Defending Champ: Bubba Watson
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The Masters Preview
Do you revel in pretension? Well friends, there’s no more apropos avenue for grandiosity and supererogation than the Masters. It’s easy: act with pomposity, like you come from old (the right kind) of money; leave brevity with the lowly peasants, and inject as many of these terms into your lexicon as often as possible.
The Masters Glossary
A Tradition like no other – The Masters… or the Masters on CBS. This is a contentious issue.
Amen Corner – First coined by Herbert Warren Wind in 1958, Amen Corner spans from the second shot at the 11th through the drive at 13. It’s the most famous stretch of holes on the course (in all of golf, really) and its risk/reward potential can create massive fluctuations atop the leaderboard.
Azaleas – The defining flower of Augusta National, azaleas are only in bloom for three to four weeks in early spring. Not certain how the recent wave of wet conditions will affect their bloom this year, but please pray, just in case.
Bikini Wax – What Gary McCord quipped the 1994 greens were covered in after watching a ball roll into a water hazard. He’s been banned from covering the event since by the Masters’ brass, drunk on the fumes of their absolute power.
Butler’s Cabin – The most noteworthy of the 10 cabins scattered across the grounds of Augusta National. Constructed in 1964, Butler’s Cabin is home to the Green Jacket presentation, where the year’s previous champion bestows the new champion with golf’s highest sartorial honor.
Eisenhower Tree – Named for Dwight “let’s get busy” Eisenhower, the towering pine is located on the left center of the 17th fairway and is a magnet for errant tee shots. At least it was, until significant ice damage forced it to be chopped down in February of 2014. Presumably by a horde of Braves fans.
First Nine, Second Nine – At most courses, it’s acceptable to refer to the holes going out as the “front nine” and those coming in as the “back nine”, but at Augusta National it’s a faux pas. Why? Because they’re superior to us mortals.
Founders Circle – Now a memorial honoring Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts in front of the clubhouse, it’s rumored to have been the meeting place of original members to devise ways of excluding women and non-whites from the grounds.
Friends – All of us, to Jim Nantz.
Green Jacket – The ultimate prize. Winners are presented the Green Jacket on the 18th green after victory, then again in Butler’s Cabin in a separate presentation. It’s so nice, you get to wear it twice.
Magnolia Lane – After passing through the gates, you’ll find yourself heading toward the course, traveling down Magnolia Lane. It’s known for, DUH, a plethora of magnolia trees on both sides of the road that converge to create an exalted vista, producing an ambiance matched only by its wintertime companion: The drive up to the creepy house in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. However, that drive is only recommended for the achromatic enthusiasts among us.
Patrons – Don’t think of using the terms “crowd”, “gallery” or “fans” on the grounds at Augusta. They are patrons, and they shall be on their best behavior.
Paulina Gretzky – I’m guessing she’ll be there. Hopefully wearing this.
Rae’s Creek – Located on southeastern corner of the course, Rae’s Creek is arguably the most recognizable water hazard at Augusta. It flows behind the 11th green, in front of the 12th and in the face of everyone teeing off on 13. Named for John Rae, constructor of a gristmill on the banks of the creek in 1765, it’s most easily spotted on 12, where two parallel bridges – the Hogan and Nelson – connect the fairway to the green.
Record Fountain – Built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the tournament, the Record Fountain showcases all the course records and rests just off the 17th tee box. It takes the pressure of the tournament, and amplifies it to Nigel Tufnel levels.
Sarazen Bridge – Providing a path to the 15th green, the Sarazen Bridge is named for Gene Sarazen’s “shot heard round the world”, a double-eagle on the very same hole in 1935, in a tournament that he would eventually go on to win.
Snack Bar – Like most things at The Masters, the prices at the snack bar are frozen in time. With $3 beer you’d expect the patrons to be rowdier. Maybe, all that alcohol is soaked up by the endless stream of Pimento Cheese Sandwiches consumed. With four types of cheese, mayo, mustard and white bread, it’s possible said patrons keel over with heart attacks before causing a ruckus.
Tributary – A term usually exclusively reserved for seventh grade geography classes and maps of inland Scandinavia, there is a tributary that runs off Rae’s Creek by the green on 13.
White Bib – Caddies are forced to conform to Masters’ regulations that include a white jumpsuit, a green cap and white tennis shoes. Essentially, they dress like minimum security prisoners.
White Dogwood – Augusta’s 11th hole. After a tight fade off the tee, the golfers officially enter Amen Corner.
The Masters Key Stats
- Driving Distance
- Par 5 Scoring
- Par 3 Scoring 150-175 Yards
- Lag Putting/3-Putt Avoidance
Recently, the value of course history as a predictive metric has come under fire. Should it really influence your picks? I don’t swing to the fringes of either spectrum. I believe looking at a course results (and similar layouts) is merely one of many tools to help you construct a case for a player. Simply taking a golfer because he’s historically performed well at a particular track without diving into his recent form or researching how his stats have shifted from previous years would be foolish. However, like in myriad ways, the Masters is different. Course history matters more at Augusta.
Now, just because Fuzzy Zoeller is the only player to win in his debut, outside of Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen the first two years of the tournament, doesn’t mean rookies can’t find success: Jordan Spieth, Jonas Blixt, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler all finished inside the top 10 in their initial trip in 2014. But that reeks of outlier. In the ten years previous, only Jason Day (2011), John Merrick (2009), Andres Romero (2008), Vaughn Taylor (2007) and Luke Donald (2005) managed to earn an automatic invite for the following Masters in their maiden event. So, if you’re playing in a pool where picking is the winner is all that matters, fade all first timers. We all know the first time’s always the worst anyway.
