Monday, January 1, 2018

The Fantasy Golf Report's 2018 PGA Tour Preview

I don't know what the modern metaphor is for the old timey scene where the writer rips a page from his typewriter in a fit of disgust and hurls it at a garbage can that is overflowing with previous failed drafts but I guess it would look something like the list of posts I've started in December that now sit idling in the back parking lot of this website with the word "draft" written in orange lettering next to them. I do have a few legitimate excuses for my recent inability to close. Would you like to hear them? Of course you would. In no particular order:

1. My three kids got stay home from school sick like a month ago and have spent many of the nights since hacking-up a lung like John Daly trying to run wind sprints in the snow. Fortunately, I do very little of my writing at home because the allure of televisions, couches and snacks is paralyzing to the process, however, the ripple effect of having kids home from sick for the three straight weeks leading into the holidays can be artistically debilitating. It's reminiscent of the perpetually hungover feeling that comes with having a temperamental baby in the house (other than me). Eventually you start pouring orange juice on your cereal and wiping your ass with the dog's ear. The only consolation was that we dodged a fifth grade holiday show so, when you add it all up, we may have netted-out even.

2. I got myself immersed in a really good long novel - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. It's your typical story about the birth of a comic book sensation inspired by Harry Houdini set against the backdrop of World War II and the holocaust with themes of unrequited love, repressed homosexuality and the impact of tragic loss on the human psyche. Just what I needed to take me away from the black plague that had descended upon my house. The good news it that I think it made me smarter (note the haughty douchiness of this preview's opening paragraph). The bad news is that it cost me $7.00 in late fees from the Baltimore County Public Library because I've been grinding through all 657 pages of it since October. I can't believe I actually read War and Peace in college (maybe because you didn't). Next topic.

3. The holidays means that there's always something you should be doing instead of what you want to be doing. Wrap this. Decorate that. Go to the store. Be nice to people. Not that I actually do any of it but constantly shirking responsibility takes a lot of energy and can be very distracting.  

But now I've reached the point where I don't even notice that my kids are sick anymore, the novel is done with late fees still accruing and the high maintenance holidays are behind us. Side note: How fucking pointless is New Year's Eve? "Hey let's arbitrarily stay-up until midnight so we can wear stupid cardboard hats, blow plastic horns like we're at an Algerian soccer game just so we can get up tomorrow and start writing the wrong date on everything for three weeks! Who's with me?!?" Get off of my lawn.   

"Don't ever tell a dad at Christmas
that he's had too much to drink!"
So no more excuses. Let's get down to the business of what the FGR was literally born to do and preview some golf (and by the FGR, I don't mean me because that would be sad . . . I mean the website . . . though I'm not sure I can tell the difference anymore . . . which is sad). I've prefaced past previews with a self-deprecating look at the misfires from years past but not this time. Nope. What's done is done. We're grabbing the 2018 season by the balls (seems aggressive) and projecting it with the cold calculating accuracy of a MIT card counter right down to the four major winners. (Can you tell I just started drinking?) 

So here's the drill. Below you will find the the top 30 players for 2018 ranked by the money they will win between the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the PGA Championship. All references to rankings from prior years will be based on the money list and not FedEx Cup points which is useless because nobody and I mean NOBODY plays fantasy golf using that inane system. In the words of Randy Moss, it's all about straight cash homey

Major winners will be denoted with an * and I'll tell you which one the player will win in the highly analytical accompanying paragraph. I've broken the list into tiers with players in each tier being somewhat interchangeable. Oh yeah, only two players from the top five on last year's money list will make the top five this year. That's just a historical fact and makes it almost guaranteed that three out of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm will slip out of the top five this year. Anyone who tries to sell you a preview that doesn't account for that is full of shit. It's about to get very wonky. Let's do this!

TIER ONE

1. Jon Rahm: For reasons that defy logic (and therefore escape me as a logician), I had Rahm ranked 20th going into 2017 and, to the surprise of almost no one, he won three times around the globe, racked-up a slew of other top tens, finished 5th on the money list and is currently ranked 4th in the world. He can crush it off the tee, hits a high percentage of greens and is a solid putter. With all that being said, he's still a year or two away from winning a major. Just a gut feeling.

