Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fantasy Golf: The Masters Preview

One of the best things about being your own editor is that you can write about whatever the hell you want and that is a nice luxury to have this week because it means that I can write about arguably the greatest sporting event in the world instead of the current health of a player who appears to be hitting the downside of his career like Franz Klammer. You see I'm not old (per se), but I have been around long enough to remember Larry Mize's chip-in, Freddie's ball stopping on 12, Greg Norman's meltdown, Ben Crenshaw breaking down on the 18th green and Tom Watson coming back from dunking his ball on 12 to eagle 13 and 15 in 1991 only to double 18 and lose by two shots to Ian Woosnam (the most underrated Masters of my lifetime). And then there was the 1986 Masters which came along before I even liked the sport but it sucked me in because even a non-fan could appreciate that something pretty damn cool was happening. All of those Masters were played before 1997, the year it became about one guy.

And how about the recent tournaments? We had Charl Schwartzel reeling-off four straight birdies to close it out in 2011 followed by Bubba Watson surviving an early albatross from Louis Oostuizen to win in a playoff in 2012 (if you want to relive that one, check-out the FGR's timeline of the final round here). And then last year Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera traded haymakers until dusk when Scott finally put it away with one of the most clutch putts in Masters history. At no point during the back nine of those three Masters did I find myself wanting for anything that the event was not already delivering. Especially last year when I eschewed the final round timeline to watch it in a bar with a bunch of dudes. That took the viewing experience to a whole new level now known as the "Masters Playoff Irish Car Bombathon" (you know, in honor of Angel Carbrera's Irish heritage).

So let's see if you can
guess this week's theme. 
I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir because if you're reading the Fantasy Golf Report, then chances are that you either (a) feel similarly about the Masters or (b) just visit the site for the pictures. Either way, you don't really care who is in the mix on Sunday because you know it's all about the setting and the drama. And now that we have the genuflecting out of the way, let's get down to who we have winning this thing.

Rule No. 1 for handicapping the Masters is that the winner rarely comes from nowhere a la Ben Curtis or Shaun Micheel. The closest thing we've had to that guy lately is Trevor Immelman in 2008 but he had finished tied for 6th at the 2007 PGA Championship and 5th at the 2005 Masters. A Russell Henley or John Senden may stop in to say hello like Marc Leishman did last year but they won't be drinking with the bartenders when the lights go on and the bouncers are driving the riff raff towards the door.

What that means is that the Masters tends to be very chalky. Last year the top three were Scott, Cabrera and Jason Day. The year before that it was Bubba, Louis, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson. In 2011 it was Schwartzel, Day and Scott so the bottom line is that you don't want to get too cute or you'll find yourself sitting there with your thumb up your ass on Sunday hoping a guy like Harris English or Gary Woodland can get hot and eek out a top ten finish while the smart money is on guys like Scott, Mickelson, Kuchar, Day and Rory McIlroy . . . at least two of whom will probably have a shot at the green jacket come the back nine on Sunday.

Until yesterday, I had been locked-in on Kuchar with this pick for almost a year. He's got all of the credentials with a tie for 8th in 2013 and a tie for 3rd in 2012. He has also been winning tournaments over the last two years that would seem to be logical stepping stones on the way to his first major (The Players, The Memorial and the Match Play). But I'm not quite sure what to make of those squirrely shots he hit down the stretch on Sunday when all he had to do was put the ball in the middle of the green on either 16 or 18 to win. The one on 18 is especially troubling because he plays a fade but he hit it left into the water. Then in the playoff he compensated and hit it right into the bunker. Maybe it's good he didn't win because he learned something from the experience? I'm just not sure I buy that.

The problem is that I see glaring flaws when it comes to the next six or seven guys.* Scott and McIlroy are very shaky putters and, with regard to Scott, I think it is highly unlikely that anyone is going back to back at Augusta with the depth of the current field. Mickelson and Day both have injury issues the severity of which are not really clear. And if you're nervous about Kuchar's ability to closeout his first major, then the prospect of Dustin Johnson or Sergio Garcia protecting a one shot lead with three to play should terrify you.

So that leads me back to Kuch. I can't help but thinking that it just feels like his time. As for the rest of the top ten, I went chalk for the next four and then I alternated in some guys who are in the 100 to 1 range** because you know at least one long shot is going to find his way into the top five with a backdoor 67 on Sunday. My favorite for that guy is Nick Watney who plays well at Augusta even when he's not playing well anywhere else (T13th last year). I could also see Ernie making a semi-sentimental run and I have Branden Grace as my random guy who makes the top ten.

This may be the most wide-open Masters ever as I just counted twenty three players in the field who I would not be surprised to see in a green jacket on Sunday. The last three to do that have been first-time major winners and I think that trend is going to continue this week. Either way, I feel like we're in for another epic Sunday and I can practically hear the shot of Baileys and Jameson clinking the bottom of the pint glass right now.          

The Favorites
No, it's not women who look like
they just dropped their keys.

1. Rory McIlroy - 9 to 1
2. Adam Scott - 10 to 1
3. Phil Mickelson - 12 to 1
4. Jason Day - 16 to 1
5. Matt Kuchar - 18 to 1
6. Henrik Stenson - 22 to 1
7. Dustin Johnson - 22 to 1
8. Sergio Garcia - 22 to 1
9. Bubba Watson - 25 to 1
10. Justin Rose - 25 to 1

The FGR Top Ten

1. Matt Kuchar
2. Phil Mickelson
3. Adam Scott
4. Sergio Garcia
5. Jason Day
6. Nick Watney
7. Dustin Johnson
8. Ernie Els
9. Rory McIlroy
10. Branden Grace

Last Week's FGR Report Card: D
It's "green" baby. Bring it!!!

1. Keegan Bradley - T43rd
2. Jordan Spieth - M/C
3. Graham DeLaet - T19th
4. Jimmy Walker - T24th
5. Louis Oostuizen - M/C

The Damage to Date Report

Hyundai: Gary Woodland - $130,000
Sony: Chris Kirk - $604,800
Humana: Charles Howell, III - $12,198
Farmers: Bill Haas - $20,740
WM Phoenix: Billy Horschel - M/C
Pebble Beach: Russell Knox - $46,860
Northern Trust: Dustin Johnson - $723,600
Match Play: Hunter Mahan - $148,000
Honda Classic: Graeme McDowell - $15,600
WGC-Cadillac: Rory McIlroy - $76,000
Valspar: Harris English - $23,940
Palmer: Justin Rose - M/C
Texas Open: Kevin Chappell - M/C

Houston Open: Keegan Bradley - $18,374

Season Total - $1,820,112


* To simplify this process, I had to remove some guys from the equation because I don't think their games as currently constructed suit Augusta. That list includes Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner. I just don't see those three contending and I also don't see Bubba getting back into the mix quite yet though he will be a threat down the road.

"When I'm wrong . . .
I say I'm wrong." 

** This is also due in part to an email from a reader who correctly pointed-out that I've gotten way too chalky in my picks and that he can go to any website to find-out who the favorites are. What do we always say in these situations Dr. Houseman?

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

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