The Shell Houston Open provided professionals with a sneak peek at Augusta, albeit in Texas. Golf Club of Houston tried to cut the course to mirror Augusta so that the stars will invade Texas to prepare for the season’s first major. Many took advantage of the setup, but what we learned from the tournament is anyone’s guess.
Russell Henley caught fire on the back nine on Sunday to finish with a 65 and a score of 20-under, good enough to hold off Sung Kang by three strokes and earn a trip to Augusta. Rickie Fowler and Luke List finished four shots behind Henley. Fowler began a horrid putting performance late on Saturday by missing a short par putt on 17 and four-putting 18, including three from five feet. That won’t work at Augusta.
Before we head down Magnolia Lane, let’s talk fake golf!
2017 Shell Houston Open recap
Yahoo! Tournament Points – 151; Yahoo! Season Points – 2,014; Yahoo! Season Ranking - 100th Overall (99th Percentile)
The week looked to be trending toward bust level until Russell Henley saved me on Sunday with a 40-point performance. I finished top-5 in all three of my leagues, but I mistakenly started Tony Finau the first two days and left 20 more ‘C’ points on the bench. Not starting Justin Rose all week cost me a few points, but I saved a start and he didn’t climb the leaderboard. What happened to Adam Scott?
Fairway – I’m very pleased with the fades of Spieth, Reed, Stenson, and Rahm. The first three missed the cut, and the young Spaniard didn’t earn a medal. Fowler came through for me with a third-place finish, and, most importantly, I was very high on Henley and he triumphed.
Rough – Tony Finau. I thought he had a legitimate chance at winning, but I always think Archie is going to dump Veronica and run away with Betty. Dead wrong. My gut play of Lucas Glover missed the cut, and I faded Daniel Berger who shot a 67 on Sunday for solo fifth.
Here we go… it’s Major Time!
2017 Masters Tournament Yahoo! fantasy golf picks
As I noted this week, the Masters is the first of three huge tournaments in the Spring segment. Yahoo! doesn’t weight starts or offer different scoring for major championships, so players will have to begin to balance need versus number of starts left. A reader sent me a message asking if I would include the number of starts I have remaining for each player in the preview, so you’ll see that figure in parenthesis following the player’s name.
There are plenty of sites offering news and data on the Masters, but GolfNewsNet.com is your one-stop shop for all things Augusta, including fantasy predictions!
Time for Jack and Gary to get us started!
- Jason Day (8) – There’s no telling how Day will perform this week. We have all been touched by health issues, and we all react differently to them. Many media outlets have reported that Day is optimistic on the health of his mother, which is fantastic news. It seems a bit tasteless to bring that up in a fantasy golf preview, but his mind has to be considered. Will he be able to focus on his game and charge to an inspired win? Will the lack of reps lately catch up with him? I’m fading Day this week, but he’s one of the good guys on Tour and I’ll be cheering hard for him all weekend.
- Rickie Fowler (7) – There are only three ‘A’ players I’m considering this week, and Rickie is one of them. Fowler is in elite form, having finished no worse than 16th in his last five tournaments, with a win and two other top-fives thrown in there. He’s 5-6 at the Masters with his MC coming last year. He looks like a different golfer in 2017, and the stats all line up; he’s leading the tour in scoring average, second in SG:Total, fourth in SG:T2G, and third in SG:Approach. Is this the week he finally ditches the flake car and joins the elite?
- Bill Haas (8) – When a player performs well at the WGC Match Play, he usually warrants a look at Augusta. When you see that player is 7-7 at the Masters, you dig a bit deeper, mining for fantasy gold. When you find seven finishes between 12th and 42nd, you stop digging. Haas has started 29 major championships and has posted exactly one top-10; last year’s Open Championship. Knocking on the door of his 35th birthday, it doesn’t seem like the step up in class will come. His career looked promising following his 2011 FedEx Cup Championship, but he’s just a younger version of Matt Kuchar; excellent career, not elite.
- Dustin Johnson (7) – Simply, he checks all the boxes. You need more? He’s leading the Tour in driving distance. He ranks 10th in SG:Approach. Why? Because he’s closer to the green than anyone else. Course history, you ask? DJ is 6-7 at Augusta with finishes of fourth and sixth the last two years. Let’s not overthink this – with respect to Ron Popeil, DJ is a “set it and forget it” play this week.
- Rory McIlroy (9) – Augusta is the last stop on the Career Grand Slam train for Rory, and he looks solid since returning from a rib injury. Rors finished seventh and fourth in his first two stroke-play events this year, and is dominating courses from the tee box. McIlroy is 7-8 at Augusta with top-10 finishes in each of the last three years. There is no burning reason to fade Rory… just a matter of which two of the three studs to start in ‘A’ this week.
