Hello, friends. It’s that time of year, where the best players in the world take a drive down Magnolia Lane to the Augusta National Golf Club. It truly is a tradition unlike any other. Do I have to credit Jim Nantz yet? Anyways…IT’S MASTERS WEEK! Unfortunately, I’m in a wedding all weekend and likely won’t see a single shot on TV, but maybe that’s a good thing. Much less Sunday tilt. Plus, the tournament just won’t be the same without Big Cat staring down contenders on the back nine on Sunday. I really hope Tiger’s able to compete at some point this year, because regardless of what people try to say, the game is infinitely better with him in the picture.
Anyways, let’s talk about the tournament, about the course, and about some stats that we should focus on to (hopefully) predict who will don the green jacket on Sunday. This is the most anticipated and stacked-field Masters I can remember, with so many of the top players in the world coming into Augusta in tremendous form. Even those who had been struggling (namely Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson) seemed to put their games together at the Shell Houston Open this past weekend. Rickie Fowler was in contention, too. Jason Day is coming off back-to-back wins. Adam Scott already had back-to-back wins in March. Two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson is coming off a win at Riviera and a runner-up finish at Doral. Phil Mickelson is turning back the clock this year and playing some of his best golf. And maybe the best storyline of the week is Rory McIlroy trying to exorcize his Augusta demons, regain his #1 world ranking, and attain the career grand slam.
Augusta National is a course where I’m heavily weighing course history and tournament experience. First-timers have a poor track record here, and I think it’s fairly unlikely to have any of them in the top-15 this week. If I had to name a couple guys who could buck that trend, I’d look at Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Smylie Kaufman. The green complexes are so difficult and undulating that knowing where to miss shots and how to smartly recover is even more important than at other Tour stops. Because scrambling is so difficult this week, hitting greens and placing your shots correctly is key. I’m going to look heavily at strokes gained tee-to-green this week, which obviously spits out the best players in the world. Pairing that with driving distance is a good way to start your model. Additionally, Par 5 scoring is crucial this week, with holes #13 and #15 reachable for virtually every player in the field. Bombers like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson have won here because of their dominance on these holes, but that doesn’t mean to eliminate short hitters. Zach Johnson also won here by laying up on every par 5, and making birdies with his wedges four days in a row. If you look carefully at par 5 scoring, you’ll come across mostly bombers who can take advantage of reachable par 5s, but also shorter hitters like Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and Graeme McDowell.
I’ll be honest: making picks this week is going to be extremely difficult because any of the top players can win. You can’t pick them all, so I’m going to pass on Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, and Charl Schwartzel at the top. But keep in mind that all three of those guys could win to nobody’s surprise. Roster construction is interesting this week, but I think you’re going to need at least two studs on every team you make. So here are my picks of the week, including some value plays that will help you roster Rory, Spieth, or Day:
Rory McIlroy ($12,500) – Rory’s got his eye on the career Grand Slam and regaining his status at #1 in the world. Since changing his putting grip to left-hand-low, he’s flashed a ton of success on the greens. His form is returning, and his downfall in recent weeks has been making big mistakes that lead to double bogeys. I think this could be the week he puts it all together. Rory ranks top-10 in SG:T2G, Par 5 scoring, Birdie %, and Driving Distance. His last two appearances at Augusta were an 8th place finish and a 4th place finish. Sign me up.
Jordan Spieth ($12,300) – Spieth is the defending champion, and although it’s difficult to go back-to-back, I think he has a shot. Spieth torched Augusta last year with a combination of ball striking and sublime putting. He ranks 4th in Birdie % and 3rd in SG:T2G this year. His form is returning after a top-10 at the Shell Houston Open last week. In two appearances at The Masters, he has a win and a runner-up finish (where he should have won). Spieth is a great play if you can fit him into your lineups.
Jason Day ($11,600) – Day is officially #1 in the world again, and got the major monkey off his back at last year’s PGA Championship. His form is great, with wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Match Play in his last two starts. He’s had two top-3 finishes at Augusta and fits the mold of a player ready to break through here. He drives the ball as long and as straight as anybody, and ranks 8th in Birdie % this year. In a field chalk-full of potential contenders, Day is still the favorite this week. If I were choosing among these top three players, Day is my first choice.
Bubba Watson ($11,400) – Although Bubba is a two-time Masters Champion, his overall record at Augusta is pretty spotty. But Bubba is a different player now, and is much more polished. He won earlier in the year at Riviera, and finished 2nd at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. Bubba has a weird trend that each time he finished 2nd at Doral, he’s won the Masters…so there’s that. More importantly, he’s 4th in Driving Distance, 3rd in Par 5 scoring, 1st in SG:T2G, and 11th in Birdie %. Behind Jason Day, he’s my second favorite this week.
