Nicklaus' six appeal, US dominance & first-time Fuzzy – Masters Opta facts

By Sports Desk April 08, 2020

The Masters is one of the most storied events in sport.

Thursday was scheduled to be the opening day of the 2020 edition, but the coronavirus pandemic put paid to that.

Still, the Augusta major's rich history leaves plenty for us to look back on.

Here is a selection of the best Opta facts relating to what is traditionally the first major of the year...

 

- The US has dominated this major, with 61 of the 83 editions of the tournament having been won by Americans. 

- Jack Nicklaus holds the record for most wins at the Masters (6), ahead of Tiger Woods (5).

- Woods is the youngest player to wear the green jacket, having been 21 years, 104 days old when he triumphed in 1997.

- Nicklaus is the oldest to claim victory, doing so in 1986 when he was 46 years, 82 days old.

- The Masters is the only major in which Woods has always made the cut as a professional (20 out of 20).

- Fuzzy Zoeller is the last player to win the Masters at the first attempt, back in 1979.

- With his 2019 victory, Woods became only the second player over the age of 40 to have won a major on US soil in the 21st century, with Vijay Singh having lifted the 2004 US PGA Championship when he was 41.

- Only three players have won back-to-back green jackets - Woods (2001, 2002), Nicklaus (1965, 1966) and Nick Faldo (1989, 1990).

- Rory McIlroy just needs to add the Masters to his major collection to complete a career Grand Slam, which would see him join a club that includes Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Woods.

- The Masters is the only major tournament where Jordan Spieth has finished inside the Top 25 on each appearance (6/6).

- Only one of the last 43 Masters tournaments saw a wire-to-wire victory – Spieth in 2015.

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  • Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal: How an ideal relationship ended in a necessary divorce Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal: How an ideal relationship ended in a necessary divorce

    Mesut Ozil and Arsenal have officially gone their separate ways after seven and a half years together. 

    What was once a seemingly ideal football marriage has come to an end. Long since removed from the pedestal where he was once placed by Arsenal fans, Ozil has cut short his stay with the Gunners.

    Having coveted him for so long, Fenerbahce have got their man. The 32-year-old heads to Turkey, aiming to kick-start a career that had not so much stagnated of late but come to a complete standstill.

    Left out of Arsenal's squads for domestic and European duties this season, his most telling contribution in the final months of his career at the club was seemingly offering to cover the wages of mascot Gunnersaurus.

    The union had become broken to the point of no return in the closing stages, but there were plenty of good times before the inevitable break-up.

    FALLING HEAD OVER HEELS

    Ozil arrived at Arsenal in September 2013. The Gunners did not just break their transfer record to sign him from Real Madrid, they shattered it by paying around £42.5million.

    "This is an exciting day for all of us. We have signed a world-class player who is one of Europe's brightest young talents," said Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive at the time, when the deal was announced.

    Gazidis was right: Ozil was 24, a Germany international and someone who had played regularly during three seasons in LaLiga. His departure from Madrid was not popular with players and fans alike in the Spanish capital, but a necessary consequence of a spending spree that included bringing in Gareth Bale from Tottenham.

    Arsenal's big-name recruit did not take long to make an impact, setting up a goal for Olivier Giroud 11 minutes into his Premier League debut away at Sunderland. It would be the first of many laid on for the Frenchman, who benefited more than any other team-mate from the playmaker's abilities.

    Ozil's eye for a pass and talent for producing subtle moments of skill saw him quickly enchant the club's fanbase. How could they possibly do anything but fall for him?

    His opening year in England saw him score five goals and contribute nine assists in 26 league appearances. He won the FA Cup, helping Arsene Wenger's side rally from an early 2-0 deficit to defeat Hull City 3-2 in the Wembley final. Two months later, he was lifting the World Cup in South Africa.


    THE GOLDEN YEARS

    Ozil's second season included a lengthy spell on the sidelines, restricting him to 22 outings in the Premier League. He did help them retain the FA Cup though, this time with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Aston Villa.

    However, the Gunners saw the best of him in the two years that followed. In 2015-16, he laid on 19 assists – one shy of Thierry Henry's record – and created 146 chances, the latter number the most by any player in the competition for a single season since 2003-04. He was also the subject of seemingly thousands of Twitter memes, too.

