Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Fantasy Golf: The Masters Preview

I have been worshipping at the Church of Amen Corner for the better part of thirty years now and writing about it in earnest since 2012 when I spent Easter Sunday afternoon basically ignoring my family so I could crank-out a final round timeline as it unfolded. It's still one of my favorite posts (if I do say so) and this could be the year I try to top it (assuming I don't end-up on a bar stool drinking Irish Car Bombs instead . . . a 50/50 proposition at this point). Over that thirty years, I do not recall a time when you could make an almost irrefutable case* for five players (six if you count Phil Mickelson) to win the green jacket.

We will delve deeper on these guys momentarily but please enjoy these bullet points as an appetizer (Mmmmm . . . bullet points):

  • As recently as March 6th, Adam Scott was playing golf better than anyone on the planet (if you exclude Supreme Leaders of certain East Asian countries).
  • As recently as right now, Jason Day is playing golf better than anyone on the planet (same exclusion applies). 
  • Jordan Spieth is the defending champion and finished 2nd in 2014. 
  • Bubba Watson has won this thing twice in the last four years.
  • Rory McIlroy might have the best "A" game of any player on the planet.
  • Phil Mickelson is playing his best golf in years and has eleven top tens at Augusta including three wins and a runner-up finish in 2015. 
So that's our top tier and I'm quite confident it includes our 2016 winner, however, the last time I felt this level of conviction about the favorites was 2008 when Trevor Immelman won the Masters that never happened. 

The second tier (see 7-12 below) has a lot of upside, especially when you consider that six of the last nine Masters winners had never won a major before (yeah, that surprised me too . . . Spieth (2015), Scott (2013), Bubba (2012), Charl Schwartzel (2011), Immelman (2008) and Zach Johnson (2007)). That bodes well for the likes of Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson though the prospect of watching D.J. putt while in contention on the Sunday back nine is more than a bit unsettling.    

We're going to change-up the preview format because the Masters is far too distinguished for steerage level fare like a pedestrian list of odds and scantily clad goddesses so we're going to strive for more depth or, at the very least, more words . . . and we're going to include the odds anyway. Let's do this.

THE MASTERS POWER RANKINGS

1. Adam Scott - 11/1


Best Finish: 1st (2013)


Last Five: T38th, T14th, 1st, T8th and T2nd


I find myself more tempted 
by the minute to put Day in the top spot so we'll have to keep an eye on this as we progress through the week and I start over thinking it (start?). Scott's new putting style is a bit of a concern but he's a respectable 42nd in strokes gained putting and he buried a clutch six footer to win at Doral. Let's just cop out and make Scott No. 1 and . . . 

1A. Jason Day - 6/1
Oh who do I think I'm kidding?

Best Finish: T2nd (2011)

Last Five: T28th, T20th, 3rd, W/D and T2nd

His only match in Austin that went past the 16th hole was the semifinal win over Rory. In addition to the fact that he's absolutely annihilating the ball off the tee, he's 3rd in strokes gained putting. If he manhandles Augusta the way he manhandled Whistling Straits at the PGA Championship, we could find ourselves in Oklahoma-Villanova territory. 

3. Bubba Watson - 10/1

Best Finish: 1st (2012 & 2014)


Last Five: T38th, 1st, T50th, 1st and T38th


If you were going to build the perfect player for Augusta, you'd start with a left-hander who hits 300+ yard fades. That's about the only positive I can muster about Bubba. Let's move on.

4. Rory McIlroy - 8/1


Best Finish: 4th (2015)


Last Five: 4th, T8th, T25th, T40th and T15th


He has now played the tournament seven times and his last two showings are a pretty clear indication that he's started to figure the place out. He's definitely going to win at least one green jacket. Justs not sure this is the year.


5. Jordan Spieth - 15/2


Best Finish: 1st (2015)


Last Five: 1st, T2nd, DNP, DNP, DNP

Spieth gets this spot based on reputation and past performance because his game recently hasn't been in the same league as the four guys ahead of him. The good news is that his T13th in Houston was his best stroke play finish since he won the TOC back in January. The bad news is that a T13th in Houston is a positive sign for Tyrone Van Aswegen,** not Jordan Spieth. That's a bigger problem for him than it would be for the other favorites because he's playing a much longer course meaning that every aspect of his game and particularly his putting have to be razor sharp. At this point it looks distinctively butter knife.      


6. Phil Mickelson - 18/1 


Best Finish: 1st  (2004, 2006 and 2010)


Last Five: T2nd, Cut, T54th, T3rd and T27th


When you think about it, Jordan Spieth really screwed-up what would have been a great tournament last year because without him, we would have had a playoff between Mickelson and Justin Rose with Rory finishing two shots back. The takeaway from that is that Phil still had the game to compete and he's playing better now than he was then. This is the 30th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' win and (ducking a lightning bolt), a similar run by Phil could challenge that for the greatest Masters ever.  

