The players who should be atop the leaderboard come Sunday sunset; Yahoo! group in ( )
Rory McIlroy (B): The only question I have about McIlroy this week is if he can avoid the big round and scare away the ghosts of Masters past. In five tournaments, McIlroy has posted a score of 77 or higher every year except his first go-around. We all remember the collapse (80) on Sunday in 2011. I remember the hug he shared with Garcia in 2012 on the final green Saturday because he wasn’t too happy his 77. Last year, his 79 on Saturday turned a bad spring to even worse. The 2014 season has had some bumps with his water ball and subsequent playoff loss at Honda but I’ll remind you that this kid has won two majors and both by eight shots. His 65 on Sunday at SHO is exactly what I was hoping to see heading into this week.
Adam Scott (A): The defending champion showed flashes of brilliance and madness at the API three weeks ago but I have to keep telling myself it’s all part of his plan. His plan is to win majors, period. His plan involves peaking during these tournaments instead of the weekly TOUR stops. After becoming the first Australian to ever win a green jacket, he tries to join Nicklaus, Faldo and Woods as those who defended. I see no reason why this can’t happen. In the last three years he’s tied for second on the back of a 67-67 weekend, T8 after opening with 75 and closing with 66 and his victory last year. His caddy showed last year that he could be a factor as well. He’s been around this place quite a few times and knows what it takes to win as well.
Phil Mickelson (A): I should just type he’s won it three times in the last 10 years and be done with it but I’ll expound. He’s finished in the top 10 in 14 of 21 starts. In a major. Heck, he made TWO TRIPLES here in 2012 and was T3. He’s probably still pissed about that one. Where I believe that Pinehurst No.2 is his destiny to complete the career grand slam, I believe with his length and knowledge that he’ll be bothering the leaderboard on Sunday. He’ll be happy that there won’t water taunting him off every tee box and he should be even happier that Woods won’t be around to meddle in his chance to win No. 4. #motivationstation
Jason Day (B): He’s set the record for low round for a first-timer in 2011 with 64. His T2 finish was only bested by Fuzzy Zoeller’s victory by a first-timer in 1979. He’s been runner-up at a U.S. Open. Twice. He’s won a WGC event. Last season he was third here and followed that up with T2 at Merion and T8 at Oak Hill. His four best finishes of 2013 were in majors, WGC or FedExCup Playoff events. Water finds it level, eh? He withdrew from Doral and Bay Hill because his thumb was bothered after hitting too many balls after winning the WGC-Match Play. That’s my kind of guy. #neversatisfied
Matt Kuchar (A): Gamers will be upset that Matt Kuchar didn’t close the deal the last two weeks on the back nine on Sunday but I would suggest that the Georgia Tech grad would trade both of those wins for a deal-closer this week at Augusta. He squashed the Valero and came back to lead by four heading into Sunday at SHO so he’s doing something right! He’s happy with his ball-striking and his short game has been cruising along so the Group A monster this week will be filled with very interesting decisions. Kuchar has won every big event (THE PLAYERS, WGC, FedExCup Playoff) except a major. He’s been close here before and if he can overcome No. 16 on Sunday, he could be wearing his first green jacket. In his last 12 rounds at Augusta, five have been in the 60s. #strong
Sergio Garcia (C): Coming off another podium finish in Houston, Garcia heads to Augusta as one of the chosen few with the moniker of “best player not to win a major.” This will be his 16th Masters and he has exactly one more (3) top 10 than Stewart Cink does in 16 starts. He also has one less major. The last four years he’s been trending in the right direction with finishes of T45, T38, T12 and T8 last year. His total putting stats the last two years on TOUR are 31st and 27th. #causeandeffect I’m not worrying about his ball-striking or short game either. #vamos
Dustin Johnson: (B): Oh yeah. This guy. If I pretend nothing has happened to Kuchar the last two weeks I’m surely going to take that angle for Dustin Johnson. His form before his 80 and subsequent WD at SHO was quite impressive as he racked up T6, T2, second and T4 in stroke play events. Johnson was the 54-hole leader at Pebble Beach in 2010 at the U.S. Open before firing a million on Sunday. Johnson was the 72-hole leader later that year at the PGA at Whistling Straits before being assessed a two-shot penalty after grounding his club in a hazard. The following summer he was right in the hunt at Royal St. George’s before whacking one OB on the back nine Sunday. He’s done his time. He’s gone through the pain. The talent is there and he’s never MC at ANGC.
