With the first major of the season teeing it up next Thursday in Augusta, GA and the first Fantasy Golf Millionaire of the year is upon us. All of the best players in the world converge on these events, pushing salaries of some of the elite players down and allowing you to draft a star studded DK lineup.
Whose skill set most closely aligns with the demands of the course? Who is playing the best right now? Who has the nerves to stand up to the back nine on Sunday? Answer these questions correctly and you could walk away from the weekend a bigger winner than whoever dons the green jacket… Almost. Good luck!
Jason Day ($11,600) – Coming off back-to-back wins at the Accenture Match Play Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, you could say Day is rounding into form at exactly the right moment. But the scary thing is, he didn’t even look his best in those tournaments, and he still stayed in front of loaded fields. He has finished inside the top-5 twice here before (2011 and 2013), so there is no reason to think he’ll be scared off by the track. He has won, and won, and won recently, often on the strength of his short game, and that ability to close out holes is exactly what will gain you strokes at Augusta. After finally breaking through with his first Major win last season, Day will be looking to add to his collection this weekend.
Bubba Watson ($11,400) – He didn’t do much at the Match Play Championship, but the two-time Masters Champ had won the Northern Trust Championship and had a 2nd place finish at the WGC-Cadillac in his two tournaments prior, averaging 68.25 strokes per round, without a single one over par. He was avoiding mistakes and taking advantage of his distance by finishing off holes with his short irons and putter. That’s exactly the kind of form he used to catapult himself to green jackets in 2012 and 2014, and he will come in primed to try for the hat trick this time around.
Phil Mickelson ($10,500) – Course history, right? Fifteen finishes inside the top-10. FIFTEEN! Eleven of those were actually inside the top ten, and three of them were thrilling victories. His last win here might have come in 2010, but he has two more top-five finishes since, including a T2 last year, when he couldn’t quite catch the red hot Jordan Spieth. But if you told him he could have last year’s -14 again, he’d take it – he’s won here with less. But, you say, even last year is ancient history when it comes to how someone is playing right now, and you’re not wrong. But right now, at age 45, he has three top-five finishes since the start of the year, including a -9 for a solo fifth at the WGC-Cadillac about a month ago. Currently sitting at fifth in the All-Around Rankings, to me, he’s one of the most obvious plays on the board if you’re filling out a roster for a cash game lineup.
Charl Schwartzel ($9,400) – He won the Valspar Championship a few weeks ago, and just a couple of weeks before that he took home the title at the Tshwane Open in South Africa. He birdied four of his last eight holes at Innisbrook to force and then win a playoff with Bill Haas, but it’s not as if we didn’t know he was a gamer. He might lose, but it won’t be the moment that gets to him. Another former winner, back in 2011, he hasn’t finished any higher than T25 here since, but he hasn’t entered the tournament with the recent track record of success that he has this season, either. He will clearly be looking to build on that momentum with a big finish here that can propel him into the summer. His GIR% currently sits exactly at 70%, good for somewhere right around 30th on Tour, a few percentage points behind the leaders, and making that kind of solid contact with your approaches is one sure-fire way to at least give yourself a shot at moving up the leaderboard as the weekend progresses.
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Louis Oosthuizen ($8,800) – He has maybe the prettiest swing on tour, but the best part about it is that it’s also one of the most consistent. It’s repeatable. You watch him hit those high, beautifully looping iron shots off the mat, and it seems like he could just do it forever. And then you realize…he kind of does exactly that. He has missed just one cut so far this season, in Dubai back in February. Since then, he had five of six finishes inside the top-15 heading into the Shell Houston Open. Those five stellar performances included a win over on the European Tour in February, and back-to-back top ten finishes in the States last month, at the Valspar Championship and at Accenture Match Play.
Marc Leishman ($7,900) – He finished T4 with a -5 here in 2013, and in his fourth appearance, he has the experience here to score well if he comes in feeling good. He did miss the cut in his other two starts here, so this is an upside play, but he has had a run of solid performances since over the last couple months, with a T5, T28 and T17 at the Northern Trust, WGC-Cadillac and Arnold Palmer, respectively.
“…heading into last weekend, he had played two tournaments in a row and finished with 18 birdies in each of them.”
Paul Casey ($7,700) – Top ten in GIR % on Tour currently, he has also been inside the top-20 here at August five separate times, including a T6 just last season (his third top-ten). Forget not winning a match last weekend – more important is the fact that, heading into last weekend, he had played two tournaments in a row and finished with 18 birdies in each of them. Those 36 birdies netted him a T9 at the Arnold Palmer and a solo-7th at the WGC-Cadillac, and a finish even in that vicinity would prove to be good value at this price.
Ian Poulter ($7,200) – He has been inside the top ten here twice in the last four years, including a T6 just last season. He also just finished tied for third at the Puerto Rico Open last weekend. I know the field was limited, playing opposite the Match Play Championship, but it still counts, and Poulter played very well, shooting 66-68 in the middle rounds to move his way up the leaderboard and secure you 90+ DK FP along the way.
Chris Kirk ($6,700) – He’s qualified for the Masters as a winner on Tour in the past year, where he has shown an ability to close out a weekend when he is playing well. And at the moment, he is playing just fine – last weekend, coming out of group play a winner at 2-1, then defeated Bill Haas before finally having to cede to McIlroy after playing him even through the first nine. The weekend before was a T12 at the Arnold Palmer without a single round over par. His maximum potential might be somewhere south of a green jacket, but you don’t even compete at Augusta if you don’t bring your best game and it appears that right now, Kirk might be poised to do just that and at least give himself a shot.
“The Masters has a tendency to let young stars shine on occasion…”
Emiliano Grillo ($6,700) – The Masters has a tendency to let young stars shine on occasion, even if it then takes them a number of years to actually break through and contend for a title (if they ever do). The 23-year-old Argentine has never played here before, and is bound to have a slip-up or two as he makes his way around the course. But he is inside the top-50 in the world in Greens in Regulation Percentage (GIR%) and inside the top 75 in the All-Around statistic. In other words, his whole game has been solid, but his approaches have been his bread and butter.
Bernd Wiesberger ($6,500) – He played here last year for the first time, and after a 74 on Thursday, he shot 70-70-71 to finish -2, good for T22. That little bit of experience goes a long way towards improving a guy’s comfort level walking out on that first tee, so hopefully he can avoid that one round over par that kept him out of the top-15. He is currently 3rd in GIR % and inside the top 50 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (a sister stat to the similar Putting metric the PGA Tour puts out), the skill set you need to survive a course like Augusta, but not necessarily thrive. You do have to close out those holes with some solid putting, but he has been doing that the past month or so as well. He finished T14 at the WGC-Cadillac, didn’t do a at the Match Play, but bounced back with a solid performance at the GC of Houston that was kept from being great by a 74 on Saturday.
Daniel Berger ($6,200) – Another first time player at the Masters, he is coming off a T28 at the WGC-Cadillac followed by a T11 at the Valspar Championship, a loss to Mickelson at Match Play and then a really solid showing at the Houston Open. He apparently injured his wrist after that defeat to Phil, but four straight rounds under par last weekend should alleviate any of those concerns. For a guy sitting at 50th in the world in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, with the kind of solid ball-striking ability you need to make sure you avoid all the biggest pitfalls at Augusta, he could still prove to be a great value at this price. Just avoiding mistakes will allow him to serve as a great cash game option, and if he can make a few putts like he did in Houston, he could give you plenty of upside as well.