The Daily Spin – DraftKings Daily Fantasy Golf Preview – The Masters

Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte April 8, 2019 09:04

The Daily Spin – DraftKings Daily Fantasy Golf Preview – The Masters

The week we wait for all year has finally arrived. Last year, the energy in the buildup to this event was incredible, and yet, it feels like this year’s tournament is even bigger than what we saw a year ago. This event is truly something special to behold. In 2016, I made the pilgrimage out to Augusta for the tournament with my dad and had the extreme pleasure of enjoying one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the tournament when Jordan Spieth blew a five shot lead on the back nine on Sunday to relinquish his title to DFS and outright bet darling, Danny Willett who turned Geoff Fienberg into a golf handicapping legend among the community for years to come.

If you are new to fantasy golf this season, The Masters is a real treat. Gone are the obnoxious, drunk fans screaming moronic nonsense when players hit their tee shots. Those fools would be escorted from the course immediately with such behavior. In their place, you have one of the most respectful and knowledgeable crowds to witness an event all year. It still amazes me to think of how well people treat each other during the tournament. When you purchase a chair at the shop on the grounds, you can take it and set it anywhere spectators are allowed and leave it there for the day. When you return to your chair at any time, nobody will have touched it. I cannot imagine this at any other event. What you have heard about the food prices is also true. Everything there is very cheap with most sandwiches only costing a dollar or two and beer only costing $4-5 per cup. Obviously, what you pay to get onto the grounds to attend the event as well as how you will be gouged when buying any merchandise certainly offsets the lower food costs, but it is nice to see that at least one aspect of attending the tournament is reasonable.

The course itself is everything you could ever imagine and then some. If you are ever around Augusta, it is hard to imagine from being in the town itself that you are near the Mecca of the sport. Augusta is a not the most scenic of communities. I have friends in the military stationed down there and this is really the one highlight of being in the area. I remember getting dropped off by the folks who were in charge of our transportation all week. We were in a CVS parking lot next to a grocery store and a little strip mall. I thought to myself, this cannot be right. Is the most prestigious course in the world really located in this town?

Of course, as soon as you enter the gates, it is like being transported into a painting. I have never seen such perfectly manicured grounds before in my life. When you talk to people who really know the course, not only will they tell you about each hole along the way, many of them will even be able to discuss specific trees and how well they are cared for every year. What really takes some time to get used to is the way the elevation changes throughout the course. It is something that is talked about often and you know it is there, but it does not translate well when you are watching it on television. You just are not able to appreciate the valleys that players walk down into off of their tee shot and the amount of elevation that there is in approaching many of the greens. I have never heard so many old people counting their steps with so much pride as I did at Augusta. I had to eat a lot of sandwiches and drink plenty of beer to make sure I did not burn off any net calories for the week. Fortunately, I was more than up for the challenge.

Augusta National sets up as a bomber track. At over 7,400 yards and a Par 72, there are limited scoring opportunities. Outside of the short, 350 yard, Par 4 third hole, the other Par 4 holes do not offer many scoring opportunities as the other nine are at least 440 yards. Very few players will be able to gain any ground on 14 of the holes this week as the Par 4 holes tend to always play over par. For those holes, it is imperative that players be able to play defense. The fairways are wide so there is not a lot of trouble off the tee, but the approach is where shots get tricky. There are plenty of doglegs and fairway bunkers, but most of the time, players will find the fairway. The key is positioning off the tee to set up the approach shot. There is a lot of undulation on the fairways and plenty of elevated greens which play lightning fast. Placement of approach shots is a skill that can only be gained with experience.

