Masters picks 2019: Our caddie from the range of Augusta: "Book the Grand Slam for Rory McIlroy"
Predicting this year's Masters champion might prove to be the easiest tournament to call of the season. Before you scoff at that and stop reading, let us explain.
Fans of professional golf are more familiar with Augusta National than any other course in the world. We remember the legendary shots of past Masters, we know every weekend hole location (more or less) and we know the type of game that translates to success here. If not, we'll let six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus explain, "If you hit it long and straight and throw it up in the air high and putt well, you'll do well here. That's always been the formula at this golf course, and I don't think that it's changed." No, Jack—it really hasn't.
Sure, predicting winners in golf is a tough endeavor with the vast pool of talented golfers. But the Masters is the smallest field of the year (only 87 players in 2019), and you can all but throw out the 12 first-timers (nobody has done it since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979), the old-timers and all the amateurs (no amateur has threatened to win in the past three decades). Essentially, you might as well narrow the possible winners to about 40 golfers. Still, no easy task.
Thankfully, we have a little inside information. Reporting from the range is one of the caddies from Augusta National this week—thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network, who has reason to believe Rory McIlroy will earn the Career Grand Slam this week. But three experts from our panel—which includes two of the most respected fantasy golf experts in the industry, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf, like one of the other favorites to earn his first green jacket this year.
Did we say predicting the Masters was easy? No, we're just confident in our crew to pick a winner, which we've done at a 20 percent rate this year. In golf, we doubt anyone's doing it better.
Masters 2019 Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Rory McIlroy (7-1) — As much as I dislike the word “trending,” I’m going to use it here. Things are truly trending Rory’s way. After a couple of quiet seasons—by Rory’s standards—he seems to be back in world-class form. Statistically, there’s not many players better than him right now. He leads in strokes gained/driving on the PGA Tour as well as strokes gained/total. Combine this with a solid performance history at Augusta—four top-10s the past four appearances—and Rory will be hard to beat this week. As added motivation to win—as if anyone needs that at Augusta National—a victory would make Rory just the sixth player in history to complete a Career Grand Slam. In all his past attempts of earning the elusive Grand Slam, this is his best chance. I have reason to believe he gets it done.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Dustin Johnson (9-1) — At the top, most are going to target Rory McIlroy if they're betting a favorite. And I can’t fault anyone for that. Rory rules. He’s playing great, and has five top-10s in a row at Augusta. But Dustin Johnson’s form is about equal. DJ has a win and four top-10s in a row in stroke-play events entering Augusta. He also possesses three consecutive top-10s at the Masters. But there are two factors which separate the two for me—both in DJ’s favor.
One, he doesn’t have the pressure of chasing the Career Grand Slam. Despite coming through at the Players, it does seem like the added pressure can get the best of Rory at times. Whereas DJ always looks like he’s heavily medicated and even slapping him in the face wouldn’t draw a reaction. That’s observational, though, pure narrative guess work. What’s not, is their play in extreme wind. If the wind picks up, or conditions get cold, DJ won’t be affected. Chuck in Johnson’s slightly superior play at the correlated Riviera Country Club, and it pushes him over the top. They’re both elite in optimal conditions, if things get blustery, though, it’s DJ I want. As a kicker, in my mixed condition model, powered by Fantasynational.com (where you can punch in whatever stats you want if you think they’re important), DJ rates out the best when you use current stats, Bentgrass putting, and course history.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Dustin Johnson (9-1) — Johnson's number is short, but it’s hard to find things to dislike about him entering this weekend. Johnson has four wins to his name since last year's Masters (the FedEx St. Jude Classic, the RBC Canadian Open, the Saudi International, and the WGC-Mexico). He has 12 total top-three finishes in that span as well, and he has made all nine cuts in 2019. His past three starts at Augusta have yielded a 10th, a 4th, and a 6th. Over the past 100 rounds on the PGA Tour, Johnson ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee and third in strokes gained: approach, via Fantasynational.com. He even grades out well on fast Bentgrass greens.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (9-1) — Augusta, unlike any other course, demands precision in your iron play and putting. DJ checks the marks in both categories, ranking eighth in strokes gained/approach this season and 14th in strokes gained/putting. The former World No. 1 has had some close calls at Augusta—with the way he's playing, this might be his best chance to win. Sure, there are a lot of contenders around him. But he appears to be the most complete player. I trust his putter and his precision with his irons more than Rory. The Palmetto State native will put on the green jacket.
