81st Masters Preview

04-04-17

Danny Willett defends his championship but Dustin Johnson is the morning-line favorite.

Gamers, you’ll also need to keep an eye on the forecast before submitting your lineups!

 

81st Masters

 

Augusta National Golf Club

Augusta, Georgia

 

Augusta National

 

Yards: 7,445 per the official scorecard

Par: 72 (36-36)

Greens: Bentgrass; 6,486 square feet on average

Rough: Ryegrass; 1.375″

Course Architect(s): Alistair MacKenzie (1933); Perry Maxwell & Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. (1934); Tom Fazio (2001).

Purse: $10 million; $1.8 (winner) in 2016; prize pool announced later in the week; 600 FedExCup Points.

Defending Champion:  Danny Willet fired a final round 67 to defeat Jordan Spieth and Lee Westwood by three shots to win his first major championship and first title on the PGA Tour.

 

Notes:

  • 94 players; 72-hole-stroke play.
  • Top 50 and ties plus anyone in 10 shots of the lead make the 36-hole cut. This rule was instituted in 2013.
  • All groups tee off on hole No. 1 all four days and play the course in proper order. Split tees will only occur after extreme weather conditions.

 

 

2016-17 Winners

 

Frys.com: Brendan Steele

CIMB: Justin Thomas

WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama

Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**

Shriners: Rod Pampling

OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez

RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**

SBS TOC: Justin Thomas

Sony Open: Justin Thomas

CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*

Farmers: Jon Rahm*

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama

AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth

Genesis Open: Dustin Johnson

Honda: Rickie Fowler

WGC-MC: Dustin Johnson

Valspar: Adam Hadwin*

Arnold Palmer: Marc Leishman

WGC-Match Play: Dustin Johnson

Shell Houston: Russell Henley

 

*First-time winner

**First-time winner AND rookie winner

 

 

Previous Champions

Since 2000

 

2016: Danny Willett; 283

2015: Jordan Spieth; 270

2014: Bubba Watson; 280

2013: Adam Scott; 279*

2012: Bubba Watson; 278*

2011: Charl Schwartzel; 274

2010: Phil Mickelson; 272

2009: Angel Cabrera; 276*

2008: Trevor Immelman; 280

2007: Zach Johnson; 289

2006: Phil Mickelson; 281

2005: Tiger Woods; 276*

2004: Phil Mickelson; 279

2003: Mike Weir; 281*

2002: Tiger Woods; 276#

2001: Tiger Woods; 276#

2000: Vijay Singh; 278

 

*playoff

# not playing this week

 

 

The Particulars:

 

This week will provide a stern test but one that is well beyond fair. Augusta National Golf Club provides multiple challenges throughout the bag, the mind plus the body and spirit. As with all great golf courses, there is always more than one way to get it around and Augusta qualifies quite easily.

Players who are accurate off the tee, bombers, ball-strikers, short-game-artists and all of the “others” will have to navigate severe elevation changes, slick Bentgrass, uneven lies in the fairways, closely mown areas around the greens and plenty of false fronts.

Experience pays at Augusta for a multitude of reasons. The course hasn’t gone under any major changes since 2001 so experience pays. Those who have the greens mapped and the yardage books filled won’t have as much to worry about. Those who have dealt with the massive crowds and the pressure on the weekends will also have a point of reference.

Bobby Jones wanted his tournament to be won on Sunday on the back nine but you’ll have to get there first. Augusta National rewards aggressive shot makers just as much as it penalizes the errant and that’s what makes this event fantastic. Old guys can plod it around and score. Young guys can it a mile and do the same. All of them will have to handle the pressure, crowds, ghosts and expectations that go along with it.

