Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The 2014 Fantasy Golf Preview Part 2: The Top 30

In last season's preview, we went with a multipart format that included predicting what the top 30 would look like at season's end and picking the winners of the majors, WGC events and the Players Championship. Well, if it ain't broke don't fix it* so here comes the top 30 installment. (Note to self: Next time just do the top 10). These predictions are based on the two factors that dictate success in the FGR's pick 6 format: (1) total money earned from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions through the Tour Championship and (2) the potential to win majors, WGC events and the Players.** The lack of big game potential results in some otherwise solid players being downgraded and will be noted accordingly.

(Note that this entire post was written through the fog of a sinus headache that made it feel like someone was gently tapping the bridge of my nose with the leading edge of a 9-iron for 36 straight hours so forgive me if it seems like the analysis of some of the players ends rather abruptly with no real conclusion . . . because it does).

THE FGR PRESEASON TOP 30***

1. Tiger Woods: As noted in Part 1 of the preview series, Tiger won 35% more money than Henrik Stenson last year and he did that without winning a major. I think we'll all be surprised if Tiger doesn't break that streak in 2014 because if he gets all the way to the PGA Championship without one, witnesses are going to start placing Tim Finchem near the scenes of mysterious accidents involving the world's best other golfers.

Please stay off the surfboard this
weekend Kuch. It's not worth it.
2. Matt Kuchar: Kuch has been gradually moving to the top of the "Best Player Never to Win a Major" list for the last two years and, even if he doesn't remove himself from that list this year, you can bank on him for at least two wins (with one of them being significant) and $5M+. Drafting Kuch is like drafting Aaron Rodgers with no fear of injury. (I can't believe I just wrote that considering I drafted him).

3. Adam Scott: In addition to his win at Augusta, Scott finished tied for 3rd at the British and tied for 5th at the PGA. He also won the Barclays and made 16 out of 16 cuts but therein lies the problem in a season-long league. His talent edge over a guy like Kuchar just isn't enough to make-up for the 7-8 fewer tournaments he will play . . .  but it's close.

4. Henrik Stenson: Stenson's run from the British Open through the Tour Championship was no fluke. The big Swede might be the best ball striker on the planet right now and if he adds a couple of stateside tournaments to his schedule, I don't see how he finishes outside the top five.

5. Hunter Mahan: Mahan started 2013 on a roll culminating with his second place finish at the Accenture Match Play and then things got a bit choppy with a slew of missed cuts and four digit checks. However, he contended at the U.S. Open and British Open and had a solid run during the FedEx Cup playoffs which indicates that he may have overcome the greatest adversity most golfers face in this era - First Baby Syndrome or FBS.

6. Phil Mickelson: Ah the annual question. Where to put Phil? Just when you think he might be ready to recede into a life of twelve tournament schedules and six figure corporate outings, he up and has one of the best season of his career coming within a lip out of shooting 59, almost winning the U.S. Open and then miraculously recovering from the collapse to take the British by shooting one of the best final rounds in history. Can he finally conquer his U.S. Open demons at Pinehurst this summer? I don't know but I can assure you he'll be one of my picks that week. (I'm you'll sleep better knowing that).

7. Dustin Johnson: I really wanted to put D.J. higher but he just can't be trusted. Who knew the final round at 2010 U.S. Open would just foreshadow the bonehead move at Whistling Straits which would in turn foreshadow his career since? Yes he had a solid season last year but he also had four missed cuts and two withdraws. I think this is the year he starts getting it back on track and wins at least twice and don't be surprised if one of them is the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

8. Justin Rose: The 2013 U.S. Open winner is going to be a threat at every major for at least the next few years (which makes it even more inexcusable that I completely left him out of the original version of these rankings).

9. Webb Simpson: Simpson's 20th place finish on last year's money list included a few near misses that would have made a significant difference including his playoff loss at the RBC Heritage. I'm a big fan of players who are one year removed from their first major win so I'm banking on those 2013 near misses to be wins in 2014.

10. Rory McIlroy: This may be too low. Then again, it may be too high but where do you put arguably the most talented player on the planet coming-off a season when he narrowly clipped Brendon de Jonge for 41st place on the money list? Rory is therefore an enigma until proven otherwise but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt this year and slot him in the back half of the top ten.

Of course Dufner's whole season
could go down the tubes if he and
Amanda contract a case of FBS.
11. Jason Dufner: Which Jason Dufner are we going to get? The one who sleepwalked through the first half of the 2013 season or the one who threw darts down the stretch at Oak Hill to closeout the PGA Championship with Jim Furyk breathing down his neck and also won twice in 2012. I'm banking on him being more of the second guy.

12. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has two things working against his continued place in the top five: (1) he's injury prone and (2) the upper echelon of golf has gotten really crowded. He's still going to make a ton of dough but personally I wouldn't pick him for a season long format based on his inevitable Masters meltdown and the fact that he rarely contends at any other majors.

13. Bill Haas: I look at Haas as kind of the poor man's Matt Kuchar. Super nice guy, easy to root for and is pretty much a lock for a win and somewhere between $3M and $4M in earnings. His big drawback is that he simply does not contend in the majors (his best finish over the last two years is a tie for 19th) and who wants their number one pick missing cuts and never making the Sunday broadcast at the four biggest tournaments of the year? Not this guy.

14. Zach Johnson: Z.J. used to be one of those one year on/one year off types (also known as a "Billy Mayfair") but over the past few seasons he has become extremely reliable. He's also a good guy to have all year because he rarely hits shots down the stretch like D.J. and Mickelson that make you wonder if they genuinely have something personal against you (i.e. Mickelson's 13th hole pitching wedge at Merion).

15. Jason Day: Day recovered from a serious case of FBS to get his career back on track last season. He's also the anti Bill Haas as he finished 3rd at Augusta, tied for 2nd at the U.S. Open and tied for 8th at the PGA Championship

16. Keegan Bradley: Keegan was supposed to be the FGR's breakout player for 2013 but he didn't quite measure-up so we'll plant him in the 13th spot this year and look for at least one win and a couple of top five finishes in WGC events.

17. Steve Stricker: The inclination is to keep dropping Stricker lower because of his limited schedule but even when you're multiplying a relatively limited number of events times about $300,000 per start, it still comes-out to a sizable number. Stricker is also a not ready for primetime player when it comes to the majors and that knocks him back a few spots.

18. Graham DeLaet: I could actually see DeLaet contending for a top five spot on this list by the end of the year after he rolled his momentum from the FedEx Cup playoffs into this season with a tie for 7th at the CIMB Classic and a tie for 6th at the WGC-HSBC Championship, both of which had loaded fields. It's hard not to like a guy who averages almost 300 yards off the tee and is also 34th in fairways hit (and yes, that made him first in total driving in 2013).

19. Jordan Spieth: I don't trust sophomores. For whatever reason (chicks and money), too many players who burst onto the scene as rookies slump the following year. I think Spieth is too talented and motivated for a precipitous drop but he's going to find the sledding a little tougher in 2014.

Charl can take his ridiculous
trophy hat and play on someone
else's team this year. We're through.
20. Charl Schwartzel: You know the field is deep when Charl is at no. 19 and he doesn't seem out of place. Charl duped a lot of people (and by "a lot of people" I mean "me") into thinking he was going to breakthrough last season by dominating the overseas tournaments at the end of 2012. Then he bumbled through 2013 low lighted by his final round 78 at the U.S. Open when he opened with birdie-par to position himself for the win before playing the next eight holes in eight over to re-position himself for 14th place.

21. Harris English: English officially begins that portion of the rankings where I start running out of things to say. He's either ready to make the leap, take a step back or have another solid if not spectacular season with a respectable win so 20th feels about right (how's that for analysis?).

22. Jonas Blixt: Blixt is your classic all or nothing player. Last year he won The Greenbrier Classic, came in 4th at the PGA Championship and basically stunk the rest of the year with nine missed cuts and eleven other finishes outside the top 25. Could it be that I'm only ranking him this high because he found his way onto my fantasy team? Could be.

23. Graeme McDowell: G-Mac is one of those players you pick for big games but last year he missed the cut at the Masters and the U.S Open on a course that everyone thought was a perfect fit for his game (and by "everyone," I of course mean "me" . . . let me know if that joke starts getting tired. Now? Ok). He also finished tied for 58th at the British Open which he's supposed to win at some point. I'm also not a really big G-Mac fan (just so you have full disclosure on all of the factors at work in these picks). 

24. Rickie Fowler: This feels like a bit of a turning-point season for Rickie. Last year was his fourth full season on tour, he still only has one win and he's never really contended in a major unless you count his tie for 5th at the 2011 British Open where he started the final round three shots behind Darren Clarke and then lost by five (doesn't really feel like "contending" does it?).

25. Scott Piercy: Piercy looked like he was coming into his own in 2012 and then took a step-back last year when he missed eight cuts and only had one top three finish. This is purely a gut feeling pick as Piercy strikes me as the type who is going to will himself into a strong comeback season.

