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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: The Masters 2018

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Yes! At long last! Masters week is finally here in all its glory! Four days of pure heaven await golf fans, and it looks to be the most wide-open Masters in years. More than a dozen players legitimately believe that this will be their year. The smallest field in 20 years, only 87 players will tee it up this week.

Measuring more than 7,400 yards, Augusta National is a big boy golf course. There is essentially no rough on the course, but those very wild off the tee will be punished by either finding themselves in one of the many fairway bunkers… or worse, the trees. Vast and wildly undulating greens make Augusta National a severe test with the flat stick, which is why experience is so important. It can take years for players to get fully comfortable with the breaks on these wild greens. Last year, Sergio Garcia won in dramatic fashion, winning a playoff against Justin Rose to cap a fantastic four days of action.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 10/1
  • Rory McIlroy 10/1
  • Justin Thomas 11/1
  • Dustin Johnson 11/1
  • Tiger Woods 12/1
  • Justin Rose 14/1
  • Bubba Watson 16/1

It’s the most difficult Masters to pick a winner that I can remember. That’s reflected in the odds, with not one player in single digits. I could make an argument for the top dozen in the betting this week. My strategy is to take two from the top and one further down in the betting.

My first pick (and most confident pick) is four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods (16/1, DK Price $10,000). His comeback has been the story of 2018 without a doubt. All that’s missing is a W, and what better week to do it?

Contrary to what many experts are saying, Tiger’s destiny at the Masters doesn’t hinge on his driver. The reason he hasn’t won the Masters since 2005 is that he just hasn’t made enough putts. This year, he comes into the event looking as good as ever with the putter. He even putted great at the Valspar Championship, where many thought his unfamiliarity with the greens would hinder him. Tiger has gained strokes on the green in all five of his starts this season, and he sits first in the field for Strokes Gained Short Game over his last 12 rounds.

Of course, Tiger will have to drive it better. Although Augusta is a golf course where players can get away with some errant drives, Woods will know where his misses can and can’t be. He ranks 201st in driving accuracy this year, which is obviously poor. When he last won at Augusta in 2005, he ranked 191st for the season.

Woods’ iron play is back to its ruthless best. Over his last 12 rounds, he’s fifth for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green. Accuracy with the irons is always crucial at Augusta. Simply hitting the green is not good enough; you need to be dialed in. He’s a best price 16/1 and virtually a lock to be in contention. Should he continue to make the putts that he has all season, he’s going to have a great opportunity to claim his fifth Green Jacket.

Another man who is putting the ball superbly is Jason Day (18/1, DK Price $9,800). The Australian is back to his best with the flat-stick and ranks No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained-Putting. It’s not only his short game that has been stellar so far this year, either. Day is first for Total Driving, too. He has a win, a second-place and a top-25 finish to his name so far this year. I don’t take too much stock into his group stage exit at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. So many of the world’s top players failed at the volatile event. Garcia bombed last year at the Match Play, and he went on to win the Masters.

Not all parts of Day’s game are firing. His iron play has let him down so far this season. He’s taken the bold move to change irons this week, and should his iron play improve even slightly then it’s hard to envision him not near the top of the leaderboard. Day adores Augusta, and he has come so close to winning here in the past. Maybe he’s wanted it too much, but he’s a more mature player now and a major winner.

Augusta National couldn’t suit Day any better. There’s plenty of room off the tee, and he launches his irons so high. That’s a recipe for success at Augusta. Odds of 18/1 are too big, and Day can sneak under the radar and put himself in contention at yet another Masters.

My final pick is the man who donned the Green Jacket in the rain in 2013. Adam Scott (60/1, DK Price $8,000) has failed to kick on since that famous win five years ago, and that is represented in his price this week. Just as it is for Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson, however, Augusta National is a course that always seems to get the best from Scott.

Last season was one of Scott’s worst years on Tour, yet he still played well at Augusta. He finished with a T9 that could have been so much better had he just made a couple of putts. His putting is obviously his major weakness, but he does seem a little more confident on the bentgrass greens of Augusta where he knows all the little nooks and crannies.

Scott is seventh in the field for Strokes Gained Tee to Green over his last 12 rounds, and he believes that his game is good enough that an average week on the greens will see him back in the winner’s circle. At 60/1, he seems undervalued. While he faces an uphill task to beat the top players in the field, he’s the best bet available for players at 50/1 and above.

Recommended Plays

  • Tiger Woods 16/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Jason Day 18/1, DK Price $9,800
  • Adam Scott 60/1, DK Price $8,000
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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