This year’s field at Augusta National will be just 86 players, the smallest in more than 20 years. But this Masters will also be one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Tiger Woods is back, and is the betting favorite. Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy have won recently, and McIlroy is looking to become the first player to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National. Bubba Watson has won twice this year. Justin Thomas has two wins this season, as well, and is coming off a Player of the Year campaign last season. Defending champ Sergio Garcia became a father for the first time earlier this month. The list of intriguing storylines goes on.
As for fantasy angles, there is the belief that Augusta National, at more than 7,400 yards, is a bombers’ course, and that’s mostly true. However, second shots are arguably more important, even though the Tour’s driving-distance leaders can give themselves shorter clubs into greens that yield very small landing areas for those looking to hit it close.
Therefore, I’m placing a high importance on strokes gained: approach-the-green (SGATG) and greens in regulation percentage (GIR; though this stat is sometimes misleading) this week. Other stats I’m looking at: strokes gained: putting (SGP), bogey avoidance and par-5 scoring.
Without further delay, here are my top 50 fantasy-golf options for the 2018 Masters Tournament:
1. Justin Rose: Hasn’t missed a cut in 12 career trips to Augusta National. Lost in a playoff last year to Sergio Garcia, his second runner-up showing in the past three Masters. He owns five top-10s among 10 top-25 finishes here. Coming off a third-place finish at Bay Hill and T-5 at Valspar. Ranks fifth in SGP, 14th in bogey avoidance and T-20 in driving distance. I firmly believe that this is his year.
2. Phil Mickelson: Playing some great golf with a win and three other top-6 finishes in his last four stroke-play starts entering Houston. Owner of three Masters titles (2004, ’06, ’10) and 12 other top-10s finishes at Augusta National. Has missed two of his last four cuts here, but looked solid in a T-22 showing last year. Ranks second in SGP, fourth in SGATG, 12th in par-5 scoring and 17th in bogey avoidance.
3. Tiger Woods: The four-time Masters champion has made 20 career Masters starts and missed just one cut – and that came as an amateur in 1996. In addition to his four wins, Woods has nine finishes or T-8 or better here. He’s in much better shape health-wise than he was in 2015, when he was T-17, and enters this year having finished 12th, T-2 and T-5 in his last three Tour starts. Ranks 14th in SGP and 15th in SGATG.
4. Justin Thomas: Yes, he’s won twice this season, but more impressively he hasn’t finished worse than T-22 in 10 starts. His last three Tour finishes look like this – fourth, second, win. Has begun his Masters career with finishes of T-39 and T-22, so he’s due for a breakout. Ranks T-5 in par-5 scoring, T-6 in SGATG, eighth in bogey avoidance, eighth in driving distance, T-19 in GIR and 39th in SGP.5. Jordan Spieth: Has just one top-10 since Kapalua and has been struggling with the putter (172nd in SGP), but he had either won or finished second in his first three Masters starts before a T-11 last year. The 2015 champ had a chance to win last year, too, before a final-round 75. Ranks fifth in bogey avoidance, T-20 in par-5 scoring, T-24 in GIR and T-25 in SGATG.
6. Rory McIlroy: A month ago he wouldn’t have been ranked here, but that was before his impressive victory two weeks ago at Bay Hill. Since that final-round 80 dropped him from the lead to T-15 at the 2011 Masters, McIlroy has cracked the top 25 in five of six Masters starts, including posting four straight top-10s entering this year. Ranks sixth in driving distance and 24th in SGP. Can achieve the career Grand Slam with a win.
7. Dustin Johnson: The World No. 1 struggled at the WGC-Dell Match Play, but prior to that had a dominating win at Kapalua and six other top-16s to his credit this season. Was T-30 or worse in his first three Masters starts, but had gone T-6, T-4 in last two before withdrawing last year because of a freak back injury. Leads Tour in par-5 scoring average, and ranks second in bogey avoidance, 13th in driving distance, 15th in SGP and 22nd in GIR.
8. Sergio Garcia: Won his first green jacket – and major – in his 19th Masters start last year. Before that he had posted just three top-10s here with five MCs. He recently became a father and he’s been happy on the course, too, with three straight top-10s on Tour. Leads the Tour in SGATG, and ranks T-3 in par-5 scoring and 30th in GIR. He probably won’t repeat, but a top-10 is very possible.
9. Bubba Watson: I’m not quite on the Bubba Hype Train. Other than his two wins at Augusta National (2012, ’14), he has just one finish better than T-37 in seven starts. That being said, he’s looked great in wins at the Match Play and Genesis Open. Ranks fourth in driving distance, 16th in GIR and 22nd in bogey avoidance.
10. Paul Casey: In 11 career Masters starts, he has just three MCs and has finished T-6 or better four times, including in each of the past three years. Has a win, at Valspar, and seven other top-20s in his last nine worldwide starts. Ranks eighth on Tour in SGATG, 15th in GIR, 16th in bogey avoidance and T-20 in par-5 scoring. Only thing holding him back is the fact that he hasn’t won a major before.
11. Rickie Fowler: Take out his 80-73 and MC in 2016 and he’s been strong at Augusta National of late with three top-12 finishes since 2014, when he shared fifth and shot 67 in the third round. Had two MCs in four starts before regaining some momentum with a T-14 at Bay Hill. Ranks sixth in bogey avoidance, T-11 in GIR and 12th in SGATG.
12. Jason Day: Started his season with pair of T-11s in Asia, a win at Torrey Pines and T-2 at Pebble Beach, but recently failed to get out of his group at Match Play. Overcame 74-76 start to finish T-22 last year and also boasts three top-10s, including a pair of top-3s, in his seven career Masters starts. Ranks first in SGP and 10th in driving distance, but is 185th in SGATG.
13. Alex Noren: Went 74-78 to miss the cut in his Masters debut last year, but I really like him this year. He was third at the Match Play, his third top-3 finish on Tour this year. Ranks T-3 in par-5 scoring, 10th on Tour in SGATG, T-20 in SGP and 25th in bogey avoidance.
14. Jon Rahm: Had a solid Masters debut last year, tying for 27th. But he hasn’t cracked the top 10 on Tour since winning the CareerBuilder Challenge, though I’ll point out that he’s been T-29 or better in the four stroke-play events during that span. Ranks 32nd in SGP and 37th in GIR, but I’m a tad worried about him ranking 137th in SGATG.
15. Matt Kuchar: Has missed just one cut in 11 career Masters starts. His T-4 here last year was his fourth top-8 finish in his past six trips to Augusta. Had been top-25-less in four starts since T-5 in Phoenix until making the Round of 16 at Match Play. Ranks 27th in bogey avoidance and 35th in SGP.
16. Hideki Matsuyama: Has missed just one cut in six trips to Augusta and has gone fifth, T-7, 11th in the past three Masters. The wrist is a slight concern, but Matsuyama has been able to play two events since returning from injury, even if he didn’t finish well – T-49, T-36. Ranks 18th in bogey avoidance and 20th in SGATG.