 

Facts and Figures:

  • Tournament Record: 270 (-18); Jordan Spieth (2015) and Tiger Woods (1997). Spieth is the only player to get to 19-under-par ever.
  • Course Record: 63; Greg Norman (1996) and Nick Price (1986).
  • Successfully defended: Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02).
  • Multiple winners: No one has won more than Nicklaus’ six green jackets; 17 multiple champions with Bubba Watson being the last in 2014.
  • Wire-to-wire winners: Just five all time; Spieth, 2015 was the first since Ray Floyd in 1976.
  • The Par 3 Tournament winner has never won the tournament.
  • First PGA Tour winner: Danny Willett (2016) and Charl Schwartzel (2011) are the only two this century.
  • First-Time Participant winner: Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) is the only winner outside of the first two Masters to win on his first attempt.
  • Second-time winners: Charl Schwartzel, Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett are the three most recent examples of five total.
  • Largest margin of victory: Tiger Woods (1997) 12 shots.
  • Oldest winner: Nicklaus at 46 (1986).
  • Youngest winner: Woods at 21 (1987).
  • American winners: 10 of last 17.
  • Gary Player was the only international winner prior to 1980. The tournament began in 1934.
  • English winners: Faldo and Willett.
  • South African winners: Gary Player, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel.
  • Spanish winners: Jose-Maria Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros twice each.
  • German winner: Bernhard Langer, twice.
  • Australian winner: Adam Scott.
  • Canadian winner: Mike Weir.
  • Scottish winner: Sandy Lyle.
  • Of the last 11 winners, six played the week prior.
  • Phil Mickelson is the last player to win the Masters while winning the week prior. He’s one of only four in history.
  • Rory McIlroy is the last player to win the week prior and follow it up with a major (2014 WGC-BI & PGA Championship).
  • Average winning age is just over 35.
  • Average first-time winning age is just over 31.
  • Biggest come-from-behind margin (at any stage): nine shots; Jack Burke, 1956.
  • Biggest final round deficit: seven shots; Tiger Woods, 2005 and Sir Nick Faldo, 1996.
  • Lowest total by a first-timer: Jason Day; 274, 2011 (T-2).
  • Most needed before winning: 15; Mark O’Meara (1998).
  • Most birdies: 28; Spieth, 2015.
  • Most birdies, round: 11; Anthony Kim, 2009.
  • The top five in 2015 were all double digits under par. #SoftWet
  • The top six in 2016 were the ONLY players under par. #DryWindy
  • Last year, only 2 players (McIlroy & Westwood) had more than 2 rounds under par (3 each).
  • The top 12 finishers will qualify for the 2018 Masters.

 

 

The Course

The layout over the last two years has highlighted the very best and very difficult.

In 2015, Jordan Spieth took advantage of wet conditions and became the first player ever to reach 19-under-par. His 270 total tied Tiger Woods for the tournament records and his 28 birdies set a new mark.

By three.

In 2016, blustery conditions saw that only six players were under par for the week.

This year looks to be a combination as Monday was almost entirely washed out and Wednesday’s forecast doesn’t look much better. Where the rain will move out of the area after Wednesday, steady winds and cool temperatures will be the order of the day both Thursday and Friday before “normal” Georgia Spring arrives on the weekend.

The rain taken on Monday and Wednesday should make the course play longer. The wind direction, along with gusts up 40 mph possible, will make it play even longer as three of the four par fives play directly into it. This matters because the three easiest holes on the course (Nos. 13, 15 and 2) will become longer, wetter and windier (see: bombers).

The formula this week will be interesting because of the forecast. If the course is going to have its easiest holes play into the wind, you better roster guys who can take advantage. If not, you better have great wedge players and putters a la Zach Johnson 2007. Remember rain and cool temps don’t make the golf ball travel. Multiple layers make it hard to swing it and the physics of water and wind with the golf ball isn’t favorable either. Just ask Bubba Watson.

For the folks who don’t believe in course form, and there’s quite a few prominent names this week pointing this out, I’ll remind you of a couple of points:

Charl Schwartzel birdied the final four holes to win in his second try in 2011. That’s it. Just four birdies in the final four holes. No biggie.

Jordan Spieth finished T-2 to Bubba Watson in his first visit. He’s hardly normal so his results aren’t normal either. He’s never finished outside of top two in three tries. #Nicklausian.

