One of the reasons I love daily fantasy is that it can enhance the excitement of watching virtually any sporting event. Even when you lose, the game was just a little more interesting, held your attention just a little more.
And one of the many reasons I love the Masters is that it doesn’t need any help being spellbinding. The best players in the world will be playing in front of a gorgeous backdrop that will make you dream about summer, no matter what the weather is like at your house. They’ll be playing fairways and greens that are steeped in history, surrounded by living legends in the clubhouse – and sometimes on the course.
And when you’re talking about the Masters, don’t mistake “living legend” for “old-timer with no real shot.” Tiger has won here four times, and has finished in the top five seven other times. That’s eleven total top-5 performances. THAT is a living legend. And while I might not recommend him for anyone’s daily lineup after a recent string of injuries and bad play, I am also not comfortable telling you he has “no shot.” Tell that to his 4th place finish in 2013, or to the 71-71 Fred Couples opened with last year.
There are many ways to qualify for the Masters, if you’re one of the best golfers on the planet. And some of the ways that is is possible lead to a field that is at once deep and imposing, while still being, in a way, charming. The top 50 ranked players right now, plus the top 50 at the end of last season gives you a good cross section of players to start with. Then you add in seven different amateur champs from around the world, all of the former Masters winners who have a lifetime exemption to play in this tournament, and all of the players who qualify in a myriad of other ways, and you get this great mix of players: old and young, American and European and Asian and Australian, all with the talent to earn their way in.
With these kinds of qualifications, you end up with a field which has (in almost every case) either had past success on this course, or recent success elsewhere. In other words, they all have legit reasons to trust them. So, when you’re drafting your team, you end up having to go with your gut, to a certain extent, because there is a way to justify a lot of different picks.
You all want to pick the guy who is going to end up donning the green jacket, but remember, you are playing fantasy golf. Picking the winner certainly isn’t going to hurt your chances, but there is a cut, and you want all your guys on the weekend side of it. This is also a place where, even though the winner is often a number of strokes under par, anyone can get bitten by the intricacies of the course, and you will see scores in the high seventies on a bad day.
Augusta National presents a number of unique challenges, with distance, iron accuracy, chipping, and putting seeming to take turns being the skill you need most to succeed. Think about hole #2, the first par five, which big hitters can reach in two with a perfect drive down the left followed by a ridiculous approach shot over two bunkers, off a down-hill lie. Or think about hole #5, where the 450+ yard par 4 makes you want to nail a huge drive to put yourself in good shape, until you notice the string of fairway bunkers placed right around that 300 yard mark. This entire course is about making players make trade-offs, forcing them to decide whether to even try for that birdie. And that’s without even mentioning 18, where the drive needs to be long, without being right or left, just for the privilege of needing another perfect mid-range iron to give yourself a shot at a negative number.
Suffice it to say, what you really need are guys who will take advantage of the scoring chances when they present themselves, without allowing the big bad blowup holes to sneak up on them. And this means something pretty basic: you need guys on your team who can make shots and sink putts. This can be the moment to turn to more modern stats – the advanced metrics of the PGA world. Stokes Gained – Putting is a way to rank, with a single number, a way to measure the putting efficiency of a player, NOT, for once, in a vacuum. Instead, each player’s effectiveness is compared to the effectiveness of every other player on the same holes in the same tournaments. This kind of thing is only possible with modern technology telling you the precise spot from which each player was putting, and the slope and the… you don’t have to worry about all of that. You can trust the number, and you can use it – that’s what it’s there for. And some of the names at the top of the list are not surprising: Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, and Jordan Spieth all appear in the top five. And the same stat now exists for tee-to-green measurements, and, again, the names are not surprising: Dustin Johnson, Stenson, Matsuyama, Spieth, and Bubba Watson.
I mention those names not to tell you to try to fit Stenson and Watson and Spieth all into your lineup – although it would be nice. I tell you the names because the stats are new, but you know those names, know those guys are good, so you should now know you can trust those numbers. They are, clearly, reflecting what’s actually happening on the course, which is the point. So as you get further down the list, use that to your advantage. When you see that Zach Johnson is coming in at #18, with numbers about halfway between Jimmy Walker and Jason Day, two guys much higher than him on the price list, maybe this stat makes the value more obvious. Or when you see that Matt Kuchar has dropped 30+ slots in the last few weeks, you start to wonder if his game is tight enough right now to make a push up the leaderboard this weekend.