Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Fantasy Golf Report's 2017 PGA Tour Preview

After a nearly three month hiatus from writing about golf and a two month hiatus from writing about anything at all, we're back you beautiful sons (and daughters) o' bitches! We have no idea how long this renewed enthusiasm will last - hopefully longer than the average American's new year's commitment to fitness which is fizzling somewhere on a barely moving elliptical as we speak. One thing we do know is that the weekly previews will be sporadic this year with their posting dependant on the quality of the upcoming tournament and my wildly fluctuating mood swings. Especially in the winter months because I live in Baltimore where, on some days in February, The Wire actually feels like a tale of hope and promise.

But enough about huge mounds of pollution coated snow piled-up in the corner of rundown strip malls. A new golf season is upon us and, in a couple of days, we're going to get the next best thing to a gummy bear laced with THC - primetime golf from Hawaii which signals the unofficial real start to the 2017 golf season. (Sorry but I just can't do the post Tour Championship thing any more than I can watch a bowl game between two 6-6 teams that finished 7th in their conferences). We'll get some Tournament of Champions picks out via Twitter (click "Follow" to your right) because this is going to be one of those no preview weeks due to the relatively enormous amount of energy we poured into this full season preview which provides almost no gambling value whatsoever (as opposed to our weekly picks which provide enormous gambling value . . . often to the people you're gambling against).    

Last year's preseason picks were typically mediocre as we way overrated guys like Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose while way underrating guys like Adam Scott and Patrick Reed but we did get two things right: (1) The trend of three players falling-out of the previous year's top five on the final money list continued with Scott, Reed and Rory McIlroy replacing Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler and (2) Dustin Johnson would be one of the two guys who stayed in the top five. Instead of looking at that and seeing failure, we're going to look at it and see a lot of room for us to mature like the tiny acorn that becomes the oak. So with that goal in mind, let's take our nut sacks off our step brother's drum set, move out of our parents' house and grow.

As always, we would recommend cross-referencing these forecasts with the more thoroughly researched and well thought-out list put together by PGATour.com's Rob Bolton. While we only crunch some of the numbers, Rob crunches most of the numbers. Rob also provides his own brand of colorful commentary apparently inspired by an affinity for tawdry romance novels. For example:

Dustin Johnson: "He's what the fulfillment of potential during one's prime looks like, so embrace the reality and resist the urge to raise the expectations even higher." (I will try to resist the urge but I'm just a man dammit).

Jordan Spieth: "Grinded more . . ." (Yeah baby).

Matt Kuchar: "Can't overemphasize that he doesn't need length . . ." (Good news for most of us). 

Justin Thomas: "So much to love . . . he's shown maturity beyond his years . . ." (On the list of things no one has ever said about me). 

Patrick Rodgers: "Not a sleeper but a sleeping bear. In the subset of potential breakout stars in whom you just throw all caution to the wind . . ." (Yeeeehaaaaa!!!!!). 

And my favorite . . . 

Ryan Palmer: "So, just let him come to you and embrace the predictable." (Sounds like something my wife would say).

You know what, maybe Rob is onto something here. Let's see what happens if we take his advice and throw caution to the wind by embracing our own inner romantic.  

1. Rory McIlroy: We've always maintained that Rory's "A" game is better than anyone else's "A" game but, after the stretches that Dustin Johnson and Jason Day had last season, that may no longer be the case. With that being said, you should never underestimate the raw power that can be generated by a small package.   

2. Dustin Johnson: Considering all of the bullshit that D.J. had to put up with during the final round of the U.S. Open, we're pretty sure that the "headcase" label can be removed. With that out of the way, there should be nothing between him and an extended run of potentially hall of fame caliber golf. His prodigious length can be overpowering, even intimidating but, just when you think that's all that defines him, he shows the smooth delicate touch of a Venetian glass blower.* 

We're going to throw a few traditional FGR
images in here so it doesn't get weird.
3. Hideki Matsuyama: He has recently jumped from 15th to 6th in the World Golf Rankings after a stretch of four wins in five events and a second place finish in the fifth one (only two of them really mattered but he was playing against talent for big money so you've got to give him some credit). The rhythm of his golf swing is like a willow swaying in the breeze and, just when you think you've timed it, he pauses for the briefest of moments before releasing a downswing of absolute bliss.        

4. Jordan Spieth: All anyone seems to remember from 2016 is that he gagged the Masters which is true but it ignores the fact that, in twenty-four events worldwide, he had three wins and eleven top 10's. He also has the greatest ability among his peers to simply put the ball in the hole over and over and over, again and again and again.

5. Bubba Watson: Like him or not, you have to give Bubba credit for being a consistent bounceback player. From 2011 through 2015, he had two seasons when he finished lower than 15th on the money and list and both times he came back the following year to finish in the top five. Last year he finished 18th and was left-off the Ryder Cup team. We're thinking that's enough to motivate even the most enigmatic player. Especially one who plays the game with such reckless abandon, practically ripping the cover off the ball on every shot as if a world of pleasure awaits inside of it. 

6. Jason Day: Let's face it, if not for the self-imposed rule that we've got to drop two guys from last year's top five, he'd be in the top three. On the other hand, you never know when the Jason Day train might suddenly derail. When he's on, however, he plays the game with the power and grace of a bare chested lance-thrusting Spartan warrior.

7. Brooks Koepka: The numbers just don't add-up with Koepka who is ranked 16th in the world, plays plenty of tournaments on Tour and still only finished 23rd on the money list last year. Injuries were a factor but there is still no excuse for this guy not to finish top ten. "Koepka" she whispered, the name rolling off her tongue like an inaccessible jar of spaghetti sauce being thrown through a kitchen window.

