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.
- Tiger Woods 16/1, DK Price $10,000
- Jason Day 18/1, DK Price $9,800
- Adam Scott 60/1, DK Price $8,000
Fantasy Preview: The 2018 Open Championship
The 147th Open Championship gets underway this week as 156 players launch their quest to capture the Claret Jug. The oldest and for many, most prestigious event returns to Scotland, where Carnoustie will host the tournament for the eighth time in its history.
The last time Carnoustie hosted The Open was 10 years ago when Padraig Harrington finished tied with Sergio Garcia at 7-under par after 72 holes. Harrington went on to outlast Garcia in a dramatic playoff to capture his first of two-straight Open Championships.
The weather is expected to be kind this year and the rough will less penal than it was in 2007, which should offer more birdies than it did in 2007. Carnoustie will measure just over 7,400 yards. With the course playing fast and firm, however, distance is not going to be an issue.
Strategy will be vitally important, and we’ve heard that players will be able to lay up on some of the holes by taking short irons off the tee. The likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy have all stated that they will be taking driver off the tee to eliminate many of the pot bunkers on the course. The reason for this comes down to the fact that the rough is playable this year, which allows for attacking golf. As with any Open Championship, players will need to have every single part of their game in shape for the difficult challenge that links golf always provides.
Last year, Jordan Spieth won the Claret Jug by playing his final five holes in 5-under to post 12-under and beat runner-up Matt Kuchar by three strokes.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Dustin Johnson 12/1
- Justin Rose 16/1
- Rickie Fowler 18/1
- Rory McIlroy 18/1
- Jon Rahm 20/1
- Jordan Spieth 20/1
- Tommy Fleetwood 22/1
Considerably cheaper in salary than both Spieth and Mcilroy, and only marginally more expensive than Fowler, Jon Rahm (20/1, DK Price $9,800) looks to offer excellent value this week at the top of the board. The Spaniard has shown he can play links golf very well, as he once again performed excellently in Ireland, posting a top-5 finish two weeks ago. Rahm now turns his attention to Carnoustie where he’ll be gunning for his first major championship victory.
Rahm comes into this event with a clear strategy. He’s going to play as aggressive as always and hit driver off the tee at every opportunity. Rahm believes the course layout and conditions will suit his explosive game. When you listen to his assessment of Carnoustie this year, it’s difficult to disagree with him. Speaking to the media this week, Rahm said:
“If you hit a good one with a driver, you’re going to have nothing to the green. If you hit the rough this year, it’s not as thick as other years. You actually get a lot of good lies, so you can still hit the green with confidence.”
With playable rough, Rahm should feel every bit as confident as he sounds about his chances this week, as the only thing that prevented him from winning in Ireland was the odd blow-up hole. But with his power allowing him to take the pot bunkers almost entirely out of play, combined with light rough, Carnoustie should be an excellent fit for him. Rahm’s experience in contention at Augusta earlier in the year should put him in good shape mentally as he attempts to win his first major championship, and if he can keep his volatile temperament in check, then Rahm has every chance of claiming the Claret Jug.
From the middle of the range prices this week, Francesco Molinari (33/1, DK Price $8,600) may be the safest man to add to your lineups. The Italian has been in imperious form lately, winning twice and finishing runner-up twice in his last five events. Molinari leads the field in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his previous 24 rounds and sits third in ball striking over the same period.
Molinari’s Open Championship record has been solid, making the cut in five of his last six appearances at this event. His best finish at this event is a T9 back in 2013 at Muirfield, where the conditions were also dry. Molinari enters this event in the form of his life, and the way he is hitting the ball right now, he looks primed for his best Open Championship performance yet.
A links specialist, Marc Leishman (50/1, DK Price $8,000) has performed excellently at this event in recent years. Leishman has recorded three top-10 finishes at the Open Championship in his last four appearances, and he looks reasonably priced to go well once again this week. An excellent wind player, Leishman will relish any wind that may descend on Carnoustie. With him being so adept at playing links golf, taking an expert at $8,000 seems a prudent play.
Leishman’s immediate form hasn’t been spectacular, but he has made five cuts from his last six events, including a runner-up finish at the Byron Nelson where he shot a brilliant 61 in the opening round. The Australian finished T13 at his previous outing at the Quicken Loans National, which shows his game is in solid shape. With his expertise on links courses, Leishman may well be able to conquer Carnoustie and finally get his hands on the Claret Jug.
Emiliano Grillo (200/1, DK Price $6,800) is undervalued this week. On DraftKings, with the books, everywhere. Grillo has been playing terrific golf lately, and Carnoustie should suit the Argentine’s clinical ball striking. Over his previous 24 rounds, Grillo sits 15th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, fifth in Strokes Gained-Putting, 17th in ball striking and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. Grillo has three top-25 finishes in his last four events, and he has shown he can produce his best golf at this event in the past, finishing T12 at Royal Troon back in 2016. At 200/1 and $6,800 on DraftKings, Emiliano Grillo looks the value play of the week.
