top five. From a pure excitement standpoint, a first round leader has been in the top 50% of the time after the third round. In other words, you are mixing up your pimento cheese on Sunday morning with your guy in the hunt at least half the time. Not too bad.

While the first round leader has only won once in the past 11 years (Trevor Immelman), there are a couple things worth noting:

  • Two other times (Chad Campbell in 2009 and Chris DiMarco in 2005) the leader made it into a playoff that is about as much as one could ask. It does suggest the first round lead can be significant and put a player to have the lowest score in regulations (in 3 of the last 11 years)
  • This sample includes the run by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson of 4 wins in 5 years from 2002 to 206 and neither had the first round lead. In those years, Tiger and Phil also did not have the second round lead so no need to throw away your pool sheets until the weekend. However, it is notable that each of them held the lead (or tied) in the third round during those winning years. 
  • Rory McIlroy's crash two years ago was as bad as it looked and felt. He's the only first round leader since the major course changes that has stayed in the top 10 through round 3 and then fall out - and he was leading after Saturday! With his intervening U.S Open win, it seems like less of a big deal.  He's obviously recovered and seems to be at ease at Augusta again.


What is also noticeable is that when you taste the lead and then fall out of the top ten , you never seem to make it back. At the Masters, once you fall after a moment in the spotlight: you fall hard. Not once has a first round leader fallen out of the top 10 after one day and make it back in contention.

This is more significant if one considers that of the 120 players in the past 11 years that have finished in the top 10 at the Masters (includes ties), 54 of those players were outside of the top 10 after either Friday or Saturday. In other words, 45% of the players that finished in the top 10 were on the outside of the tope ten after Friday or Saturday. But never has one of those players been a person that once had a taste of the lead.

We'll be back tomorrow for a look at the second round lead.

Douglas Han


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