The Masters Fantasy Preview

After the Mud Ball Invitational in Houston, we are now ready for the main event. The first MAJOR of the season is taking place this week in Augusta, Georgia.

The course, Augusta National Golf Club, needs no introduction. It’s an iconic par 72 that pretty wide open off the tee but challenges golfers on approach as well as on (and around) the greens.

Diving straight into stats this week, the core stats of driving distance, distance from edge of fairway, greens in regulation, and scrambling all show up as very highly correlated to success at the Masters. We are looking for an ALL-AROUND great golfer. The one stat that does not correlate is putting. Poor putters have actually done better here, historically. Given the insane slopes and speeds of these greens, you don’t want to be relying on the flat stick to get the job done.

From a strokes-gained perspective we want to highly target OFF-THE-TEE. I want to give credit to Colin Drewby over at Dailyroto who put some strokes gained analysis together. I’ve been doing some behind-the-scenes work with Moose from ProjectRoto lately and we’ve seen a very similar trend on the importance of strokes gained off-the-tee at all events, not just Augusta National. That calls for an entire article by itself but on a basic level it boils down to off-the-tee being the only strokes gained metric that can not be influenced by a prior shot.

After that we still want elite approach-the-green play, while it’s always useful to combine the two (off-tee-tee & approach). I call this Strokes Gained Long, myself, but whenever I reference ball-striking stats, this is generally what I’m talking about.

As we get closer to the greens at Augusta National, good short game is a big plus because you don’t want to leave yourself 10 footers or even worse chip it back off the green (Martin Kaymer anyone?). That brings strokes gained around-the-green into the fold, but I would recommend you add in the amount of missed greens into that statistic (Strokes Gained Around-the-Green divided by # of Missed GIR). This will give us a slightly better view of who gets the ball up-and-down without giving poor ball-strikers an advantage for having more ARG opportunities. This still isn’t perfect but gets us a bit closer to properly grading short game.

On top of an already difficult test of golf, the forecast is looking to make it even harder. I included a link to the Windfinder station this week (bottom of page), which currently shows wind gusts exceeding 30 MPH on Thursday and Friday. That brings Wind Specialists into play this week.

For correlated events this week we want some combination of fast greens, a lot of mid-to-long par 4s, bentgrass greens, and not-so-lengthy par 5s. The events that ended up popping are:
WGC-Bridgestone, Doral, U.S. Open, THE PLAYERS, and the TOUR Championship.

Players to Watch

Rory 2016
Rory McIlroy… He’s shown no rust since returning from injury. He’s gained a remarkable 10.69 strokes off-the-tee in eight rounds since returning. I guess you could say the rust has presented itself around the greens as he’s been well below average in that regard. With Spieth stealing the spotlight in terms of “demons at Augusta” and DJ stealing the spotlight in terms of “clear-cut favorite to win”, Rory should slide right through and complete his career Grand Slam. Rory is my #1 this week, he just needs to avoid the big numbers. That’s a BIG IF for him.

Jon Rahm… The first-timer narrative is due to get shattered eventually. Rahm is the leading candidate to break it this week. I find the first-time narrative a bit funny because so many elite golfers play this for their first time when they are nowhere near ready to compete on this stage. Take Matsuyama for example, when he originally played Augusta National, he said that his goal was not to embarrass himself and just play four rounds. I think Rahm’s goals are a bit more lofty this week, and for good reason.

Jordan Spieth… Right now Jordan Spieth’s experience at the par-3 12th last year is like a dog that just had surgery. He just needs to wear a giant cone this year to prevent himself from licking the wound. If he accomplishes that for the entirety of the week, then the whole thing may be forgotten in a few years. However, if he plunks another in the water or overshoots the green by 10 yards, then the wound is going to re-open and it could get ugly. On the bright side, he said he made a prep trip here in December and birdied it both times playing the hole. On the down side, he then said he called Greller and excitingly told him the news. It’s clearly a big obstacle in his mind and he’s going to put a lot of pressure on himself to over-perform at the 12th. While this isn’t enough to drop him out of my top 5, it does have me a bit worried when we add that to his already ho-hum off-the-tee form.

Windy Peppercorns… Looking a little deeper at rounds played in 14 MPH+ wind, I want to target golfers that can lap the field in these conditions. I call these BOOM ROUNDS (beating the field average by 2 or more strokes).

The Top 10 in BOOM RATES in the WIND:
Jason Day
Rory McIlroy
Dustin Johnson
Jordan Spieth
Phil Mickelson
Matt Kuchar
Sergio Garcia
Adam Scott
J.B. Holmes
Hideki Matsuyama

On the flip side, another angle to look at is what golfers are able to hang around in the wind and then make up ground in the rounds when the weather is calm. For this we can look at a lack of BUST ROUNDS (losing 2 or more strokes to the field).

