2019 Masters Preview

By Troy Klongerbo
April 7, 2019

2019 Masters Preview:  Predictions, Sleepers, Staff Picks and More

This week, the golf world’s focus lay solely on it’s golden child.

Augusta National — you sweet beauty, you’re back again. We’ve missed you. We always miss you.

Whether you’re visiting the sportsbook at the MGM, researching for your Draft Kings roster, or your just curious who to look for on this week’s leaderboard, we hope to lock in a few solid suggestions as you prepare your place on the couch for the best weekend on the golf calendar.

Welcome back, to a tradition unlike any other.  It’s time for our 2019 Masters Preview!

Let’s dive in.

Setting The Stage

To Augusta we go, the place that occupies the bucket lists of millions of golfers. Alister MacKenzie’s hallmark creation is the stuff of dreams. And every year when the azaleas bloom, it’s the signature mark of spring.

Before I gush too lavishly, I’m going to switch gears for a second.

Augusta could be one of the goofier venues for picking golfers all year. It’s a place that has an affinity for left-handed golfers like no venue on the Tour. There are players over 50 that make their one single Tour appearance. There are amateurs. And there are icy greens. Players suffer virtually no penalty from rough.

And the place seems to resurrect a struggling player’s game like no place on the Tour.

Point-in-case, it’s an odd place to make player picks. But it’s still my favorite, even for making picks. I experience a mix of nostalgia and adrenaline every spring.

I’m done rambling about Augusta’s greatness and this event’s prestige. Let’s make some picks.

Five Horses

Francesco Molinari

Among the hottest players in the world of golf over the past 12 months is a 5’8” 150-lb Italian whose first experience at Augusta National was as a caddy for his amateur champion brother.

Not exactly a golfer you’d peg as a horse.

But Molinari’s game right now is just too solid to discount him. This may come as a shock to some, but Molinari has clawed his way into the top-10 in the OWGR (currently 7th).

A top-20 in Mexico rolled into a victory at Bay Hill and a deep run at the Match Play in Austin, Texas. All of this after exhibiting one of the most clutch Sundays in recent Open Championship historyat Carnoustie last July.

His Augusta resume is not glaringly impressive. However, he’s made steady improvement in every year since 2013 (CUT, 50, T33, T20).

Given Molinari’s form, his aptitude for avoiding mistakes, and his confidence, I think he’s the kind of guy you could slide in for 4 rounds at Even par or better and finish a clean T13.

The kind of guy I’d look to place in my rosters this week.

Justin Thomas

There are a ton of golfers over the years where you’d bet with almost certainty that they’d claim a green jacket.

Els, Norman, and Trevino are just a few who seemed like the type of players who’d already had their jacket measurements sent to the Membership in the early parts of their career.

Another player I’d like to throw in that bucket is Justin Thomas.

Sorry for the lofty expectations, JT.

In last week’s No Laying Up podcast with Steve Elkington, Elkington couldn’t sing high enough praises for Justin Thomas’ game. Elk is a tough guy to impress.

So here are the numbers.

His form has been among the most consistent on the Tour in 2019. His worst finish of the year was a T35 at the PLAYERS where he didn’t shoot over par in a single round over 4 days.

He’s first in birdie average (5.14 per round) on Tour, first in scoring average (69.43), 5th in SG: Approach-to-Green (+1.022), 3rd in SG: Tee-to-Green (+1.936), and 3rd in SG: Total (+2.074).

Augusta is a place that requires some learning. Justin’s learning is clearly starting to settle in.

His Masters performances have steadily improved T39, T22, and T17 in three career appearances.

He hits it higher than most players on Tour, he putts it well, and he’s got at “end-of-the-round grit” needed to close out big events and deal with the curve balls a Sunday at the Masters can throw at a guy.

Let’s see how the Frogger pays off.

Dustin Johnson

He’s the world’s number 1 ranked golfer and barring any run ins with stairways, he’ll be in contention late on Sunday.

I know his odds are too good, his price is too high, and he’s not exactly the “buy-low-sell-high” prototype, but everything points to another high finish for DJ in the Masters.

Aside from the anomaly that was a missed cut in 2014 (riddled with suspensions, drug tests, suspensions, and more), his worst finish at The Masters since 2013 has been a T13. That includes missing a 2017 event where he was a clear field favorite.