Golf Digest editors: Justin Rose (12-1) — Once you study Justin Rose's past history at Augusta National and recognize that he's playing as good as he ever has in his career, it's tough not to give him a hard look this week. Thirteen starts at the Masters, 13 made cuts. 11 top-25s. Five top-10s. The playoff loss to Sergio Garcia in 2017 and a T-2 in 2015. Rose hasn't played too much in 2019, just twice since he won at Torrey Pines in January. But his last finish was a T-9 at The Players, where he never plays well. He's well-rested and more ready than ever to earn that first Masters title. We expect that to happen this year.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 20 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula has three runner-up. We're due for another winner!)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 Masters (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Charley Hoffman (80-1) — If you look closely at Charley’s career, you’ll see he plays well, year after year, on the courses he feels most comfortable on—the courses that fit his eye. The Valero Texas Open has been somewhat of an annuity for Charley, and bam, he finished solo second last week after a pretty slow start to the season. His name has been synonymous with the early tournament leaderboard at The Masters the last bunch of years, and I won’t be surprised when we see him up there again. With a better Sunday this year, we’ll see Charley right in the thick of things again at ANGC.
Mayo: J.B. Holmes (100-1) — When you’re building DraftKings lineups or looking for a deep flyer in the betting market, siding in favor of volatility is always how you find value. It’s the reason I bet Si WOOOO Kim to win and finish inside the top 5 at every tournament. Some guys are the Ricky Bobbys: If they’re not first, they’re last. J.B. falls under that category.
In seven 2019 starts, Holmes has missed four cuts, finished outside the top 25 two other times, and notched a win at Genesis. He’s sneakily notched a win at Quail Hollow in his career, too. Any time you can get him at a course which rewards a power fade with distance, JB is going to have an advantage on the tee box. It’s his putting that dictates his week. And, frankly, his flat stick either runs HOT FIYA or is covered in an extreme amount of frost.
In the past two years, he has three different instances of gaining six strokes on the field in events, along with five tournaments where he lost more than four strokes, including last week at Valero. He hasn’t played Augusta since 2017, but has T-50 and T-4 finishes in his past two turns. If you can catch JB in one of the streaking putting weeks, the consistent part of his game sets up perfectly for this venue.
Gdula: Henrik Stenson (66-1) — Stenson has gained 6.7, 2.5, and 7.3 approach strokes over his past three events, and he ranks fifth in approach over the past 12 rounds via FantasyNational. He lacks the overpowering distance that can get him a leg up, but he leads the field in fairways and good drives gained over the past 100 rounds. He shot a 69-70-70-70 last year at Augusta to finish top-10 and, at 60-1, is an easy longshot to back.
Riccio: Keith Mitchell (150-1) — I know, I know: A first-timer hasn't won here since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. But these odds are simply too tempting for a competitor who has played like a top-25 player in the world over the past month, ranking in the top 20 in strokes gained/total over the past 50 rounds via FantasyNational. Elite power and iron precision are marquees of Mitchell's game, and if he gets a hot putter like he did at the Honda Classic, he could absolutely close it here. In fact, Mitchell ranks in my top 5 in my model this week. So I'm definitely recommending you play him.