8. Adam Scott: After a truly forgettable 2015 season that led some dopey forecasters to drop Scott all the way to 33rd in their preview (ahem . . . oops), he rebounded in 2016 and showed that he ain't done yet. So this year when he presents himself, eyes sparkling and white teeth gleaming, just let him wash over you like a cool summer rain. (I have no idea how this is going to be received but I am cracking myself up).

9. Patrick Reed: Another guy who is certainly worthy of top five consideration but I'm not going there until he proves he can do something (anything) in a major. His prickly personality lends itself well to Ryder Cup success but, as for a player you want to root for all year, not so much. The vibe in the club was electric that night. The music, the lights and the crowd on the dance floor all seeming to pulsate in perfect rhythm. And then a full-faced man approached and engaged me in awkward conversation. After twenty minutes, I started feeling crampy so I called a cab and went home.

Speaking of hypnotic power.
10. Henrik Stenson: Stenson had a nice run from the British Open through the Olympics but the rest of the season was kind of a wash. Usually that means he's hurt but his last four finishes have been 2nd, T9, 8th and T2 so we can rule that out. As we learned down the stretch at Royal Troon, his eyes are as icy as his Swedish homeland. Try to avoid their hypnotic power at your peril and maybe wear a parka.

11. Rickie Fowler: Remember when Rickie won in Abu Dhabi and then should've won in Scottsdale and everyone was trying to jam him into the new "Big Four" with Rory, Day and Spieth. Now he'd be lucky to make it into the "Big Twelve." With that being said, we see 2017 as at least a partial bounceback year. He had a certain innocent youthful quality in the way he carried himself most likely attributable to his young age. 

12. Emiliano Grillo: Grillo finished top twenty in three majors to go with his win at the Frys.com and his runner-up at The Barclays. The dude can flat-out play and he's going to be a top ten talent eventually. I couldn't place his accent. "Italian?" I asked. "I'm from Argentina you American imbecile." It was at that moment that I knew we were meant for each other.

13. 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. Be drawn in by his smile and drink in his eyes but keep your gaze low so as not to glimpse his towering forehead which is honeydew melonesque.

14. Justin Thomas: Thomas won the CIMB Classic again in October but to be taken seriously, he's got to win something between January and September. He came close last year with third place finishes at The Players, The Honda Classic and The Travelers but it's time for him to do better than close. I thought you'd be taller she said. I get that a lot he replied. No seriously, I thought you'd be taller . . . I'm not into midgets.

15. Phil Mickelson: The wily one had three second place finishes and six top fives last year on his way to finishing 12th on the money list. Everything about 2016 would indicate that he's got at least two or three high level years left. He carried himself like a man who had gambled and lost but was ready to gamble again and I thought to myself, "I'm ready to gamble too so let's spin the wheel on a roll of the dice and take a chance."  

16. Jimmy Walker: Just when we thought old Dyn-O-Mite's late career run was losing steam, he up and pretty much dominated the PGA Championship on a serious major track. Walker thrives in Hawaii and California so use him as a one and done pick early. He saunters into 2017 with the casual swagger you'd expect of an Oklahoma cowboy . . . weathered and dusty from the trail. As he steps into the warm glow of the saloon, he removes his hat like the gentleman he is and it is only then that the swarm of flies is revealed.

17. Daniel Berger: Berger's roll started during the 2015 playoffs and has continued through his second place finish at the WGC-HSBC in October. There's nothing particularly flashy about his game. He just has a nose for the top ten and his swing is sweet, like the chocolaty top of the cookie that bears his name.  

18. Sergio Garcia: As long as Sergio keeps racking-up solid major finishes (two top fives in 2016) and competing for wins (one win and one runner-up), he's a top twenty value despite his limited schedule and even more limited fan appeal. As the valiant Spaniard leapt from the window onto his horse and quickly disappeared from view, I breathlessly asked the bartender, "who is he?" He replied, "no one knows . . . but they call him . . . the Ferret."

As in Penelope Cruz.
See what we did there?
19. Matt Kuchar: Kuch has finished 15th and 28th on the money list the last two years and 2016 was the first year since 2011 that he didn't have a top ten in a major. At 38, he's not getting any younger or longer off the tee so there has to be some reasonable concern but his overall consistency still makes him top twenty caliber. As does his smile which warms you like two $7 bottles of Merlot on a cold winter night. Only not from the inside, and without the skull splitting hangover.

20. Jon Rahm: We need another dose of new blood in our top twenty and Rahm is going to be a stud. He played nine events in 2016, contended for the win in two of them and added a T23rd at the U.S. Open. He could be the next in a long line of great Spanish artists on and off the course like Picasso, Gaudi, Ballesteros and Cruz.          

And that's it. That's the list. Obviously we've left some big names out of the equation but that's what happens when the talent pool gets this deep. Some guys weren't worth the injury risk (Justin Rose, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker). Some seemed like they may have overachieved last year (Kevin Chappell, Russell Knox and Si Woo Kim). And some we just couldn't fit despite their top twenty credentials (Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na and Kevin Kisner). We'll call those guys our 21-30 in no particular order and with that, we say goodbye until next time. Whenever the hell that might be.    


From this point on, we will be deriving inspiration from the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Winners. If you've never given this website a look, I'd highly recommend it for lines like this 2015 winner in the romance category: "Claire had more daddy issues than a Boy’s Life magazine published in the late 1970s, but she was a perfect match for Donald, whose personality was vaguely sticky, like the outside of a squeezable honey container or anything handled by a three-year-old." 

Email the Fantasy Golf Report at fgr@fantasygolfreport.com

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