The Masters: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
Too often the conversation at the Masters centers around putting. It’s important, mind you, especially 3-putt avoidance and sinking the short ones, say five feet and in. But the tournament is won with ballstriking.
High finishers share a common trait. They rank near the top of the stats in ballstriking and in recently uncovered data, our favorite, SG: Approach.
It’s why you see the game’s best players and those who understand how to maneuver their ball around a classic course like Augusta National landing near the top of the leaderboard each year. It’s why you see cagey veterans like Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer able to make the cut. They have the experience to know where not to hit it – especially on Thursday and Friday when the hole locations can be the most demanding, as to weed out those playing without precision or patience – and have the control to avoid the most troublesome spots.
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This Masters in the fall should be no different than the rest in that respect. Not many can find their game at Augusta National. Players need to be in good form before they land in Georgia. Avoiding the dreaded others and attacking the par 5s is the clearest route to contention. To win, a good break or two can go a long way.
That being said, we’ve always had success handicapping the Masters field by sprinkling one ‘outsider’ with three locks. This is not the week to overthink it or try and get cute. Trust your gut and the history. The Masters is unique among the majors because we all feel like we know the course. We’ve seen the heroic shots and the disastrous ones too. Some players have a good feel for how to navigate the potential pitfalls and take advantage of the scoring holes.
Because we had to wait so long, I threw in an extra pick. I have to run now. One of those white chocolate Georgia pecan cookies is waiting.
Golfer power rankings
26. Justin Rose – He may never recover from letting the 2017 Masters slip away, missing three key putts inside 10 feet in the final six holes and making a sloppy bogey on the first hole of sudden death. That was one of two runner-ups at Augusta and before missing the cut in 2019 had 11 top 25s and five top 10s in the previous 13 starts. It’s worth taking a chance that Rose can build on a T-17 at Zozo.
25. Lanto Griffin – He’s 11th in the Masters field over the last 36 rounds in SG: Approach, the vital statistic to conquering Augusta National. The 32-year-old has grinded his way around the world and is making his first Masters appearance. He has the right demeanor to handle the situation.
24. Tiger Woods - Yes, I’ve watched Tiger play in 2020. His execution and results have fallen well below what fans expect and his own standard of performance. That being said, he’s a five-time green jacket winner and the defending champion. The weather and wind direction forecast are favorable and similar to last year when he led the field in greens in regulation (58). While he’s broken 70 in only five of his last 20 rounds at the Masters, he’s made the cut in all 20 starts as a pro and finished in the top-4 11 times. If he can find the magic for four days anywhere, it will happen at Augusta National.
23. Tony Finau – The gentle giant from Utah got sucked into the Tiger Vortex on No. 12 in last year’s Masters. Don’t worry, Tony. You’re hardly the first. Still, he’s found Augusta National to his liking with top 10s in both appearances buoyed by excellent scrambling and putting. Led the field in driving distance last year (316.1). Arrives after a T-24 in Houston.
22. Paul Casey – The 43-year-old ballstriking specialist has popped up on major leaderboards throughout his career, including a T-3 at the PGA in August and has five career top 10s in the Masters with three of those occurring since 2015. He led the Masters field in greens in regulation (56) in 2017. Bentgrass is his best surface and a T-17 at Winged Foot is also encouraging.
21. Zach Johnson – Johnson won the 2007 Masters in frigid, windy, difficult conditions. The weather will be finer this year and the veteran’s game is also heating up. Over the last 24 rounds entering Houston, he was third in the Masters field in SG: Approach, seventh in SG: Putting and 12th in SG: Short Game. Has one other top 10 in 15 appearances.
20. Adam Scott – Making his 19th consecutive Masters appearance, the 2013 champion has made the cut in all but two years and recorded four top 10s since 2011. His game seems built for the course and he’s always comfortable on the classics against major fields. Shot three subpar rounds in Houston, proving there’s no rust despite a limited 2020 schedule.