    Arsenal ended up second in the final table, 10 points behind surprise champions Leicester City. The glass half-full type pointed to it being their best finish in 11 years, while the less optimistic sort strongly suggested it was more a missed opportunity.

    The following season was Ozil's best in terms of Premier League goals – eight in 33 games – but another possible title challenge faded after the turn of the year, leading to a finish outside the top four. There was yet another FA Cup success to at least ease the pressure on Wenger, but their streak of participating in the Champions League was over.

    Then, in February 2018, came Ozil's new contract. "I signed dat thing," he tweeted at the time, having committed through to 2021. Wenger was with him in the picture, though nobody knew at the time that the manager was coming towards the end of his tenure.

    A lucrative deal handed out to ward off potential suitors and tie down one of the club's leading names appeared a necessity at the time but would quickly become a millstone around the player's neck. The reported weekly salary was referenced so often in the media it should have been added to his name by deed poll.

    In terms of his future output, Ozil managed a mere six goals and five assists in 48 league games after the moment he put pen to paper for three more years.


    DRIFTING APART AND THE INEVITABLE SPLIT

    Relations became strained as Ozil shifted from eye-catching centrepiece to expensive luxury. The focus had switched from how much he produced on the ball to what he didn't do without it. The phasing-out process began during the Unai Emery reign, then led to him being completely ostracised by former team-mate Mikel Arteta.

    Yet it is easy to forget that he did start in the Spaniard's first game in charge, away at Bournemouth. "To be fair, his attitude in training since the day that I walked in the building has been incredible," Arteta told reporters after the 1-1 draw on Boxing Day in 2019.

    Still, six months later, when the Premier League returned following the coronavirus-enforced break, Arteta's tune had changed somewhat. After completely omitting Ozil from the squad to face Manchester City in June in the first game back, Arteta said: "I'm going to put him on the pitch when I think he can give his best.”

    There were two more fixtures when Ozil made the bench, only to be an unused substitute on both occasions. The 2019-20 season saw him play 18 times in the league and he managed a solitary goal and two assists. His final outing for the club came on March 3, 2020 – a 1-0 home victory over West Ham.

    Across his Arsenal career, Ozil provided 54 assists. Only Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (75) and David Silva (62), plus Tottenham's Christian Eriksen (62), contributed more assists for their teams since Ozil's arrival in England. When it comes to chances created, only Eriksen (571) beats Ozil's total of 558 – and the Dane played over 40 games more.

    And yet, as the divorce is confirmed, there is a sense of relief for all involved that it is all over. It was fun, for a while, but the time is right to move on.

  • Magnificent Hatton wins Abu Dhabi Championship Magnificent Hatton wins Abu Dhabi Championship

    Tyrell Hatton produced a magnificent final round of 66 to win the Abu Dhabi Championship by four shots on Sunday.

    Hatton started the day a stroke adrift of Rory McIlroy, but finished in dominant fashion to secure his fourth Rolex Series title.

    The Englishman made a dream start to the 2021 Race to Dubai, closing with a six-under round to end the week well clear on 18 under.

    Jason Scrivener matched world number nine Hatton in posting a 66 thanks to an impressive back nine, seeing him finish in second place, a shot ahead of McIlroy.

    Hatton's triumph ensured he equalled Jon Rahm's record of Rolex Series successes, having also won the 2017 Italian Open, 2019 Turkish Airlines Open and 2020 BMW PGA Championship.

    He made three birdies on the front nine and as many after the turn to seal a sixth European Tour victory at a canter.

    McIlroy finished on 13 after signing for a level-par 72, with four bogeys frustrating the Northern Irishman after two gains from his first three holes.

    Scrivener went out in 37, but got on a roll after the turn, sparked by an eagle-three at the 10th, followed by five birdies.

    Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello took fourth place on 12 under, while Tommy Fleetwood dropped back into a share of seventh on 10 under.

    David Lipsky and Marc Warren were unable to finish with a flourish, both carding rounds of 71 to finish joint-fifth.

  • Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play? Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play?

