This Masters is full of anticipation and storylines. Rory is going for the career grand slam, and seems to be finding his form after a rib injury. Dustin Johnson is clearly the man to beat, and comes to Augusta having won his past three events. Jordan Spieth missed the cut in Houston, but has posted 2nd, 1st, and 2nd place finishes at Augusta. Jason Day has been out of form and batting personal off-the-course issues with his family, but seems primed for this week. Phil's playing well, which is always fun. Then we have the first-timer's curse: no Augusta debutant has won since 1979. This year, we have several guys who can overcome that curse, namely Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters, and Alex Noren.
Augusta National is a course where I'm heavily weighing course history and tournament experience. First-timers have a poor track record here, but I mentioned a list of debutants that I could see cracking the top-10 this week. 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. If you break up the strokes gained stats even further, off-the-tee play has the biggest correlation with finishing position at Augusta. It makes sense, as most of the recent bombers who have won the Masters are guys who gain the most strokes off-the-tee (Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, etc.). I'll be looking at short game play as well, but it will be weighed less than off-the-tee and approach shots.
Roster construction is going to be very difficult this week. Odds are, one of the top guys will win. Odds are also that several of the top guys will finish inside the top-5 this week. My suggestion would be to pair two studs on each team, and try to find the value plays / sleepers who can crack the top-10 (at least in terms of fantasy scoring). Also, because this is a limited field, a high percentage of the field will make the cut. This allows us to be a little riskier in terms of picks.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren't going to target birdie or better percentage, because that's what fantasy golf scoring is all about. There's going to be plenty of bogeys this week, so we need birdies to offset the damages. Guys like Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, and Hideki Matsuyama come to mind in this week's field when targeting birdie makers. It's possible to have a player finish top-10 in fantasy points while not finishing anywhere close to the top-10 in the actual event.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): There's no doubt that ball-striking and GIR% are huge at this venue, and that's clear in past leaderboards. Because of the firm and windy conditions, the iron play is going to be a major key this week. Keeping your ball on the right portions of greens will eliminate three putts. There's going to be an edge to bombers, but targeting solid iron players is also important for me this week. If you have a player who sticks approach shots inside 10' consistently, he's going to shoot up the leaderboard and contend on Sunday. Some names that stand out in the field are Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, and Kevin Kisner.
Par-5 Scoring (P5): Par-5 scoring is going to be key this week, and I think the winner will be the player who leads the field in par-5 scoring. This could mean a bomber who makes a couple of eagles, or an elite wedge player. Either way, I think looking at par-5 scoring on the season will be a great pointer towards success this week. Some players who popped out to me were Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, and Thomas Pieters.
Strokes Gained Off-The-Tee (SG:OTT): I wanted to target driving distance alone this week, but I think SG:OTT is a more comprehensive metric overall. You're going to see an edge towards bombers in this stat, but it also considers extremely accurate drivers. I think it's a much better metric than total driving or even good drive percentage. Names that stood out to me in this field were Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson, and Justin Rose.
1. DUSTIN JOHNSON [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #1
You can't put anybody else but DJ in the #1 spot, as he's coming off three consecutive winds: the Genesis Open, the WGC-Mexico, and the WGC-Match Play. He drives the ball farther and straighter than anyone, and he's dialed in with his wedges and putter. DJ finished 6th and 4th at Augusta the past two seasons, and is the odds-on favorite. The only concern is he is part of the bad weather draw, where he'll be contending with the strongest wind gusts on Thursday afternoon.
2. RORY MCILROY [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #2
Like DJ, Rory received the bad end of the weather draw, but he has enough experience (and good rounds) in windy conditions for my confidence to still be high. Rory finished 7th at the WGC-Mexico, 4th at Bay Hill, and comes into Augusta seeking the career grand slam. Rory is doubly motivated to regain control of the Tour, which is now DJ's playhouse. He leads the Tour in strokes gained-off-the-tee, and is one hot putter away from torching this field. Rory has posted three consecutive top-10s at The Masters.
3. JUSTIN ROSE [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #13
I've saved my hot take until now, but here it is: Justin Rose will win the 2017 Masters. It's been a weird season for Rose, who has strung together a bunch of high finishes while struggling with his iron play. He's been an elite ball-striker throughout his career, so I think a bounce back is in order. Rose hasn't missed a cut at Augusta in his career, and has posted 10th, 2nd and 14th place finishes the past three seasons. Everything is lining up for him, and some bad weather may put the Brit over the top this week.
4. JORDAN SPIETH [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #6
Decent course history here: 2nd, 1st, 2nd in his three appearances. Both times he finished runner-up, Spieth had control of the tournament midway through Sunday. He's an elite short game artist, but has shown leaks in his game off-the-tee and with his short irons. That was evident last week in Houston, where Spieth's second round 77 led him to a MC. This place is special for him, so there's little doubt Spieth will be in contention Sunday.
5. JON RAHM [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #14
1st, 16th, 5th, 3rd, and 10th in his last five starts, which includes two World Golf Championships. Rahm is the next superstar in golf, and excels with a mix of power, elite iron play, and clutch putting. He's a rookie at Augusta, but I'm sure he's had plenty of practice rounds and guidance from fellow Europeans to learn his way around. He's paired with Rory for the first two rounds, and drew the bad end of the weather. Either way, Rahm is a top contender this week.