26. Lee Westwood: Westwood has officially entered the Darren Clarke zone where if he does win a major, it will be a pleasant surprise. That may remove enough of the pressure to allow him to actually do it though we look forward to his next Twitter battle with the fans if he comes-up short again.

27. Chris Kirk: Kirk had some problems closing the deal last season but it would appear that he's overcome those with his final round 66 to win the McGladrey Classic in November. He's now made 10 of his last 11 cuts dating back to last year. And that's all I have on Chris Kirk so let's move on.

28. Ryan Moore: It pains me to put him here as I would never pick him in the top four rounds of a draft after watching him play the 2011 season as a member of my team with the passion and enthusiasm of a forlorn tree sloth. He is, however, due for a solid season commensurate with his talent level and he's off to a good start with his win at the CIMB Classic in October.

"Just give me one second and I'll think
of something inappropriate to say."
29. Chris Stroud: I originally had Sergio Garcia in this spot but then I would have had to write something relatively kind about him and I'm just not in that giving of a mood right now. Stroud showed some promise last year with four top tens and he's already tied for 3rd twice this season so he gets Sergio's spot.

30. Jimmy Walker: Not much magic to putting Walker in the top 30. He plays a bunch of tournaments and is pretty consistent. Nuff said.

Bust Potential: Billy Horschel, Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson

  • Horschel only had one top 15 finish after he let the U.S. Open slip away and he missed three of his last eight cuts. It just feels like he's primed to take a step back. 
  • This may not be politically correct to say but the fact is that PGA Tour history is full of Asian players who appeared ready to be top 20 players and then simply fell-off the radar. You have to wonder if the attraction of winning multiple tournaments and being a superstar closer to home is too much of a distraction. 
  • As for Bubba, he's never finished better than 103rd in total putting and he's usually closer to 150th. Obviously he makes up for it with his incredible ball striking but (and not to beat a really dead horse) with seemingly more players showing the ability to win every week, those hideous three and four footers he seems to miss all of the time are going to catch up with him.

Sleeper Potential: Patrick Cantlay, Spencer Levin, Kyle Stanley

    I must admit I do miss my
    fellow tortured soul Spencer.
  • Cantlay's success all depends on his health and when the issue is back problems, that is always a dicey proposition, however, he's got a lot of game. 
  • Levin missed 2013 with a thumb injury but since he's been back for 2014, he's made four out of four cuts including a tie for 12th at the Frys.com Open. In 2011 he made $2.3M and had six top tens so he has the game to be a top 30 player.  
  • As for Stanley, he's kind of a longshot after missing 21 of his last 47 cuts but it's hard to forget how dominant he looked at the start of 2012. He still has to have that game in him somewhere.
Endnotes

* This is one of those expressions that people have been getting by with for years because isn't it really just a lazy guy saying, "eh, leave it alone . . . it's good enough the way it is" which is pretty much what I'm saying here by running back the same season preview format.

** For the details on the FGR fantasy golf format, check-out The 2013 Fantasy Golf Preview: Part 1.

*** Here is the postmortem on the FGR's 2013 picks with each player's final regular season FedEx Cup points position in parenthesis. Never has the term "postmortem" been more appropriate considering who we had at No. 1 but I'm pretty sure we weren't alone. But hey, we were almost spot-on with Justin Rose and Adam Scott (who we picked to win the Masters I might add . . . again) and we absolutely stuck the landing with Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell and Jonas Blixt . . . so there:

1. Rory McIlroy (49th)
2. Tiger Woods (1st)
Been checking out The Hour starring
Romola Garai. They're both worth a look.
3. Jason Dufner (15th)
4. Keegan Bradley (10th)
5. Justin Rose (7th)
6. Bubba Watson (38th)
7. Matt Kuchar (2nd)                
8. Dustin Johnson (16th)
9. Lee Westwood (35th)
10. Phil Mickelson (4th)
11. Luke Donald (55th)
12. Adam Scott (11th)
13. Brandt Snedeker (3rd)
14. Webb Simpson (17th)
15. Louis Oostuizen (154th)
16. Bo Van Pelt (90th)
17. Enie Els (82nd)
18. Nick Watney (63rd)
19. Jason Day (14th)
20. Scott Piercy (50th)
21. Hunter Mahan (21st)
22. Rickie Fowler (42nd)
23. Zach Johnson (18th)
24. Jim Furyk (23rd)
25. Bud Cauley (131st)
26. Carl Pettersson (113th)
27. Ian Poulter (70th)
28. Graeme McDowell (28th)
29. Jonas Blixt (29th)
30. Seung Yul-Noh (160th)