Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013 Fantasy Golf Preview: Part 2 - The Top 30

In Part 1 of the FGR's 2013 Fantasy Golf Preview, we covered a better way to play the game based on six player rosters and a money list approach. (Warning: it's about to get really golfy). Now it's time for some draft prep because, in that format, your first and second round picks will probably make (Bubba Watson and Jason Dufner) or break (Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel) your team. Remember that our first objective here is prize money. Unlike other fantasy sports, there are no positional concerns in a fantasy golf draft so with each pick it simply comes down to whether you like Player "A" more than Player "B" and/or Player "C."

It's going to be hard to ignore the
memory of this image in Round 2. 
There are a few simple rules to follow when making those choices. The first one is "when in doubt, pick the guy who plays more tournaments." That would seem obvious but would you rather have Ian Poulter for 15 tournaments or Carl Pettersson for 26? Are you willing to give up that many extra shots at adding prize money on the chance that Poulter is going to win and justify a second round pick? (at this point I am not but we'll see what happens when we get to Round 2 after a few beers because I'm not sure I could pull the trigger on the big Swede that early).

The other thing to consider is that golfers have a tendency to revert back to their means both positively and negatively. For example, Zach Johnson is probably about the 12th-15th best player on tour but last year he finished 6th on the money list, in 2009 he finished 4th and in 2007 he finished 8th. In 2011, 2010 and 2008, however, he finished 44th, 19th and 53rd. So do you bet on ZJ having back to back top 10's even though he's never done it before or do you play the odds and bump him back into the teens or even the low 20's? Chances are someone is going to jump on him too early. Just make sure you're not that guy.

Enough rules. This isn't rocket science because if there was this much guess work involved in rocket science, it would be called something else . . . like rocketology. The problem this year is that the talent pool has gotten so deep that, after the top two picks, I could make a case for any of my next sixteen to go in the third spot. That will explain why what I say about a player ranked in the mid teens makes him sound like he should be 4th. I mean what can I say to justify the fact that I have the player who won the 2012 U.S. Open and finished second on the 2011 money list ranked 14th other than I think there are 13 guys who are good enough to finish ahead of him this year. I've reshuffled this list a dozen times but now it's time to launch this sucker (see how I brought it back to the rocket theme there? . . . That's what you do when you can't figure out how to transition to the next topic).

1. Rory McIlroy because he is the best player in the world and after winning his second major in two years and then backing that up with a strong Ryder Cup performance, he KNOWS he's the best player in the world.

2. Tiger Woods because he is not ready to admit that Rory is the best player in the world even if deep-down he knows it to be true. In addition to three wins last season, Tiger played really solidly down the stretch with five top 10's out of seven events with loaded fields. He's in the process of making one more run at being the best player in the world and I'm not betting against him. I'm reluctant to go with the same one-two combination from the 2102 money list but it's not unprecedented as Tiger and Phil Mickelson did it three years in a row from 2000-2002. I can see Rory and Tiger having a similar run.

3. Jason Dufner because he always shows-up as evidenced by his fourteen top 25's in twenty-two tournaments last year. You could also look at it like this. Which player is most likely to win his first major in 2013? The answer is Dufner or Lee Westwood right? And Dufner gets the nod in the rankings because he plays more events and he only has the scars of blowing one major in his career as opposed to Westwood who has more scars than a rookie lion tamer.

4. Keegan Bradley because he is ready to add consistency to his big game ability. It looked like he was going to do it last year when he was rock solid right up to the Masters and then things inexplicably went sideways until he won the Bridgestone and finished tied for 3rd at the PGA Championship. He also would have brought home the Ryder Cup for the U.S. if coach Love hadn't left him on the bench for the most critical match as explained in The FGR Rankings Update.

5. Justin Rose because he's too good to win just one tournament in a season and he may have been the only guy to get a bigger confidence bump from the Ryder Cup than Bradley. He finished 7th on last year's money list despite some very suspect putting (121st in putts per round). He's a better putter than that and a modest improvement in that area this year is going to land him a major.

Pretty much your standard
follow through for hitting
a fade . . . right?
6. Bubba Watson because every time Bubba makes the cut, he finishes in the top 25 (literally every time . . . 16 out of 16 last year). On my first pass through this list I had Bubba 18th because I kept comparing him to the next guy and thinking, "that other guy is better." Then I came to my senses and realized that the reason I underrate Bubba is that I cannot begin to understand how he can be as consistent as he is while hitting 300+ yard curveballs off the tee. It's hard to wager with confidence on something you don't understand but in this case I'm just going to trust the results and the fact that Bubba's swing is never going to get out of whack because his body wouldn't know how to swing a golf club any other way (not sure if that makes sense which makes it the perfect analysis of Bubba's game).

