Monday, January 4, 2016

The 2016 Fantasy Golf Preview

Welcome to the Fantasy Golf Report's 2016 Fantasy Golf Preview where we waste an inordinate amount of time ranking players for those two dozen people who still care what some semi-qualified guy thinks about how Rickie Fowler will fair over the next ten months. As in years' past, the FGR will try to avoid going with complete chalk in an attempt to identify a few players who will exceed or fail to meet expectations and in doing so, will almost certainly fail to meet expectations. 

With that in mind, we can make one prediction about the 2016 season with almost absolute certainty (or at least we're pretty sure) and that is that at least three of the players who finished in the top five on last year's money list will not finish in the top five on this year's money list. And we can say that because we haven't had consecutive seasons where three of the same players finished in the top five since 2008-09 when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Kenny "Shades" Perry did it. That means that at least three of these guys - Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, will likely experience at least a mild regression in 2016.

That's where the statistical analysis ends. The rest of this list will be compiled using what we like to call the Sheriff Hammond Method of applying bullshit and experience. So kick-back and prepare to experience some of our bullshit as we attempt to forecast how the 2016 PGA Tour money list will shake-out.*

THE TOP 20

1. Jordan Spieth: This has to be the safest fantasy golf pick since pre-2010 Tiger Woods. Spieth is supremely talented, young, motivated and, to the best of our knowledge, he only goes to Perkins for the pancakes.

2. Rory McIlroy: This ranking is obviously predicated on the belief that McIlroy will avoid mixing booze and soccer this year (note: we have no evidence that alcohol was a factor in McIlroy's injury last year, we're just guessing based on past personal experience).

3. Brooks Koepka: Our first upstart. Before Koepka ran out of gas in the playoffs last year, he finished T6 at the Bridgestone, T5 at the PGA Championship and T6 at the Wyndham in consecutive weeks. He also showed he can win by taking the Waste Management Phoenix Open and, if I have the third pick in my draft, there is no way in hell I'll have the onions to take him.

Never again. And this
time I really mean it.
4. Dustin Johnson: As someone who had an interest in DJ last year, I understand that he's like a bad Tequila experience but just because you did nine shots of Cuervo one night in 1993 and it made you feel like you had a live wolverine roaming around in your digestive system the next morning doesn't mean you should swear-off Margaritas for the rest of your life (well maybe it does but, for the sake of this analogy, we're going to say it doesn't). Despite his U.S. Open catastrophe, he still won a WGC event, finished fifth on the money list and appears to generally have his shit together.

5. Justin Rose: You could put the next five guys in a hat (it'd have to be a really big hat) and randomly pick where'd they would fall in the rankings. I probably would've put Bubba here if I hadn't made such a big deal about three guys not repeating in the top five.

6. Bubba Watson: So instead I put Bubba here but I'd draft him ahead of Rose. (The integrity of these rankings is growing by the minute).

7. Jason Day: Financial types are fond of the phrase "past performance is not an indicator of future outcomes" which is their way of saying, "this stock could really go just about anywhere because, for all we know, the CEO is an embezzling psychopath with a coke habit and a flamethrower in the trunk of his Maserati." If you've followed Jason Day's career, you know what I'm getting at here.

8. Rickie Fowler: This is probably a bit low for Rickie but again we kind of pigeon-holed ourselves with that top five theory (seemed like a good idea at the time). Two big "despites" for Rickie: (1) Despite the fact that he's now been around for a while, he's still only won three tournaments; and (2) Despite finishing top five in all four 2014 majors, his best finish last year was a T12 at the Masters with two T30's and a missed cut at the other three. Someone in your league is going to pick him earlier than this just because he's into the whole Rickie Fowler thing. If you're that guy, good luck . . . with everything.

Kisner and I seem to share the common
gift of having a "resting bitch face."***
9. Kevin Kisner: We climbed aboard the Kisner bandwagon after his second playoff loss last year at the Players and he's been solid ever since. This year it looks like he's ready to jump to the next level after finishing second at the HSBC and then finally getting his first win at the RSM Classic where he dominated. I don't really have anything funny to say about him but then again, Kevin Kisner is no laughing matter.  

10. Hideki Matsuyama: He had four top fives by April last year including a T5 at the Masters but then settled in for a season of B+ golf which would've been fine if he hadn't been hyped as a potential breakthrough player. My main concern is that he's going to hit that pause at the top of his swing one day and think, "wait, now what?" and that'll be the end of that.

11. Zach Johnson: ZJ proved last year that he ain't going anywhere with ten top 10's and his second major. Since 2009, he's only had one year that you could describe as disappointing (2011). He's your basic turkey club sandwich pick. You're never going to call it the best lunch you ever had but you're never going to be let down either.

12. Henrik Stenson: Check-out the money totals for the Swedish roller coaster over the past four seasons: $791,107 (2012), $6,388,230 (2013), $1,894,235 (2014) and $4,755,070 (2015). He's going to make or break your season depending on whether he's in the mood so drafting him is pretty much like one day of being married stretched-out over ten months. Buyer beware. 

13. Matt Kuchar: After being more reliable than a Subaru driven by a St. Bernard for as long as we can remember, Kuch slipped to 28th on the money list last year. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the next generation kind of ran him over but it probably had more to do with him just having the predictable off year that every player has sooner or later. Look for him to settle into the 10-20 spot on the money list for the next few years and hopefully he swipes a major along the way because who doesn't love Kuch? 

14. Robert Streb: Let's be honest, if Robert Streb walked into the room wearing a t-shirt that said "Hi I'm Robert Streb" and then handed you three forms of identification, you still probably wouldn't know who he was but he made it all the way to the 2015 Tour Championship where he finished 18th. He also finished 5th at the Bridgestone and T10 at the PGA Championship so he's got big stage game.