Danny Willett won on his second visit on a course that allowed one round in the 60’s on Friday or Saturday. His bogey-free 67 on Sunday was something special but hardly four rounds of brilliance. Don’t forget Jordan Spieth whacking a few in the drink gave him a nice cushion as well!

That’s two amazing back nines and one historically, potentially, great player that have skewed the numbers recently. I’d point out that Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer, two OLD DUDES, have contended here in the last five years and it’s not because they’re hitting it past Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy.

Balance the experience with a sprinkle of youth and you should be right in the hunt this week.

 

 

The Field

 

Favorites

in order of preference for this week and this tournament

 

Dustin Johnson: Nobody has won the week before the Masters since Phil Mickelson at TPC Sugarloaf in 2006 but luckily for DJ he WD last week before things got started in Houston. He enters the week off three wins in his last three. He’s hitting it great. He’s putting it just as well. The total package has been on display. For me it’s hardly a coincidence that his best two finishes at Augusta, T-6 in ’15 and T-4 last year, have come during the peak playing of his career. I don’t think you’ll find a better wind/weather player either so that’s my tiebreaker this week.

 

Jordan Spieth: With nothing outside of the top two in three tries, I’d suggest his game is quite suited for such a track and occasion. Some will suggest that hole No. 12 will be his white whale but anyone who thinks he’s that mentally weak will probably be disappointed. He’s not long but he’s long enough. He’s not accurate but he leads the Tour in GIR. Bet against him at your own peril on this track regardless of conditions. Remember, he’s mentioned more that once that he doesn’t mind playing in the wind as he prefers to work his ball with and against it. Oh, and he’s from Texas.

 

Rory McIlroy: Whereas Spieth has to allegedly deal with one hole, McIlroy has his share of scar tissue at the Masters as well. For all of his under-par rounds (19 from 30) it is his “others” that stand out and are remembered. His 80 on Sunday saw him throw away a four-shot lead and finish T-15 in 2011. In 2014 he co-authored the best weekend total (140) but his second round 77 pushed him too far off the pace (T-8). He sat alone in second last year after 36 holes but his 77 paired with Spieth on Saturday again killed his chances. A win this week would be his first and the career Grand Slam. I’ll still argue his best is THE best on Tour and he’s proven before in wet and windy conditions (Congressional, Kiawah Island, Valhalla) that he can do the business.

 

Rickie Fowler: It would not surprise me one bit to see him sneak in the back door while the three guys above are fighting for the limelight on the weekend. His numbers this season are off-the-chart through the entire bag and his results have reflected that. He racked up 27 birdies last week in preparation at the SHO and with six previous trips the last six years under his belt, the stars just might be aligned. He’s excellent tee-to-green and he leads the Tour in scrambling among other categories so don’t let his ONLY MC (80-73) last year scare you away.

 

Justin Rose: The Englishman, like most of his countrymen, loves the 18 at the end of Magnolia Lane. He’s 11 weekends from 11 tries and 10 of his last 17 rounds here are 70 or lower. I love that he can play this track in any conditions and that he loves difficult courses (T-4 Riviera and Torrey Pines). The U.S. Open and Olympic champ won’t mind a bit of pressure either.

 

Jason Day: Fantasy golf is not played in a vacuum so let’s not pretend real golf is either. There are multiple factors that go into decision making and sadly life and death can be part of that. Day has proven he can win and contend when he’s not at his physical best (2016 WGC-Match Play; 2015 U.S. and British Opens) but now we’ll see how his game translate when he’s not at his best mentally. Or maybe he is because his mother’s surgery went well. Are you confused yet? Since we’ll never know the answer, I’m leaning on the wounded/hurt/grieving golfer who has had time to clear his thoughts and mind. I would suggest that he’ll be quite focused this week because he’s finally gotten everything off of his chest.

