2018 Masters Fantasy Preview
What a wild time of the year! Between MLB Opening Day, the conclusion of NHL and NBA, and GOLF there is a ton going on in the DFS landscape. It can be overwhelming to take it all in, but we've got you covered for the Masters this year. In addition to our Masters Betting Probabilities courtesy of DataGolf, we'll also have a Masters Podcast out, our PGA Pro Tip and fantasy projections for FanDuel and DraftKings.
But how about some free stuff first. Last year I took a look at what matters most at Augusta. While it wasn't a foolproof blueprint, it was enough to successfully flag Rory McIlroy as the highest rated golfer above $10000, along with projecting Garcia and Rose quite nicely. Of course, there were some misses too. With another year under our belt, we're here to tackle strokes gained correlation at Augusta. Here is my 2018 Masters Fantasy Preview.
In this article I will explore what statistics have been leading indicators to success at The Masters by drawing a correlation between Strokes Gained Statistics and Masters finishing position. While this won't give us a foolproof blueprint it will help us isolate common themes and areas to differentiate between players of similar skill to help with course fit and longshots. The process:
- Aggregate Masters data from 2010 to present
- Aggregate tournament data for PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters
- Push buttons
- Identify correlations for each year and in aggregate
- Overlay with the field
I spared you a lot of the pain that went into this but below you'll find the correlation between finish position and the main strokes gained metrics. It is worth noting that I focused on correlation to finishing position, and while finishing position is critical it isn't 100% aligned to DraftKings scoring which rewards birdies more than it penalizes bogeys. That said it certainly is a good place to start.
The first thing to note is that it isn't always consistent from year to year, so the inconsistency is just one indication of the variance and golf. It is also why focusing on statistics and one metric only isn't something you should be doing to find value. DataGolf's fantasy projections optimize a blend of long-term form, short-term form and course history that has been backtested to produce the most accurate projections they can. But any given week, so many golfers are projected within just 1-2 DraftKings points of each other so thinking about things like course fit is certainly fun and a nice way to break a tie.
But if you were to take away one thing from Augusta, golfers who are going into The Masters gaining strokes off of the tee will have higher finishing positions than those that don't. In fact, driving the golf ball is the only metric that shows importance at Augusta as a leading indicator regardless of the year. Driving the ball is critical at Augusta. Does this mean roster bombers? Well yes, generally I guess it does, but you can also find guys who pack an adequate punch and above average accuracy. So yes a Dustin Johnson should obviously be on your radar, but there are a lot of other players that should be as well.
Unfortunately strokes gained off the tee can only get us so far, as these are the best in the world and the lion's share do gain strokes off the tee to varying degrees. So if not JUST SG OTT then what?
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This, of course, leads us to Strokes Gained Approach, Strokes Gained Around the Green and Strokes Gained-Putting which still are important but in aggregate have only been equally important to driving the ball. There are a couple things that we can speculate are at play here but I want to get Strokes Gained Around the Green out of the way first. The metrics above would say that SG Around the Green actually hurts your finishing position at Augusta, which is downright foolish I tell you!
Of course, all things equal we want our golfers to be exceptional around the green, but the fact of the matter is many golfers with elite Off the Tee and Approach games just don't have the same short game. We definitely aren't going to be downgrading golfers with good short games because we aren't idiots! But it does mean we are sure as hell not going to cross off elite ball strikers like Sergio Garcia just because they can't flop it like Phil Mickelson. Do you know is better than having a great short game? Not needing a short game because you're stuffing approaches to 20 feet and firing birdie attempts towards the hole!
And last but certainly not least is Strokes Gained Approach and Putting, with the former carrying nearly 2x the weight. This makes some sense as we see guys like Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, and Charl Schwartzel as recent champions, not to mention defending champion Sergio Garcia far cries from the best putters in the world. The other thing to factor, of course, is that putting carries a high degree of variance on a week-to-week basis. It is challenging to use somebody's Strokes Gained putting results from this season to predict their success the rest of the season much less during a 1 tournament sample on the tricky greens of Augusta. This again doesn't mean you want to ignore good putters altogether but rather the data we have may not represent who the best putters truly are, and even if it does it will be hard to predict this week.
Of course, it is important to make your putts! But for all the hype of Augusta's greens, we have seen some "bad putters" win.
And of course last is worth noting that these things aren't 100% correlated with finish position so you shouldn't just mash a bunch of strokes gained metrics together to spit out your rankings. In fact, you shouldn't do any of that because DataGolf has already done it for you!
So how can we leverage this?
Well, starting at the top we can take a look at pricing tiers and odds buckets to find a couple players who rate highly in the blended stat metrics to come up with a "Fit" ranking.
It was no surprise to me that Dustin Johnson, the odds-on betting favorite at Augusta for the last several months lead the rating for this category. Of course, golf fans remember Dustin Johnson as the favorite heading into last year's event before the back injury left him forced to withdraw. Justin Thomas also should be able to take advantage of Augusta's Par 5s and is threatening to take over the world #1 ranking. His history at Augusta is unspectacular (39th and 22nd) but the same could be said of champions like Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott. Speaking of Sergio, he has been striking the ball beautifully on tour this year and recently had a baby girl named Azalea who is named after Augusta's 13th hole. While a defense of a green jacket is tough, Sergio looks primed to compete alongside several European Tour ball strikers who project just ahead of Bubba Watson.
The ball strikers identified in the $7000 to $8000 range also make for interesting tournament selections and sleepers, as Gary Woodland is the one person from this group with any experience at Augusta. Finau, Xander and Cantlay all should be on your radar as GPP plays despite the narrative of "1st timers at Augusta." A win? Surely that is unlikely, but it is unlikely from everyone priced in this range. A top 20 is surely possible, along with quality DraftKings scoring from Augusta's Par 5s. While it is unlikely that all pull through given their putting woes, they could make for guys that are part of your pool of players. And that leaves us with the intriguing value section, where Kevin Chappell headlines the group and showed merit with his 7th place finish last year. Bryson Dechambeau flirted with a Top 10 during his Augusta debut as an amateur before falling off on Sunday, but has been showcasing strong underlying statistics tee-to-green and is slightly under-priced due to his vegas odds.
As mentioned earlier, these stats are year-to-date and shouldn't be leaned on for your only analysis. For one, you should definitely consider a golfers current form and I would recommend checking out my Tableau view to take a deep dive into how recent form might be trending in our key metrics. But what they can do is help you frame your decision making and break ties between a world class field.
Good luck this week and be sure to check out all of our Masters content!
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