2. Rickie Fowler*: The British Open is at Carnoustie this year which is a bit of a goofy track that most recently yielded Claret Jugs to Padraig Harrington in a playoff over Sergio Garcia and Paul Lawrie after the infamous Jean van de Velde meltdown. Feels like the kind of place where Rickie could grab his first and possibly only major. Sorry, his career just has a Freddy Couples feel to it. Rickie is ranked this high as a money list play because he's a classic "try hard" which should be a compliment but you know, the fucking millennials have taken all of the pride out of effort. In the twenty-one tour events he played last year, he had ten top 10's and sixteen top 25's including all four majors. He could be this year's Justin Thomas with a major and multiple wins.

We're all looking forward
to more Team DJ this year.
3. Dustin Johnson*: DJ had a five tournament stretch early in 2017 where he went 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st and T2nd. Then my brother in-law picked him in our fantasy draft and he immediately fell down the steps before the Masters (these two things are not unrelated). The effects of that lingered until he won the Northern Trust in late August thereby derailing his season. In the ten majors before his slip and fall, DJ had eight top 10's including a win and a runner-up at the U.S. Open. He's going to win another major this year and I'm going to say he rents a house with better traction and takes care of unfinished business at the Masters where he finished T6th in 2015 and T4th in 2016.

4. Rory McIlroy: This time last year I ranked Rory #1 and claimed that his "A" game was better than anyone else's "A" game. Even if that was true then, it sure as hell ain't true now as the "A" game bar has been elevated by guys like DJ, Rahm, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth while Rory spent last year heading in the wrong direction. However, we've been here with him before when he slipped into a similar funk back in 2013 dropping from 1st to 6th in the world. Then in 2014 he bounced back with wins at the British Open, the PGA Championship and the Bridgestone Invitational. Is that something you might be interested in for 2018?

5. Brooks Koepka: Koepka is a bit of a gamble here because he's the anti-Fowler with only seven top 10's and thirteen top 25's despite having three more starts than Rickie 2017. At any given tournament, he appears to be either all-in or completely disinterested which is certainly a life approach I favor but it's a dicey quality for your first-round pick. Koepka is, however, ridiculously talented as he showed when he won the U.S. Open by four shots (even if it was played on a glorified TPC course and no I will not let it go). Now that he's established himself with a major win, I'd expect him to be more consistent this year which should push him into the top five on the money list.   

6. Justin Thomas: Thomas has won three of his last eight tournaments, added a runner-up at the Tour Championship and he'll be the defending champion at the next two. He also won the 2017 FedEx Cup, earned the most official money and was player of the year. So how in the hell do I not have him ranked #1? Because golf doesn't work that way unless you're Tiger Woods in his prime against competition that is scared to death of you. Thomas would obviously have been in the top five if not for "three out of five rule" but someone had to slip to the sixth spot.   


7. Jordan Spieth: I know I'll probably regret dropping him this far and you could certainly make a case for him over any of the players ahead of him but it's my list and I see a slight down season in the offing for Spieth. Here are a few facts worth considering: (1) His win at the British Open last year was his only top ten in a major since the 2016 Masters; (2) he hasn't won since the British Open which wouldn't be that big a deal except that . . . (3) since then, all of these guys have won something - Thomas (three times), Justin Rose (three times), Koepka, DJ, Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Fowler (if you count the Hero World Challange). That's every other top ten player in the world. Just sayin'.  


TIER TWO

8. Justin Rose: Since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, Rose has played ten times and all he has to show for it is three wins, a T2nd, a T4th, a T5th and four T10th's. Some of those events had international fields that included local factory workers and the nephews of the host country's high-ranking government officials but the win at the WGC-HSBC Championship was over the best players in the world with DJ, Koepka and Henrik Stenson finishing T2nd.         

9. Xander Schauffele: Some young lesser regarded player is going to jump into the top ten like Brian Harman did last year and Kevin Chappell in 2016. The three most logical possibilities are Daniel Berger, Patrick Cantlay and Schauffele (and by "lesser regarded" I mean that none of these guys are Rahm, Koepka or Thomas so don't get your pleated khakis in a bunch). Everyone knows that Schauffele was a bad ass at the Tour Championship but before that he had already won The Greenbrier Classic, finished T5th at the U.S. Open and T20th at the British Open. From a statistical standpoint, it's hard to find a weak spot that's going to drag him down as he was 16th in driving distance, 26th in hitting greens and 40th in strokes gained putting. He was also 6th in final round scoring average and you know what that means. CLOSER COFFEE! 

