Last November, when Dustin Johnson tapped in a putt to make par on the 72nd hole at the 2020 Masters, he achieved something no other golfer had ever done, finish a tournament at Augusta National Golf Club at 20 under. His total of 268 was two shots better than Tiger Woods’ performance in 1997 and Jordan Spieth’s winning score in 2015.
Sure, the course was soft and Johnson was at the height of his powers, but in hind sight we should have seen that magical number coming.
Modern equipment, improvements in the condition of the course and recent weather in Augusta during the Masters have helped to drive the winning scores down. While Golfweek reported earlier this week that the most-common winning score at the Masters is 8 under par and scoring trends have yo-yo’ed up and down over the years, as you can see in the chart below, the trend since the mid-2000s has been sharply down.
Johnson’s winning score of 20 under drove the 10-year winning score average down to -12.6, the lowest in Masters history. Previously, the lowest 10-year scoring average had been in 1999 after Jose Maria Olazabal’s win at 9 under pushed it to -11.9, a figure that benefitted from Woods’ win in ’97, along with Ben Crenshaw’s -14 in 1995, Fred Couple’s -13 in 1992 and Nick Faldo’s -12 in 1996.
Weather plays a big factor in scoring conditions at Augusta National. There have only been three winners who finished with a score over par since the Masters started in 1934 when it was referred to as the Augusta National Invitational Tournament, Sam Snead (1952), Jackie Burke (1956) and Zach Johnson at a frigid Masters in 2007.
With temperatures forecasted to be in the low-80s during the tournament, cold is not going to be a factor, but the official weather forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain on Friday, with between a half-inch to an inch of rain possible. That water would soften the fairways and greens, making the course effectively play longer and wider off the tee and help golfers stop their approach shots more easily on the greens.
If the rain holds off and the course remains firm and fast, Johnson’s scoring record is likely safe, and he hinted as much on Tuesday.
“It’s pretty firm for yesterday and today, for Monday and Tuesday. The ball’s bouncing a good bit,” he said. “So, definitely a lot different conditions than it was in November. Obviously the golf course played really soft then just because of the weather.”
With the distance debate being a storyline that is going to run through 2021 and Augusta National Golf Club always being in the spotlight, the scoring trend at the Masters will always be something to monitor.