Rickie Fowler ($10,900) – Rickie is looking for his 1st major title, and this year (and this week) sets up perfectly for a breakthrough. Fowler has been playing pretty well this year, although his only win was overseas. In the past two years at The Masters, Fowler has a 12th and a 5th. He’s 2nd in Par 5 scoring, 6th in SG:T2G, 6th in Birdie %, and leads the PGA Tour’s all around category this year. His time is now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rickie wearing a green jacket on Sunday afternoon.
Phil Mickelson ($10,500) – What to say about the three-time Masters Champion? Phil’s just a different player this year, and actually leads the tour in scoring average. Although he hasn’t won yet, he’s been knocking on the door for several months. When he gets to Augusta, Phil is just a different player. He knows this course better than anyone in the field, and wants to better the T-2nd that he put up a year ago. He’s is top-10 this year in Birdie %, SG:T2G, and Par 5 scoring. Phil is a core play for me this week.
Justin Rose ($9,900) – Rose tied for 2nd last year alongside Phil, and has two other top-10’s at Augusta. He’s been playing great this year, and has the game to win The Masters this week. At $9,900, he’s a decent discount off some of the higher priced players, and has as much upside as any of them. Rose has added distance off the tee this year, and ranks 17th on tour. Additionally, he’s 3rd in Par 5 scoring, 8th in SG:T2G, and 16th in Birdie %. I’d try to get Rose into your fair-and-balanced lineups this week.
Henrik Stenson ($9,600) – There’s been a lot of talk about Stenson recently, specifically about his inability to close out tournaments on Sundays. But he’s won 17 times in his career, is a Ryder Cup stalwart, and has contended in many majors. Although his record isn’t very good at Augusta, his current form and stats are too good to overlook. Stenson ranks 14th in Par 5 scoring, 3rd in SG:T2G, and 7th in Birdie %. Also, he’s celebrating his 40th birthday this week in his 40th major championship, looking for his first win… #NarrativeStreet.
Hideki Matsuyama ($9,100) – There are a lot of similarities between Hideki and Henrik Stenson, in my opinion. He’s also looking for 1st major, but unlike Stenson, Matsuyama has won an event on Tour this season. He’s a statistical beast, ranking 5th in SG:T2G and 3rd in Birdie %. The putter is the club that could hold Matsuyama back, but he’s looked much more comfortable this year. A great Sunday vaulted him into the top-5 at last year’s Masters, and I expect him to be in the hunt this year, too.
Louis Oosthuizen ($8,800) – This is a shockingly cheap price, and I plan to exploit it as much as possible. Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen (yes, that’s his real name) finished 2nd to Jason Day in the WGC-Dell Match Play before flaming out and MC at Houston. But don’t put much stock into that. King Louis is a gamer, and shows up every year in these major championships. Besides winning an Open Championship, he’s lost in a playoff at The Masters to Bubba Watson in 2012, and lost in a playoff at St. Andrew’s to Zach Johnson at last year’s British Open. His form is great, he loves the course, and has the driving distance to be a major factor this year. At this price, King Louis will likely be one of my highest owned players of the week.
Brandt Snedeker ($8,500) – Surprisingly, I think Snedeker could go overlooked this week. He’s been battling a rib injury, but his form this year has been fantastic. Sneds won at Torrey Pines, and had two top-3 finishes in Hawaii. He’s comfortable at Augusta, and has plenty of Southern Comfort here (pun intended). He’s had two top-10s at The Masters and is another player on the cusp of breaking through with his first major championship. Snedeker has said that if he could choose one major he’d like to win most, The Masters would win hands down. If he’s healthy, Sneds will contend this week.
Patrick Reed ($8,300) – Reed is a bit of a tough call this week, but I’ll play up the Augusta State narrative. He hits a draw off the tee, which for right-handers, fits the course really well. Reed is also an excellent scrambler. He contended at last year’s U.S. Open before melting down on the weekend, and I think that experience will serve him well. He’s a fiery competitor who wants to break through with a major championship, and potentially earn himself at spot on the U.S. Olympic squad. He’s 17th in SG:T2G and makes for a great option this week.
Brooks Koepka ($8,100) – Koepka is in a strange position, after missing the cut last week in Houston being one of the highest owned players. I think that will lower his ownership this week, making him a decent option. He’s a bomber (9th in Driving Distance) who can absolutely dominate the par 5s at Augusta, and he’s right on the cusp of breaking through with a victory on the major stage. He had a decent showing last year while battling a rib injury, and should build on it this year.
Danny Willett ($8,000) – Willett and his wife just welcomed a baby boy to the family, so he’s got the #BabySwag to draw upon. He flashed his game at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral last month, and was atop the leaderboard for a while at last year’s British Open. Most don’t know that Willett is ranked 12th in the world, and he’s got the skills to back it up. He’s very capable of a top-10 or even top-5 this week at The Masters. The only concern about Willett this week is he will be an extremely popular value play in this price range.