10. Hideki Matsuyama: You can put Hideki down for a win or two, a few other top fives and a contending role at a couple of majors where he'll work himself into the mix on Sunday only to lose by 3-5 shots (not a cheap shot, just a fact). He's too consistent to have a really off year but the competition is going to be more fierce than ever this year so the back-end of the top ten feels right.     


11. Paul Casey: "So is this the year we can trust Casey to keep it together physically, mentally, spiritually, cosmically and whatever other 'ally's' are waiting out there to undo him? Our answer would be a very strong maybe." That's a direct quote from last year's preview. Casey went on to finish 17th on the money list after a slow start. He's supposedly healthy now (eye roll) so that position should improve in 2018. 

12. Jason Day: Day has dropped all the way to 13th in the world after a season that produced zero wins but he started showing some signs of life with a T9th at the PGA Championship and he's added three top tens and four other top twenty-five finishes since. You just never know with Day. He could be focused and healthy which could produce a $10M season or a hangnail and a parking ticket could drop him into a twelve week funk. 

TIER THREE

13. Marc Leishman: Leishman had a big year with a couple of wins that helped him finish 7th on the money list and ranked 12th in the world. It was also the fourth time in the past five years where he finished T6th or better in a major. The potential for a monster season is there if he can find any level of consistency. (BORING!) I know but it's Marc Leishman . . . it's like trying to sell a used brown Volvo.

14. Kevin Kisner*: Kisner bounced back from a mediocre 2016 season finishing 9th on the money list last year. He finished T7th at the PGA Championship and T3rd at the Tour Championship so he's putting himself in position to win something big. Maybe the U.S. Open at Shinnecock? His game does kind of remind you of Corey Pavin's who won there in 1995. Screw it. He's our U.S. Open pick. 

15. Brian Harman: Taking a bit of a gamble on the streaky Harman but I don't think last year was a fluke as evidenced by his three late season top tens to closeout 2017. He racks-up a lot of high finishes and, after a win and a major runner-up, he'll be qualified for all the big money events next year.  

16. Charley Hoffman: It's officially time to take Charley Hoffman seriously and don't underestimate the positive impact of being on a dominant President's Cup team. He's also been stepping-up his major game with an 8th place finish at the U.S. Open, a T20th at the British Open and he was two shots back after three rounds at Augusta before stumbling home with a 78. Doesn't hurt that he rarely takes a week off. 

17. Patrick Reed: Reed's success and bravado at the Ryder Cup and the President's Cup have provided cover for what has been a somewhat underwhelming three year stretch of tournament play. Since 2014, he's only won twice and his runner-up at last year's PGA Championship was his first top ten in a major. Ever. He dropped from 8th to 24th in the world last year but he obviously has the game to improve on that. Just don't see him as a top ten talent anymore. Too many better players have passed him. 


18. Henrik Stenson*: Henrik got off to a rocky start last year but began turning it around at the Players Championship with a T16th and was solid but not spectacular from that point on. He did win the Wyndham Championship and then later finished T2nd at the WGC-HSBC Champions so he appears to be back in premium ball-striking form. Stenson's too good to go a whole career with only one major so I've got him hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy at the 2018 PGA Championship (can you actually "hoist" a trophy without ropes and pulleys?).  


19. Sergio Garcia: I don't want to accuse Sergio of coasting through the rest of the season after his win at Augusta but Sergio definitely coasted through the rest of the season. His best PGA Tour finish after the Masters was a T10th six months later at the Tour Championship. He's shown signs of getting his act together since so he should be good for a top twenty money finish in 2018. I guess we're supposed to root for him now. That's going to take some getting used to.

20. Matt Kuchar: So hard to tell which way Kuch's career is headed. At 39 years old he hasn't won since 2014 but he's coming off his best stretch at the majors with a runner-up at the British Open, a T4th at the Masters, a T9th at the PGA Championship and a T16th at the U.S. Open. He probably has at least one or two more wins in him which would push him into the top ten on the money list. Just not this year. Here's conversation topic. Would there be a more popular first time major winner than Kuch right now? Maybe Lee Westwood. Maybe but he's not an American and we're very popular right now.     