7. Matt Kuchar because he had the best 2012 scoring average other than the guys who are 1st, 2nd and 3rd on this list (and Jim Furyk - more on him below). Maybe I'm partial to Kuch because he worked-out well for me last year but I look at him the same way I look at Brady, Rodgers and Brees in fantasy football. You know you're going to get about 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns so why roll the dice on a riskier proposition?

8. Dustin Johnson because he's not going to miss almost three months in 2013 with an injury that allegedly occurred while moving a jet ski. (There were many unsubstantiated rumors last year that "moving a jet ski" was a little known euphemism for "puffing the magic dragon" which of course is another way of saying "burning some rope." Even if they aren't true, I'd like to introduce "moving the jet ski" into the Mary Jane lexicon).

9. Lee Westwood because after six top five finishes last year plus a tie for 10th at the U.S. Open when he suffered one of the worst breaks in golf history (his ball disappeared into the top of a tree and never came down), he is beyond overdue for something good to happen. He also moved to Florida which means that (a) he'll be playing in more events, especially early in the year and (b) he can keep driving on the wrong side of the road and no one down there will know the difference.

10. Phil Mickelson because he's only finished lower than 8th on the money list once since 2003 and he's been one of the five best players in the world since the beginning of September (two top 10's in the FedEx Cup, 3-1 in the Ryder Cup and 2nd at the HSBC in China). I originally had Phil 15th because his game appears to be slipping a bit but never underestimate his desire to cash checks. He always seems to raise his game when cash flow starts to get a little light.

11. Luke Donald because, though the talent pool is getting a little deep for him, he still has the consistency to rack-up a $4M+ season as evidenced by his strong showings at the British Open, the Players, the Tour Championship and two WGC events last year. Remember, he's still #2 in the FGR Rankings and the World Golf Rankings and he may be one of those guys who sneaks back in and wins a major after slipping off the radar like Mark O'Meara and Curtis Strange did. (Hmmm . . . need to factor that into Part 3 of the preview).

12. Adam Scott because he's ranked 4th in the FGR Rankings and 5th in the World Golf Rankings and he bounced back from his disastrous British Open to have two top 10's in the FedEx Cup. His limited schedule is an issue but he makes-up for that by always being in contention in at least one major and playing the WGC events well.

Adam Scott would appear to be
the man who has everything
. . . except a major.
13. Brandt Snedeker because he dominated the FedEx Cup last year and I see him riding that momentum into a solid 2013. He has also finished 2nd, 6th and 1st over the last three years in putts per hole and nothing translates into dollars like making a lot of putts. (Feel free to add your own "duh" to that last point).

14. Webb Simpson because I have no idea what to say about ranking a guy this good this low. I had him 16th but then I imagined myself at the draft choosing between him and the next two guys on this list and decided he would be my pick.

15. Louis Oostuizen because when he's on, he is one of the five best players in the world. I was surprised to see that he played 19 times last year because with that many starts, he should have finished higher on the money list but he didn't have a win. That won't be the case this year.

16. Bo Van Pelt because he's too good not to win at least once next year. He's finished 4th, 10th and 7th in the All Around Ranking the past three years which is an indication that he's got the complete package. (The only players to finish ahead of him in that category last year were Bradley, McIlroy and Dufner which is pretty good company as long as Bradley doesn't start droning on about how good the Sawx are going to be next year).

17. Ernie Els because one thing that got lost in his dramatic British Open victory was that he was in position to win three other times including the U.S. Open and his putter failed him. Ernie just turned 43, probably has one more good run in him and he knows it.

18. Nick Watney because last year was a hiccup. Remember that in 2011 he had ten top 10's including five straight to start the season and he won two legit events (the WGC at Doral and the AT&T National). Not to mention, the FGR owes almost half of its readership to Amber Watney.***

"Are the Watney's expecting? Come
on. I need the information now!
On January 4th I'm a dinosaur!"
19. Jason Day because I'm assuming he enjoyed his year off and he's ready to come back and get to work. When a player makes as big a move backwards as Day did in 2012, it's worth trying to figure-out why. In this case, the down year can be attributed at least partly to a bum ankle and the birth of his son. I've played through both and can attest to the fact that they are legitimate excuses for spotty play . . . especially the new baby thing because you don't feel guilty about playing on a bad ankle.

The lesson here is that if you are eyeing up a certain player for the 2013 season, it would probably be worth your time to Google his name+wife+pregnant+expecting and if there is a pending birth, especially between April and September, run the other way as golfers' wives apparently don't buy into the idea of Adrian Balboa postpartum motivational speeches.***

20. Scott Piercy because his win last year finally convinced him that he's one of the best players on tour as evidenced by his second place finish at the HSBC in November.

21. Hunter Mahan because I have no idea where to put him after he won two tournaments in the space of four weeks at the start of last season and then went into golf's version of the fetal position until a tie for 8th at the Tour Championship. After his second win, I thought he might been headed for top five in the world but in his last six tournaments before the TC, he missed the cut twice and his best finish was 39th.