 

Jon Rahm: I refuse to buy anything except that he’s about one thing and one thing only: winning. Tim Mickelson doesn’t quit his job to become his agent if he’s “decent”.  The Spaniard won at Torrey Pines in less than optimum conditions this year on a course where very few kids do well. The last kid to do well on his debut was Spieth and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Rahm follow in his footsteps. Every course Rahm has seen for the last year has been “new” to him and his record is quiet fantastic. To make up for lost time and get the Cliff’s Notes he’s playing Tuesday with Jose-Maria Olazabal and Phil Mickelson. #Bueno.

 

Phil Mickelson: I can’t leave out 15 top 10’s and 17 top 25’s from 21 weekends. He’s healthy and he knows this place like the back of his hand. I absolutely love that he played last week and chopped it all over the park and holed absolutely nothing. He came in last year playing very solidly and went home Friday evening. He still has plenty of pop and without Tiger Woods playing he’ll be the crowd favorite. At 46 he would tie Nicklaus as the oldest winner.

 

Paul Casey: Since his “return” in 2015 he’s carded five of his eight rounds in the 60’s and has racked up finishes of T-6 and T-4. The Englishman has posted T-11 or better in five of seven visits to the weekend from 11 tries. He closed here last year with a bogey-free 67 like his victorious countryman.

 

Bill Haas: If par is going to be a solid score the first two days, I’ll lean on the guy who makes par for a living. His ball-striking is where he makes his cash and this track fits his eye. He’s played the last seven years and never missed the weekend. The last four years he’s been T-24 or better and he enters off third place at the WGC-Match Play. Don’t discount his dad’s influence as Jay made 19 of 22 cuts here in his storied career.

 

Adam Scott: Turd in a punchbowl for gamers last week as his Tour-best streak of avoiding MC came to a crashing halt. The gamer in me has to wash that off and move on to a course where he’s the only many from his country to don the green jacket. The three years he did not play the SHO and he’s regressed each year (T-14, T-38 and T-42) so I’m excited he’s trying something different. The 2013 champ has Steve Williams on the bag and has been making more putts than normal so he’s on my radar this week.

 

Brandt Snedeker: Windy? Sure. Experience? Yep. Scar Tissue? Oh yes. Sneds entered the final round in 2013 tied with Angel Cabrera and fired 75 to wind up T-6. If he gets in that spot again, I wouldn’t have any problem backing him up. His past successes at Torrey on a big, windy golf course won’t scare me off either. He’s racked up three top 10’s from nine starts here.

 

Louis Oosthuizen: His ninth year in a row at Augusta and his last five have been the best. Of his last 18 rounds, 13 are par or better including seven of his last eight. He was the hard-luck loser to Watson in 2012 in a playoff so he won’t mind a fight on Sunday afternoon. His last MC was The Open last summer so he’s churning along. Don’t let him fly under your radar.

 

Lee Westwood: Here’s more proof that short game and putting isn’t the only way to skin the cat as Westwood has never been accused of being great at either. He is great tee-to-green and that translates here as he’s finished T-11 or better in six of the last seven years including T-2 last year. Nobody can “fake it” for that long of a stretch! This will his 18th adventure (14 weekends) so he’ll have plenty points of reference and experience to rely upon.

 

Daniel Berger: He used his top five finish at SHO last year to springboard him to a top 10 (T-10) in his first visit to Augusta. He racked up another top five at Houston this year and it wouldn’t surprise me if he carried on again.

 

Justin Thomas: There’s something wonderfully all-or-nothing about him that keeps me coming back. He closed with 71 last year on Sunday that was the best of his first four rounds at this event. He’s done his “one” trip around and with three wins already this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if he joined the “second time” club. His length and the absence of penalty for missing fairways will play to his advantage this week.

 

Marc Leishman: He’s hit the podium here before but this is the first calendar year where he arrives with a win under his belt. His victory at Bay Hill on slick greens and his T-9 at Match Play should have his confidence freed up. He also won’t mind a bit of wind as his track record in that department is strong.

