There's nothing quite like The Masters in sports. Every great game has a theater of wonder, an event that, when dissolved down to its finest elements, is everything of which players dream. Those barest elements are available in the championships of the world's pastimes but few provide the same dramatic back drop, year in and year out, on which to paint their stories. The Masters is at once the essence of golf and its greatest outlier. Every year, Augusta fills with the history of the game, its future and its present. Past Masters winners play out their lifetime exemptions like great philosophers set to prove that golf is the greatest equalizer when names like Bernhard Langer and Freddie Couples battle at the top of the leaderboard with the best in the world. The very best Amateur golfers, with invitations earned through competition aimed to test the very mettle of their spirit, dot the player list in recognition of their early accomplishments. No other event in the world pays homage to its parent sport the way The Masters does. Every game respects the history from which it came, but no other is able to put the greatest from the past on the same playing field as the best of the present and those seeking to earn such a legacy.
The fact is, Augusta National is different because there are few events in sports that annually return to the same venue. While the course has been changed over time, Bobby Jones' original concept still shines through to provide one of the greatest tests in golf. The Masters doesn't feature six-inch deep rough like a U.S. Open to defend the course, instead, the tournament features some of the fastest greens and tightest short game lies a player will ever face. You'll be hard pressed to find a professional golfer who doesn't long to earn an invitation to this event and for good reason. The Masters, more than any other tournament, has produced the kind of memories from which legends are written. If I'm waxing poetic about Magnolia Lane and Amen Corner, its because the great rolling fairways laid by Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones should inspire even the most passive golf fans, even if just for a week, to fall in love with the game.
You're not here, though, for a history lesson, you're here to wring the last drops of knowledge out of The Masters that aren't already scrawled across the internet. Likewise, I'm here to oblige such a request, though I'll be dropping the pretense, pomp, and circumstance from here forward. I'm fresh out of fine wine and fantasy sports cater a little more toward Franzia than French Bordeaux.
Risk and Reward
Risk and Reward
Tiger Woods is back. I'll say that here and hopefully it'll be seen. I've got no idea what to expect from Mr. Woods, and I'm expecting you don't either. This much I do know - Tiger has only ever finished outside of the Top 25 here three times, his first two visits here and a 40th place finish in 2012. Even the fallout from his travails with Elin, Tiger was able to parachute in and fight to a fourth place finish. The rumors of Tiger Woods' demise are not only premature, but greatly exaggerated. He may not prove that this week but make no doubt about it, he'll be back.
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.
- Jordan Spieth - TA: 4.67, CHG: (+1) - A camera click or auditory hallucination away from his second victory of the year at the Shell Houston Open. Spieth finished second at Augusta last year in his first visit, coming a rough back-nine away from being just the second player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win the Masters in his first attempt. There's no better putter on Tour than this 21-year-old and there are few venues where putting is more important than August National. Leads the Tour in putting average and sits 2nd in Strokes-Gained.
- Jason Day - TA: 11.88, CHG: (-2.8) - That Spieth has less than half the Total Aggregate than the next closest person should serve as two points of reference. One, whether Jordan wants to acknowledge it as one or not, he's on an epic run. Two, Spieth is so far from the median that comparing his form right now is like comparing apples to Yankees. Back near Planet Earth, Jason Day might just be the most under-the-radar of the Top 5 right now, largely because he hasn't played since the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Finished 20th last year while battling injury, 3rd in 2013, and 2nd in 2012. Leads in Bogey Avoidance, 2nd in putting average, 3rd in Greens in Regulation, 7th in Scrambling.
- Bubba Watson - TA: 13.25, CHG: (+1.6) - The best American not named Jordan. Two wins in his last three tries at Augusta. Would have slid in above Jason Day, but his 50th here during a dreadful 2013 season still factors. That said, Augusta favors players that move the ball right-to-left and Bubba plays the power fade like nobody else in the game. Far and away the best on Tour right now on Par 5's, a key stat for victory at The Masters, 2nd in Scrambling, and 4th in Bogey Avoidance. If I have to sell Bubba Watson as an option here, I hear Fantasy Baseball is just starting up again.
- Henrik Stenson - TA: 13.5, CHG: (+19.6) - Stenson hasn't finished worse than 13th in his last five starts. He finished 1-over in 14th place last year, his best in nine visits. Aside from Spieth, Stenson is probably the most on-form player of the last month and a half. For as long as he is off the tee, Stenson doesn't play Par-5s particularly well which, when factored with his somewhat balky putter, doesn't set him up particularly well in comparison to others. Then again, at 2nd in GIR and Bogey Avoidance, and 4th in Scrambling, he'll be able to save himself from the subtle difficulties that exist at Augusta.
- Jimmy Walker - TA: 18.17, CHG: (0) - As the season's only two-time winner, he's not-so-quietly a favorite at The Masters. Second only to Spieth with the flatstick and a near-as-makes-no-difference fourth to Watson on the Par 5s, his game is a solid fit for Augusta National. Walker prefers to play a low draw from the tee, so he's got the right-to-left ball flight necessary for success. Managed an 8th place finish last year in his first visit, so he'll be a legitimate threat with his maiden voyage successfully out of the way.
