The Masters is almost here and I, for one, am both excited and exasperated. Right now, there is about as far from a clear favorite as can be, with just one repeat winner this year and several of the biggest names in the sport have failed to display much in the way of brilliance. I'll walk you through a few here, so you can see what I'm saying. Justin Rose, a veritable stallion among ponies in most years, has made just one cut in his last four, finishing a dismal 55th. Graeme McDowell, who "withdrew" last week after shooting five-over through nine holes, has finished no better than 47th in his last five starts worldwide. Phil Mickelson has looked better that he did last year but still has just one Top 10 since a sixth place finish at the Barclays in 2013. I'm sure I don't have to explain Tiger Woods situation, but he's fallen out of the Top 100 in the OWGR for the first time since turning pro.
The list is longer but the biggest surprise thus far has been the underwhelming play of the world's best, Rory McIlroy. Though he's been finishing reasonably well since missing the cut at the Honda Classic, he's yet to really contend for a W. Even though he's been somewhat flat, the fact is, there's a changing of the guard occurring right now, and the Top 10 in the World Rankings says it all. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day are all under the age of 27. Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker and Henrik Stenson are far from young men, at ages 36, 36 and 38 respectively, but they're bucking the trend as golfers over the age of 30 are sliding from the Top 10. Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, and Sergio Garcia have been back pedaling since the beginning of this season.
Risk and Reward
Risk and Reward
What does that mean for you? The names you've relied upon are slowly and inexorably being supplanted by younger golfers. I don't believe this trend will hold out, since most of those names are too good to slide for too long, but as I'm sure you've recognized, the best players in the world sure are different than they were even two years ago.
The Shell Houston Open does it's best to replicate the green complex conditions of Augusta National. Expect speeds over 13 on the greens, very tightly mowed collection areas and shaved banks running into water hazards. That said, the Shell Houston Open tends to yield some reasonably low scores, with Matt Jones' 15-under being the highest winning score since 2010. At 7,441 yards, the Golf Club of Houston is long without being monstrous. Still, this is no pitch an putt, evidenced by past winners. Johnson Wagner is the short among them and in 2008 when he won, he ranked in the middle of the pack at 138th in driving distance.
For those of you not familiar with my Power Rankings, I'll be listing the Top-15 with their Total Aggregate (TA), a number that combines recent performance with course history and some select other metrics, and the change (CHG) from the last tournament they participated in. Total Aggregate is out of 100, with a lower number indicating a better ranking. I've re-weighted course history some to try to find a better balance.
- Lee Westwood - TA: 14.5, CHG: (-3.2) - Personally, I'm not convinced Mr. Westwood belongs here. A perennial "almost won", Westwood, especially around the majors, just always seems to come up short on TOUR. Since these are the Power Rankings and the math is what it is, he's here. His seven consecutive Top 25s or better in worldwide starts does make a compelling argument, however. Since 2009, Westwood has played every iteration of the SHO, finishing no worse the 30th, including two Top 10s and three Top 25s.
- Matt Kuchar - TA: 15.13, CHG: (-2.4) - Yes, I mentioned above that he was part of an aging contingent of golfers that are sliding in the OWGR. At age 36, he's far from done, but he's got work to do to beat these young whippersnappers. Lost in a playoff to Matt Jones last year and has two eighth place finishes since a missed cut in 2007. As is usual for him, he logged another Top 25 last week at the Valero Texas Open while making his 19th consecutive cut.
- J.B. Holmes - TA: 24.75, CHG: (-6.8) - I'm a little short on humor this week, but I'll crack a joke at some point and this isn't one of them. Sure, Holmes missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he seemed like a sure thing, but I'll cut him some slack. Given that he's here says something about how well he's been playing this season and how well he's played at the Golf Club of Houston. Holmes finished 12th last year and 8th in 2012, and given that he's got a pair of second place finished, a Top 10, and a Top 25 in his last five starts, I'm inclined to believe he's not ready to play quietly this week.
- Jordan Spieth - TA: 25.85, CHG: (+19.6) - Almost where I think he should be on this list (Hint, the number starts with an "O"), but his history here is poor, to say the least. In his post-tournament interview at the Valero, Spieth acknowledged that this course doesn't fit his play style well and expects to work hard if he wants to contend. Not exactly confidence inspiring from a fantasy perspective, but since his missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open is long in the rearview mirror, he's hard to ignore.
- Cameron Tringale - TA: 26.75, CHG: (+5.8) - Without a doubt, Tringale is a rare feature in any Power Rankings, much less in the Top 5 of any of them. That said, he's a horse for the course, having gone 4-for-4 with a Top 5, Top 10, and Top 25. He's strung together six made cuts, and though the finishes haven't been completely inspiring, his current form is strong enough that his course history should be strongly considered.