TIER FOUR

21. Daniel Berger: I'm just not as high on Berger as I'm apparently expected to be. Sure he has a win in each of the last two seasons but they're both at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and none of his other top tens last year were against what would be considered elite fields. His overall resume is kind of meh. 

22. Tony Finau: He was 10th in driving distance last year and 16th in adjusted scoring which means he know how to turn his bombs into birdies - 415 of them to be exact. He strikes me as Keegan Bradley with a bit more upside and infinitely fewer annoying mannerisms so that's good for the game of golf and for those of us who enjoy watching it without yelling "HIT THE FUCKING BALL!!!" 


23. Patrick Cantlay: Jumping from 1,866th in the world to 38th definitely earns Cantlay most improved player of 2017. He played a pretty limited schedule but made every cut and he just won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. If he plays that well for a full schedule, I could be underrating him in this spot. (Duh). 


24. Cameron Smith: The young Australian has been tearing it up all over the world since mid-September when he tied for 12th at the BMW Championship. That was just a primer, however, as he would then go T5th, 3rd and 4th before ending his season with a win at the Australian PGA Championship. He played 26 PGA Tour events last year so, if he can keep his game remotely near its current level, he's going to make like millions of dollars.

25. Phil Mickelson: I'm not ready to stick a fork in Phil yet. Despite missing cuts at the last two majors, his last four results of the year were T6th, T20th, T3rd and T15th. He is definitely going to win again. Oh and prepare to be pounded into submission with the "Phil returns to one of the two dozen courses where he finished runner-up at a U.S. Open" story line. 

TIER FIVE

26. Webb Simpson: Simpson seems to have rediscovered a significant part of his game that made him one of the best players in the world from 2011-13. Since the PGA Championship he has three top ten finishes and three more in the top twenty. Instead of struggling to find something interesting to say about Webb, I'm just not going to do that. 

27. Ollie Schniederjans: I almost left Ollie off the list because I was too lazy to click back and forth five times to PGATour.com to make sure I spelled his name right but such is my commitment to you, the reader. Ollie tends to be erratic but that's typical for young players about to break through (at least that's the theory I'm going with because the other option is that he's just one of the many erratic flame-outs we see every year).

28. Louis Oosthuizen: Speaking of erratic, meet the player who gives you the widest range of possible results every time he tees it up. He could win by five shots or miss the cut by fifteen. In the last twelve majors he only has three top ten finishes but they've all been runner-ups.  Louie was actually more consistent last year but still didn't make it to the Tour Championship because, not surprisingly, he chopped it up in the first three tournaments of the playoffs. One thing is for certain and that is that Louie will definitely miss the cut when I pick him so keep an eye on that.  

29. Chesson Hadley: Hadley won twice on the Web.com Tour in 2017 and then 
opened the fall PGA Tour season by going T3rd, 2nd and T4th. He won the Puerto Rico Open back in 2014 so he's one of those guys who's had it, lost it and then fought his way back. Those guys always come-out on top. At least in the movies. 

30. Aaron Wise: One young upstart inevitably cracks the top 30 every year and Wise is our guy for 2018. He just finished T13th at the RSM Classic and earlier this year fired back-to-back 62's at a Web.com event. If you've seen him play, you know that he has the look of a big time pro . . . whatever that means.

As usual, there are some big names who didn't make it. Adam Scott is suddenly 37 years old and didn't have a top three finish anywhere in the world in 2017. He may be done. Zach Johnson has gone from 13th in the world in 2015, to 38th in 2016 and 47th last year. Not a strong trend though you know he's going to scrape together another win and threaten at a major before it's over. Poor Brandt Snedeker could injure himself drinking a glass of water. (By the way, one of these three is going to prove me wrong. Your job is to figure-out which one). 

And what about Bubba Watson? He's dropped to 89th in the world after finishing 4th, 4th and 10th the three previous years. We should've seen it coming after he went T37th and M/C at the last two Masters. As much as he annoyed the shit out of me, he was entertaining and I'm going to miss him like that guy from college who always got drunk and broke your furniture because he made you laugh and also made you think "hey I'm a fuck-up but at least I'm not that guy."  

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