You'd think we'd like a guy who's been
described as arrogant and abrasive
but you'd be wrong. As usual.
15. Patrick Reed: When using these rankings, it should always be noted that we rank players we can't stand about five spots lower than we should even though we know we're doing it. 

16. Paul Casey: You know the drill. Pick him somewhere around here and then pray he doesn't fall off his snowboard, step on a roller skate or eat some bad sushi. He's probably one of the five or six most talented players in the world but the fact is that the first word that comes to mind when describing him is "fragile" and the last word is "reliable." Buyer Beware Part II.

17. Bill Haas: Don't underestimate the fact that he played well at the Presidents' Cup after being one of the most blatant cases of nepotism since every professional sports team owner thought it would be a good idea to let his son have a hand in running the team.** It's not easy to keep your nerves in check when, the night before your first match, Patrick Reed, Chris Kirk and Dustin Johnson are shoving you around the humidor and knocking the brandy out of your hand asking "where's your daddy now?"   

18. Jim Furyk: On the one hand, he's forty-five years old and he finished last season on injured reserve missing the last two FedEx Cup events. On the other hand, we seem to find an excuse to downgrade him every year and, since 2012, there probably isn't a player who has exceeded expectations by a wider margin when it comes to consistency. On a third hand, we're just not big fans of watching him play so this is likely another case of a Patrick Reed tainted ranking scenario.    

19. Sergio Garcia: Coming-off one of the best seasons of his career in 2014, Sergio took a step back last year but it wasn't as bad as we may want to remember because of our tendency to cast him in a negative light. He had a T2 at the Players and a T6 at the British Open. He also made every one of his fifteen cuts and finished 31st on the money list. He's still one of the best ball strikers on tour and he's only thirty-five years old so there are at least two or three prime seasons still to come. This has all of the earmarks of a classic bounce back scenario. Now all you have to do is utter the words "I'll take Sergio" to make it happen. You may want to rehearse ahead of time so you don't pull a Steve Harvey and accidentally take Smylie Kaufman.****

20. Jimmy Walker: The fact that his only top twenty finish after May last year was at the Tour Championship where he only had to beat seven guys to accomplish it is more than a little troubling, however, his record in the early season events over the past three seasons gets him the nod over the next ten crap shoot players. Once you get past the Masters, however, trade him for Russell Knox, a sleeve of Pro V1's and a $20 Chipotle gift card.

THE NEXT TIER   

These next ten guys all have top twenty potential as evidenced by the fact that they've all finished that high before (at least we think they have but don't quote us on that). The biggest upside play from this group is probably Justin Thomas while the biggest wild card is definitely Brandt Snedeker who could finish 5th or 50th depending on his health.

And Brandt just sprained his wrist
taking his visor off again.
21. Chris Kirk 
22. Russell Henley
23. Billy Horschel
24. J.B. Holmes
25. Brandt Snedeker
26. Kevin Na
27. Justin Thomas
28. Danny Lee
29. Charley Hoffman
30. Harris English

THE NEXT NEXT TIER

Here you have your formerly greats (Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan) along with your could be very goods (Russell Knox, Tony Finau, Patrick Rodgers and Will Wilcox). Phil is the biggest upside play and the biggest wild card. If he's somehow available this late, you have to take him because if he finds one more major run, it'll be worth it. Your cable TV version of DirecTV Phil Mickelson is Ryan Moore who will be sure to decrease your enjoyment of the 2016 golf season by 23%.
OK we confess this was the
only reason we put Mahan in the
top forty. Was it that obvious?

31. Russell Knox
32. Tony Finau
33. Adam Scott
34. Ryan Moore
35. Keegan Bradley
36. Emiliano Grillo
37. Patrick Rodgers
38. Will Wilcox
39. Phil Mickelson
40. Hunter Mahan

THE FINAL FRONTIER

At this point you're searching for that international player who finds his U.S. groove the way Lee Westwood used to or the tour grinder who can elevate his game from a guy who finishes 15th-20th a lot to a guy who finishes 6th-10th a lot. Last year that guy was Charley Hoffman. This year we're thinking Jason Bohn fills that role but we say that with about as much confidence as a sports talk radio caller claiming, "Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are going to turn it around in Washington this Sunday." In a related fantasy sports story, Aaron Rodgers is dead to me.

Rodgers just seems
distracted lately. Hmmm.
41. Branden Grace
42. Brendon Todd
43. Danny Willett
44. Louis Oosthuizen
45. Gary Woodland
46. Marc Leishman
47. Scott Piercy
48. Graeme McDowell
49. Jason Bohn
50. David Lingmerth

Footnotes

* We still refuse to acknowledge the tournaments played between the Tour Championship and the end of the calendar year. This principled position is primarily driven by laziness.

** This would be a very rich topic for an ESPN documentary. How could a rich guy ever know that his son who never had to work for anything and earned the respect of no one would fail running a billion dollar company in a cut-throat business? It could be called Driving the Jim Buss into Oblivion.

*** "Resting Bitch Face" is defined by the Urban Dictionary as "a person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without intending to." To expound on that from personal experience, the "Resting Bitch Face" is often misinterpreted to mean we don't like you when what it really means is that we don't care about you. If someone with a "Resting Bitch Face" doesn't like you, they'll usually just tell you.

**** Smylie Kaufman is a real player and, ironically, my parents were going to name me "Smylie" until I was born and they saw my face.

Email the Fantasy Golf Report at fgr@fantasygolfreport.com.