Sunday, January 4, 2015

The 2015 Fantasy Golf Preview

My simple goal this year was to release the 2015 Fantasy Golf Preview before the official start of the 2015 fantasy golf season (seems logical) at this week's Hyundai Tournament of Champions. That way I wouldn't have to qualify it with a bunch of excuse laden double talk as to why I didn't get it done as in "the dog ate my fantasy golf preview." Mission accomplished on that front but it wasn't easy with back to back major holidays falling on Thursdays which basically made for two five-day weekends along with an eight day football bonanza, the likes of which I'm not sure we've ever known.* At one point, I found myself on an extended text thread in which we paid tribute to a friend's liver with Chuck Norris facts as in "Dave's liver has counted to infinity . . . twice" and "Dave's liver once fought Superman on a bet. The loser had to start wearing his underwear over his pants."

So when the rubber met the road on Sunday evening and I decided to put the final touches on this sucker, I found myself with a fortnight long beer-wine-sugar-cheese-potato chip hangover (mmmmm . . . potato chips) which made for tough sledding and a few cut corners. Hopefully I've made-up for that with some sage advice and semi-salient commentary. If you have issues with any of my rankings, want to make a case for a player I left-out or just want to let me know that there are single Russian ladies in my area looking for a "relationship," my email address is below. 

(The number in parenthesis is where each player finished in the 2013-14 regular season FedEx Cup standings).

1. Rory McIlroy (1): If you have the number one overall pick and you take someone else, you're over thinking it.

2. Jordan Spieth (8): I'm drinking the Kool Aid and can easily picture him having a lighter version of Rory's 2012 season after he'd put a couple years worth of tournaments under his belt and then just went bananas. The only difference was that back then McIlroy didn't have to compete with 2015 McIlroy which Spieth will (I probably could have written that a bit more artfully).

3. Sergio Garcia (7): Sergio was overshadowed last year by Rory's dominance along with the emergence of Spieth and Rickie Fowler but he probably had the best season of his career with ten top 10's in sixteen starts along with three consecutive seconds at the Travelers, British Open and WGC Bridgestone. More importantly, he doesn't seem to be tortured anymore and that, dare I say, has made him more likable though that is your classic low bar situation.

4. Matt Kuchar (4): Two months ago I advised taking Kuch because picking him is like buying a Subaru (it was meant as a compliment). Until he shows some signs of not being able to win a couple times a year, that will continue to hold true.

5. Adam Scott (14): In 2013, Scott looked like he was headed for best player in the game status after winning the Masters and almost backing that up with the Claret Jug. Last year was a bump in the road but one of the keys to fantasy golf is finding players who are underrated because they're coming off of a season that was below their standards. One of the other keys to fantasy golf is pure uncontrollable luck. Never forget that.

6. Jimmy Walker (2): If you want him, you're probably not going to have to jump this early but his game and confidence make him worthy of this spot. As an added benefit, he has that rare combination of playing almost every week while also delivering in the majors.

7. Bubba Watson (3): Two months ago, I barely had Bubba in the top thirty but taking a break from having to watch him scowl his way around the course has brought me back to reality and reminded me that, when he gives a crap, he's not going to be worse than top ten.


So here's Rickie's new girlfriend. May 
need to take back what I said about 
him having a "winning problem."
8. Dustin Johnson (6): Speaking of giving a crap. Johnson has now been through at least one suspension that we know about and rumor has it that his future father in-law (who probably has a few bad ass friends to back him up) advised him to get his shit together or stay away from his daughter. At some point, even the biggest dumbass has to realize his debaucherous lifestyle is wrecking the very thing that is feeding his debaucherous lifestyle. I mean look at Anthony K . . . um, let's move on.

9. Rickie Fowler (16): Top five finishes in all four majors should probably get you ranked higher than 9th but the fact is that Rickie still has a winning problem in that he almost never does it (one in five years). Until he proves that he can close, he doesn't warrant top five consideration.

10. Justin Rose (18): Rose is the total package and one of these years he's going to rip-off a major and three more wins to separate himself from the herd chasing McIlroy. If you want to roll the dice that this is that year, I have no problem with that.

11. Tiger Woods (218): I'm just playing drunk darts on this one as I have no idea where to put Woods. He went from player of the year in 2013 with five high quality wins to Dumpsville (Population: Tiger Woods) in 2014 culminating with that train wreck at the Hero World Challenge which was played on his home course (I'm not putting much stock in that). You're just going to have to go with your gut on this one and, if you don't trust your gut, maybe consider what your inner thigh has to say about it.

12. Jim Furyk (5): Full disclosure: this is probably too low for Furyk based on the recent quality of his game but I can't stand watching him play and he's a Steelers fan so when the names start dropping into slots on the list, his just keeps getting bumped. If you have the patience to endure his putting routine and you can live with yourself, go ahead and take him in the top ten. (January 4th update: Eat it Furyk).