The Top 10 lowest BUST RATES in the WIND:
Rory McIlroy
Jason Day
Jordan Spieth
Emiliano Grillo
Daniel Berger
Bubba Watson
Matt Kuchar
Justin Rose
Sergio Garcia
J.B. Holmes

As you notice, there is plenty of high ball flights on both lists, so don’t get caught up on the “low ball flight needed in the wind” narrative. Great golfers can adjust their ball flight when needed but a high ball flight is still advantageous when landing greens.

Hudson Swafford… Doesn’t crack my top 25, but he’s not far off. He’s finally found some consistencybig finishes on TOUR after struggling with big numbers for years. He’s still prone to a weekend slide down the leaderboard, but he’s probably one of my favorite FanDuel R1-2 plays this week. If you need a narrative for Swafford then look no further then his college roommate, Jefferson Knox Jr. That name may sound familiar because he is the son of Jeff(erson) Knox, the famous Augusta National member that is often used as a marker at the Masters. I would guess Swafford has dialed up his old roommate to get in a few rounds with the old man. The same narrative applies to Justin Thomas who played college golf with Knox’ other son at Alabama.

Daniel Berger… Coming in fresh off a strong finish in Houston, what I really like is his consistency off the tee. He’s beat the field average in strokes gained off-the-tee for 11 straight events leading up to Augusta National. That is a great sign in terms of pure ball-striking. The one knock on him is his shot shape as he likes to work it left-to-right but he finished T10 in his debut last year, so I’m thinking it’s not such a huge deal, after all.

Tyrrell Hatton… If Rahm wasn’t in the field, then Hatton would be the leading candidate for top first-timer this week. He’s been superb with his Spyro the Dragon Purple Putter lately, but he’s even better in his long game. The lone weakness (at least recently) has been the scrambling. Arrives with six straight top 15s worldwide in stroke-play events. En fuego.

J.B. Holmes… We saw Sherlock Holmes on both Wind Lists above, but he may go overlooked this week as he comes in fresh off a MC at the Shell Houston Open. Last year he withdrew before the SHO with a shoulder injury and still managed to deliver a T4 at this event. His length is obviously a big advantage here at AGNC.

Phil Mickelson… Hard to find better history here from a long-term view. More recently, he’s finished outside the top 50 in three of his last four visits (T2 in 2015 in between). Will be extremely popular this week, but I will have much lower exposure compared to the field this week.

Hideki Matsuyama… Seemed like the entire golf world (or maybe just people I follow on Twitter) went out to bet him at the Masters at some point during his early-season dominance. He’s now the forgotten man but he shouldn’t be. One thing that often gets overlooked is his tremendous short game. He’s one of the TOUR’s best scramblers despite being a horrendous putter at times. If he can ball-strike to his normal standards and chip it close enough to minimize the putting damage, then he should be right in the thick of things (again) come Sunday.

My Top 25 for the 2017 Masters

1. Rory McIlroy
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Jon Rahm
4. Rickie Fowler
5. Jordan Spieth
6. Justin Rose
7. Hideki Matsuyama
8. Daniel Berger
9. Tyrrell Hatton
10. Adam Scott
11. Charley Hoffman
12. Louis Oosthuizen
13. J.B. Holmes
14. Jason Day
15. Paul Casey
16. Francesco Molinari
17. Bill Haas
18. Shane Lowry
19. Emiliano Grillo
20. Gary Woodland
21. Brandt Snedeker
22. Matt Kuchar
23. Phil Mickelson
24. Charl Schwartzel
25. Tommy Fleetwood

This article has 47 comments

    • It’s really tough to narrow down but I try to keep the top 25 populated with guys I will actually support this week. Sergio ranked highly on some of my raw ranks but didn’t make my final cut.

      Sergio didn’t grade out very well at all in course-fit metrics and always seems to bleed too many strokes with the putter when he heads to Augusta, although he’s in a great mental frame of mind at the moment. I do like that aspect.

      Leishman was close but he’s posted just two red numbers in 10 rounds at Augusta.

      Reply
  1. The wind on Thur/Fri appears it will consistently be blowing west, and here is a quick sketch of how it will affect the holes:

    WIND INTO FACE – 2, 7, 9, 14, 17

    WIND AT BACK – 1, 3, 4, 13, 15

    CROSS WIND – 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 16, 18

    Reply
      • The two easier par 5’s (13, 15) just got easier with wind helping, but pretty much everyone scores here anyways so it’s not that much of a gain (the other two par 5’s would certainly be helpful to short hitters if they were down wind). But the holes that are into the wind are a 575 yd par 5 and then four par 4’s that are 440+ and all have a scoring average over par. So I think slight advantage to long hitters?