Golf Digest editors: Charles Howell III (80-1) — Few players have been as consistent as Charles Howell III over the past six months. The Augusta, Ga., native hasn't missed a cut since early November, he earned a win at the OHL Classic and has finished in the top 20 in six of the eight events he's played in 2019. Sure, a lot has to happen for Howell to win. We're going to back him at his top-20 odds, for sure. That seems like a lock. But he's gaining a ton of strokes off the tee (three compared to the field in his past 10 rounds) and putting (2.4 strokes in his past 10 rounds). With his consistency with his ball-striking, we'd take a chance on CH3.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Sergio Garcia (33-1) — There’s too much going on in his world right now and the normally polite Augusta crowd may still get under his skin a touch. He won the Masters in 2017 but has missed the cut in each of his last five major championship starts. He’s had some nice finishes of late—T-6 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, T-9 at the Honda Classic and T-5 at the WGC-Match Play—but everything at Augusta National is just extra tense.
Mayo: Tiger Woods (14-1) — My entertainment won’t like this pick, but with the state of Tiger’s game in 2019, he’s actually a better bet at all three other Majors than the Masters at this point. Woods can benefit if the wind picks up, and his awful Off the Tee game won’t play as large a factor, and the winning score stays in single digits, but if it’s optimal conditions, it’s tough to see him competing with the top end of this field. If he was 30-1 I’d have interest, since those would be truer odds, but you’re paying the Tiger tax in the outright betting market. He’s just too short.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (16-1) — Spieth and Augusta always go well together, so it’s a tough fade here, but 16-1 is simply too short with Dustin Johnson at 11-1 and Justin Rose at 12-1. Spieth is averaging -0.7 strokes gained/off the tee over the past 24 rounds (72nd among the field). Entering the past Masters, he was gaining 0.7 in 2018, 0.0 in 2017, and 0.6 in 2016. Simply put: he was clearly a different player, and it’s going to be impossible to win with his current poor off-the-tee play.
Riccio: Patrick Reed (60-1) — It's tough to repeat as a Masters champion in general. But when you enter the week ranking 150th in strokes gained/approach, it's a sure bet you won't repeat. The reigning champion seems to really be struggling with this swing, which is reflected in his stats. I would steer clear at all costs.
Golf Digest editors: Bryson DeChambeau (33-1) — Curiously enough, Bryson has been off over the past month or so. In his past 24 rounds, according to FantasyNational, the Mad Scientist is 54th in strokes gained/approach compared to 80 other golfers in the field whose stats qualify for the stat-tracker. That's really underwhelming. Similarly, he's 57th compared to his peers in strokes gained/around the green over the same period of time. You need to be pitching and chipping the ball well to recover from errant approach shots. Augusta National hasn't been kind to Bryson. We'd think he'll figure it out eventually, but not this year.
2019 Masters: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Rory McIlroy (-170) over Justin Thomas (Sportbet) — For all the reasons mentioned earlier as to why Rory is my pick to win this week, coupled with the fact that Thomas isn’t exactly red-hot coming in. Sure, he’s got five, top-10 finishes in just 10 starts this season, but his last three starts look like this: T-30 at Honda, T-35 at Players and T-24 at Match Play. Rory is the hotter player by a long shot at the moment.
Mayo: Patrick Cantlay (-140) over Cameron Smith (Sportsbook) — We know Patrick Cantlay is good, but in a pricing cluster on DraftKings, surrounded by Matt Kuchar, Marc Leishman, Patrick Reed and other viable options, Cantlay’s simply going to get overlooked. Ditto in the betting market. His odds have already fallen from 66/1 to 80/1, and the week just started.
Although he missed the cut a year ago in his first start since having amateur status in 2012, Cantlay has been sneaky constant all season. He comes to Augusta with Top 15 finishes in six of past eight starts, ranks Top 10 in the field in driving distance gained with positive approach numbers in seven of his last eight, has consecutive Top 15 results at Riviera. Cam Smith was great at the Masters and Riviera last year, this year, he’s been kind of awful. Just go with it.