This course for Dustin is effectively a par-68 or 69, as he’ll have irons into 13 and 15 and with his high hard draw, both 2 and 8 aren’t difficult either.

If he can avoid the big numbers (where he’s T3 in 2019 in Bogey Avoidance), he’ll be in contention late Sunday.

The kind of horse I’d like to have some units on.

Xander Schauffele

I originally had him slated as a sleeper and as I was doing research for my Masters Preview, I said to myself: “Troy, you can’t put the 10th ranked golfer in the world as a sleeper.”

So, into the five horses he goes!

Two wins since October and a string of 4 straight top-25s this spring has Xander’s game in a place heading to Augusta that could cause you to lick your chops.

He hits it high (119’ average apex in 2018, good for 20th), is 4th in SG: Total in 2019, and has the type of under-the-radar-top-10 moxie that I like heading into majors. He’s no rookie at Augusta anymore and even made the CUT in his first chance last year (not necessarily a difficult accomplishment given the small field and amateurs + old-timers).

Xander could string together a few really nice rounds and I could see him having the type of Masters performance where we’re looking surprised at a T9 finish and talking about the clean week he had.

Aside from the beef I have with the PGA Tour that they lazily let Xander get off the hook with his special interests listed as “Travel, good food,” I’m looking his way for a buy low type of T9 finish.

Tommy “Lock Top-10” Fleetwood

Lock top-10 you say? Bold, Troy. Bold.

But consider this, Augusta is a place where par-5 scoring is critical. Last year, Tommy Fleetwood led the Tour in Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage last season at 56.32%.

Can you imagine Tommy’s hair flowing over the coat collar of an emerald green jacket? It’d look really nice.

Many have suggested that Fleetwood’s game doesn’t fit Augusta National—as he’s built it more for ball striker paradises with wind, penal areas, and small targets— but last year, he bucked those trends to find his way inside the top-20 at Augusta (T17).

He was a rock at last fall’s Ryder Cup, a top-5 finisher in each of the last two U.S. Opens (4th and 2nd) and since, he’s notched a T3 at Bay Hill and a T5 at the PLAYERS.

Boy, I’m convincing myself that I should have saved this pick for my US Open Preview. But nah, I’m going with Tommy and his locks among the Magnolias this week.

Buy Tommy stock before he needs to make a switch to his irons.

One Sleeper

Si Woo Kim

Not only did he have a fabulous week at the Valero, but Si Woo Kim is the type of player to turn heads this week at Augusta.

The 23-year old has three top-5 finishes since February and has already made two appearances at Augusta, locking a top-25 just a year ago. Statistically, Kim is a birdie machine, averaging well over 4 birdies per round, good for 8th on the Tour.

For embodying such youth, Kim already has a full resume with a few wins on the PGA Tour, including a PLAYERS Championship in 2017 (remember that?)

He’s the type of player who may not garner much attention. But Kim has serious game and has shown flashes at Augusta. Heck, that’s the definition of a sleeper if you ask me.  And his game couldn’t be in a better spot coming in.

Si Woo Kim with the out-of-nowhere top-15 finish this week at The Masters.

One *Deep* Sleeper

Jimmy Walker

Through three rounds last week, he snuck himself into the top-10 at the Valero Texas Open. It bodes toward decent form heading into Augusta.

Here are the details on Walker’s current status.

He has a 5-year exemption with his 2016 win at the PGA Championship. But he has yet to finish inside the top-40 in any event all season. And he only has four rounds of 68 or better in 26 rounds dating back to January 1. He’s slipped to 103 in the World Rankings and 166th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained.

But he has something at Augusta. He has never missed the CUT and has three top-20 finishes in the past 5 appearances.

His blip of good form leading in and a solid track record could be someone to buy cheap and see a sneaky T22 finish. I don’t see a high finish, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a burst of nice play.

What’s Tiger Going To Do?

Everyone reading this Masters Preview is probably wondering about Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. I don’t have him in any of my picks. And not because I think the guy stinks.

In fact, Tiger has put together a string of performances dating back to late in 2018 that bode well for Augusta magic. Just the other day, I watched the entire Sunday coverage of the 2001 Masters(where I still can’t believe David Duval missed that putt on 18). That tournament was surprising for a few different reasons:

  1. 2001 was only Tiger’s 2nd green jacket and
  2. He’s only won twice there since.