- Louis Oosthuizen - TA: 29.63, CHG: (-0.6) - If you start him, which I'm doing this week, keep an eye out for a withdrawal prior to Thursday morning. Oosthuizen has a paper mache spine, show while he's typically excellent when he's on the course, his frailty is something to constantly monitor. He missed the cut here last year but finished 10th in 2013 and 3rd in 2012. Oosty finished 6th at the WGC-Cadillac and 9th at Bay Hill.
- Jimmy Walker - TA: 30.75, CHG: (0) - How does this season's only two-time winner thus far wind up all the way down in 7th? Its simple, really, play the tournament just about every year of his career and record just a single Top 25. That finish came last year during his breakout season, but such a history weighs heavily. I'd expect him to play solid, as has been his MO the last year and a half, but I'd hesitate to give him the nod over some others.
- Matt Jones - TA: 31, CHG: (+3) - Last year's winner has been excellent in recent weeks, something I'm still wincing from after a third place finish at Bay Hill. I thought, with absolute certainty, that he would regress toward his median and he proceeded to prove otherwise. I still have trouble sitting from kicking my own rear-end for that one. Since missing the cut at the Frys.com Open to kick off the season, Jones has been perfect, adding a Top 10 and two Top 25s to that third place finish.
- Patrick Reed - TA: 33.5, CHG: (+4.4) - His missed cut here last year is the only knock against him right now. I've got no choker jokes and no quips about being "Top 5", this kid is good. I suspect that this year will be much different than the last, so don't be fearful, since he sure isn't. Reed finished second in a cataclysmic playoff showdown with Jordan Spieth and Sean O'Hair at the Valspar Championship in his last start, so expect him to ride that confidence to a solid finish here.
- Ryan Moore - TA: 34, CHG: (+4.6) - Nevermind that his two-year-old has a better swing than him (or myself of that matter), Moore is playing extremely good golf right now. Aside from a missed cut at the Frys.com Open, his worst finish on the year is 28th. With a Top 10 and a Top 5 in his last two starts, he's got another chance to break with his past this week. Moore is 1-for-3 here, and while that made cut went for an 11th place finish, it still wasn't without a relatively big number as he posted a 4-over 76 in the final round.
- Keegan Bradley - TA: 36.13, CHG: (-6.4) - For as consistent as many on the list have been so far, Bradley is far, far away from that. He's got a few Top 5s this year and has one at the SHO in 2012 but he hasn't been showing much to signify a high-probability of that this week. Even so, he's 3-for-3 year, with a 10th place finish in 2013 on top of his 4th place finish in 2012. He's been slowly regressing much of this year and last, but he's too good for it to continue in perpetuity.
- Phil Mickelson - TA: 38.75, CHG: (-1.2) - Everyone's favorite lefty (Sorry Bubba) is part of the same group as Matt Kuchar, and while he's still not recorded a Top 10 this season, he's still buttoning down Top 25s, with two in his last six starts. While that's hardly something to write home about much less stake your fantasy ranking on, his past here is something to hang your hat on. Phil has finished no worse that 16th in his last four attempts in Houston, including a victory here in 2011. If his putter comes alive this week, expect him to contend.
- Rickie Fowler - TA: 40.38, CHG: (+7.4) - I was a bit worried we were starting to lost the red-hot Fowler that we had for much of last year, as he post four consecutive finishes of 40th or worse. He's started to turn it around a little bit, with 12th and 29th place finishes in his last two starts. Fowler finished 6th here last year to kick off his run for 5th place at the Masters. Previously, Rickie had been unexceptional at the SHO despite made cuts, posting 63rd and 65th place finishes.
- Sergio Garcia - TA: 41.71, CHG: (-4.4) - Garcia has only played here twice in his career and the results have been markedly different. Last year, Garcia finished 3rd with a red-hot putter that many thought would serve him well at the Masters (as per usual, it didn't). In 2009, Sergio made his only other visit here, finishing 77th and closing with a 81. Given his remarks about playing with less than his best so far this year, I'm not sure who is going to show up this week.
- Bill Haas - TA: 43.75, CHG: (+8.2) - His missed cut at the Northern Trust Open, just as any MC is for Haas, was a one-time deal and you need only look at his 7th place finish at the WGC-Cadillac for proof. Considering how exceptionally consistent he was last year, Haas has been somewhat wild this year, with a win mixed with some other not-so-great finishes. Haas finished 37th here last year and 10th in 2013 but MC'd in 2012.