 

Hideki Matsuyama: His recent form scares me to death as he’s been too quiet for my liking since his win in early February defending at WMPO. His ball-striking keeps me coming back for the hit though and his back-to-back top 10 here says he can make putts on these greens. This will be his SIXTH trip to Augusta. Not bad for the 25-year old!

 

Kevin Kisner: He’s hit the top 25 in six of seven starts in calendar 2017 including T-2 his last time out in stroke play at Bay Hill. The key this season has been his ball-striking as he currently sits ninth in SG: Tee-to-Green. He’s made it no secret in the past that his preferred surface is Bermudagrass but he’s an excellent putter regardless.

 

Ross Fisher: His last 11 worldwide starts have hit the top 10. His last two, both WGC events, have been T-3 and T-5. Rookie gamers will forget that Fisher played this event four times from 2009-12 and made three cuts. He hits it a mile and most Englishmen don’t mind a bit of wind and foul weather. Don’t forget that six of his 14 rounds here are in red figures.

 

 

Next Tier

with the top 50 and ties making the cut, it’s time to get picky

 

Zach Johnson: He’ll take cold and blustery at this event every year after his 2007 victory. He has the history to win in those conditions and has the map to remember. He’s MC two of the last three years but only two of his eight rounds in that span are over par. #80-78.

Tyrell Hatton: His worst finish in 2017 is T-17 at WGC-Match Play. His worst finish in 2017 stroke play is T-13. His other four events are top 10’s. If that’s not enough proof, he finished T-5 at Muirfield and T-10 at T-5 at Baltusrol in his only two majors last year.

Adam Hadwin: He’s rattled off 10 in a row including his first victory at Valspar. He backed that win up with solo sixth at Bay Hill as he needed to grab as much cash as possible before his wedding! He cancelled his honeymoon to play his first Masters this week. The Canadian won’t mind a bit of cool and I won’t mind his solid ball-striking numbers and excellent putting.

Russell Henley: Coming in HOT! His win at the SHO last weekend included a big comeback, a hot putter (led the field in SGP) and a ton of birdies, 27, which led the field. This won’t be his first trip so he won’t be overwhelmed. He’s also a quick learner as he’s MC, T-31 and T-21 in his only previous trips. #Trending.

Henrik Stenson: With nothing better than T-14 from eight weekends, I’m leaving the Swede for another day. After laying an egg at Arnold Palmer and another at SHO, two previous events where he’s ran riot, I’m not going to try and hammer this square peg into a round Masters hole. Don’t be surprised if he gets off to a slow start either as he hasn’t had a weekday round under par since Friday of 2013.

Francesco Molinari: His early WD at WGC-Dell Match Play moves him out of the top group. Last year, J.B. Holmes WD at the SHO, where he was the defending champion, and went to finish T-4 at Augusta. Molinari hasn’t finished outside of the top 20 in stroke play events on Tour since last summer’s Travelers. This will be his sixth start at Augusta National and T-19 in 2012 is his best finish.

Alex Noren: I don’t usually lean on first-timers around here. I really try not to lean on first timers who check in at No. 190 or worse in ball-striking categories on a ball-strikers course. He’s an excellent putter and bunker player and that will come in handy if par turns out to be a decent score. He also hits enough fairways to give his iron game a chance. He had a very solid week at Match Play as he gave Dustin Johnson a run for his money before finally losing in the Quarterfinals. #Noted.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello: T-17 on his debut. His ball-striking is the key to his success and he closed with 70, his low round of the week, suggesting that he has figured something out. He makes excellent support staff this week.

J.B. Holmes: I probably should move him up a bit because of his track record in less-than-ideal conditions. The longer the course, the better, for the big hitter and less rough the merrier as well. If you’re leaning on length this week, he should be included especially after T-4 last year.

Brooks Koepka: Loose call here but I was impressed with the breakout last time out at Match Play. Sometimes all it takes is a round or two to find “it” and it looks like something is brewing. He was knocking in putts and finding GIR. He should be slightly used this week and makes a risk-reward counter-attack. He’s made the cut in both of his trips the last two years for T-33 and T-21.

