We’re finally here, the first major of the year. The Masters. In case you weren’t aware, this week is also the week when golf takes center stage in the world of daily fantasy sports. Draftkings has brought their millionaire maker tournament back for one week and the reception so far seems to have been great. This past week also saw Draftkings announce the first ever live final for fantasy golf, with a 600k guarantee event which will take place at the TPC Boston during the Deutsche Bank Championship. The event features a 200k first prize and 5 days in Boston. I mention all of this mainly to note the exceptional growth that fantasy golf has experienced over the past year. It really has become what I like to refer to as the perfect offseason sport to replace football. It gives casual players a very nice way to play daily fantasy sports without having to follow a team night in and night out, the same way football does. And besides, who doesn’t like to watch guys choke under pressure when your fantasy team depends on them playing well…
The Masters is the first major event in the golf calendar year and takes place at Augusta National, which is a par 72 course that plays between 7400 and 7500 yards. Augusta National was built within a tree sanctuary which is why all of the holes have names that sound like they were taken from your local greenhouse. The course underwent a huge transformation in 2002 that significantly lengthened the course and changed the greens from Bermuda to Bentgrass to make them faster. This was all done in an attempt to “Tiger-proof” the course and protect it from being over-powered by big hitters. Since that time however big hitters have prospered at the course as distance has become one of the key indicators for success.
Augusta National is such an all-around test that there are almost too many trends and statistics to keep track of. I’ve tried to narrow down what statistics and trends are the most important and the ones you should be paying attention to when building your DFS rosters. The first, and possibly the most important is experience. No player has won at Augusta in their first visit to the course since Fuzzy Zoeller did it in 1979. The greens at Augusta have significant undulation and are faster than regular tour courses, and knowing their intricacies can often be a huge factor. It’s for this reason that from a statistical standpoint I would also look at three-putt avoidance this week. Players who are good at lag putting and making putts from 10 feet and in will have a huge advantage since the greens will demand precision from players for the entire week.
The next two statistics I would pay close attention are driving distance and strokes gained tee-to-green. The past 5 winners have been ranked very high in both categories. Given the fact that Augusta National has plenty of long par 4’s and the par 5’s are all reachable in two by long hitters there is no doubt that length and solid ball striking from both the tee and fairway will be of the utmost importance.
Finally, take a look at a player’s ability to score on the par 5’s. All of the par 5’s are reachable in two (by the big hitters anyways) and present the only real consistent scoring opportunities the players will get each round. To give you an example of how important the par 5’s are this week, winners over the past ten years have collectively gone 84 under par on the par 5’s… over this same span they have collectively played the par 4’s at even par.
Odds to win: 20-1
Kay stat: 1st—driving distance, 1st—strokes gained tee to green
There’s two ways you can look at Dustin Johnson this week. The first is to look at Johnson’s record at Augusta and in the majors and say he simply does not have what it takes to contend on such a difficult course. You can say his short game is not up to snuff and that his price is simply too high on Draftkings to justify rostering someone who has never landed a top ten here in numerous attempts. The second view you can take, and the one I prefer, is to say that the past is the past. Since Johnson has returned to the tour he has absolutely looked like one of the best players on earth. He currently ranks first in ball-striking and first in driving distance (almost ten yards more than Bubba Watson) and showed great poise in winning the highest profile event of the year to date (WGC Cadillac). I’m sure you will hear many arguments for and against Dustin this week but in my opinion relying on his past failures as a reason to avoid him this week is dangerous. He’s been a different player since his return and I expect a much different result from Dustin—compared to past years—this week at Augusta.
Odds to win: 40-1
Key Stat: 15th—Strokes gained tee to green, 13th—3-putt avoidance
If the key to winning this week will be making a bunch of clutch putts and getting up and down as many times as possible then it’s probably a good idea to get Patrick Reed in your lineups. Reed is quickly becoming a weekly name atop leaderboards and he doesn’t seem to be ready to stop this trend any time soon. Reed may not have a long or flashy record at Augusta having only played the Masters once and recording a missed cut, but he does have some local knowledge. He attended Augusta State University and, as a result, is more familiar with the course than perhaps some of the regular tour members. Reed’s short game and putting for the year have been simply outstanding and when you add in the fact he likes to play a huge draw off the tee on most of his shots you get the sense that his game sets up perfectly for success at this event. At 9300 on Draftkings I view him as far too cheap considering his contemporary Jordan Spieth is priced 2000 higher.
Odds to win: 60-1
Key Stat: 9th—Strokes gained tee to green, 23rd—par 5 scoring
You might think I want to avoid talking about Louis Oosthuizen this week after he made me look bad by missing the cut at the Shell, but the reality is he is one of the best values on the board this weekend. Oosthuizen hits the ball a ton and has the distance to take on this course when he needs to. Oosthuizen may not have lit the world on fire last week, but he still shot two rounds under par. More importantly, Oosthuizen has flashed form all year, including finishing 6th at the much tougher test of Doral—which is a better correlation for success at Augusta than the birdie-fest in Houston last weekend. Oosthuizen finished 25th last year playing largely with a bad back. He has also finished second in this tournament, losing in a playoff to Bubba Watson in 2012. I expect Oosthuizen to be in the mix at this year’s event, and think he offers tremendous upside at his price.
