To play or not to play before Masters

Phil Mickelson was the last Masters winner to win a tournament the previous week. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The week before the Masters means different things to different players. For the current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, it’s another week to prepare for Augusta National away from competition; he had played the week before the Masters the last two years, posting top-10 finishes in each of those tune-ups.

For many of the players in this week’s PGA TOUR field, however, the Shell Houston Open represents a final chance to qualify for a trip down Magnolia Lane.

Waiting ‘Til the Last Minute

Australia’s Matt Jones punched his golden ticket at last year’s Houston Open with a 6-shot comeback on the final day, punctuated by a playoff victory over Matt Kuchar. Ditto Martin Laird, who won the Valero Texas Open in 2013, with a course record-tying 63 in the final round.

But those final-week success stories are the exception. In the last 20 years, only three other players have earned Masters invites with a final-week victory on the PGA TOUR, and generally speaking, it hasn’t been a recipe for success at Augusta.

Of those five win-and-in players, three missed the cut, and only one (Davis Love III, with a runner-up finish in 1995) cracked the top 30 at the Masters the following week.

Win or Go Home (Early)

But what about the players who are already in next week’s field and simply getting in one more competitive start? What are this week’s indicators of Masters success?

If the green jacket is the goal, history says the best bet this week is to win or miss the cut -- nothing in between.

Of the last 20 Masters winners, nine played somewhere the previous week. Of that group, Phil Mickelson (2006) is the only one who came in riding the ultimate momentum, having won the BellSouth Classic the week before. As for the other eight winners, five of them missed the cut the previous week.

Recently, the trend has been for Masters winners to rest the week before -- none of the last three champions played the week before Augusta. But before this current run, four straight winners -- Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel -- all played the week before, and Immelman and Cabrera were each coming off missed cuts. In their respective Masters victory years, Immelman and Cabrera were a combined 3-over-par at the Shell Houston Open and 20-under-par the following week at Augusta.