Bubba Watson (A): The 2012 champion was in the process of having a bounce-back 2014 until he WD from Bay Hill with allergy problems after 83. He really does like the course because he became a member there just a few weeks later. That didn’t help all the gamers who loaded up on him that week because of his 2014 form. In four stroke-play events leading up to Bay Hill, Watson turned in T23, T2, WIN and T2. He was also a beaten quarterfinalist (T9) in Match Play. He won’t be in the spotlight this week and I believe that’s exactly where he prefers to be. He’s 16 of 24 in majors but only has seven top 25s. Everyone has warts this week so I’m riding current form.
Justin Rose (B): Another Sean Foley stable mate that is having injury issues, Rose has missed time with a sore shoulder and that has slowed his start to 2014. After his win at the U.S. Open last year at Merion confirmed what we all believed would eventually happen now gamers wait for a consistent run of form. He’s 8-8 career and he’s going “Phil Mickelson” this week as he’s putting in a “mini-driver” (isn’t she an actress?) in his bag. He’ll have another option to attack the par fives and the longer par fours. This would suggest his confidence is quite high at the moment if he’s going to add weaponry before a major without testing it in tournament play. In his five of his last six majors where he’s made the cut, he’s finished T25 or better including three top 10s. #classispermanent
Brandt Snedeker (A): Wellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll here we go again, gamers! Snedeker, who has had his heart broken here a couple of times, including last year on No. 13, is looking to break through for his first green jacket as well. In 2008, he learned a lesson and last year he learned another one. His closing 68 at API gave him his best stroke-play finish of 2014 (T8) so he arrives on form. He spent the last few weeks at Sea Island practicing and preparing with Todd Anderson. The folks at Sea Island are notorious for tricking out their practice facility to get it as slick and fast as the weather allows. His two best finishes here have been with final rounds of 77 and 75. He’ll be in contention.
Graeme McDowell: Having one finish out of the top 10 in five starts this season tells me that GMAC is enjoying married life and his new driver. He switched it out after 77 in round two at API and went on to finish 67-70 on the weekend his last time out. He’ll split fairways and I’m not worried one bit about his short game or putting. He’s second on TOUR in scoring.
Charl Schwartzel: His worldwide form is nothing but solid and he’s proven he can handle the heat on Sunday at Augusta. He birdied the final FOUR holes to win his green jacket in 2011. There’s not many better slick green putters in the world and he’ll be hoping it dries out as the week continues.
Jason Dufner: He’s had the 36-hole lead here (2011) and has never missed the cut. His current form suggests that he’s heating up, as suggested, as the weather heats up. He put on a ball-striking clinic to win the PGA last August and is the only player in the field that can win consecutive majors. He’ll need to bury his weekend demons (75-75 in 2011; 75-73 in 2012) but with the way he drives it and laces it with his irons he should have a chance at redemption.
Zach Johnson: His current form is what puts him on this list as he’s finding tons of fairways (fourth), greens (11th) and is getting up and down (11th). He hasn’t finished inside of the top 20 in six Masters since his victory in 2007. He’s played the weekend in NINETEEN consecutive events.
Jordan Spieth: #SpiethBoner is buddies with Ben Crenshaw. Ben Crenshaw has won this event twice. If Spieth is as smart as I believe him to be, he’s been cramming for this exam since last July after his victory at John Deere with Crenshaw and his long-time Masters caddy Carl Jackson. He’ll be playing practice rounds with the great Texan and will look to be the first Texan since Crenshaw to wear the jacket. He’ll also be the youngest winner if he does the business this week. None of this would surprise me. He’s cut from a different cloth.