13. Chris Kirk (10): From a fantasy golf standpoint, Kirk looks like he could be cut from the Zach Johnson mold. Just pick him somewhere around this spot, then sit back and watch him rake in the dollars with a bunch of top tens and a win or two. That's all I got on Chris Kirk who ain't exactly Ian Poulter (not a criticism).  


 "I'm trying to listen to the new Robert
Palmer tape but Evelyn, my supposed
fiancee, keeps buzzing in my ear." 
14. Billy Horschel (69): Horschel has been on a roller coaster ride from a fantasy golf perspective. In 2013, he had a four tournament stretch where he went T2, T3, T9, win and then he grabbed the second round lead at the U.S. Open and we all went OOOOOHHHH. Then he shot 72-74 to fall back to 4th and we want AAAAHHHH. After that, he kind of muddled along for the better part of fourteen months before blowing-up in the FedEx Cup playoffs last year with two wins and a tie for second. Since then, he's gone back to muddling along in the fall. As recently as yesterday, I had Horschel at no. 20 but then it dawned on me like a brick to the head that if he can dominate for one month a year, then who cares about the rest of the time when he's basically just a Christian Bale impersonator in wacky pants?

15. Henrik Stenson (70): Stenson's Achilles heel has and always will be putting which was worse than normal last year and it showed in his results. He is one of the three most volatile risk/reward plays along with Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed. If you want to gamble on them, don't think they're going to be sitting there in the third round because someone is going to roll the dice on the huge upside they all bring.   

16. Hideki Matsuyama (22): Matsuyama is the flip side to those risk/reward players because he appears to be low risk and high reward and you can probably land him in the high teens or early twenties. He doesn't draw the attention of some of the other second tier non U.S. players like Stenson, Martin Kaymer and Jason Day because he hasn't made much noise in the majors yet but he played twenty four tournaments last year and he won the Memorial. If you go back to 2013, he finished T10 at the U.S. Open, T6 at the British Open and T19 at the PGA Championship so he's going to make a run at a major within the next two years.  

17. Zach Johnson (11): The only reason you don't take ZJ somewhere around this spot is if you have a really strong hunch about one of the next four guys who are all capable of top five seasons but are also total flake balls when it comes to consistency. I'd go with ZJ for the following three reasons: (1) He's going to win a tournament as he's won ten in the last eight years and the only blank was in 2011 which was a complete aberration season for him, (2) he's made the cut in 132 out of his last 150 events meaning he never gives-up on a tournament and is almost always around on the weekend to win you some extra dollars, and (3) his game is ideal for both Opens and the Players meaning he gives you a legitimate shot at those big paydays every year.

18. Patrick Reed (9): You can't argue with the results and that's before you factor-in the clutch Ryder Cup performance. What makes me nervous about Reed, however, is that he does not appear to be really good at any particular aspect of the game (124th in GIR, 149th in Total Driving and 51st in Strokes Gained Putting) which makes him susceptible to having a really really bad year. He also stunk-out the joint in the 2014 majors with two missed cuts to go along with a T35 and T58. He's really something of an enigma wrapped in a riddle walking around in Jack Black's body. That's too much risk for me. Then again, a big risk for me these days would be wearing my tight white pants after Labor Day so consider the source.        

19. Keegan Bradley (23): He has ten top-five finishes since he last won at the end of 2012 so that drought is due to end this season. If you're drafting in a twelve team league and you could back-up a first round pick of Bubba or DJ with Bradley in the second, you'd probably be feeling pretty good about yourself you smug son of a bitch.


I just can't see this guy
having neck problems.
20. Jason Dufner (57): Dufner took home over $3M in a four tournament stretch during 2012 and, just to prove he was for real, he tied for 4th at the U.S. Open. That made him a top ten lock for every 2013 draft and then he sleepwalked through the first six months before tying for 4th at the U.S. Open again and then BOOM, he won the PGA Championship. 2014 was a different story, however, as there would be no U.S. Open spark and no second half charge due to injuries that limited him to just three starts after June. All indications are that he is now healthy as he had finishes of T26th and T10th in November. I've got him at 20th because we've reached the point where all of the really talented remaining players have question marks but his health is a big one.

21. Brendon Todd (12): Don't forget that Todd was in the discussion for potential Ryder Cup captain's picks. It was mostly in the context of "Watson better not pick Brendon Todd" but at least he was in the discussion.

22. Jason Day (34): Day is the Rob Gronkowski of fantasy golf. When he's healthy and in the game, he's a top five talent but when he checks-out, he REALLY checks-out like he did last year after winning the Match Play and then only teeing it up twelve more times with two withdrawals. The upside is that he has finished 4th or better in five of the last eight Masters and U.S. Opens so if you're focusing on the majors, this could be your guy.

