By: Edward Egros


Previewing the 2019 Masters

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If you didn't know, Masters merchandise can only be purchased on the grounds of Augusta National. Officially, swag with the flagstick firmly planted on the Southeast corner of the United States can only be picked up by attending golf's first major. Tradition rarely ever changes in Augusta, Georgia.

Over the past few years I have researched which statistics best predict who will win the Masters, and just like Masters merchandise, time has not changed the approach.
As I have mentioned in previous conversations, my approach involves predicting who will earn the biggest share of purse winnings, not a score. This approach gives me a constant dependent variable instead of something discrete like "did they win" or what placement did each golfer finish with. To address that many golfers will not cash by failing to make the cut, I use a Tobit regression that, put simply, accounts for a lot of zeroes. Most of the factors used to diagnose a golfer's game come from Strokes Gained statistics. The last variable I look at is "Money Share" that is a proxy for course history, answering how well golfers have played at Augusta National before.

Of all of these factors, Strokes Gained: Putting proved not to be useful in terms of forecasting a winner. Putting is an uncertain activity where even the slightest break or inconsistency in the green can change a putt's trajectory. There also does not seem to be much of a trend in the ability to putt
from one round to the next.

For some additional trends, since 2010, every Masters champion but one was in the Top 50 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (and often in the Top 10). Also, since 2012, every winner was in the Top 25 in the
Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) heading into the tournament. Both trends were even more exclusive, until Patrick Reed's win last season lowered the aforementioned thresholds. Still, both trends are significant when determining a winner.

Now, to address the tiger in the room, Tiger Woods certainly falls in line with all of these trends. He ranks 9th in
Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, sits 12th in the OWGR and, of course, he's won four green jackets, though the last one was worn in 2005. The favorite in Rory McIlroy has finished half of his Masters in the Top 10, is currently leading in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and sits 3rd in OWGR.

However, my pick to win is Justin Rose. One of the tricky things about Strokes Gained statistics is they do not account for international tournaments. International players are often miscalculated because how they perform away from American soil may not always come into the equation. On the PGA Tour, he's 26th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, but internationally, he's won the Turkish Airlines Open, finished 8th in the Sky Sports British Masters and earned
a Top 25 at the BNI Indonesian Masters. Lastly, at Augusta National, Rose has finished second in two of the last four years and can boast 11 Top 25 finishes out of 13 starts. He has come close, but I believe Justin Rose will finally capture his first green jacket and spend much more time at the souvenir shops nearby.

For those who play Daily Fantasy Sports, I submit two lineups as often as I can:

Justin Rose
Rickie Fowler
Hideki Matsuyama
Shane Lowry
Justin Harding
Sergio Garcia

Justin Thomas
Bubba Watson
Xander Schauffele
Henrik Stenson
Brandt Snedeker
Webb Simpson

As always, special thanks to
ShotLink for providing the data.

Georgia or Alabama?

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The field is set inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for college football's national championship game. Aside from the playoff logo in the center, it looks a lot like what the SEC Championship will probably look like for years to come. Alabama has shown few signs of slowing down from its dynastic pace, while Georgia's achievements on the field and in recruiting suggest they may be that next major program to become a staple of the playoff.

Those games in the future will never have the stakes of tonight. So who will win?

As previously mentioned, Charles South and I put together a prediction model using advanced analytical techniques (you can see our
poster presentation here). Quick warning: you are about to see a long list. The significant variables—pertinent to tonight—that determine the outcome of a football game are:

- Yards per Pass Attempt
- Yards per Rush Attempt
- Rush Attempts
- Total Yards
- Yards per Play
- Turnovers
- Opponent Points Scored
- Opponent Yards per Rush Attempt
- Opponent Total Yards
- Opponent Turnovers
- Opponent Penalty Yards
- Average Point Differential
- Opponent Offense Passing Yds
- Opponent Offense Yards per Rush Att
- Opponent Offense Total Yards
- Opponent Offense YPP
- Opponent Def Total Rush Yds
- Opponent Defense YPRA
- Opponent Defense Total Yards
- Opponent Def Yards Per Play
- Opponent Defense TO
- Opponent Avg Points Differential
- Difference in Win %
- Recruiting Rankings

If you survived reading that long, congratulations! What's important to learn is the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide excel in just about every category. The difference in yards, points and statistical increments are razor thin, no matter your perspective. Without going into every variable, we can summarize several of them into overall offense, defense, schedule and recruiting.

Georgia's rushing attack with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb comprise most of its offense. They overcame the massive deficit in the Rose Bowl, they make the game manageable for a freshman quarterback and, as part of the backfield, they average more yards per carry and rushing attempts than Alabama. Neither team throws it much, though Georgia is more efficient through the air, by roughly one-third of a yard per attempt. Though Alabama is less efficient overall, some of that fact can be attributed to having big leads early in games, then cruising the rest of the way; it is why the Tide have more total yards than the Dawgs and Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts is the second-leading rusher on his own team, to preserve those leads.

Defensively, there seems to be few weaknesses with Alabama, though outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings will not play because of a knee injury. Near the end of the regular-season the injury problems mounted, but were under control in the Sugar Bowl, limiting the number-one ranked team to just six points and 188 total yards. Its rushing defense is best in America, allowing 2.7 yards per carry. The team passing efficiency defense also gives Bama the edge. Led by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, they've allowed just seven passing touchdowns and has an efficiency mark a full 17 points better than Georgia (1st in college football vs 13th nationally).

These statistics can be misleading given the small sample sizes in college football. Georgia did play an additional game, and often another contest can help a team historically. Alabama has only a slightly better point differential this season than Georgia. The Bulldogs faced the best offense when it comes to passing efficiency (Oklahoma). The best Alabama went up against was Auburn at 13th; a game they lost (Georgia split the two meetings). The Bulldogs got to face a Top 10 rushing attack in Notre Dame, while the Tide never faced anyone in the Top 25. The best passing efficiency defense Alabama faced was in the Sugar Bowl (5th) while the best Georgia saw was 19th (Auburn). The schedule favors Alabama but only slightly.

Finally, our study used
247Sports Composite Class Rankings to determine who has the best talent. Our study highlights the second-year and third-year classes, but also analyzes the average ranking of the first three classes. In this case, Alabama had the top class the past three years, though Georgia consistency fielded a Top 10 group.

Again, it is clear how evenly matched these teams are and how similar they are in terms of their approaches and philosophies. It promises to be an exciting game, and while the unpredictable like turnovers or missed field goal attempts prove all of the difference, if what's controllable decides this game, Alabama should have a narrow victory.