    Thiago Alcantara is a rather unique breed of footballer, the type of player who will be almost universally enjoyed such are his breath-taking technical attributes.

    It's like he rolls the passing talents of Juan Roman Riquelme and first touch of Ronaldinho into a single player and saunters around the pitch ensuring the game is played at a pace dictated by him.

    His Liverpool career feels a lot shorter than it actually has been because of his absence through injury, and he'll be hoping his recent return is the catalyst to kick-starting what is resembling a fairly meek title defence.

    But while Thiago has shown flashes of his immense ability in his fledgling Liverpool career, it appears not all are entirely convinced.

    Former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed his reservations in an interview with talkSPORT on Tuesday, suggesting Thiago is detrimental to a key part of Liverpool's play; utilising a quick tempo with hard-working midfielders who look to get the ball forward to the front three as soon as possible.

    Hamann urged Liverpool to be cautious about how much influence they let Thiago have, questioning his effectiveness when not in possession and suitability to the Reds' system, concerns that won't have been eased by Thursday's shock defeat to Burnley.

    But does this give a fair reflection of Thiago?

    An unnecessary luxury?

    First of all, there are only so many conclusions you can make regarding Thiago and his time at Liverpool because he has not featured particularly often, as previously highlighted.

    But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

    That win came in his Premier League debut, a 2-0 victory at Chelsea back in September – that's right, it was the game where he completed 75 passes despite only coming on at half-time, a record since Opta began recording such data in 2003-04 among players to play a maximum of 45 minutes.

    The hype after that match was stratospheric – the champions had seemingly added the final string to their bow and they were seemingly set to overwhelm everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind that was a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men before Thiago had even come on.

    Liverpool average just one point per game with Thiago, that more than doubles to 2.2 when he hasn't played – additionally, their win percentage rockets from 16.7 to 61.5 in games the Spaniard hasn't featured in.

    Of course, it's a relatively small sample size, so perhaps take the facts with a pinch of salt – but there are metrics that can shine more light on Thiago's influence.

    One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

    "Liverpool were always good when they weren't in possession, won it and played quickly forward. He's not that type of player, so it will be very interesting when he does play more often now how it's going to change the dynamics of the team," Hamann said.

    It's true, Liverpool do have more of the ball (65.7 per cent compared to 64.7) with Thiago in the side, but the difference is negligible and certainly cannot be pointed to as a cause for worry.

    The supply line

    Then there's the concerns relating to Thiago's style of play potentially impacting supply to the frontline. Well, the Reds average 18.7 shots per game when he plays (up from 14.9 without him).

    There is also no damning evidence to suggest Thiago isn't looking to feed the forwards either, after all, he passed to Mohamed Salah 11 times (a joint high) against Manchester United last weekend.

    He has picked out Salah 36 times in their 365 minutes on the pitch together – so, once every 10.1 minutes. Although that's less frequent than he passes to Trent Alexander-Arnold (once per every 8.2 minutes) and Andy Robertson (8.8 minutes), it shows he is supplying the Reds' most-threatening forward regularly.

    And while the two full-backs had off days against Burnley, can you really blame Thiago for passing to them often? Since the start of last season, they are Liverpool's leading providers of shooting opportunities.

    Additionally, his 14.9 passes into final third of the pitch per 90 minutes is second only to Jordan Henderson (16.2) among Liverpool players this term – Thiago beats him, and every other Red, in terms of successful passes in the attacking third every game, however (25.8, compared to Henderson's 20.5).

    "He's not that type of player"

    It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

    In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

    On top of that, he's ranked third in the squad for duel involvements (14.7 per 90 mins) – while not necessarily an indicator of excellence on its own, that should at the very least dispel any questions regarding his work rate.

    On an individual level when you look at the data, Thiago doesn't appear to be out of place stylistically. While he may occasionally spend more time on the ball than some of his midfield contemporaries, he possesses the kind of technical wizardry that arguably no other Liverpool player has and that is surely a positive rather than a negative.

    He's also clearly a hard-working player who offers plenty off the ball. So, while the Reds are going through a tricky patch at the moment, Thiago's abilities should be embraced rather than looked upon with suspicion.

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