Gdula: Gary Woodland (-130) over Cameron Smith (Sportbet) — Woodland has notoriously struggled at Augusta in recent years (78-76 last year and 75-80 in 2017), but he has the game to play well here (5th in strokes gained/off the tee, 14th in strokes gained/approach, and 12th in distance over the past 100 rounds). Smith, meanwhile, is 66th, 45th, and 44th, respectively.
Riccio: Justin Rose (-106) over Tiger Woods (DraftKings) — These seems to be a bargain of a price. Justin Rose's recent Masters history is stellar—way more impressive than Tiger's. Rose is in my top 10 in my model for this week, whereas Tiger is 35th. Easy pick for Rose with the low price.
Golf Digest editors: Matt Kuchar (-110) over Louis Oosthuizen (DraftKings) — Let's get this straight. Matt Kuchar is playing as good as anybody in the world right now. Two wins this season, two other top-10s and gaining strokes on the field in an insanely big way. Last week at the Valero, Kuchar gained 8.6 strokes on his approaches, according to FantasyNational. The event previous? 7.5 strokes. Those are insane numbers. Oosthuizen has been terrible in that all-important stat recently. The 2012 runner-up is ranked 66th out of 80 players in the strokes gained/approach stat over his past 24 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com. Vegas might know something we don't. But we're willing to go with the data.
(Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Ryan Palmer over Daniel Berger); Pat Mayo: 1 for 1 (Jason Kokrak over Billy Horschel); Lou Riccio: 1 for 1 (Andrew Landry over J.T. Poston); GD Editors: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 8 for 12; PGA Tour Caddie: 8 for 13; GD Editors: 7 for 14 (and one push); Mayo: 5 for 10 with two pushes; Gdula: 4 for 11 with one push.)
Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Paul Casey (+200) — Paul is a player who is often high up the leaderboard at The Masters year after year. He’s got five, top-10 finishes at Augusta National and finished T-15 a year ago. This year, he comes in just a few weeks removed from successfully defending his title on a very difficult Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course in the Valspar Championship. The Englishmen most people are talking about this week are Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. But don’t overlook Casey. A wiser, calmer and in form PC will be very competitive this year. He’ll be teeing off late Sunday is my prediction.
Mayo: Jon Rahm (+175) — The “villain” narrative has started to become a thing at The Masters. This is what happens when Reed, Bubba and Sergio have won three of the past five years. And Rahm would certainly fit that mold. He’s hardly a real villain, he just runs hot and shows emotion on the course ... and sometimes it results in terrible decision making. However, it feels like every time that happens, it just brings him closer to putting it all together at a big event. And he’s been great at Augusta in his short career. After a T27 debut two years ago, the Spaniard hung around all weekend in 2018, grinding out a T4 by weeks’ end.
Any tournament where Dustin Johnson plays well, Rahm tends to follow suit since their skill is so similar. So, you may as well pair them up. Want to hear something insane? In 47 Shotlink-measured PGA starts in his career, he’s lost strokes off the tee just one time, the 2017 Memorial. That’s also one of four starts where he’s lost strokes Tee To Green in his career. Much like Dustin, the masses peg Rahm as a bomber with little else to his game, but in sooth, he’s incredibly well rounded. In his past 10 tournaments, he's averaged a positive rating in the four main strokes-gained metrics: +3.1 off-the-tee; +0.6 approach; +0.1 around-the-green and +1.1 putting. He’s one of the few players in the field who can make that boast.
Gdula: Tony Finau (+300) — Last year, Finau fired off a 68-74-73-66 in his Augusta debut when he finished 10th— after an ankle injury during the par 3 contest during the week. While +300 doesn’t give us a ton of bang for our buck, Finau ranks fifth in datagolf’s True Strokes Gained over the past year, and he grades out as a value at that line for a top-10.
Riccio: Rickie Fowler (+200) — No, these aren't the best odds. But you can get double your money on a likely outcome. Rickie nearly won last year, and he's playing well this year—including his win in Phoenix. He ranks eighth on my model for the week. These are nice odds for a top-10 finish.