Marc Leishman ($7,900) – Leishman is not in great form, but has performed well at Augusta before. He finished 4th in 2013 when he was paired with fellow Aussie Adam Scott on Sunday. Leishman lost to Zach Johnson in the playoff at St. Andrew’s last year, but has been very vocal about gaining confidence in the majors because of that performance. Leishman checks most boxes this week, ranking 27th in Driving Distance, 16th in SG:T2G, and 18th in Birdie % this year. Along with Willett, he’s one of the top value plays in this tier.
Matt Kuchar ($7,800) – Kuchar seems to have a bit of Masters magic, starting from his 2002 appearance as an amateur. He’s got a great course history, with three consecutive top-8 finishes from 2012-2014. He’s always reliable cut-maker, and although he lacks distance off the tee, Kuchar plays par 5s very well. He ranks 12th in Par 5 scoring and 24th in Birdie % this year. He’s bound to be popular again this week, but Kuchar is still a good option to get into your lineups.
Paul Casey ($7,700) – Although he WD from the WGC-Dell Match Play two weeks ago, Casey was in decent form before that with two straight top-10s. He also finished 6th at The Masters in 2015, which was his third career top-10 here. He’s got major pedigree although he hasn’t won one yet, and is playing with some fire after his controversy about the Ryder Cup qualifying process. Casey’s an excellent ball striker and should hit plenty of greens this week. Another solid option in this middle tier.
Zach Johnson ($7,600) – Zach is a past champion at Augusta, although it was in terrible weather conditions. Like Kuchar, Zach dominates par 5s even though he’s not a bomber off the tee. He seems to be rounding back into form after struggling most of this year after switching to PXG irons. He finished 9th last year at The Masters, and won his second major at the British Open. Like Oosthuizen, Zach is a gamer and seems to pop up on a lot of major leaderboards…even at courses where he doesn’t seem to fit the mold. His putter is always the great equalizer, and if he gets hot on these greens, he could be very much in contention Sunday afternoon.
Rafa Cabrera Bello ($7,400) – RCB could be a trendy pick this week due to his current form. He had a stellar weekend at the Shell Houston Open, and finished 3rd in the WGC-Dell Match Play (including a victory over Rory in the consolation match). Although Cabrera Bello doesn’t have any recent victories in Europe, he has enough firepower and recent form to out-perform his value at this price. However, this is his first Masters appearance, so my expectations aren’t super high.
Ryan Moore ($6,800) – Moore is in excellent form, with five top-10s so far this season. He also has great course history, making 6/7 career cuts at Augusta with a 12th place finish last year. He’s is a similar player to Zach Johnson, and I think he’s ready to break through in a major championship. Moore might not win this week, but I think a top-10 finish is well within reach.
Graeme McDowell ($6,800) – G-Mac is never a fun player to roster, especially since his game has dropped off in recent years. But he does have major pedigree, and is excellent in Par 5 scoring (31st on Tour). He only has one career top-15 finish at Augusta, but he makes enough short putts to keep him afloat. I don’t expect a G-mac win this week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he cracked the top-15. Plus, you don’t get to play very many major champions in this price range.
Chris Kirk ($6,700) – Kirk is a guy who is very streaky, but seems to be in form right now. He played great at the WGC-Dell Match Play, and did so by making a ton of putts. His form is trending up and he’s made the cut in both previous Masters appearances. Kirk surprisingly dominates par 5s, ranking 31st in Par 5 scoring this year (mostly because of his stellar wedge play). He’s a good punt option this week if you’re looking for a made cut with some upside.
Bernd Wiesberger ($6,500) – Wiesberger is by far my favorite play in this price range, and hopefully his lack of name brand keeps ownership down. In his first Masters last year, he finished 22nd, and he’s popped up in majors before. He’s made three straight cuts on Tour and his form seems to be returning. Although his key stats don’t pop out this week, he is 42nd in SG:T2G and has decent Driving Distance. Wiesberger is held back by his putter most weeks, so hopefully he can find the touch he had last year around Augusta National. My motto this week: #FeelTheBernd.
Charley Hoffman ($6,400) – Hoff burned a lot of folks last weekend at Houston (myself included), which should lower his ownership a touch. But he finished 9th last year in the Masters, and was on the winning millionaire maker ticket. Hoffman is a player who is comfortable at certain venues, and Augusta National is one of them. He’s made seven consecutive cuts here and is a great value at this price considering his ability to bomb the ball off the tee and hit greens. If Hoffman can find the putting touch again, he should easily make the cut and potentially top-15 again.
Smylie Kaufman ($6,000) – First timers usually don’t do well here, but Smylie has flashed a ton of consistent game this year, even in stacked fields like the WGC-Cadillac. He’s a bomber who can dominate par 5s and make tons of birdies, and he seems to have the competitive fire it takes to compete in majors. Although he should be extremely popular this week, I can’t overlook his 14th in Par 5 scoring, 17th in Birdie %, 24th in SG:T2G, and 41st in Driving Distance.
Good luck this week!