I say this every year. But even if you don’t have azaleas growing in your backyard, you’ll be smelling them again starting tomorrow.
It’s Masters week. The happiest week of the year.
No seriously, it just be might be the happiest time of the year.
In this preview, expect me to layout 5 players I expect to contend, another 3 that could earn sleeper nods, and my pick for the 2017 green jacket. I’ll also discusss the weather forecast for the week and reference a lot of what happened in 2016. I still can’t believe Danny Willett won the Masters.
And just in case you didn’t have enough going on this week—oh, between “getting work done” and watching the action on your second monitor—I’ll let you burn up 4 more hours of your time after this Masters tweet. Just passing it along:
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 2, 2017
We’ve got a lot to discuss this year. And I’ve got picks both here and on YouTube. Let’s dive in!
2016 Top-16 Finishers
Here’s the leaderboard from last year. The top-12 players get invites back for 2017 regardless of their other standing or exemptions. This peek at the leaderboard reminds us of the difficulty Augusta National played with last year. Six players under par—yikes. The leaderboard:
Full Field at The 2017 Masters
Take a gander at the forecast for the week. Storms and precipitation early in the week give way to WIND on Thursday and Friday. Look at Friday—23 MPH gusts.
It’s a similar Friday forecast to the one we had last year—one that gave Phil Mickelson a 79, Zach Johnson an 80, Jason Dufner a 77, and Justin Rose a 77. Scoring was high on Friday last year. Not a single player shot in the 60s.
With the cold temperatures on Thursday as well, I’m expecting the CUT line to be again around +6, +7, or +8 this year (it was +7 last year).
The golf world is thankful for that Sunday forecast.
This Week’s Picks– The Masters Preview
Five (5) Contenders from the Fairway
1. Dustin Johnson
Betting Odds: 11/2 (Best in the Field)
Two Sunday double bogies last year, including the dagger on 17, derailed DJ’s efforts toward a first major championship in 2016. He finished 4 behind winner Danny Willett.
But this year, Augusta will lay eyes on a new Dustin Johnson. He’s a major winner now. He’s coming off three straight victories on the PGA Tour. A player who played years with a long, dramatic, and sometimes chaotic draw off the tee has now embraced a killer fade.
Here’s a look at his statistics on the PGA Tour so far in 2017:
- Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: 2nd
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 1st
- Greens-in-Regulation Percentage: 1st
- Strokes Gained: Around the Green: 6th
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 29th
He’s playing the best golf in the world and the best golf of his life.
I almost feel like an idiot for not picking him to win here…
2. Phil Mickelson
Betting Odds: 18:1
He’s got another few runs at Augusta in him, even as he nears 50.
Here are a few things I know. Phil plays wildly-ridiculous golf and Phil knows Augusta. When the two of those things converge on a week where Phil is playing well, that’s how three green jackets happen.
There isn’t a player in the field with more intimate knowledge than Phil. I know last year’s Friday 79 and subsequent MC left a noticeably sour taste in his mouth. Then to see Bernhard Langer, a man some 13 years his major, find contention into Sunday, I know Phil is starting to see the mortality to his career at Augusta National.
This will be another year where Phil channels his knowledge and solid play in 2017 (3 top-10s & 6 total top-25s in 9 starts) and puts together a solid finish.
I like Phil this week. Many may not go his way, but I’m looking his direction for a T8.
3. Justin Thomas
Current Betting Odds: 35:1
There isn’t really a great reason to see Thomas as a legitimate contender this year. Other than the exceptional play he had early in 2017, winning twice, there’s no reason to really love Thomas this week.
Augusta National, a place known for its world-class greens, is a haven for putting genius. Before this year, Thomas had never ranked inside the top-90 in putting. It’s also a place where knowledge plays a huge role. He’s only played one Masters tournament.
But I like him. I think Justin Thomas will finish inside the top-10 this week.
The now 8th player in the world made the cut last year, his first weekend at Augusta National. He’s no longer a Masters rookie.
The confidence Thomas has pulled from his play over the past few months is palpable. Watching him on TV, in interviews, and on Snapchat (yep!), he’s maintained the outset of a proven champion. Of someone who belongs.
Last year, Thomas made the cut in all 4 majors. Although they were forgettable finishes, I think he makes his first major championship statement at Augusta, just like his friend Jordan did.
4. Rickie Fowler
I was drinking the Rickie “Kool-aid” heavy going into last year’s Masters. He’d won the PLAYERS in 2015 and finished T5 in 2014 and T12 in 2015 at Augusta.
There was no reason not to like Rickie Fowler at the 2016 Masters. Oops.
When I tuned into his play on Thursday morning on the Masters live app, I saw Rickie go right off the tee on his opening tee shot. After hitting a tree, hitting over the green, and failing to get up and down from there, Rickie was off to a double bogey start. The nerves and jitters had officially set in. He went on to shoot 80.
