Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Masters - Fantasy Picks

Three of the last four winners on the PGA TOUR are from Australia. Each played his way into the Masters with victory and is now rewarded with the bonus of experiencing life inside the ropes for the first edition in which a fellow countryman defends.

John Senden (Valspar Championship) was trailed by first-time winners Steven Bowditch (Valero Texas Open) and Matt Jones (Shell Houston Open). Along with fellow Aussie Jason Day (World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship), they represent all of the international champions in 2013-14. Toss is Marc Leishman, who shared fourth place at Augusta National Golf Club last year, and reigning Masters champion Adam Scott arrives fortified with charges from the world's smallest continent chasing consecutive titles in the season's first major.

What this sextet from Down Under -- 2013 U.S. Amateur runner-up Oliver Goss bumps Australia's contingent to seven -- will be preparing to play is the hardest par 72 on last year's PGA TOUR at 73.412. Capable of stretching 7,435 yards, Augusta National is largely considered a second-shot track on which length doesn't hurt. Scott placed a pedestrian T35 in par-5 scoring average, preferring small ball. He led the field in greens in regulation and ranked third in scrambling. He also co-led in par-4 scoring.

Augusta National averaged 286.6 yards off the tee in 2013. That wouldn't be notable other than that's its longest split since data was collected for the first time in 2002. Conversely and predictably, the field's driving accuracy landed at a six-year low at 65.00 percent. Otherwise, this week's field of 97 -- Tiger Woods is the only regular qualifier not competing -- will be facing precisely what the experienced will expect. Hitting greens is paramount (60.25 percent in 2013; 10th-lowest on the PGA TOUR); scrambling is challenging (50.82 percent; fourth); and penciling in pars on the par 3s (3.19; fourth) and par 4s (4.19; third) is sufficient. Those with working knowledge of the undulating greens are usually separated from those making their debut. It's the primary practical reason why the last first-timer to wear a green jacket was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Dangerous weather shut everything down midday on Monday, but the forecast for the tournament proper is borderline perfect. There is zero rain expected, temperatures will gradually rise into the low 80s by Sunday and winds will be occasionally moderate at worst.

  1. Adam Scott - Defending champ hasn't relented since his breakthrough with four more wins and another five top fives. Solo third (Bay Hill) in last start.
  2. Jason Day - Ready to go following an injury to his left thumb. Hasn't played since winning Match Play. T2 at 2011 Masters; solo third last year.
  3. Sergio Garcia - Trending maybe better than anyone else with 13 straight top 20s. T8 at 2013 Masters; T12 in 2012. In career sweet spot at 34 years of age.
  4. Rory McIlroy - Sustained late 2013 form, capped with T7 at SHO. Still unfinished business after 2011 meltdown at ANGC. Hasn't put four rounds together.
  5. Phil Mickelson - The three-time champ overcame pulled oblique to place T12 in Houston. That he played at all adds confidence to his placement here.
  6. Bubba Watson - The 2012 champion. First start since withdrawing from Bay Hill (allergies). Win and two T2s in previous three stroke-play starts.
  7. Charl Schwartzel - In first start as a father, T19 in Houston. Eleven top 20s in last 15 starts worldwide. Won 2011 Masters with birdies on last four holes.
  8. Zach Johnson - The 2007 champ has finished outside the top 30 in last five visits, but he's been consistently strong over last several months. T6 at VTO.
  9. Justin Rose - Rested since rare MC at Bay Hill. T8 the week prior at Copperhead. He's 8-for-8 at the Masters with two top 10s and another four top 25s.
  10. Graeme McDowell - Just 2-for-6 at the Masters, but both cuts made went for a top 20. Seven top 20s in last eight starts worldwide. Four top 10s in 2014.
  11. Brandt Snedeker - Locked in just in time. A T8 at Bay Hill ended a six-month drought sans a top 10. Four top 20s in last five starts at Augusta National.
  12. Jason Dufner - Progressively improving results at ANGC; T20 in third appearance last year. Top 15s in last three starts this season. T4 in par-5 scoring.
  13. Hunter Mahan - Returned from hip/back injury and placed T31 in Houston. Three top-12 finishes in last five appearances at Augusta National.
  14. Matt Kuchar - Twice bitten in Texas en route to a T4 (VTO) and P2 (Houston). Top 10s in last two trips to ANGC. Doubt lingers over closing ability.
  15. Dustin Johnson - Cited back stiffness following WD in Houston (after opening 80). No worse than T4 in previous three stroke-play starts. T13 here last year.
  16. Gary Woodland - Back at ANGC for the first time since an injury to his left wrist forced a WD in 2012. Top 20s in his last three starts entering this week.
  17. Bill Haas - Just off the radar for most of the season, but has two top 10s and another six top 25s. He's 4-for-4 at ANGC with career-best T20 in 2013.
  18. Jimmy Walker - FedExCup points leader is making his debut. Top 25s in eight of nine starts in 2014. Currently second in strokes gained-putting.
  19. Lee Westwood - May not have cracked this feature without a 2014-best T17 at the SHO. Three top 10s and a T11 in last four tries at Augusta National.
  20. Patrick Reed - A first-timer only as a competitor, but he has experience on Augusta National. Seven top 25s in eight starts in 2014. Two were wins.