23. Martin Kaymer (14): I wouldn't pick him because I have a hard time rooting for him. Not sure why because he seems like a good dude and his game is certainly back in order but maybe it's the enduring image of him capping-off Europe's comeback win at the 2012 Ryder Cup. Ummm . . . yup, that's it. So go ahead and take him here if you (a) want to win and (b) hate America.

24. Brooks Koepka (N/A): Koepka is the type of player who could win you the league as he's going to be pretty much unknown to half the guys in the room. Here is what you need to know. He tied for 4th at last year's U.S. Open and 15th at the PGA Championship. In November events, he had a tie for 4th and a tie for 8th but, more importantly, he won the Turkish Airlines Open over players like Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood. If you want him, I wouldn't wait past this point because hopefully you're not the only one reading this.


Or maybe he'd just like to 
spend a little time with 
Candy's old work pals.
25. Hunter Mahan (62): You're probably going to have to reach a bit higher to get Mahan because, despite the inevitable in-season slump he seems to go through every year, he's finished with between $3M and $4M each season since 2009. He also has four wins over that span and three top tens in his last seven majors so he's good value anywhere after about pick fifteen. I have him lower because he dealt with some injuries last year including back and hip which send-up a bunch of red flags on the fantasy golf Carfax report. He also strikes me as the type of player who could suddenly announce out of nowhere that he's taking three months off to hang-out with his family. That makes him a great guy but a lousy fantasy pick.

26. Ryan Palmer (30): Palmer should have more to show for the sum of the parts of his game considering he hits it far, is a decent iron player and a very solid putter. Last year he finished 5th in the All Around category but ended the season without a win for the fourth time in a row. The other issue with Palmer is that his record at the majors is lousy with a tie for 5th at last year's PGA Championship and a 10th at the 2011 Masters being his only top tens. So why am I putting him here? Well, I must have had a good reason when I originally put this list together back in October . . . just can't remember what it was. In a related story, has anyone tried edible marijuana in fudge form? 

27. Cameron Tringale (61): If nothing else, you have to like Tringale based on sheer volume as he played 31 tournaments last year and made the cut in 25 of them. More importantly, he took the results up a notch in quality with three top fives and a trip to the Tour Championship. And I must admit I'm a bit swayed by his cool demeanor which makes me think a Pterodactyl could grab his caddie and he wouldn't even look-up from his yardage book.    

28. Ryan Moore (19): Moore climbed to 30th in the World Rankings thanks in part to his win at the CIMB Classic in November. Seems like every year is the "this could be the year" for him but he inevitably cruises along to finish somewhere around 20th. Last year that included another win at the CIMB Classic which means that his last two wins didn't count in any fantasy leagues other than those that factor in November tournaments and the Fantasy Golf Report does not endorse or acknowledge any such rogue operations.


"You passed on me in the
second round? Sucker."
29. Phil Mickelson (45): Phil has done nothing since his second place finish at the PGA Championship which was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season but there are two things we know that make him a must pick if he's still hanging around at this point: (1) He hasn't gone a season without a top five in a major since 2007 so you know that, if nothing else, you're going to get at least one exciting run out of him, and (2) Phil is always best when he's either been counted out or he's not part of the story which is the case coming into 2015. Bottom line is that there isn't a better feeling in fantasy golf than having Phil on your team when he gets it rolling.**

30. Bill Haas (24): I wanted to fit in another sleeper here but then I looked at the list of quality players I had left-out and decided I had to pick one of them. Haas is the safest because he plays a lot (27 times last year) and he's a proven winner with five titles since 2010. The only issue is that his best major finish in nineteen starts since 2010 is a tie for 19th. I'm going to treat that as anomaly and figure it just means he's due because it's my list so I can do whatever I want. 

So there you have it. Obviously, there are a lot of deserving players who didn't make the cut including Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, Graham DeLaet, Gary Woodland, Harris English and Kevin Na but we only have room for thirty and we know from experience that there are going to be more party crashers than the two I have in there (Koepka and Tringale) so if anything, I should have had a few more traditionally high level players on the outside looking in. We'll cover the outliers in the Fantasy Golf Sleeper Edition . . . circa 2016.   

Footnotes

"I want answers!!!"
*I initially took the "get those kids off my lawn" approach to the four team versus eight team college football playoff debate because I thought that extending it to eight would water it down. But after the revitalization of New Year's Day by the two games last Thursday, I am all in favor of the eight team plan if it means four games on January 1st with the first game kicking-off at noon. It would be the perfect storm of football and freedom because New Year's Day is the only day left when men aren't expected to do anything. No work, no family, no religion, no coaching, no household projects, no sentimental angle and, most importantly, no expectations. Just 12-13 hours of glorious football. How has this not already happened?

**It's very hard to reconcile the fact that I just wrote that with the fact that I was able to move out of my parent's basement and convince someone to marry me.  

Email the Fantasy Golf Report at fgr@fantasygolfreport.com