There went my chances in fantasy!
But many people take experiences like that and write people off. For Rickie, I truly think he learned from last year’s opening round. He maintained his composure the entire day.
A solid week at the Shell Houston confirm the play he’s displayed so far in 2016, already with a win. I like Rick this week.
5. Jordan Spieth
Current Betting Odds: 7:1
Did you really think I was going to go an entire Masters Preview without mentioning Spieth?
In 3 Masters appearances 2014 through 2016, he’s been beaten exactly two times—total. Exceptional track record, one I don’t expect to change.
Good putters lick their chops once they get comfortable on certain surfaces. And no surfaces are more consistent and pure year-to-year than Augusta’s. And the last three years, no one has putted them better.
Last week, Spieth got off to a solid start with a 3-under par Friday, but I think Saturday was a lookahead 77. I don’t credit it to bad form. He, like all of us, had his eyes set on greener pastures. Literally.
Not much data is necessary here to know Spieth is a great play at Augusta until proven otherwise.
Three (3) Sleepers from the Rough
Last year’s (2016) Sleeper Picks:
Jason Dufner (100:1) finished MC
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (300:1) finished T15
Bryson DeChambeau (200:1) finished T21
1. Steve Stricker
Betting Odds to Win: 250:1
He’s in the field by an obscure way…a top-4 finish at the 2016 Open Championship.
Not that a top-4 finish in a major is obscure. But take it that he did it at age 50. And the icing on top? He finished 15 shots behind the winner, Henrik Stenson.
But the top-4 finishers from The Open are extended an invite to Augusta National, and I love it. Steve Stricker, the Wisconsin native, has always been one of my favorite players.
This year, Stricker comes on the heels of a career started on the Champions Tour—a career started nicely, though. Only a few weeks ago, Stricker almost notched his first win on the Champions Tour, narrowly missing out at the hands of Tour veteran Tom Lehman. But it showed his game was in form.
From 2009-2015, Stricker made the cut in 7 consecutive years at Augusta. In 2016, he didn’t earn an invite. Stricker may not be the guy to win this week. The odds are telling of that.
But take a look at Stricker and don’t be surprised to see a finish inside the top-30.
I’d be beside myself if he was in contention heading into Sunday.
2. Marc Leishman
Current Betting Odds: 65:1
What an affirming place Leishman is in right now.
Just a few weeks ago at Bay Hill, Leishman staved off the field (and Charley Hoffman) at Bay Hill and earned his 2nd career PGA Tour victory. His only other win came in 2012 at the Travelers, where he held off none other than, Charley Hoffman. Hoffman will be at Augusta.
But Leishman’s play in 2016 was rather inconsistent. At age 33 and having just experienced a near life-shattering event with his wife, Leishman only managed two top-10s all season. The top-25s were enough to make a run in the playoffs, but the promise of his near major misses at the 2013 Masters (by way of Adam Scott) and 2015 Open (by way of Zach Johnson) seemed as though they may be slipping.
A win against the talented field at Arnie’s place was that affirming feeling Leishman needed.
Statistically, in 2017, he’s 3rd on the Tour in putting and inside the top-100 in all of the major categories. His only struggle has been driving accuracy, a relative non-factor at Augusta. He also has more top-10s in 2017 than all of 2016.
I like Leishman this week on the sleeper side of things.
3. Matthew Fitzpatrick
Current Betting Odds: 65:1
He’s ascended to 30th in the Official World Golf ranking and now has Ryder Cup experience. And wait, he’s also got a top-10 finish at Augusta?
That’s right. Look at the results last year. Fitzpatrick and his 67 vaulted up the white leaderboards at Augusta National, finishing in a tidy little tie for 7th. His form since then has not faltered.
A win last November in Dubai, one where he shot 17-under par nudged fellow Englishman Tyrell Hatton, (another player on a bit of a tear in 2017) was a confidence booster heading into the 2017 season.
In recent weeks, top-20 finishes in both Mexico at the WGC and Bay Hill for Arnie’s event are further proof. Fitzpatrick’s game is in pretty good shape.
I liken the 22-year old to channel whatever Danny Willett had last year, his countryman. Fitzpatrick with a sneaky weekend appearance and top-20 showing. Good enough for fantasy purposes!
The 2017 Green Jacket Goes To…
Current Betting Odds: 17:2
I picked him last year too. Sorry.
I honestly think I’ll be picking Rory McIlroy at the Masters every year until he finally closes one out. The thought of Rory not earning a lifetime exemption at some point in his career is odd to me. It seems foregone. But then again, Ernie Els never seized a jacket…
But I can’t see Rory that way. And this is the year.
An injury earlier this year is now looking like a positive, as Rory is exceptionally rested heading into Augusta this week. March had two top-7s for Rory in both Mexico and at Arnie’s.
Remember this last year? I hope he’s still enjoying the chase.
He’ll be the winner this year.