With virtually zero golfers is it even remotely reasonable to think that “only two green jackets” could be mentioned as a negative, but watching that 2001 coverage, I was thinking “how could anyone beat him at Augusta, ever.”

Tiger Woods has 4 Green Jackets to his name already. Is the 2019 Masters a prime spot for #5? (photo courtesy of Rasheda Isaac Photography)

Onto this week…

I actually think Tiger is going to play well. If he can avoid back injuries, illegal drops, and otherwise chaos, I think Tiger will use his course knowledge, savvy play around the greens, and polished ball striking to give golf fans something to watch on Sunday.

I don’t foresee a win here, but I do foresee good play.

Maybe a T8 for Tiger with a front nine flurry on Sunday that gets fans excited.

Champion

He has yet to win the major that would seal his career Grand Slam.

It just has to be a matter of time for the uber-talented Ulsterman. Especially, since he still has roughly a dozen years of prime appearances left in his career at the Masters.

Rory McIlroy

I believe a few years ago, I wrote that Rory would garner my pick every single year until he made it happen at Augusta. His game fits this place too well and seems built for his game, his look, and his place in the sport.

If he does not win at Augusta, he will go down as the greatest player in history without a Green Jacket.

That’s harsh, but it’s true. Rory knows it. And it’s played into the tension he’s played Augusta with. Pressure simply mounts and mounts. Either you answer the call, or the pressure crushes you. Golf can be so cruel.

Rory McIlroy just needs a win at Augusta for the career slam, but can he finish the feat at the 2019 Masters? (Photo Courtesy of Rasheda Isaac Photography)

Deep down, 2011 still haunts Rory. You can see it as he plays the course. He’s trying to balance the tightrope of exceedingly high expectations with ghosts and cobwebs around every corner of the storied grounds.

Icy 5-foot putts and meandering water hazards have dashed his hopes so many times. The scar tissue is starting to build.

So Why Rory?

All of that considered, I believe he’ll get it done at Augusta. Absolutely he will. You can see that he’s slowly been rebuilding and regaining his confidence here and his game — at age 29— is still at an all-time level.

Last week, McIlroy made the comment to The Guardian that he “doesn’t need a major to fill a void in his life.”

He went onto say, ““If you win you win, if you don’t … I think it has taken me a while to get to this point. I’d love to win it. I’m going out there to try my best. Indifferent maybe sounds wrong, but I’m not at the point where it’s a burden to me. Not at all.”

With all of the statistics and analyses at our disposal, Rory’s fate at Augusta has never laid in the dirt or details. It has existed precisely in between the 6-inches of space between his ears.

If he can work those demons, he’ll make it happen and don a jacket.

He’s been top-10 at Augusta in each of his past 5 tournaments. Breakthrough ahead?

I say, yes.

C’mon, Rory. Pulling for you this week, mate.

Masters Preview – Staff Picks

Todd Kolb:  Justin Rose – “Justin is the most consistent and solid player in the field week in and week out. He is due for another big win and he would love nothing more than to add a Green Jacket to his collection.”

Nick Anson:  Jordan Spieth– I’m not worried about the winless 2018 season.  In 5 Masters appearances, he has 1 win, 3 top-3s and a T11.  I’d love to see him start his comeback in 2019 at Augusta.”

Sam Vosler:  Justin Thomas“JT has shown the ability to shape the shots necessary along with hitting high and low shots into the tricky greens at Augusta. I expect a birdie barrage on the back 9 on Masters Sunday to take the W.”

Tyler Prins:  Tiger Woods“It seems that everything Tiger has done this season was prepping for this moment and this moment alone.  Tiger is arguably the best putter of all time and this week the GOAT is back!”

Jordan Knowlton:  Jason Day – I love an underdog and at 25-1 Day is definitely that. He’s had some nice finishes at the Masters and I think he takes it this year!”

Who Do You Think Wins the 2019 Masters?

Do you agree with our picks?  Do you have another golfer who you favor?  Let us know in the comments!  We love hearing from our community and want to know who you like to win the 2019 Masters.  So don’t be shy, give us your picks!

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