        It looks like the forecast is changing slightly so that Friday won’t be as windy. Advantage AM/PM?

        Reply
        • With a smaller field the tee times are tighter together and they often put the old timers at the front and back so the majority of good golfers will be going off within a few hours.

          Think we’ll need to see time times and wait one more day for the “Super Forecast” on Windfinder to show Friday

          Reply
        • An interesting thing I’m seeing… The late groups on Thursday get a mid morning tee time on Friday. That could be good for them in terms of avoiding the cold weather. Wind will be nasty throughout both days but avoiding the low 50s in the AM could be nice.

          Reply
          • To me it is shaping up to be a slight edge for AM/PM tee times — Thurs AM will be warmer than Fri AM, and the wind atleast at this point seems to be 5-10mph worse Thurs afternoon than Friday afternoon. All subject to change of course. But I am starting to give a slight edge to the Thurs tee times from 8am-939am range

            Reply
            • That is a helpful analysis. However the best player in that group of guys is Adam Scott by far.

              Appears the top tier guys are mainly at 10-11am and 1-2pm on Thursday.

              I suppose this would give an advantage to the 10-11am Thursday guys over the 1-2pm guys

              Reply
              • It appears I read the weather report wrong, as when it says “30MPH W” winds, that means FROM the west and blowing east. So to change what I wrote earlier, I think this is the correct wind:

                INTO FACE – 1, 3, 4, 13, 15

                WIND AT BACK – 2, 7, 9, 14, 17

                CROSS WIND – 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 16, 18

                Reply
  2. Two guys outside your t25 I like – Thomas Pieters and Russ Henley. Pieters, despite the 1st timer narrative, could threaten to win this thing. Plenty long enough and top 10 in sg: approach. Henley red hot, decent course history and checks the boxes in relevant stats.

    Surprised by Fleetwood – no course history and stats are “meh.” Am I missing something?

    Reply
    • Very interesting. Love the upside on Pieters but I question his course management. There is no way someone of his length should be losing strokes off-the-tee consistently but he’s lost strokes OTT in his 12 measured rounds this year.

      What stats are you looking at for Fleetwood that are meh? Are you looking at his Euro Tour stats? For Fleetwood I love his form and especially his stats during the API and Mexico. Based on those two events he’s second in the field in the Short Game metric I’m looking at, 7th in Off-the-Tee, 15th in Approach, 16th in Birdie Making, and 26th in Putting. Obviously a small ShotLink sample, but the numbers support his Euro Tour form over the last year. Much like Pieters, though, there bad weeks are really bad.

      Reply
  3. so are you taking Rory, because he is the best wind player?

    Have you factored in the direction of the wind? or is that something I should look into further? I would think Spieth being a Texan would be a top tier wind player, just wondering if the direction of the wind gives and added boost to Rory as a longer player?

    Reply
    • Not taking Rory based on his wind play, just taking him because I think he’s the best golfer.

      As for wind direction, Chris W posted a nice breakdown. The only way I would downgrade Rory is if the Wind is into their faces on 3 or 4 of the par 5s. That would turn it into a three-shot hole for everyone and give an edge to the little guys, ala Zach Johnson the year he won laying up on all the par 5s.

      Reply
        • JT was a tough omission but his lack of consistency killed him. If the rankings were purely odds to win then JT would be top 15 but his bad weeks have been really bad.

          Reply
      • are you concerned with his recent equipment change? Spieth sure struggled when he changed clubs. wondering if the same might be in store for Rory

        Reply
        • With Spieth is was an odd case because his team sent a new set before he was planning to put them in his bag.

          For Rory tinkering with clubs. Not so worried because he has no club contract so he can tinker and pick the. Clubs he thinks are best without restriction.

          For someone like Brooks it’s taken him quite a while to adjust. Henley and Final are two that have seamlessly transitioned away from Nike.

          It’s case by case. Anyone specific you’re talking about?

          Reply
          • “Rory McIlroy has changed his brand and model of fairway woods on the eve of the Masters, taking to Augusta National on Tuesday morning with a bag including the newly introduced TaylorMade fairway woods alongside Callaway irons and driver. ”

            I read that earlier and it had me a bit concerned. I am strongly considering Rory, figure he has to win this thing eventually

            Reply
            • I thought that might be the case 🙂

              Like I said for Rory, he’s not stuck to an equipment contract so he can swap out clubs to his hearts desire. If he changed his entire bag before the event is be a little concerned.

              Reply
  4. This is an awesome preview, thanks! I’ve change by lineup about 20 times in my highly competitive fantasy golf league. Which do you like between these two? If I go Rory & DJ that’s a lot of my cap and they’d have to finish 1st and 2nd most likely. We get 1 point for every $1 the golfer makes in tourney. Thank you!