22. Rickie Fowler because until he shows that he can closeout more wins after putting himself in position, he is going to be a high to mid 20's regular on the money list. Case in point: he was in position to win the Memorial after three rounds last year and then closed with an 84 meaning half the ten handicaps in the world shot a better score than he did that Sunday.

Not to hit you while you're
down Jim but reeeally sorry
about your Steelers this year.
23. Zach Johnson because, as discussed above, I don't see him winning twice again this year but he'll probably win at least once. He's currently tied for 12th for most wins by an active player on tour with nine which puts him ahead of K.J. Choi, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia. If picking Kuchar in the first round is like taking one of the top three quarterbacks, then picking ZJ in the second is like taking Roddy White or Reggie Wayne.

24. Jim Furyk because he is one of the few guys on tour with the mental make-up to bounce back from two of the most devastating meltdowns in recent memory but one thing is for sure, no one who picked him last year is going back for more in 2013.*** Too many flashbacks and nightmares.

25. Bud Cauley because at some point I had to pick a young gun who is going to jump about 20 spots and Cauley looks like that guy.

26. Carl Pettersson because after being an unbelievable non-factor in the majors for the first ten years of his career he got his first taste of contending at the PGA Championship and he finally seems to have figured-out how to be more consistent from week to week.

27. Ian Poulter because, after his Ryder Cup performance and his win in China at the HSBC, he has solidified his reputation as a badass putt making machine. If he played more PGA Tour events, he'd be ten spots higher.

"My teacher's name is Alan Parsons,
therefore my rebuilt swing shall be
called the 'Alan Parsons Project.'"
28. Graeme McDowell because he is going to have better finishes in the WGC events and make a stronger run during the FedEx Cup. G-Mac could be a really strong second round sleeper pick this year. His finishes in the majors last year were T2, T5, T11 and T12. When a gritty player keeps knocking on the door like that, he's going to break through sooner than later.

29. Jonas Blixt because when you putt as well as he does and you have the perfect name for a Bond villain, I need to find a place for you in my top 30.

30. Seung-Yul Noh because he made 24 out of 28 cuts in 2012 and ended the season with 17 in a row. And his name sounds like "soon you'll know" as in "soon you'll know how freakin' good I am."

The Near Misses

Four more players that I had in the top 30 at some point during this process are Bill Haas, Charl Schwartzel, Peter Hanson and Chris Kirk. Haas and Schwartzel are due for bounce back seasons. Hanson is a stud who raises his game for the majors and the WGC events and Kirk was showing signs at the end of 2012 that he's ready to make the leap (and his wife had a baby last year so he should be clear on that front unless Irish birth control is involved).

The Almost Forgotten

Every year there are a half a dozen guys who inexplicably plummet down the money list like they just said "screw practicing this year." Some never make it back up but more often than not, the drop is just one bad season and they finish 20-30 spots higher the following year. Prime candidates for that kind of move in 2013 are Fredrik Jacobson, Aaron Baddeley, Gary Woodland and K.J. Choi.

So that should get you through the first couple rounds and maybe into the third. Remember that the mid to later round picks can be just as valuable as the top two so be on the lookout for 2013's version of John Huh and Marc Leishman. I have a few of those in mind but I'm going to hang onto them until after my draft this week. As James Coburn said in The Baltimore Bullet (a poor man's version of The Color of Money), "I taught you everything you know . . . but I didn't teach you everything I know." Good luck.

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Endnotes

"Who's Amber?"
* In the 2012 Zurich Classic Preview I posted this picture and mistakenly identified the subject as Amber Watney. Now every time Amber Watney makes any news, a thousand people Google her name, stumble onto this picture and are directed to the Fantasy Golf Report. I don't really have a point here other than to say Amber Watney, fantasy golf, Amber Watney, fantasy golf, Amber Watney, fantasy golf . . .

** For the second time in as many days I feel compelled to explain a 30+ year old movie reference. If you have not seen Rocky I and Rocky II, then your sports movie resume has a gaping hole in it (I would also recommend Rocky III but don't go any further than that). Without giving anything away, there is an extended stretch in Rocky II where his wife Adrian is dealing with a life threatening situation during her pregnancy (at some point I think she actually slips into a classic 70's movie coma) and the audience is dealing with the threat that the writers may be screwing-up the easiest sequel in the history of film. That all changes the moment Adrian is out of harm's way and asks Rocky to lean in so she can whisper something to him from her hospital bed:

Adrian: There's one thing I want you to do for me.
Rocky: What?
Adrian: Come 'ere.
Rocky: What?
Adrian: Win . . . . Win.

Cue the orchestra (you may want to put on a sweater before watching this clip because it's about to get a little chilly) - Win . . . Win.

*** Though I'm sure he'd trade the eight top 10 finishes for a second swing at that tee shot on the 16th hole at Olympic (Fore Left!) and a complete do over on the 72nd hole at the Bridgestone.