Horses for Courses
Fred Couples: The term “horses for courses” was invented for him because of his play at Augusta. This will be his 30th Masters and he has 16 top 15 finishes. He’s also the 1992 champion. Since he’s turned 50, he’s finished sixth, T15, T12 and T13. The only question is whether his back can hold up for four days.
Angel Cabrera: The 2009 playoff champion lost last year to Adam Scott in a playoff. His shoulder has been bothering him lately so I have a feeling this week is going to be El Pato’s last stand before he gets his wing taken care of. Since his victory in 2009, he’s finished T18, seventh, T32 and P2 last year. He has six top 10s in 14 starts. #bueno
Nick Watney: He’s 6-6 in six consecutive trips to Augusta, more proof that ball-strikers are the key this week. He’s finished T19 or better in four of his six appearances with solo seventh in 2010 being the best of the bunch. His best finish this season in nine events is T24 so this is a stretch.
Hunter Mahan: But Glass he shot 76-82 here last year!!!! Yes, yes he did. He also MC in 2011 and 2008! But, he was T10 in 2009 and T8 in 2010 plus T12 in 2012. He’s all-or-nothing.
Ian Poulter: He was 8-8 before 76-75 MC in 2013. He seems to ramp himself up for only the big events. This qualifies.
This category was created for player in excellent form but without the pedigree in majors. It’s not a knock; it’s just a fact.
Jimmy Walker: After playing the U.S. Open in 2001 and 2002, Walker has only three other major appearances in his career and they all came at the PGA over the last four years. His only finish was T21 in 2012 at Kiawah. I think Walker has a puncher’s chance this week because missing fairways around here won’t be a huge penalty. His length and steady putting stroke could surprise.
Patrick Reed: If you’re a top five player in the world, these are weeks where you go out and prove it. Reed could do himself a favor by backing up his words by putting a scare into the ruling class this week. The former Augusta State NCAA champion will enjoy his homecoming and I bet he’s played here once or twice.
Harris English: His T15 at last year’s Open Championship should void him from this list but this will be his first trip to the Masters and we know how those guys usually fare. The reason I can make an argument for him is he’s plenty long and leads the tour in GIR and scoring. Yeah, and he’s in the long-shot category. I believe experience WINS this tournament but stud play can make some noise. He covers the second requirement.
Bill Haas: On the upswing in his career, Haas has competed in the last four Masters and made the cut in all of them. If anyone has any historical advantage, it’s Haas. His great uncle is Bob Goalby, the 1968 champion. His father, Jay, played here from 1976-2005. I won’t even mention his uncles Jerry Haas and Dillard Pruitt who also knocked it around here. He’s got plenty of information at his disposal for this track. The reason he’s on this list is because he’s hasn’t had a top 10 in his last 15 majors.
Ryan Moore: After winning the Low Amateur in 2005, Moore has never been cut in six chances at Augusta, including twice as an amateur. He has one top 25 in his last 13 majors but Augusta fits his eye to some degree. Great roster fill this week. I’ll take a shot with a guy who is 10th in the all-around ranking and that course history but he’s not the longest guy on TOUR.
Graham DeLaet: The Canadian ball-striker tees it up for the first time so we’ll see how he handles it. He currently ranks No. 4 on TOUR in the ball-striking. This will be his third MAJOR and first Masters.
Russell Henley: This will be his sixth major championship and second Masters. Henley played the full rotation last year after his win at Sony. He went 1-4 with T73 as his best finish. He was Low Amateur at the U.S. Open at Pebble in 2010 but I’m not sure if he can hit enough greens this week. He’ll have to putt it lights out to contend.
Louis Oosthuizen: Most folks will remember his spectacular double eagle on No. 2 two years ago before he lost to Watson. I focus on his wonky back and the fact that his other four appearances saw him MC with zero rounds under par.