That said, only using course history as a guide will lead you to many poor scoring Fantasy rosters captained by Tiger Woods. Still, there’s a reason Fred Couples and Bernard Langer continue to post quality finishes as octogenarians. Relying on experience makes sense. The layout of Augusta National is so particular that it takes players a few rounds to get acclimated with the tiny nuances the course presents and the proper method of attack on each hole. You’d be surprised how many random hazards just POP UP out of nowhere, cut you down to your prime and result in crooked numbers. I’d wager Rory McIlroy wasn’t aware “between the houses” was a playable lie in 2011. He shan’t be making that mistake again.
The specific skills you want to target are ones that have produced top end results the last half-decade. Just look at the past five champions: Bubba Watson (x2), Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson. They all kill it off the tee, which allows them to take advantage of the Par 5s, and they rarely three putt. It’s not necessary to lead the field in putting for the week, but bleeding strokes from beyond 25-feet on the greens is a first-class ticket to a Friday night flight out of Augusta. Some light-hitters can excel based off their course management, but it won’t result in sports’ crowning achievement in fashion. Oh, being left handed or primarily hitting a draw off the tee, in conjunction with the key stats, generally produces big paychecks too.
The Masters Picks
Adam Scott & Bubba Watson – You had me at “switching back to the long putter,” Adam Scott. With the anchored putter being outlawed at season’s end, the 2013 champ decided to begin the year with the standard sized flat stick to prepare himself for the future. The results? Not great. After lapping the field on the greens in his first two rounds of the year at Doral, it’s possible Scott hasn’t made a putt since. Hence the move back to the club that has elevated his game into the world’s elite. While the Aussie has never leaned on his putting to carry his game, his current -.633 strokes gained with the short stick is well off his two-year average. Scott’s still crushing it with the driver (309 yards) and hitting over 60-percent of fairways, resulting in 1.587 strokes gained tee-to-green, which would place him fourth on Tour if he had the rounds to qualify, so the rest of his game is on point. If he can start rolling in putts, he’ll have no issues earning his fifth straight T15 at Augusta. Since I never like taking the most popular pick, I almost talked myself into Henrik Stenson to fade the consensus, but betting against Bubba Watson at The Masters is a losing proposition. Especially now that he’s become an elite putter. Bubba has never finished better than 84th in SG: Putting for a season since that stat started being tracked in 2006. Normally, he finishes well outside the top 100. Not this year: Bubba’s gained the 12th most strokes per round on the greens in 2015. We already know his game is tailored for Augusta, if he can continue to putt near his season average, Bubba could run away with
Gold Green Jacket.
A-List Alternates: Henrik Stenson & Rory McIlroy
Jason Day & Paul Casey – Despite three top 10s in six events (including a win) and an excellent track record at the Masters (T20, 3rd, WD, 2nd), there seems to be very little buzz about Jason Day. That’s fine, I’m OK with reaping all the rewards. Day does everything you’d want to see from a potential winner: bombs it (9th), hits 72-percent of GIRs (3rd), averages a slew of birdies and eagles (2nd & 13th), elite scrambling (9th) and scores well on Par 3s from the key distance. The Aussie has finished inside the top 20 the last two years from 150-175 yards. Many forget that pre-injury Paul Casey was a top 5 player in the world. Don’t worry, that’s entirely justifiable with the way he’s played since early 2012. After multiple declarations of a return to “full health” with little success, the Brit is finally producing at an elite form again. He’s piled up three T10s in the five events on his way to Augusta and, while he’s not the world’s greatest putter (44th in SG: Putting), he’s still well above average. Plus, he’s been deadly from important distances – 10-15’ (5th) and beyond 25’ (15th). Casey hasn’t earned an Augusta invitation the last two years and produced poor results through injury, but did have a T20/T11/T10 run from 2007-2009, the last time his game looked this good.
Dustin Johnson & Jordan Spieth – Always reserve spots on your Masters roster for the two players in the best form. With six T10s in nine events this season, Jordan Spieth has been spitting all kinds of HOT FIYA, and has a very good opportunity to improve on his T2 in his sophomore showing. Since shaking off the rust at Torrey Pines, Dustin Johnson has one result outside the top six in five starts. DJ’s tops in driving distance and Strokes Gained: T2G, leading to the fifth best birdie average. The only thing between him and a gigantic Green Jacket is his putter. Overall, it’s been lousy (140th SG: Putting). However, if he continues to be dialed in with his approaches and avoids those dastardly 3-putts, Johnson won’t need to gain strokes on the green, the rest of his game will do it for him.
B-List Alternates: Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Lee Westwood & Jimmy Walker
Patrick Reed & Branden Grace – Hopefully, the masses look at Patrick Reed’s +8 disaster in his Masters debut last year and stay away. We can only be so lucky. Reed is both lights out getting to the green (13th) and on it (11th), and has more experience on the layout than you realize. It’s one of the perks of playing collegiate golf at Augusta State. Oh, and as we’ve witnessed by his four victories the past two years, Reed doesn’t succumb to Sunday pressure, he embraces it. I tend to lean on numbers over my gut, usually because my gut is very hungry and tends to make impulse decisions. But screw it, I’m taking Branden Grace regardless. No, his extended stay in America has not been prosperous since coming over in early March (54th, T62, T30), but he was nary unbeatable in the ten weeks before, claiming three novelty checks in six starts internationally. He’s generated mixed results in his two Masters (MC, T18), but all I see is a relatively unknown South African vaulting up the world rankings and my mind goes directly to the years Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen finished on the first page of the leaderboard. Is that fair? Not in the slightest, but I get to make a “hunch” pick every now and then. And, I always want a player no one else is going is going to have on their roster so I can gain a slew of points in the standings if they hit. Plus, there’s nothing better than boasting after the fact when you illogically picked a long shot winner.
C-List Alternates: Miguel Angel Jimenez & Louis Oosthuizen