2018 Masters Course Preview and DraftKings Picks
DraftKings Picks for the 2018 Masters
Course: Augusta National (Augusta, Georgia)
Yardage: 7,435 - Par 72
Field: Currently 86 players
Recent Masters Winners
Masters Winners In the Field:
Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson, Tiger Woods, Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Larry Mize, Ian Woosnam,
Finally! I’ve been counting down the days all through the month of March. It’s Masters week! This is already my favorite golf week of the year, and this year it just feels like there are endless storylines. Tiger is back, Justin Thomas is on fire, the lefties Bubba and Phil are ballin’ this year. Rory McIlroy won two weeks ago and is still chasing the career grand slam, Spieth and DJ have been wonky lately but can erupt at any moment, Jason Day is playing well again, Paul Casey is playing some of his best golf while his window to winning a major is simultaneously shutting...I can go on and on. The point is - the Masters is here and it’s going to be awesome.
The best players in the world will all be gathered in Augusta, Georgia this week for the first of the four majors. Unlike the other three majors, the Masters is the only one that is played at the same course year after year. This year, the Masters will have its smallest field since Tiger Woods won in 1997. Currently, the field is at 86 players. That can change if someone not currently invited wins the Houston Open or if someone gets a last minute special invite, which is unlikely.
The usual Top 70 and ties to make the cut is not how it works at Augusta. This week, players within the Top 50 plus ties make the cut. In addition, anyone within ten strokes of the lead also makes the cut, so there can be more than 50 players (and ties) making the cut. With only 86 (or 87) players entered that means you’re going to need to do a lot better than simply getting all six of your players past the cut to make a profit. There are a handful of players that really have no chance, such as the elder Masters winners and a few of the amateur qualifiers so realistically, there are 65-70 viable options to make a minimum of 50 spots for the weekend.
How do we separate the best players in the world and choose who to go with this week? Before we get into what type of golf game works at Augusta let’s just talk about the fact that you NEED TO KNOW AUGUSTA. Course history is important every week, but knowing Augusta is far more important than knowing the Golf Club of Houston. There are so many subtle bumps and breaks that the experienced players take advantage of, and the greens are so undulated and fast that missing approach shots in certain areas can lead to a certain bogey. No one has won in their Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, so buyer beware when spending on someone making their first appearance. There are outliers such as Jordan Spieth finishing runner-up in his first appearance, but if anyone out of the Masters newbies (listed below) reminds you of him, I’m missing out completely. We already knew Spieth was great when he made his debut.
Players Making Their Masters Debut
Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Dylan Fritelli, Shubhankar Sharma, Hao Tong Li, Patton Kizzire, Wesley Bryan, Austin Cook, Yusaku Miyazato, Satoshi Kodaira, Joaquin Niemann, Harry Ellis, Yuxin Lin, Doc Redman, Matt Parziale, Doug Ghim.
Augusta National is a Par 72 measuring a little over 7,400 yards. Players wind their way through the Georgia Pines to find some of the trickiest and fastest greens that anyone will ever play. The designer of the course, Bobby Jones, loved to hit a draw. As a result, nearly every dogleg on the course moves from players right to left. Generally, lefties love this layout as they can control a small cut far easier than righties trying to figure out the correct amount of draw to play their tee shots. Augusta doesn’t really have rough, it’s more like a first cut...tree cut.
Once you’re too far away from the fairway you’ll be in the pines hitting off the fallen pine straw. The pine straw has provided some of the most memorable shots in Masters History, (Spieth in 2015, Bubba in 2012, Phil in 2010) but far more often than not those outcomes won’t happen. Despite the lack of rough, I’ve watched too many Masters to overlook the fact that you can really screw yourself if you keep getting tangled in the trees. The only shots that wind up near the hole from the trees are the miracle shots. Most of the time players just take their medicine and punch it back out. Gaining in strokes gained: off-the-tee is necessary to have any type of success here, as not every shot off the pine straw will wind up like Mickelson or Bubba’s famous shots.
I’ve already mentioned the fact that these greens are fast, perhaps the fastest that players will face all year. Putting is important, but if a player is striking it well, gaining strokes putting isn’t the end all be all. I’m putting more value on strokes gained: around the green, rather than putting. Being 10 feet off the green isn’t just a routine up-and-down this week. You have to strike it well here, but even the best ball strikers only hit 70 percent of greens. So, in addition to solid ball striking, the players who can find the touch around the greens will have a great chance to be there on Sunday.
Augusta has the standard number of par 3s and 5s with four apiece. The Par 5s are really the place to score this week, with all four of them being reachable for certain players. Last year, Sergio Garcia won with a total of 9-under, and he was 8-under on the Par 5s for the week. In Jordan Spieth’s dominant 2015 win, he shot a total of 18-under, shooting 12-under on the Par 5s. The year before, Bubba was 8-under overall, and 8-under on the Par 5s. Getting the point? Gaining shots on the Par 5s and giving as few of them back as possible is the way to win here. Generally, the bigger hitters have a better chance to score on these holes, but a good short game can make up the difference for the shorter hitters. Par 5 scoring or birdie or better % Par 5s, take your pick; scoring well on them is the way to win.