Martin Kaymer: He’s broken par twice in six tournaments. He’ made two cuts.
The Par 3 Winner: He’s never won. Ever.
The Man with His Own Section
Lee Westwood: His game started showing signs of life last week at SHO where he played all four rounds at par or better and finished T19. His T19 finish was his first inside the top 20 on TOUR this season. As Westwood heads to Augusta, he’ll provide the ultimate fantasy quandary this week: Do gamers ride the horse-for-course on the upswing or do they just sit this one out. Westwood loves Augusta and major championship golf. In his last four trips around ANGC, he posted second, T11, T3 and T8 last year. Only three of 16 rounds were played over par during that stretch and six of those rounds were in the 60s. In the last 23 majors that he’s played, he’s finished T8 or better in 10 of those. At the Masters, he’s finished second, T11, T3 and T8 last year. Here’s more evidence that short-game artists are not NECESSARY around these hallowed grounds.
Jordan Spieth of the Week Last Week
The column was taken over and thrashed by the kid from Texas last year. Out of respect, I’m not changing the title of it for 2013-14. It will remind me just how good Spieth was in the last three months of the season. This year, we’ll still identify an up-and-coming player and/or rookie that fantasy players should have on their radar.
Frys.com: Hideki Matsuyama, T3; Brooks Koepka, T3; Max Homa, T9.
SHCO: Ryo Ishikawa is only 22, don’t forget, T2; Chesson Hadley, T5.
CIMB: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 24, might have enough money after this week to earn Special Temporary Membership. Pay attention!
WGC-HSBC: Jordan Spieth was 17th. Tommy Fleetwood (T18) is only 22 and plays in Europe. Matsuyama WD with a bad back.
McGladrey: Scott Langley turned 24 last April and is in his second season on TOUR. He finished T22 last week and No. 124 last season. #slimpickinngsthisweek
OHL Mayakoba: Harris English turned 24 last July. He won.
HTOC: Er, Jordan Spieth, solo second.
Sony: Hudson Swafford and Will Wilcox both finished T8. Both played on the Web.com Tour last year and are rookies on TOUR this season.
Humana: Patrick Reed won. He’s 23. You need to pay attention.
FIO: Ryo Ishikawa, 22, bagged another top 10 finish. That’s his sixth in his last 10 events on TOUR or the Web.com Tour. He’s an alternate this week as of Monday afternoon.
WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama is 21. In 11 events the last two years, he’s hit the top 25 in NINE of them, including T4 last week. #ALLRIGHTYTHEN
Pebble Beach: Er, Jordan Spieth, T4. Patrick Reed, 23, finished T13 and he’s won twice since August. Golf is good hands, again.
Riviera: Harris English won’t be 25 until July. He was T10; Spieth was T12.
WGC-Match Play: Victor Dubuisson is 23 and was second. Jordan Spieth was T5. #youthmovement
Honda: Russell Henley is now the fourth player on TOUR under 25 with two wins. He joins Patrick Reed, Harris English and Rory McIlroy in this very elite club of pups.
WGC-CC: Patrick Reed is 23. He’s now won three times in eight months on TOUR.
Puerto Rico Open: Rookie Chesson Hadley, 26, took home his first title on the big boy circuit.
Valspar: Chesson Hadley backed up his first win with T14 on a tough, tough Copperhead Course. Scott Langley, a second year player from Illinois (see above) was third.
API: The young Japanese lad Ishikawa racked up another top 10 (T8) this week. Yep, he’s still just 22.
Valero: He’ll be remembered for all of the wrong reasons but Andrew Loupe, 25, finished T4 in only his eighth start on TOUR. #slowgolfclap
Shell Houston: Russell Henley’s T7 shows him heating up before heading back for another crack at Augusta.
Coming Later TUESDAY Afternoon
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it around 5 ET every Tuesday for the rest of the season.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON p.m. ET. We will be breaking down the field at the Masters and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.