What's in store for Bubba

April, 9, 2012
Great expectation follows a Masters champion for the remainder of his career after he slips on that green jacket. The cliché is that the player's "life has changed forever," almost completely for the better.

But what does it mean for a player's fortunes the rest of the year on the PGA and European Tours? We at Numbers Game thought it pertinent to dive into the statistics of recent Masters champions, to give us an idea of what to expect the rest of the year from 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson.

Trivia question

Who was the last player to win the Masters and then fail to make the cut at any other major that year? (Answer below)
Let's start with the U.S. Open. Recent history tells us that Watson should be in the mix at The Olympic Club this June. Nine of the past 12 Masters champions have gone on to finish in the top 12 at the U.S. Open that year. Six of the past 10 finished in the top four (granted, all but one of those was either Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson -- Mike Weir finished tied for third in 2003).

That's not even including Rory McIlroy, who held the lead Sunday at Augusta last year before his infamous second-nine meltdown. He went on to shoot the lowest score to par in U.S. Open history, winning at Congressional by eight shots.

However, following up a win at the Masters with victory at the subsequent U.S. Open is nearly impossible. Since 1950, only the greatest names in the history of the sport have accomplished the feat: Ben Hogan (twice), Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Woods. Craig Wood was the other man to accomplish the feat, back in 1941.

And since 1975, a Masters champion has won another major in the same calendar year only six times. Tiger Woods did it twice (2002 and '05), Mark O'Meara in 1998, Nick Faldo in 1990, Tom Watson in 1977 and Nicklaus in 1975.

So what about regular old PGA and European Tour events? The results there are much less promising for Watson on this front.

Since 2006, only one player won the Masters and then won again on the PGA Tour that season. That was Zach Johnson in 2007. Since 2000, nobody except Tiger Woods won the Masters and then won multiple times the rest of that year on the PGA Tour. And no player has won a European Tour event after winning the Masters since Woods did it in 2002.

In fact, the past four Masters winners not only went winless on the world's two premier tours the rest of their green jacket seasons, but they combined for just 12 top-10 finishes the rest of the way. Nobody in the group finished with more than four top-10s the remainder of the season (Mickelson in 2010). Last year, Charl Schwartzel had 11 PGA and European Tour starts after winning the Masters, finishing in the top 10 just three times.

However, using other players as a barometer for predicting what Bubba Watson will do seems a bit out of place. After all, nothing about Watson is conventional. His name, swing, footwork, "Dukes of Hazzard" car, pink driver and top-shirt-button all defy convention.

That convention says that players who lead the PGA Tour in driving distance, as Watson has done three times in his career, don't win major championships. Watson is currently ranked first in driving distance on the PGA Tour. Since 1980, only one player has led the Tour in that statistic and won a major in the same year -- John Daly (1995 Open Championship, 1991 PGA Championship).

A couple of additional bump-and-run research notes from Augusta:

  • Watson won the Masters in a playoff after losing the 2010 PGA Championship playoff to Martin Kaymer. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Watson is the first player to lose a playoff in a major -- and then go on to win his first major title in a playoff -- since John Mahaffey at the 1978 PGA Championship.

    At the 1975 U.S. Open, Lou Graham defeated Mahaffey by two strokes in an 18-hole playoff. Mahaffey then won his first major championship at the '78 PGA, in a sudden-death playoff over Jerry Pate and Tom Watson. It was Mahaffey's lone major victory.

  • Bubba's victory Sunday was his fourth PGA Tour title since the beginning of 2010. Watson is the fifth player with four or more wins in that span, joining Steve Stricker (five), Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas and Justin Rose (all with four). Among that group, Watson is the only one with a major to his credit.

  • Before Mike Weir in 2003, only one left-handed player had ever won a major championship -- Bob Charles at the 1963 Open Championship. With Watson's title at Augusta, we have now seen three different lefties win the Masters alone in the past 10 years.

  • Trivia answer

    Question: Who was the last player to win the Masters and then fail to make the cut at any other major that year?

    Answer: Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 (WD, two missed cuts).

    Lee Westwood finished tied for third Sunday. Incredibly, that's seven top-three finishes for Westwood in major championships since the 2008 U.S. Open. Westwood headlines a dubious list now. His seven top-three finishes in majors are the most by anyone without a major victory dating back to 1934, the first year the Masters was held. Colin Montgomerie and Doug Sanders are tied for second on that list with six. Sergio Garcia has five.

    Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

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