- Louis Oosthuizen (10) – Oosty has hit the top-25 each of the last three years at Augusta, and he’s in decent form, posting a 7-7 mark with five top-30s in 2017. That said, he doesn’t make enough of a case to bench the big boys.
- Adam Scott (8) – The 2013 Masters Champion just doesn’t look right. His form is spotty, and his finishes of 14-38-42 in his last three trips to Augusta aren’t inspiring. He has had trouble getting to the green this year, ranking 60th in SG:Approach, and it’s been no picnic when he sees the dance floor, as evidenced by his ranking of 79th in SGP. I see no reason to believe the Aussie will put it all together this week. Pass.
- Gary Woodland (9) – Much like Jason Day, we simply don’t know what to expect following the loss in Woodland’s family. Nobody can prepare you for what he and his wife went through. From a pure statistical standpoint, he seems like a solid fit at Augusta, although he has had no success at the Masters. His form was fading a bit from his white-hot start to the year prior to his withdrawal from the Match Play. Again, like Day, I’ll be pulling for a stable, peaceful weekend for Woodland.
- Paul Casey (7) – He won’t be talked about much, but Casey is in great form and his Masters history won’t scare anyone off. Finished sixth and fourth in the last two years, and has four other top-25 finishes. This is one of the gut plays of the week, even though the stat lines don’t necessarily support it. Casey will turn 40 this year, and he has hit the top-10 at a major eight times without any true success. If he’s ever going to join the elite, now is the time.
- Adam Hadwin (9) – He has been playing lights out lately, but rookies don’t win at Augusta. Could he score a top-15? Sure… but I don’t need to roster him this week.
- Charley Hoffman (10) – He’ll be popular this week due to his combination of recent form and track history. Finishes of 27-9-29 in his three trips to ANGC are solid, and he has two top-10s already this year, but he’s too inconsistent to trust. He has trouble getting to the green from distance, as evidenced by his rank of 162 in proximity to the hole on shots from more than 200 yards. That could play a major factor on a long, wet course. I’ll pass on the Hoff this week.
- Kevin Kisner (9) – If Kisner hit the ball a bit farther, I’d consider him one of the outside favorites this week. Although, if he hit the ball a bit farther, he’d be Rickie Fowler. If the course takes a lot of rain this week, Kisner’s lack of distance will be magnified. He’s another gut play, as his form is excellent and the rest of his stats line up. Finished 37th last year at Augusta but he’s a much better player now.
- Matt Kuchar (9) – He’ll finish T26, because that’s what he always does. Pass.
- Hideki Matsuyama (5) – He was the hottest player in the world early in the season but hasn’t recaptured the magic of late. The Japanese star has posted MC-25-45-51 in his last four tournaments and his putter is extremely shaky. I love his two top-10s at Augusta the last two years, and the rest of the stats line up beautifully, as he leads the tour in par five scoring and sits solidly within the top-25 in many other pertinent categories. He’s long enough with the driver and fantastic with his irons that weather shouldn’t affect him much. I’m down to five starts and I don’t like the recent form, so I’ll fade him. No anger here if you burn a start.
- Phil Mickelson (9) – I just can’t do it. The history is there, but it’s old history. The Thrill has missed the cut at Augusta two of the last three years. He didn’t look good last week at the SHO and despite two recent top-10s, he has been fairly pedestrian in 2017. He would be the oldest Masters champion in history, and the second-oldest major champion ever. Phil’s an all-time great, but there’s a reason guys don’t win majors when knocking on the door of 50 years old. He’s one of my favorites, but I’ll stick with the fade this week.
- Justin Rose (6) – I don’t know if he’ll win, but it would be a major upset if Rose isn’t in the hunt come Sunday. He’s a perfect 11-11 at Augusta with only two finishes outside the top-25. The last six trips have resulted in 11-8-25-14-2-10. Form and class are never an issue, and it seems time for Rose to add a second major title to his bio. If he makes a few putts this weekend, he’ll win. Roster with assurance.
- Brandt Snedeker (7) – He’s been in the hunt at Augusta before, and has three top-10s in his pocket. The stats don’t work at all, but they never do and he seems to show up anyway. His form in 2017 is solid; he has posted 14-MC-9-4-MC-7-28-17 since the calendar turned. I want to have one grindy, veteran player in the ‘B’ group who could pop up and surprise, and Sneds is that guy.