7. Rickie Fowler - 16/1

Best Finish: T5th (2014)


Last Five: T12th, T5th, T38th, T27th and T38th

Meet your current best player to never win a major. After Rickie's win in Abu Dhabi, there was a lot of mindless chatter about a "Big Four" and then Bubba, Scott and Day proceeded to take turns bashing that idea like five year old Rob Gronkowski wearing-out a pinata (that video alone should have made him a top five pick). Rickie checks all of the boxes (hits it long, great putter, playing well and past success) so maybe this is his year. Great one and done pick if you've fallen behind early and need a semi-outlier.        

8. Hideki Matsuyama - 33/1

I freakin' dwell in steerage.

Best Finish: 5th (2015)

Last Five: 5th, Cut, DNP, T54 and T27

The same could be said of this guy who is playing well and showed an affinity for the course with a T5th last year. There were some injury rumors a few weeks ago but "playing hurt" he finished T6th at the Arnold Palmer and won two matches at the Dell Match Play so he's good to go.

9. Matt Kuchar - 66/1

Best Finish: T3rd (2012)

Last Five: T46th, T5th, T8th, T3rd and T27th

Kuch appeared to get tossed around in the jet wash from Rory, Spieth and Day last year but it looks like he might be righting the ship and he has a great track record at Augusta. And oh yeah. Kuuuuucccchhhhh.

10. Paul Casey - 60/1

Best Finish: T6th (2004 and 2015)


Last Five: T6th, DNP, DNP, Cut and 38th 


Before Casey bailed on the Match Play with the most suspicious case of cramps since Billy Zabka climbed down the ladder in Back to School, he was playing some solid golf with a T9th at the Arnold Palmer and a 7th at the Cadillac Championship. Let's be honest, Casey is probably never going to win a major but if you need a top ten, he's your man. Just pray he doesn't run into a tainted batch of Clams Casino on Friday night.

11. Dustin Johnson - 20/1

Best Finish: T6th (2015)


Last Five: T6th, Cut, T13th, DNP and T38th


The announcers went into great detail on Sunday about the steps Dustin Johnson has taken this year to improve his wedge game including the use of TrackMan on the range to determine how far they go. This is D.J.'s ninth full season on tour and, considering his ridiculous length off the tee, you could argue that he hits more wedges per round than anyone outside of Bubba Watson. And he just now decided to figure-out how far they go? (Cut to Wayne Gretzky shaking his head).    


12. Brandt Snedeker - 55/1

Best Finish: T3rd (2008)


Last Five: Cut, T37th, T6th, T19th and T15th

Before Bubba, Scott and Day spray painted their names all over the 2016 season, there was Brandt Snedeker finishing T3rd, 2nd and 1st over a four week stretch in January. He's cooled-off since then but he made it to the round of 16 at the Match Play so he's getting his game back in order at the right time. He's had success at Augusta in the past and his putting is always rock solid so he could be a factor.

13. David Lingmerth - 250/1

Best Finish: None

Last Five: None

Every Masters has a few familiar storylines and we're going to cover those with the next few picks. One of them is random young European dude who wanders into the mix on Sunday only to find that he's in way over his head but he hangs-on for a top five anyway. See Jonas Blixt (2014), Thorbjorn Oleson (2013) and Peter Hanson (2012). That guy was going to be Bernd Wiesberger this year until I realized that it's not so much Europeans as Swedes. Since Henrik Stenson isn't random enough, Lingmerth is our guy. (Note that I still prefer Bernd Wiesberger who finished 22nd last year despite this stupid Swedish tangent). 

14. Lee Westwood - 125/1


Best Finish: 2nd (2010)
We are who we are.


Last Five: T46th, 7th, T8th, T3rd and 11th


Familiar storyline #2 is the cagey veteran who makes a run a/k/a "The El Pato." Candidates this year are obviously El Pato himself, Vijay Singh and Bernhard Langer but we're going with Westwood because he's still got the power to hang and he's just one year removed from a really solid five year stretch (finished 2nd in 2010). The fact that he actually came within three shots of winning this thing back in 2010 is a testament to what an unbelievable ball striker he is because his putting stroke is about as fluid and rhythmical as the Electric Slide at an accounting firm's Christmas party.   


15. Bryson DeChambeau - 250/1

Best Finish: None

Last Five: None

Familiar storyline #3 is the amateur who plays over his head. Unfortunately, it's not actually that familiar as it's been over ten years since Ryan Moore finished tied for 13th but I already started down this road and if any amateur is going to have another run like that, it could be the supremely confident DeChambeau . . . he of the uniform length iron shafts. He's shown flashes of brilliance this year with an opening round 64 in Abu Dhabi and a final round 66 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he finished T27th. (Note that this is another gimmicky pick and, when my money went on the line this week, Moore and Jamie Donaldson got the love).        

Footnote

* Note that an "irrefutable case" just means you can't disprove it. It does not mean you can't make a case for someone else though I guess that would make your original case somewhat refutable by definition. In a related story, I quit being a real lawyer twelve years ago.  


** New FGR mission: Reference "Tyrone Van Aswegen" at least once per week.

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