Golf Nerd Numbers: How Masters Scoring Has Evolved Over 90 Years
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Golf Nerd Numbers: How Masters Scoring Has Evolved Over 90 Years

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Golf Nerd Numbers: How Masters Scoring Has Evolved Over 90 Years

The Masters was first played in March 1934, a shade over 90 years ago. Next week will be the 88th playing of the event (the 1943-1945 editions were canceled due to World War II but the tournament has otherwise been contested every year). 

I thought it would be interesting to look at how scoring has evolved in that time. 

In this piece, I evaluate the trend of winning scores, how changes to the course have influenced scoring, field scoring average and how each hole has ranked historically. 

Winning Scores By Decade and Course Length

Despite the course getting longer—especially in the past 20 years—winning scores have been lower than ever. 

We are on a run of six consecutive Masters champions posting a total of 278 (10-under) or better, the first time that has happened. The previous longest run of such low scoring from winners came in the 1974-1978 stretch. 

Since 1990, 65 percent of Masters winners have finished at 278 or lower. The average winning score in that time is almost exactly 11-under (277)

From 1934-1989, only 21 percent of Masters winners were at that mark or better. The average winning score during that time was slightly better than 7-under (281)

Horton Smith won the first Masters in 1934 with a 4-under 284 total. The course he won on, however, bears little resemblance to the Augusta National we know today

After that first edition, the nines were flipped. What is now the first hole served as No. 10 for the inaugural Masters. 

The official course length was originally 6,700 yards on the nose. It got longer in the first few decades of the tournament and then remained around the same yardage for about 40 years before the course was lengthened considerably in the 21st Century. The course now is 7,555 yards. 

There is likely no layout in the world that has witnessed more man-made change than Augusta National. Constant tinkering, tree planting (or removal), lengthening and changes in agronomy have attempted to keep up with technological advances over the years. 

Here is a quick breakdown of average winning scores, rounded to the nearest whole number, by decade. I’ve included the course yardage at the start of each decade for reference. 

1930s — 283 (5-under) | Course Yardage: 6,700

1940s — 281 (7-under) | Course Yardage: 6,800

1950s — 283 (5-under) | Course Yardage: 6,900

1960s — 280 (8-under) | Course Yardage: 6,980

1970s — 279 (9-under) | Course Yardage: 6,980

1980s — 281 (7-under) | Course Yardage: 7,040 

1990s — 277 (11-under) | Course Yardage: 6,905 

2000s — 279 (9-under) | Course Yardage: 6,985

2010s — 276 (12-under) | Course Yardage: 7,435

2020s —275 (13-under) | Course Yardage: 7,475

Recent Scoring Records Set

Only three times in Masters history has the field averaged under-par for the tournament. 

Two of those three (2019 and 2020) came in the past few years, although the 2020 pandemic-impacted event took place in November and had considerably softer than normal conditions. The third instance was in 1992. 

The 2019 tournament broke the third-round and final-round record for most players under par. 

The tournament scoring record set by Tiger Woods in 1997 (18-under) has been in danger for the past 15 years. 

Phil Mickelson threatened it with a 272 (16-under) in 2010 before Jordan Spieth tied it at 270 (18-under) in 2015. 

Patrick Reed took a run at that mark with a 273 (15-under) total in 2018 and then Dustin Johnson (268 20-under) set the record in 2020. 

Interestingly, exactly half of the 22 Masters rookies to shoot par or better in all four rounds have come since 2002, suggesting that the learning curve at Augusta might not be what it once was. 

Recent Field Average

Here are how the last seven years have looked like from a field average standpoint: 

2017 — 73.52

2018 — 72.53

2019 — 71.77

2020 — 71.75

2021 — 72.98

2022 — 73.86

2023 — 73.01

Recent changes to the course included lengthening No. 5 by 40 yards (2019), No. 11 by 15 yards (2022), No. 13 by 35 yards (2023) and No. 15 by 20 yards (2022). 

That is part of the reason we’ve seen a pushback from the course the past few years. 

For example, the par-5 13th, the easiest hole historically, was the toughest of the course’s four par-5s during the 2023 tournament. The scoring average was higher than in recent years. 

While field average has set recent record lows, there hasn’t been a dramatic shift in scoring average for the past 50 years. 

Lengthening the course, increased green speeds and establishing a 36-hole cut in 1957 have all kept scoring averages mostly within the same realm. Pre-1957, scoring averages were considerably higher. 

Here are a few random examples of notable Masters years and where scoring average fell: 

1964 — 72.77

1976 — 73.03

1997 — 72.86

2010 — 72.07

The tournament has pretty much lived in the 72-74 scoring average space with rare exceptions.

All-Time Scoring Statistics By Hole

Another interesting analysis is to look at the all-time scoring average for each hole. 

Historically, the hardest hole is No. 11 (4.30), a par-4 that has played to an over-par field average in all 87 editions of the tournament. 

There are seven holes where the field has collectively never broken par (1, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 18). 

Only two holes have played under par every single year. That would be 2 and 8, both the par-5s on the first nine. 

While two of the three easiest holes are on the second nine, the first nine has historically played slightly easier (36.88 scoring average on the first nine compared to 37.11 on the second nine). 