Some individuals on Twitter cannot possibly understand how course history could play a factor in performance, but you would have to be an absolute dunce not to take it into consideration for certain courses. Augusta is one of those courses where you have to look at experience as a key factor. Phil Mickelson is one of the players that illustrates this point well. He knows these greens so well that most of the time, he knows exactly where to aim in order to get the ball stop in a certain location. This is reason why you see a lot of new players struggle the first time around. You can hit a shot right at the pin, but based upon the undulation of the green, the ball can hit next to the pin and then find its way into the bunker and leave a player looking lost. The experienced players know where to place the ball on the green in order to get the ball to filter back to the pin to be in position for a reasonable putt. There is a reason that Freddie Couples can still be competitive here even as he closes in on his 60th birthday later this year. He’s the furthest thing from a bomber, but he knows every inch of the course and where to place every shot. Even if his back does not always want to cooperate to keep him on the course that often throughout the year, he has continued to surprise us with steady performances at Augusta even as he’s played less into his late 50’s.

Though the greens are of average size, they slope towards the edges so that the greens do not hold approach shots as well meaning that while it is easy to hit fairways, on average, GIR% is below average which means that precision iron play, particularly long iron play becomes a key aspect to performance this week. For those that struggle to hold the greens, they are going to need to make it up around the greens, many of which are guarded by bunkers. In fact, when the winds are up, even placing the ball near a slope on a green can lead to disaster as Billy Horschel found out on the 15th hole in 2016, which you can watch in this video clip here.

Reading the greens is also important and something that can only be improved upon with experience over time. Between the winds and the speed of the greens and the undulation, it does not take much for players to end up looking silly. I remember vividly, Justin Thomas on the 7th hole in his first go around at Augusta in 2016. Check out this link here to see how things can go terribly wrong when misreading a putt. With the greens playing lightning fast, it actually takes away some of the importance of putting this week. It tends to neutralize the better putters to a degree which is why putting is still important, but not typically the deciding factor in tournaments. The key is in making your longer, lag putts count so you can avoid three putting. This is not a course where you want to be leaving yourself with too many putts outside of four feet as things can get get squirrelly  in a hurry. Also of note, the greens are bentgrass this week. This is in contrast to most of the courses that we see in the southeast that are Bermuda so be sure to work that into your analysis as it brings certain players back into the mix while others will have a tougher time with it.

For those players that can hold par on the majority of the Par 3 and 4 holes, the Par 5 holes will offer plenty of opportunities for scoring. There is water in play on the 13th and 15th hole (hello Sergio), but the majority of scoring will take place on those four Par 5 holes for the week as the longest of the group only measures 575 yards. None of these holes are particularly difficult, but 13 and 15 do offer a fun risk vs reward opportunity for those trying to reach the green in two shots.

Unfortunately, for the players this week, it does look like weather is going to be a factor as the winds are expected to be a problem on Friday and Sunday and potentially even Thursday. While I am writing this column on a Sunday night (if you can believe that), I would highly advise you to check the weather the next few days, but you should definitely be thinking about the potential for stacking tee times this week as it seems likely that there will be a wave that has an edge this week. Check out the link at windfinder and be sure to look at the superforecast feature on Tuesday as it will give you an hour by hour breakdown for Thursday and then by Wednesday, you will be able to see how Friday is shaping up as well. I would expect things to shift a couple of times this week and even if you feel really strongly about a certain wave, I always am sure to stack a few teams to the contrarian side as well just in case there end up being delays or if the winds shift late with little notice.

Now we need to talk some strategy this week. The Masters is unlike any other tournament that we see all year in terms of the field and as far as the rules for making the cut. The field is much smaller than what we deal with for normal sized tour events or even other major tournaments. This year, there are 87 players in the field and it is always the strangest field that we see each year. While the WGC events have less players in the field, the number of relevant players in each to choose from is roughly the same. The first group that we can eliminate this week from consideration are the veterans who won here many years ago. Once you win a title at Augusta, it allows you to play in the tournament for as many years as you like. Right away, that allows us to cross out about 10-15 names each year. Look, I get it, Bernhard Langer and Freddie Couples have each had some nice runs here over the years, but at this stage, they are not getting any younger. You are going to need six golfers that finish near the top of the leaderboard this week if you are looking to win the Millionaire Maker. Even if you get that 30th place finish out of one of these guys, it is not likely that they are going to finish high enough to be a part of a winning roster. These guys are fun to watch each year in what are largely ceremonial appearances and you may see one of these two guys stick around near the top for a day or two, but by Sunday, they are not going to be there and wasting shares on them, especially if you are only making a few lineups, is just a good way to burn up your funds.