19. Matthew Fitzpatrick – Can we get a Fitzpatrick / DeChambeau pairing on the weekend? Is that asking for too much? Making his sixth Masters appearance, the Englishman has missed the cut only once, finished T-7 in 2016 and T-21 last year. He’s been steady of late (T-7 BMW PGA, T-12 Zozo). Has gained strokes on approach in his last four starts and is one of the top putters in the field.
18. Jason Kokrak – One of only three Masters rookies on our list is also one of the hottest players in the game. Broke through for his first PGA Tour victory at Shadow Creek, riding a hot putter on fast bentgrass, and has finished 17th or better in six of the last seven starts, gaining four shots or more on the greens in three of the last four. Hits it long and high, which is nice.
17. Louis Oosthuizen – A double eagle on the second hole in the final round of the 2012 Masters wasn’t quite enough to earn the smooth South African the green jacket (he lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson). But he’s a major player, which he proved again in a third-place finish at Winged Foot. Has the career runner-up grand slam, which prompted him to Rise Up in song in 2017.
Just finished my career grand slam second's .. "I'll rise up" pic.twitter.com/083aRityWn
— Louis Oosthuizen (@Louis57TM) August 14, 2017
16. Collin Morikawa – The PGA Champion has looked more like a young pro instead of a bonafide superstar in recent months, missing three cuts, in part because he’s 65th in the field in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds. But winning at Augusta National requires well struck irons and deft chipping and he’s top 20 in the field in both over the last 24 rounds. A veteran Tour caddie raved about Morikawa’s supreme golf intelligence recently and that’s a good trait for solving Augusta National.
15. Hideki Matsuyama – His record at the Masters is similar to his career: A lot of solid finishes. He’s landed in the top 20 four times with a pair of top 10s. From week-to-week, his game remains the same: strong ballstriking, suspect putting and sporadic short game. He’s finished in the top 30 in 11 of his last 13 starts and comes in hot after a closing 63 to finish T-2 in Houston.
14. Patrick Cantlay – Briefly seized the lead with an eagle on 15 on Sunday in the 2019 Masters but stumbled down the stretch and finished T-9. Won the Zozo three weeks ago, outdueling the top two players in the world on the back nine. He’s smart and cool and bentgrass is his preferred putting surface. Fell into an iron slump in August and September, gained 4.1 strokes on approach to win at Sherwood but hit only 44 greens at Augusta last year.
13. Patrick Reed – Yes, he won the Masters in 2018. It’s also important to understand the rest of his record in Augusta is pedestrian at best (one top 25 in the other five appearances). But just when you count him out … he’s dangerous. Has four consecutive top-15 finishes worldwide, so his game is sharp. Augusta allows room for an errant drive or three. Top 25 in the field in SG: Approach and SG: Putting.
12. Jason Day – He’s an enigma. After four consecutive top 10s including a fourth at the PGA, Day’s game turned south with two missed cuts and nothing better than T-38 in his other three starts. Yet he was in the top five at Shadow Creek before injury forced him to WD on the first hole of the final round. And, he continued that good form with a T-7 in Houston. His Augusta record is strong with four top 10s in nine starts including a runner-up in his 2011 debut.
11. Matthew Wolff – In his first PGA Championship in August, he finished fourth. In his first U.S. Open in September he finished second. I smell a trend. Abysmal short game and an ankle injury crippled his performance at Shadow Creek and Sherwood; his elite iron game, power and moxie never rest. It’s wise to be cautious backing a Masters rookie, but we’ve seen Jordan Spieth (2014) and Jason Day (2011) make a strong run in their first year.
10. Bubba Watson – The two time (‘12 & ‘14) Masters champion’s game has been building quietly in recent months. He finished T-7 in the CJ Cup and T-4 in Zozo. Strong iron play has been the foundation of his success. He ranks fifth in the field in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds. Unfortunately, he’s also 84th in SG: Putting. Still, he’s finished T-5 and T-12 at the last two years at Augusta National, a course that ignites his creativity.