Odds to win: 75-1
Key Stat: 5th—par 5 scoring
When you really start diving into the stats this week you can start to see why Paul Casey might be a good pick this week. Casey rank high in almost every single category of importance I have listed. He’s 5th in par scoring, 30th in distance off the tee, 17th in strokes gained tee to green and even ranks 21st in 3 putt avoidance. Having risen to 3rd in the world at one point in his career, Casey has had plenty of experience at Augusta, having posted finishes of 6th and 10th. His last couple visits from 2010 to 2012 may not inspire much confidence but his form now is much greater than it was at that point in his career. Casey has challenged at multiple events already this season. Not only do I think he makes for a great value play this week in daily fantasy but I also think if some of the favorites falter he could be a surprise winner.
Odds to win: 50-1
Key Stat: 9th—strokes gained tee to green
It’s hard to ignore how well JB Holmes has been playing this year. His win last week really capped off what has been an amazing run of golf thus far in 2015. To put it in perspective, with a few breaks at the Northern Trust and Doral, Holmes could have easily already won 3 times on tour already this season. And given his recent play it’s not surprising to learn that Holmes is ranked highly in many important categories I am focusing on for the week. What is slightly shocking however is that even with 4 wins on tour (after last week) he has only tee’d it up at Augusta National once, finishing 25th way back in 2008. Still, even with Holmes’ lack of history at Augusta it is not hard to see Holmes finding similar success, especially given the success other bombers, like Fred Couples and Angel Cabrera, have had on the course. Holmes’ reduced price on Draftkings may end up making him the highest owned player in the Millionaire Maker tournament which is something to think about from gpp strategy, however for cash games he is likely the must play of the week as a high finish will destroy those who choose to fade him.
Odds to win: 100-1
Key Stat: 6th—driving distance
If you look at Palmer’s statistics you don’t see a player who should be priced well under 7000 on Draftkings. On top of ranking highly in driving distance Palmer ranks 20th in scrambling, 8th in strokes gained tee to green and 27th in par 5 scoring. In short, Palmer is and has been playing great since the fall of 2014. Palmer’s game also sets up perfectly for Augusta given that he has length and hits a draw on almost all of his shots. This will help as Augusta has many tee shots that require right to left ball flights. Finally, Palmer has played at Augusta three times, and while he missed the cut twice he also has a 10th place finish to his credit. Given that Palmer is playing the best golf of his life at the moment, it’s not hard to see him replicating or even surpassing that feat this weekend.
Notes: There’s two guys who I just left off my list of best plays. First, I’m not sure if picks get more obvious than Jimmy Walker this week. He’s priced well and should contend there’s not much else to say. Same goes for Jason Day. His course history here is fantastic and he’s now healthy. It would not surprise me in the least if he won the tournament. Lastly, even though he may not have a great history at this event I can’t shake the feeling Ryan Moore is going to be near the lead on Sunday, he’s cheap and has shot multiple rounds in the 60’s here before.
Odds to win: 150-1
Key Stat: 13th—3-putt avoidance
At 6500 on Draftkings, Russell Henley has to be considered one of the best value plays of the week. Henley has played Augusta twice now and ended up finishing 31st last year which included a poor finishing round of 75. At only 25 years of age and already with two wins on tour, Henley is one of the brightest young stars on tour but often gets overlooked due to the success of other players like Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. Henley is a Georgia native and I’m sure this event has special meaning to him as a result. Henley comes into the event in great form having led the field in greens in regulation the past week in Houston. A fantastic putter with decent distance, I expect big things from Henley and won’t be shocked if he ends up inside the top ten.
Odds to win: 250-1
Key Stat: 40th—par 5 scoring
While I recommend you try to stay above the 6000 price range on Draftkings this week, if you are going to dip below that range I submit you might want to think about using Morgan Hoffmann. Hoffmann is coming off a near win in his last start at the Arnold Palmer. He has great length and even though he started the season slowly, ranks fairly high in par 5 scoring. What I like best about Hoffmann is that he shows up for big events. Hoffmann played very well at the tough and long Doral while also placing very high in last year’s playoff events. Even though this will be Hoffmann’s first Masters I expect him to be ready and given the shape of his game, expect he might even be able to compete for a top finish. A top 20 is certainly achievable.
Odds to win: 50-1
Key Stat: 37th—par 5 scoring
I think Snedeker may end up being the key to winning a million dollars this week. If you look at the salary levels on Draftkings Snedeker is tucked away in a price range in which people will naturally gravitate off his name to other golfers. Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker and Sergio Garcia are all priced lower than he is. Additionally, perennial Masters contenders Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson are priced right above him. Snedeker has a great history at this event. Having famously blown the tournament in 2008—while still finishing 3rd— he’s also landed finishes of 6th, 15th and 19th on separate occasions. While the media fawns over Jordon Spieth and Patrick Reed’s short games the best scrambler/putter on tour might be Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker really laid low after his Pebble Beach win, but you can bet he will be ready for this event as he’s always expressed huge fondness for Augusta. I think many people will pass him over for more popular plays and am suggesting you take advantage by rostering him in some gpps.
Fade: I don’t typically like to put too much stock in one bad result by a player but Matt Kuchar really didn’t look good last weekend. He has a long list of top finishes at Augusta but he’s coming into to this year’s event in much poorer form than years past. At his high price point I’m fine fading him for cheaper options.
My Pick: There’s no one hitting it better or further on tour right now than Dustin Johnson. He showed some true mettle at Doral when he stood up to both JB Holmes and Bubba Watson and took them out down the stretch. I think he can replicate that feat again here and overcome his past major failures to win the green jacket.