Next, go ahead and cross off the amateurs in the field. Viktor Hovland has shown some talent in a couple of events this spring, most noticeably with a 40th place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but these guys are never on winning GPP lineups for The Masters. Rookie usually struggle at Augusta. Bryson DeChambeau had a nice showing in 2016 with a 21st place finish, but entered that year with tremendous hype as he’d accomplished things as an amateur that only a handful of stars on the PGA Tour had ever accomplished. If you are building 150 lineups, maybe you can use him on a couple just in case something really special happens, but if you are only building five, ten or even twenty teams, then do not waste a single share chasing these guys. The upside just is not there in a field this strong unless you have a generational amateur. If you look at the winning Millionaire Maker teams from over the years, there are not many names at this tournament that are super surprising. You do not need to dive down deep to find the diamond that is only 1-2% owned that gives you upside the way owners do for normal tournaments. While The Masters has produced some odd winners over the years, the way the course has been lengthened and altered over the last decade has made it an event where top players tend to dominate with just a few exceptions when the weather becomes a problem and opens it up to more than just the bombers. Already, we are down to around 70 players to look at this week.

From here, you need to make some assessments as to your contest selections this week. I have to give my normal disclosure note before we dive too deeply into player selection for the week. The Millionaire Maker is not a great contest. The payout structure is terrible to say the least and set up in a way to bring attention to DraftKings and allow them to promote a million dollar first place prize, but it is so top heavy in that regard that it makes it very tricky to be profitable. While that might not matter to some of you who just want to chase the thrill of having a shot at $1 million, for those of you who are looking to make this a profitable week, there are better ways to do it.

I have been saying for many weeks that a lot of events are not really strong for cash games. This is a week where I am comfortable diving into cash games as I am at all major championships throughout the year. We know the course well, we know the field well and it is a strong enough group so that we are comfortable with the skill sets of each player and how they will respond to the course. Last year, Sergio fired a 13 on the Par 5, 15th hole on Thursday and that wiped out my hopes early on. However, that is not the type of issue that we are going to confront all that often so I am okay chalking that up to being a rather fluky occurrence just is just a part of playing fantasy sports. The pricing pressure will push good players down from their normal prices this week and allows us to construct rosters that we are very comfortable with. The cut rules are unique to The Masters in that the Top-50 players and ties advance to the weekend, but with the caveat that anyone within ten strokes of the leader after the second round will also advance. This could come into play if the winds are a problem and the leader is just below par after Friday. In any case, expect to see around 57-60 players reach the weekend. There is no MDF for this event so unlike other tournaments where we get a fun double sweat when more than 78 players make the cut, the sweat this week will end at the end of Round 2.

Personally, I know that I am going to get dragged into the Millionaire Maker this week. I have to get into the trenches with you this week and will proudly represent Team FGI in our quest to crown another million dollar prize winner. I consider those entries to be lottery tickets. In looking back at the winning lineups from over the years, there are not too many roster spots that were allocated to golfers that finished down the leaderboard. The only real weird name that has popped up over the last four years of MM events at Augusta was Troy Merritt in 2016 who finished 42nd and somehow found his way onto the winning team. Of course, the rest of that roster was a 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, and 7th and with very low ownership of Lee Westwood, it was enough to take it down for the year. Here is a quick look at the winning lineups for the last four years and the patterns that they reveal:

2015

Jordan Spieth – 11900
Phil Mickelson – 9900
Justin Rose – 9700
Russell Henley – 6500
Kevin Na – 6000
Charley Hoffman – 6000

2016

Jordan Spieth – 12200
Hideki Matsuyama – 9100
Paul Casey – 7700
Danny Willett – 8000
Lee Westwood – 7300
Troy Merritt – 5600

2017

Justin Rose – 9200
Rickie Fowler – 9300
Sergio Garcia – 8300
Paul Casey – 7800
Thomas Pieters – 7700
Matt Kuchar – 7400