    1. Dustin Johnson (12.93)
    2. Rickie Fowler (5.44)
    3. Justin Rose (4.49)
    4. Marc Leishman (3.32)
    5. Bill Haas (2.95)
    6. Angel Cabrera (0.22)
    7. Bernhard Langer (0.15)
    8. Fred Couples (0.15)
    9. Mark O’Meara (0.15)
    10. Larry Mize (0.15)

    or

    1. Dustin Johnson (12.93)
    2. Rickie Fowler (5.44)
    3. Justin Rose (4.49)
    4. Marc Leishman (3.32)
    5. Daniel Berger (3.14)
    6. Angel Cabrera (0.22)
    7. Bernhard Langer (0.15)
    8. Fred Couples (0.15)
    9. Larry Mize (0.15)

    Thank you again!

    Reply
  5. Sorry this is the correct 2nd lineup. like I said, I’ve done about 20 of them!

    1. Dustin Johnson (12.93)
    2. Rory McIlroy (8.83)
    3. Rickie Fowler (5.44)
    4. Charley Hoffman (2.49)
    5. Bernhard Langer (0.15)
    6. Fred Couples (0.15)

    Reply
  6. Wind speed prediction is up quite a bit. Any idea of what sort of speed they would suspend play at? If they suspend it will push the late starters on Friday into Saturday where there is not much wind at all.

    Reply
    • I doubt it would be suspended for wind alone unless it got to be steady gusts of 40+ or steady 30+

      An interesting angle to consider but I think it’s a long shot.

      Reply
  7. Thoughts on Dufner? Playing well — even contended at Tour Championship last year. I think he’s on his way back up.

    PS – great site

    Reply
    • Dufner is putting better than he ever has recently which scares me. He doesn’t have the length to overpower Augusta National so I could see his putter regressing and him falling down the leaderboard quickly.

      Reply
    • Moli had no chance to advance out of group stage at that point so I’m not sure I really believe the wrist injury. His lack of a top 15 in five tries at Augusta is more of a concern given he doesn’t pass the eye test for course fit.

      Reply
      • I tend to disagree here. He hasn’t played the last 2 years, but his stats show he’d be a good fit – 15th SGT2G, 4th SGAppr and 14th in Birdie or Better. You’re not exactly breaking the bank for him at 6800 either. I’d take him over Steele, Webb, et al in the 7k range.

        Reply
        • Yes Molis salary is the only bright spot, IMO. Good point on not playing last two years but he’s been ranked 46th in the World or better before all five Masters starts. He was 15th in the World before his 2011 MC. He’s not a youngster still trying to break out, hes just at a disadvantage with his lack of distance at Augusta.

          Obviously he passed my initial stat test since he was 16th in my Top 25 but I’ve drifted far from him as the weeks gone on.

          Reply
  8. Interesting that Steele is such a bad wind player — he won in Texas in 2011 during windy conditions. What tournaments has he played in the wind recently where he didn’t score well?

    Reply
    • That was before I started tracking but I see two of the four rounds that week were very windy. Good call there.

      More recently his Biggest duds in the wind have come at 2016 BMW, 2016 DBank, 2016 Heritage, 201& Memorial, 2014 British, 2014 Shell…. Looking at him specifically it looks like his bad wind rounds are REALLY BAD which is why he grades so low.

      Reply
      • Steele’s 10/11 this season with 6 Top 25s. He’s playing the best golf of his career the last few months ($2M, a win, and 69.3 avg versus 70.8 career). He can’t be overlooked for a breakthrough major IMO

        Reply
  9. Hi, first time reader and commenter here. Just found this site while looking for wind stats… really impressive stuff. Thanks for compiling and updating that page.
    I’m playing in a league where taking a couple longshots is a near-necessity, and making the cut is crucial (i.e there is a huge penalty for missed cuts).
    I’ve trimmed my list down to a ~dozen, wondering if anyone here really jumps out for you statistically, good or bad. I need to pick 2 of the following:
    Kevin Na
    Bernd Wiesberger
    Jim Furyk
    Ryan Moore
    Jason Dufner
    Ross Fisher
    Francesco Molinari
    Scott Piercy
    Soren Kjeldsen
    Shane Lowry
    Pat Perez
    Chris Wood
    Hudson Stafford (I know you discussed him earlier)
    Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Hey Zack. My stats show Furyk and Bernd as the highest cut-made probability with Chris Wood right behind them. I do love Swafford personally but he does bring some unpredictably having not played the Masters before.

      Reply
  10. The wind is basically going to be problematic for everyone in the field regardless of the draw. The added difficulty to the wind would be lower temperatures.

    Reply

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