Golf Digest editors: Matt Kuchar (+300) — Re-read all the impressive stats we included in why we like Kuchar to win his match-up against Oosthuizen, and copy them here. Kuchar at 3-1 on your money for a top-10 bet? We'll laugh to the bank.
(Top-10 results last week: GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Ben An at +430); PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 6 for 13; GD Editors: 4 for 12; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 13; Gdula: 3 for 12; Riccio: 2 for 12)
Mayo: You’ve heard about the rest, and you’ll hear more about the rest of the players on my Mega Masters DraftKings preview, but Molinari is simply underpriced for his skills. Since his T20 at Augusta a year ago, Molinari has won a Major (British Open), two premiere events (Wentworth & Bay Hill), another PGA event (Quicken Loans), and was the best performer at 2018 Ryder Cup, going undefeated for the Euros. And he’s only $8,600? No offense to Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama, and even Rickie Fowler, but Cesco is better than the lot, and at a cheaper price.
Dustin Johnson ($11,300); Jon Rahm ($10,000); Francisco Molinari ($8,600); Patrick Cantlay ($7,700); J.B. Holmes ($$6,800).
Riccio: You have serious firepower with DJ, Finau, Mitchell and Wise. And Spieth and Leishman have excellent course history. Spieth might not be high-owned this week with his 2019 struggles, which is a reason to get on board.
Dustin Johnson ($11,300); Jordan Spieth ($8,900); Tony Finau ($8,200); Marc Leishman ($7,800); Keith Mitchell ($6,800); Aaron Wise ($6,600).
Golf Digest Editors: You need to pick the winner in order to win the $1 million DraftKings first-place prize this week. And to us, this lineup has four players who could legitimately take home the green jacket. Keith Mitchell and Si-Woo Kim probably won't win, but they're very capable of racking up a ton of birdies and finishing in the top 20. If the other four contend, this could be a lineup that makes you a lot of money. You're essentially banking on Stenson to keep up his solid ball-striking numbers from the past month. We'll take that risk.
Dustin Johnson ($11,300); Rickie Fowler ($9,700); Matt Kuchar ($7,900); Henrik Stenson ($7,600); Keith Mitchell ($6,800); Si-Woo Kim ($6,700).
Gdula: I’ll have a lot of different types of lineups this week, but overall, I like the idea of building around one stud, which I consider Rory McIlroy ($12,100), Dustin Johnson ($12,000), and Justin Rose ($11,800). I prefer Johnson and then Rose for ownership leverage.
From there, it’s important that we don’t load up on too many long shot plays, as we need our win equity as high as possible in what is essentially a 55-to-60 golfer field after we rule out veterans, amateurs, and debutants. In the mid-range, I like Bubba Watson ($10,200), Tony Finau ($9,900), Matt Kuchar ($9,700), Webb Simpson ($9,500), and Brandt Snedeker ($9,400).
Riccio: In Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, you have my three highest rated players in my model for the Masters. Plus, the firepower of Keith Mitchell and the consistency of Zach Johnson.
Dustin Johnson ($12,000); Justin Thomas ($11,700); Jordan Spieth ($10,400); Zach Johnson ($9,000); Keith Mitchell ($8,500); Aaron Wise ($8,300).
GD Editors: Again, a lineup we really like. Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler are two elite studs, and you have consistency and players who could all finish in the top 10 with the rest of the lineup. These guys can all throw up birdies in bunches, but they're also good bets to make the cut and finish high on the leader board. Two keys to placing in the MEGA Eagle FanDuel event.
Jon Rahm ($11,600); Rickie Fowler ($11,400); Sergio Garcia ($10,000); Marc Leishman ($9,800); Charles Howell III ($8,600); Charley Hoffman ($8,500).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Masters.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast. Here's a link to his Masters podcast.