2018

Jordan Spieth – 10400
Rickie Fowler – 9700
Bubba Watson – 8700
Patrick Reed – 7700
Russell Henley – 7100
Charley Hoffman – 7100

There are a few interesting things to note from looking over these rosters. First, the composition is alarmingly similar from year to year. It is pretty comical that in two of the four years of this contest that the winning team has been anchored by a Hoffman/Henley stack. You can also see a real evolution in how players have been priced in this contest over the years. While there are still some golfers that are playable below $7k, we do not have near the same range of value as we did back in 2015 with most of those types of players being priced at $6600-7000. Most of the lineups have been balanced over the years as only Jordan Spieth has represented the group of players priced above $10k in three of four years. In 2016, with pricing dropping all the way down into the middle $5k range, it also allowed for some additional flexibility in building rosters, but we have nothing close to that this year. I think for perspective, 2015, 2017 and 2018 are all worth studying this week.

I will be building a good portion of my lineups this week along the lines of what I see in 2015 and 2018 to begin with. You want to find 2-3 names up near the top that you think can genuinely be in contention on Sunday and then make strong value plays on the other 3 names at the bottom, guys who you think can find a Top-15 finish in that lower $7k, upper $6k range. You’re likely going to have to take some risks down here, although at this point, given Charley’s record here and his finish at Valero, my hopes of him being low owned this week went up in flames yesterday. In any case, you’re going to need to find these supporting players in order to save enough salary to afford the big guns up top.

I am also going to build plenty of teams that incorporate a more balanced approach like that of 2017. While plenty of the bigger names have done well at this event over the years, we have seen players win this event from all over the pricing range. Given that there are stars in the mid $7k range that we normally see priced up in the upper $9k or $10k range, there is no reason to believe that one of these types of players is not capable of pulling off a win this year. Given that most lineups in this event are going to grab one or two upper tier players, the balanced options becomes more contrarian overall and can help you in differentiating your teams this week without really losing much edge in my opinion.

Finally, keep your player pool tight this week. Make a decision on certain players in your core and stick to them. Too often, owners forget that the goal in GPP contests is to maximize your odds of winning when you hit your core right on the nose. We are not looking to differentiate so much among our lineups that it takes a stray bullet that miraculously makes it through the chaos in order to win. That’s not the type of process that we strive for here. What we want is for our core to hit and to be heavily invested enough in it so that we have five, ten or twenty shots at a title when our golfers perform well. A lot of owners are going to suffer from a fear of missing out this week. They will justify using almost every relevant player in the field and having such a flat distribution of ownership that it will be almost impossible for them to gain an edge on the field anywhere.

You want to make conviction plays this week. You have an idea of how ownership will play out, now leverage up where you need to in order to gain ground on this massive field. If you are building 20 lineups, I do not want to see a 40 player pool. You might miss out on the winner by tightening down your exposures, but that is part of the struggle that goes into playing GPP events throughout the year. You have to accept the idea that there are going to be a lot of weeks during the season where things do not work out and you lose a small amount much of the time. You do this in order to be ready for those handful of weeks during the season where everything goes well and you have a shot to make some bigger money. While The Masters is certainly the biggest event of the year, you have to also look at it like any other week and try to keep things in context. Stick to your process this week. If you planned to play up this week at the beginning of the year to take advantage of an event we feel strongly about in terms of our chances to profit, go ahead. The cash games should be winnable this week and we’ve had a great season with them so far. I would advise against chasing too much this week. It is easy to get overly exuberant about this tournament and all of the hype within the community. Do not blow your bankroll going after long shot contests this week. It is a slow grind to build it up and takes a lot of time and discipline, but you can destroy it all in an instant if you lose perspective on how this single event fits into the whole season.

Key Stats

Strokes Gained Tee to Green: 25%
Strokes Gained Putting: 25%
Birdie or Better Percentage: 15%
Proximity: 15%
Scrambling: 10%
Driving Distance: 5%
Par 5 Scoring: 5%

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Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte April 8, 2019 09:04

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