As a golf fan, I can hardly describe how excited I am for this event. There’s a long list of golfers I’d love to see win and it feels like no matter what it’ll be an incredible story. We are in the midst of an interesting time in golf. The greatest players seem to be at the beginning or end of their prime. The days of having to be in your 30s to win a major are gone. Unless your name was Tiger Woods, the prime age to win a major was considered to be in your 30s. Major winners would rarely be younger than 30 or older than 40.
It's officially Masters week! pic.twitter.com/uC8uzIVZvq
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 2, 2018
Between 1996 and 2014 the only golfers younger than 30 to win the Masters were Tiger Woods, Trevor Immelman, and Charl Schwartzel. Mark O’Meara was the only golfer over 40 to win during that span. You can throw that statistic out the window. These young guns are better than ever, and the so-called elder statesmen can still get it done. Anyone from the age of 23 (Jon Rahm) to 47 (Phil Mickelson) can win this thing. It’s a battle between the old school and the new school. The new school will win more majors going forward, but that doesn’t mean anything for this year’s first major; it’s up for grabs.
Strokes gained: off-the-tee
Strokes gained: around-the-green
Par 5 Birdie or Better %/Par 5 scoring
Top Tier ($10K+)
Justin Thomas ($10,800) & Jordan Spieth ($10,400) - I’m going with the young guys up top. The other two options in this range are Dustin Johnson ($11,400) and Tiger Woods ($10,000). I hate going against DJ, but he played absolutely horrible in the match play. He finally won a major in 2016, but since then it’s been more of the same for him; he’s won seven non-major events. FedEx Playoff events? WGC’s? No problem. Yet when the most people are focusing on Dustin at the four golf majors, he’s only gotten it done once in 34 career starts. As for Tiger, I have him finishing somewhere between fifth and tenth, so he could be decent value at just $10K, but I’m not going to put a ton of stock into him.
I have Justin Thomas winning this year. He’s been on another level this season and can seemingly go 64 or lower at any tournament, majors included. Justin ranks inside the Top 10 in ball striking and is second in Par 5 birdie or better % making at least a birdie on 59 of the 100 Par 5s he’s faced this season. I can see him going 10 under on the Par 5s at Augusta and doing enough on the other 56 holes to wear the green jacket, making him a back to back major champion.
If Jordan Spieth was putting like Jordan Spieth this year, he would have won every tournament that he’s entered. Spieth, a Top 40 putter last year, and the second-best putter overall in 2016, ranks 172nd in strokes: gained putting this year. That’s just strange, and it’s bound to turn around sooner or later. Spieth plays his best when the lights are the brightest. Returning to the course where he put together his greatest performance should fill him with confidence. The best players play their best at the Masters, and except for one par 3 that Jordan would rather forget, he’s been nothing short of spectacular in golf’s first major.
Jason Day ($9,800), Phil Mickelson ($9,500), Justin Rose ($9,200) - Jason Day was the number one golfer in the world just over a year ago. A rough 2017 had him fall to 14th in the world before his win at the Farmers in January. Day has been playing some really solid golf this year, ranking inside the Top 40 in all of my key statistics. On top of that, he has a great track record at Augusta. He’s never finished worse than 28th and has recorded three Top 10 finishes including a runner-up finish in 2011, and a third place finish in 2013.
Mickelson knows it’s now or never. His track record at the Masters is undeniably the best in the field outside of Tiger with three green jackets. He’s notched 12 more Top 10 finishes on top of those with six of them inside the Top 3. In 26 career Masters, he’s been inside the Top 10 just under 58 percent of the time. With the way he’s playing this season, he gives me no reason to believe those odds are any different this year.
Justin Rose was a fraction of an inch away from being the reigning Masters champion. His putt on the 72nd hole lipped out last year and he would go on to lose to Sergio Garcia in a playoff. Rose certainly hasn’t forgotten how close he was to winning last year and he happens to be peaking just at the right time, finishing inside the Top 10 in five of his last six PGA Tour starts (excluding Houston Open). At $9,200, DailyRoto’s value optimization has him as a Top 10 value play this week. He’s been aging like fine wine when it comes to his play at Augusta. In his last three starts, he’s finished T-2, T-10, and solo runner-up last year.
Upper-Middle Tier ($7,600-$8,900)
Paul Casey ($8,800), Bubba Watson ($8,700), Hideki Matsuyama ($8,400), Alex Noren ($8,100), Henrik Stenson ($7,800) - Depending on how you construct your lineups you could have zero players in this range, or you can have all six players within this price range. With fifteen players to choose from here, I think there are a number of guys who have a legitimate shot to win it.