Any guesses for the second-hardest hole in Masters history? It belongs to No. 10 (4.29), which is just barely easier than the 11th. The par-3 4th (3.28) is the third-hardest hole. 

Several holes have recently given up their lowest average scores in tournament history. 

The November 2020 Masters saw four holes set all-time lows as 2, 4, 9 and 16 were picked apart. 

Of the 18 holes at Augusta National, only five of them had all-time lows set prior to 2000. 

On the other hand, only one hole has seen its all-time high score set since 2000. The majority of the hardest years (12 of 18 holes) came during the 1940s and 1950s. 

It’s yet another indicator of how scoring has improved over the years. 

Here is a list of every hole’s all-time scoring average, difficulty ranking relative to other holes, easiest field average year and hardest field average year. 

No. 1 (Par 4) — 4.23 (6th) | Easiest Year: 4.01 (1974) | Hardest Year: 4.47 (2007)

No. 2 (Par 5) — 4.77 (17th) | Easiest Year: 4.46 (2020) | Hardest Year: 4.99 (1957)

No. 3 (Par 4) — 4.07 (14th) | Easiest Year: 3.88 (2011) | Hardest Year: 4.26 (1989)

No. 4 (Par 3) — 3.28 (3rd) | Easiest Year: 3.08 (2020) | Hardest Year: 3.49 (1956)

No. 5 (Par 4) — 4.26 (5th) | Easiest Year: 4.06 (2001) | Hardest Year: 4.47 (1956)

No. 6 (Par 3) — 3.13 (13th) | Easiest Year: 2.98 (1974) | Hardest Year: 3.26 (1946)

No. 7 (Par 4) — 4.15 (10th) | Easiest Year: 3.98 (2001) | Hardest Year: 4.40 (1972)

No. 8 (Par 5) — 4.81 (15th) | Easiest Year: 4.62 (2019) | Hardest Year: 4.99 (1956)

No. 9 (Par 4) — 4.13 (12th) | Easiest Year: 3.96 (2020) | Hardest Year: 4.40 (1955)

No. 10 (Par 4) — 4.29 (2nd) | Easiest Year: 4.08 (2018) | Hardest Year: 4.69 (1956)

No. 11 (Par 4) — 4.30 (1st) | Easiest Year: 4.06 (1995) | Hardest Year: 4.64 (1956)

No. 12 (Par 3) — 3.27 (4th) | Easiest Year: 3.03 (2002) | Hardest Year: 3.54 (1966)

No. 13 (Par 5) — 4.77 (18th) | Easiest Year: 4.47 (2019) | Hardest Year: 5.04 (1976)

No. 14 (Par 4) — 4.16 (8th) | Easiest Year: 3.93 (2011) | Hardest Year: 4.41 (1949)

No. 15 (Par 5) — 4.77 (16th) | Easiest Year: 4.50 (1991) | Hardest Year: 5.09 (1998)

No. 16 (Par 3) — 3.13 (11th) | Easiest Year: 2.87 (2020) | Hardest Year: 3.42 (1950)

No. 17 (Par 4) — 4.16 (9th) | Easiest Year: 3.94 (1996) | Hardest Year: 4.34 (1951)

No. 18 (Par 4) — 4.23 (7th) | Easiest Year: 4.01 (2001) | Hardest Year: 4.46 (1954)

Closing Thoughts

I have several takeaways from the scoring data. 

  • The Masters has constantly evaluated and changed Augusta National, which has largely kept scoring stable from a field average standpoint. 
  • Better technology and players who know how to use it have pushed the course around at times in the past decade or so—but course changes have been pushing back the past two years. 
  • Winning scores have been getting lower on average, suggesting players in good form can take advantage of the course more than they could in the past. 
  • The start of the second nine has three of the four toughest holes historically. 
  • All four of the par-5s have played to a nearly identical scoring average historically. 

Hope you enjoyed this piece. 

Let me know in the comments if you are interested in more “golf nerd” kind of stories like this one. 

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Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean is a longtime golf journalist and underachieving 8 handicap who enjoys the game in all forms. If he didn't have an official career writing about golf, Sean would spend most of his free time writing about it anyway. When he isn't playing golf, you can find Sean watching his beloved Florida Panthers hockey team, traveling to a national park or listening to music on his record player. He lives in Nashville with his wife and dog (of course the dog's name is Hogan).

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm





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      Andy

      1 month ago

      I wonder if they could add strokes gained stats to this. We can then put an importance to the tee shot vs approach shot vs around the green and putting in a meaningful way. I am not a strokes gained wizard, but does a downhill 7 footer with a foot of break vs an uphill 7 footer that has minimal break get different values on the approach shot strokes gained or is the difference captured on the putting strokes gained or not at all. I fear it is not at all and it would value being 7 feet away as equal.

      Reply

      PHDrunkards

      1 month ago

      The joke about Augusta is, because they don’t want to NARROW the fairways by either tightening them with more pine straws, overhanging tree limbs or putting in ROUGH (! how dare they!), they have to add length LOL since the challenge is not about the ROUGH or tight fairways making tee shots extremely hard, but all about those silly tricked out green complexes with fall offs and smooth and tight fairway areas around them.
      These stats are skewed as the yardage differences are massive on a lot of holes from when it stated to how they are now.
      Is it the same game? Not at all

      Reply

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