9. Tyrrell Hatton – Cooled off somewhat at Houston but he arrives in Augusta ranked 10th in the world on the strength of defeating strong fields at Bay Hill and the European Tour’s BMW PGA and simply solid play all season (seven top 10s). Hasn’t done much at the Masters (T-44 is his best finish in three starts) but has five top 10s in last 18 major starts. Also eighth in field in SG: Approach over last 24 rounds. Shot 67-65 on the weekend in Houston.
8. Webb Simpson – Feels like his understanding of Augusta National is growing (T-5 last year) and the forecast of warmer than normal temperatures gives him a better chance to contend. Experience is a valuable asset. He’s won a U.S. Open and Players and is this generation’s most consistent player. In 29 tournaments since last year’s Masters, he’s won twice, finished second four times, third twice and been outside the top 25 only six times.
7. Brooks Koepka – He only shows up for the majors. And sometimes the week before, finishing T-5 last week in Houston. The four-time major champion was the runner-up in last year’s Masters, watching his chances drown in front of the 12th green. The knee looks fine. He understands the patience and mental toughness required to hang around a leaderboard at the most important events.
6. Xander Schauffele – One of three Masters runner-ups in 2019, Schauffele is still searching for his first win in more than 21 months. He’s had ample chances, including a second at Shadow Creek last month and lives in the top 25 each week. Was T-10 in GIR at Augusta last year and in all PGA Tour tournaments, he’s second in the field in SG: Total over the last 24 rounds, ranking inside the top 25 in every category.
5. Bryson DeChambeau – Other than Tiger in his prime at any major, Bryson DeChambeau at the 2020 Masters is the most anticipated appearance at a major championship in my lifetime. There are more questions than we have space to answer but there’s no doubt he has the firepower to create the most scoring opportunities. Over the last five Masters, he’s also last in SG: Putting and in his last 50 rounds this year he’s 48th in the field in SG: Approach. Love him or hate him, it will be fun to watch his week unfold.
4. Rory McIlroy – Last time out at Zozo he made 30 birdies. Because of poor short game and inconsistent iron play (a trend of late) he only finished 17th. Still, he’s been in the top 25 in his last five starts with a pair of top 10s. Nobody has been more consistent at Augusta in recent years with five top 10s in a streak of seven consecutive top 25s. The 31-year-old needs the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam.
3. Dustin Johnson – In his last 16 rounds at Augusta National, he has a 70.18 stroke average, five sub-70 rounds and none higher than 73. Such consistent excellence has produced four consecutive top 10s and he missed a makeable birdie putt on the 72nd hole last year that would’ve forced a sudden-death playoff. He bounced back from his two-month layoff last week in Houston with his fourth top-2 finish in his last five PGA Tour starts. The other? A T-6 at the U.S. Open.
2. Jon Rahm – The whole golf world – me included – is waiting for Rahm to break through and win his first major. If he does so, he’ll become the 14th first-time major winner in the last 19 held. One of the game’s elite drivers, he can excel in any area of the bag in any given week. Runner-up at Zozo was his third top 10 in five starts. Finished fourth and T-9 in the last two Masters.
1. Justin Thomas – According to golf data expert Justin Ray, leads the Masters field in SG: Ballstriking over the last four years, hitting 55 greens in regulation last year and 53 in 2018. Has also ranked 40th or worse in putts per round in each tournament, which explains his best career finish of T-12 (last year). The putting has improved though since he began working with putting guru John Graham prior to the U.S. Open, gaining 4.7 strokes at Winged Foot and five in a runner-up finish at Zozo. Perhaps the game’s most consistent iron player, he was 2 under on the ANGC par 3s last year. He’ll look good in green.
Great stuff, Brian! A quick thought; it would be, at least for me, fun to track how your weekly and annual picks do over the season. Maybe you all could add that wrinkle for 2021. Also, maybe a contest to see who can top your season-long or weekly picks?!?!
This is a good idea. I always go back and run a report on my picks from the previous week and a contest sounds like fun.
Thanks for reading.