- Jordan Spieth (6) – Here lies the biggest question mark of the tournament. Everyone is aware of his other-worldly T2-1-T2 history at Augusta. Nobody doubts that the statistical fit is pure. He hasn’t fired at all lately, looking lethargic at the Match Play and scuffling to a 77 last Friday to miss the cut at the SHO. I’m not worried about his back nine meltdown last year; he’s as mentally fit as anyone on Tour. I’m just worried about his game. That said, stars come to play on the biggest stages, and he shines brightest at the Masters.
- Justin Thomas (7) – If the Masters was played in January or in Hawaii, I’d roll with JT. He’s been horribly inconsistent since January, and even though he crushes the ball, I’m not going to take the MC chance with Thomas this week.
- Daniel Berger (8) – Berger will be a hot ‘C’ play but I simply can’t trust him. For most everyone, this group will be a question of who to roster alongside Jon Rahm. Berger finished 10th at Augusta last year and fifth last week, but the stats don’t line up, and I still can’t trust him. If you fully trust Rahm, there are better plays to run with him. I don’t trust Berger. Got it?
- Sergio Garcia (7) – Nothing really excites me here, except that he’s a class player who still hasn’t won a major but has found a top-10 finish 22 times. There isn’t any reason to believe he’ll crack the code this weekend. This will be his 19th appearance at Augusta, and the previous 18 resulted in 13 weekends, but only one top-5. I hope he wins a major someday, but this isn’t the time.
- Tyrrell Hatton (10) – He makes his maiden Masters voyage this week, but hot is hot, and he’s a forest fire. What’s holding me back? He doesn’t have elite distance and he hasn’t crushed par fives. Everything else checks out, and he could be the rare rookie who gets into contention on Sunday.
- J.B. Holmes (9) – He finished fourth here last year, but Holmes has looked bad the last two weeks. His length is exciting, but nothing else tickles me. Pass.
- Martin Kaymer (10) – He’s an elite player in excellent form, but look no farther than his Masters record – just four weekends in nine tries with nothing better than a 31st. Pass.
- Thomas Pieters (10) – Pieters is a young, overlooked star who has risen to the top at every stage. He was a college national champion at University of Illinois. He has three European Tour victories. He was a stud at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Oh, and he’s only 25. Oh, and the stats work. This is his first trip to Augusta, but he’s a bomber with an elite approach game. Like most, he needs the putter to work for him to compete. I’m throwing him in opposite Rahm because I’m near the top of the standings and I don’t like anyone else enough in the ‘C’ group. I’ll lean on Rahm all weekend, but if I need Pieters, I expect him to be there.
- Jon Rahm (9) – The fade I placed on him last week seemed to work, as he “slipped” to a T10. He was on fire over the weekend and ran out of holes to chase down the leaders, so I’m not worried about fatigue. He has no history at Augusta, but he has no history anywhere and he’s killing everyone. There is no ‘C’ option better than Rahm, and with his ball striking ability and distance off the tee, nobody would be shocked to see him with the Green Jacket on Sunday.
- Henrik Stenson (8) – There’s something wrong with Stenson. Nobody is quite sure what, but the eye test says he isn’t right. His Masters history is decent; he’s played eight weekends in 11 trips, but has never cracked the top 10. Put all that together and, even though he’s a megastud, Henrik is an easy fade this week.
- Bernd Wiesberger (10) – This is a sneaky play. The Austrian stud comes in with solid form and his two trips to Augusta resulted in finishes of 22nd and 34th. He isn’t filthy long, but he’s a GIR master and that plays at the Masters. He won’t win, and I won’t roster him, but a top-20 isn’t out of the question.
My Yahoo! fantasy golf lineup
(* - denotes first round starter)
- A – Rickie Fowler* and Dustin Johnson
- B – Jordan Spieth*, Justin Rose*, Brandt Snedeker and Paul Casey
- C – Jon Rahm* and Thomas Pieters
My team could change dramatically before Thursday morning as the weather might play a role. Follow me @commishjoe on Twitter for last-minute changes.
I know it’s the Masters, but I’m not wild about where my research led me. I have two rookies in the ‘C’ group, and I know one is Jon Freakin’ Rahm, but I’m still nervous. The first two ‘B’ players were obvious, but several others could have filled out that group. I’m fading Rory because I think this is Rickie’s time to shine, and DJ could win the tournament by 38 shots.
I tossed a few of my gut plays on the roster, as I don’t figure to move away from Spieth, Rose or Rahm all weekend, barring anything unforeseen. I’ll take Rickie for the win, mostly chalk in the top 10, and surprising outings from quite a few rookies.
Hit me up at @commishjoe on Twitter with questions, comments or emotional outbursts. Follow along for last-minute changes. If you aren’t a GNN Plus member, sign up today! $10 for the year! You spend that on a mediocre golf glove! Good luck!