- J.B. Holmes - TA: 35.63, CHG: (+0.2) - My gravest concern with J.B. is that his ball flight isn't particularly well-suited to Augusta. If you were watching his win in Houston, you'd have noticed that he strongly favors working the ball left-to-right, opposite of the preferred flight. Still, given his form, his length, and his solid putting, I have a feeling that there will be no victory hangover for Holmes. It has been some time since he's played The Masters, 2008 to be exact, and he played his way to a tie for 25th, so he's been able to manage despite his ball-flight in the past.
- Adam Scott - TA: 21.125, CHG: (-6.6) - He's been quoted that he'll be dusting off the long putter for Augusta, something that has been key to his success on the tricky putting surfaces at the venue. I'm not entirely convinced that will solve all of his woes, though it should provide some amount of confidence in the only area of his game that has a question mark. He's made 11 of 13 cuts at The Masters, so he's a fairly safe pick, but he might be a longer shot to win it all this year.
- Lee Westwood - TA: 22.13, CHG: (-18.2) - The perennial "he'll win this time" major contender, Westwood has a solid history here, finishing 11th or better in his last five attempts at a green jacket. He played decent golf last week while missing the cut, which sounds a little bit strange, but he just didn't roll in the birdies needed to succeed there. Statistically, he's kind of a mess, though that's somewhat typical. I'm thinking he'll wind up another Colin Montgomerie but as long as he proves he can at least contend, I'll believe he might just get it done.
- Jim Furyk - TA: 22.63, CHG: (-11.2) - I almost wish that he ranked lower because I don't want to defend his placement this high. The upside to the fuzzy, pink handcuffs my rules have placed on me is that very few will be giving Furyk a second look. When you consider that he only finished outside the Top 23 once since last year's Valspar until finding a 40th place finish at the same tournament this year, he had to stumble at some point. Furyk is 16-for-18 and has finished no worse that 29th once he's made the cut at Augusta.
- Matt Kuchar - TA: 23.38, CHG: (-13.6) - I don't know what happened in the 4th round at the SHO this week and I don't think Kuchar did either. His 6-over 78 burned more lineups than a fire would in the Draft Kings headquarters. He's on the short list of best to have never won a major, but he's been so good for the last three years that he's bound to knock one out at some point. He finished 5th last year, 8th in 2013, and 3rd in 2012. Despite his relative lack of length, he's 23rd in Par 5 scoring which, when added to excellent putting and scrambling, makes his a solid fit to The Masters.
- Rory McIlroy - TA: 24.5, CHG: (+0.8) - History, the kind for which The Masters is famous, awaits Rory McIlroy this week. If he finds a way to win, he'll be just the seventh player in history to complete the career grand slam. This week also represents the third leg of a potential Rory-Slam, leaving just the U.S. Open as the final feat for four straight majors. Rory's proven in the past that he might just be able to get it done here and were it not for a fourth round implosion in 2011, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
- Brandt Snedeker - TA: 27.5, CHG: (+1.2) - Speaking of excellent players in search of a major, Snedeker looks like he's back in the hunt for one this season. He's 6-for-7 at The Masters but he's only cracked the Top 5 here once. Obviously, his excellent putting makes him a threat here but it hasn't been as much of a difference maker for him as it has in the past. He's 37th in Par 5 scoring, 13th in scrambling, and 17th in bogey avoidance.
- Patrick Reed - TA: 29.67, CHG: (+4.6) - The time has truly come for Patrick Reed to prove his mettle. He's been brash, he's been controversial, and he's been victorious four times now, so the only question is whether or not he can get it done one the biggest of stages now. His Ryder Cup performance demonstrates some of his prowess in pressure-cooker situations but his major performances have been lackluster at best through his young career. At 19th in Par 5 scoring, 14th in putting average, 3rd in scrambling, and 3rd in Bogey Avoidance, Reed's got a complete skill set for Augusta on paper but he's got to prove he has it in his head.
- Dustin Johnson - TA: 33.13, CHG: (+18.8) - When he's made the cut since his return, he's finished no worse than 6th place. He's already won, but his ability to do that has never really been in question. The real doubts arise in the majors for him, as they should with golf's elite. He's been putting well enough since returning and his Par 5 play should make him a force at Augusta. I'm just not sure whether he feels his game is ready for a major which, ostensibly, was what his "mental-health" hiatus was supposed to help prepare him for.
- Kevin Na - TA: 34.625, CHG: (+16) - For being the 21st ranked player in the world, Kevin Na doesn't get a whole lot of love. He's most known for posting a 16 at the Valero Texas Open and for his notoriously slow play (which he's been improving somewhat), and not for consistent play in the same vein as a Matt Kuchar or Jim Furyk. Na is a solid putter is an equally solid short game and while there's little about his game that makes women swoon and men jealous, he's on form and will likely be off radars.
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