- Jon Rahm 20/1, DK Price $9,800
- Francesco Molinari 33/1, DK Price $8,600
- Marc Leishman 50/1, DK Price $8,000
- Emiliano Grillo 200/1, DK Price $6,800
The Golf Engine predicts the top 25 finishers at The Open Championship
The field for the 147th British Open is set at the historic Carnoustie Golf Links. The Golf Engine modeled over 1,500 statistics tracked by the PGA Tour for every tournament dating back to 2004. We looked at how each stat contributes to what we can expect from players on this stage, at this tournament. It’s a complex web of information that can only be properly analyzed by a machine, yet yields some objectively surprising results.
This year’s British Open is no exception as the model is calling for Webb Simpson (125/1 odds) to make a run into the top 10 at least.
Back-to-back U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (22/1) inside the top 5.
Webb Simpson (125/1) and Phil Mickelson (66/1) inside the top 10.
Emiliano Grillo (100/1) inside the top 15.
Kevin Na (175/1), Luke List (125/1), and Ryan Moore (150/1) inside top the 25.
Perhaps just as surprising are the golfers that may under-perform this week. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood don’t make the top 10 cutoff. Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari who finished T2 at TPC Deere Run last week, and Sergio Garcia are all projected outside of our top 25.
Rory McIlroy (16/1) and Tommy Fleetwood (20/1) finishing outside the top 10.
Alex Noren (30/1), Francesco Molinari (33//1), and Sergio Garcia (28/1) all finishing outside the top 25.
A few more points of note:
It’s fascinating that Dustin Johnson gets the call for top dawg from both the oddsmakers and the model. No question he is the best player in the world right now, but it’s been a few years since DJ really contended (2011) in this tournament — and at a different course — Royal St George’s. He does have a pair of Top 10’s in 2012 and 2016 and has made the cut every year since 2009 (his first Open).
Justin Rose, not that his name doesn’t come up every year for this tournament, just that his style of play is generally considered to be different than the players on either side of him (Johnson and Koepka).
Speaking of Koepka, few are calling for him to win at Carnoustie though he does shows up inside the top 5 here…
Jordan Spieth, although winning this tournament last year – has not put up the best numbers of his already memorable career the past few months. Frankly I’m a little surprised the numbers bear this out…
Perhaps the third least surprising name to see on this list (aside from Johnson and Rose) is Rickie Fowler, aka: Mr. Consistency, aka: the Perennial Contender, aka: always the Bridesmaid. Rickie almost always brings his A-game, and the data suggests it suits this course well. Curious to see if this is the year his major championship drought comes to an end.
Webb Simpson might be the most surprising pick on this list. Clearly the model likes something about his game this year and the way he is set up for this tournament. A career-low 61 to open at The Greenbrier (his last start), T10 at the U.S. Open a month ago and earning his 5th career victory at The PLAYERS were each separated by missed cuts.
For a guy with short odds, Rory McIlroy to be projected outside of the top 10, which really speaks to the consistency (or lack thereof) of his game this season.
No love from the model for Matt Kuchar, Scotsman Russel Knox, Adam Scott, Ian Poulter, or Louis Oosthuizen.
|25||Charles Howell III||500/1|
|Odds Courtesy of Bovada|
View the projected finish of the entire 2018 British Open Field.
How the Golf Engine makes its picks
In golf, a pro matches up as much with the golf-course as another competitor. Which is why any attempt to predict the outcome of a golf tournament, must take into account the nuances of the course. Beyond conjecture made by the golf pundits, analyzing past and present data through the use of math can more accurately project future performance.
In this model, we use machine learning to evaluate 1,500 different statistics for every golfer on the PGA Tour over each tournament since 2004. The analysis of this massive dataset allows gives us an opportunity to predict players that are sitting on low round scores.
The machine learns how these statistics can become a unique strength or glaring weakness for each golfer by comparing tens of thousands of different combinations and separating the patterns from the noise. The resulting ‘model’ is able to ‘deep dive’ and determine when to expect low rounds from a pro, given their unique style of play. These calculations are next to impossible to do quickly and certainly without personal and subjective biases, until now.
Learn more about the author, Pat Ross.
I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?
We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?
“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning?
To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.
Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”
There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.
1) Give your body clear and precise feedback
What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?
In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.
When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.
As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.
“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”
To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.
Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.
Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.
If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.
2) Make your practice suitably difficult
When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?
The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.
Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”
Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.
We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.
If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.
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