Paul Casey at 40 years old is playing some of his best golf yet. The only thing he hasn’t done in his career yet is win a major. DailyRoto thinks he has a real chance to change that and ranks him as the sixth best value this week. At $8,800 you get a golfer who’s playing great golf this year with a win under his belt and a great track record at Augusta. Between 2015-17 Casey has finished T-4, T-6, and sixth at Augusta. Everything points to a fourth straight Top 10 finish and given his recent play, he’s a real threat to win. Casey ranks 19th in Par 5 birdie or better %,11th in strokes gained: around the green, and third in ball striking. Age becomes irrelevant when you’re playing your best golf, and Casey appears to be doing just that.
Everything I said about Casey goes double for Bubba Watson. That’s because Watson already has two wins this season. Watson will also be 40 later this year. We know he can play great at Augusta and as he proved at Riviera last month, he can still outplay everyone with ease on courses he’s comfortable with. Watson is really getting off-the-tee well this year, ranking sixth in strokes: gained. He literally shaves a stroke off every time he plays the 13th hole at Augusta by just bombing it over the trees into the fat part of the fairway. He routinely hits 7 or 8 irons into the two par 5s down the stretch at Augusta, turning them into Par 4s. I’m expecting at least one eagle for him on one of the back nine par 5s this week, maybe even two.
Matsuyama is probably priced so low because of the fact that he’s coming off a wrist injury that forced him to withdraw at the Waste Management in February. At $8,400, I will certainly have him in a good number of my lineups. He’s still one of the most talented players in the field, and Augusta seems to suit him well. From 2015-17, he’s finished fifth, T-7, T-11. Players who play well at Augusta tend to do so consistently, and although he’s only 26, some would say Matsuyama is overdue for a major. He already has seven Top 10 finishes in majors. Sooner or later, one of those Top 10s will be a win.
Alex Noren has been one of the best ball strikers this year, ranking 16th in ball striking and sixth in Par 5 birdie or better %. He’s been quickly establishing himself as one of the best on the PGA Tour since the beginning of 2018. He began the year finishing runner-up at the Farmer’s to Jason Day after a six-hole playoff, finished third in the Honda Classic, and beat Justin Thomas in the third place match last week in Austin. That’s not a shabby resume, and his consistency makes him a very solid play for just $8,100.
Don’t forget about the Stensonator. Stenson put all the worrying minds at ease after his horrible play at the Valspar; he followed that performance up with a 64 at Bay Hill in the first round. His swing appears to be just fine, and his putter is looking good too He finished the week fifth in strokes gained: putting. When Stenson is on, he’s the best mid-iron player in the world. He knows this fact and plans it out accordingly. If that means clubbing down to a 3-wood so he can hit a 7 or 8 iron in, he’ll do it. This improves his accuracy off-the-tee.
Sleepers ($7500 and lower)
Brian Harman ($7,500), Adam Hadwin (7,200), Gary Woodland ($7,200) Kiradech Aphibarnrat ($7,100), and Kevin Chappell ($6,900) - Unlike most of my picks, Brian Harman doesn’t check the course history box. He’s had just one Masters appearance (2015) and he missed the cut. Brian Harman is a completely different player now and he’s played great golf over the past year. If Mike Weir can win the Masters, then Brian Harman can win the Masters. I’m not saying he will, but he definitely can. He’s no scrub and everyone knows this course favors the lefties who can play. Harman’s ball striking, and soft touch suggests he has a legitimate chance to put up a good performance this week. He’s 14th in ball striking this season, and 24th in strokes gained: around-the-green. Harman gains a good amount of strokes off-the-tee and is a very solid Par 5 player as well.
Adam Hadwin was one of the best putters last year. He’s been striking the ball magnificently lately and his putting, which is usually great, has been so-so. I’m going on the same assumption as Spieth that he’ll keep the solid ball striking this week and regain form with his flat stick. Even with his less than average putting lately, over his past three starts he’s finished 12th, ninth, and sixth. He made the cut in his first ever Master’s start last year, finishing T-36. That’s not hugely impressive, but he’s not a rookie here anymore.
It’s time for big Gary Woodland to start making some noise at majors. His career record at majors is not impressive, but he’s no newbie here; this is his sixth Masters appearance. Woodland ranks number one on tour in ball striking and has at least birdied half of the par 5s that he’s faced this year; that includes a handful of eagles. He should be able to dominate the Par 5s. If he can play the rest of the course even, he could be right at the top.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat may fly under the radar since he’s relatively new to the American golf scene. Don’t get it twisted, though, the big man can play. This is his second career Masters start. His first start in 2016, he finished T-15th impressively. He’s proven he can play well in strong fields over here, finishing fifth in the WGC-Mexico Championship, and losing in the quarterfinals to the steamroller that was Bubba Watson last week.
Kevin Chappell finished seventh in the Masters last year, and he’s on the right track to contend again, finishing no worse than T-31 since last November. Chappell is the perfect sleeper to grab if you want to beef up the top of your roster. He’s been automatic off-the-tee, ranking third in strokes gained, and is a Top 20 ball striker this season. Chappell should pay off in value. He has a relatively high floor and as he proved last year, a pretty high ceiling.
Justin Thomas Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay
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