Bernd Wiesberger: The last two years he’s made two cuts and stuck five of his eight rounds at par or better. His last MC anywhere in the world was Baltusrol.

Tommy Fleetwood: With three top 12’s in his last three stroke play events worldwide, ANOTHER Englishman who can flush it appears on this list. He began his season with a win in Abu Dhabi in late January so there’s been plenty of form to lean on. Now, can he figure out the greens…?

Matthew Fitzpatrick: He’s hit the top 16 in his last three including a pair of WGC events. There was nothing short about this course last year as he finished T-7 in his first time as a professional. He’s proof that elite putters can work out here.

 

 

Off the Beaten Path

Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings

 

Jason Dufner: His last five Tour stroke-play starts on Tour are T-25 or better. Don’t look at his history here. Don’t look at his history here. Don’t look at his history here.

Hideto Tanihara: I liked him much more before he finished fourth in Match Play. He’ll be overbought but if his price is right, I might still jump as he’s been super-steady this year. Pass this on: He played here in 2007 and shot 85-79!!

Angel Cabrera: He made the cut last week, only his third since last year’s Masters. He’s made 10 of the last 11 weekends here so plug him in as your last player and collect.

Charley Hoffman: He’s never MC in three tries and was T-9 in 2015 and T-29 last year. Of his 12 rounds, seven are par or better and he won in the wind at Valero last year.

Fred Couples: From 2010 to 2014 he never finished outside the top 20. If he’s healthy, which allegedly he is, he’ll have some people’s attention. With the gusting winds, maybe not mine.

Curtis Luck: The No. 1 amateur in the world has been goofing around Augusta for the last week or so. He’ll lean on his Aussie mates for course secrets.

Hudson Swafford: He picked up his first win in Palm Springs and disappeared for a bit. He roared back with back-to-back top 10’s at Bay Hill and GCH in his last two starts. Debutant makes for a cheeky outsider and his power will be helpful.

Jhonattan Vegas: If this is a second-shot course, find a guy who is an excellent iron player. He sits in the top 40 SGTTG and GIR so that qualifies. So does his form as he’s been humming along since he won last August in Canada. #Vamos.

William McGirt: Won on super slick Bentgrass at Memorial, which isn’t a pitch-and-putt. It also blew 15-25 mph in that final round.

Soren Kjeldsen:

Steve Stricker: Course historians will point out he’s made seven cuts in a row here. He’s put one round in the 60’s since 2010 and has played just three times this year.

Pat Perez: Since his win last fall at Mayakoba, he just keeps humming along and cashing checks. I’m gonna chuck him into a few deep lineups and watch him go.

Thomas Pieters: If he can keep it on the grounds, he could be an excellent outsider. Did you know there is no OB at the Masters? #TheMoreYouKnow.

 

Fades:

 

Bubba Watson: If course form is in play this week, I’d point to Watson as excellent support staff. The two-time champion has shown ZERO signs of form in 2017 and that makes me nervy. Toss in a bit of sub-optimal weather and I’m fading further away…#MUDBALL.

Martin Kaymer: This will be trip No. 9 and in his previous eight attempts he’s never posted a round in the 60s and has never finished better than T-31. He also has three MCs in five stroke play events in 2016.

Vijay Singh: But Glass, you said experience matters the most and Singh has made 18 of 22 cuts previously! As always, there are exceptions to rules and the 2000 champ qualifies. His only finish inside the top 25 in the last eight years was in 2008.

Webb Simpson: He’s in the field based on his exemption from winning the 2012 U.S. Open, no more, no less. Never better than T-28 in four tries.

Si Woo Kim: Another WD at Houston makes too many for my liking.

Danny Willett: I don’t like defending champs because of the media and fan crush. No offense to Willett but his form doesn’t suggest it either.

 

 

Next:

 

Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled at @MikeGlasscott and mikeglasscott.com for more information.

 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

 

 

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