Expert Picks: The Masters

By Adam BarrApril 10, 2013, 4:15 pm

This week the PGA Tour heads down Magnolia Lane, as a field of 93 players will vie for the season's first major at the Masters. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; "Morning Drive" host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner. They will also be joined by former "Saturday Night Live" star Norm Macdonald, who will serve as a celebrity guest throughout the fantasy season.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Lost amid the hoopla surrounding Woods' three-win start to the season is this telling stat: on the three previous occasions that he won three times prior to the Masters, he never followed by also winning at Augusta. Cliched translation? Don't count your green jackets before they've hatched. That said, even though I'm not as bullish about Tiger's chances as most people, I also can't find anyone in this field that I'd rank higher. A fifth Masters title, and subsequent pandemonium throughout the golf world, may be just days from taking place. 

Group 2: Keegan Bradley: I was recently talking Masters contenders with a PGA Tour pro who knows Bradley's game well, and picked him to win. When I inquired as to whether the former PGA champion has the right ball flight for Augusta, he looked at me funny. "Well, he hits it long and straight and high," the player said. "That's the right ball flight for every course." Duly noted. Also noted is that Bradley hasbeen knocking on the door all year wihtout breaking through it yet.

Group 3: Bill Haas: Bubba Watson won the Masters in his fourth appearance; likewise, Trevor Immelman won in his fourth as a pro. Wanna take a guess as to what number this will be for Haas? After results between 26th and 42nd in his first three starts, he seems primed to contend this week. Bigger question is whether he can win. Despite four victories in the last three seasons, he's gotten into the final group on a Sunday twice already this year, but has underwhelmed each time.

Group 4: K.J. Choi: Showing signs of trending in the right direction, and he's contended at Augusta in the past.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Tiger Woods: The difference between green jacket No. 5 and another also-ran the last seven years has been Woods' putting (he's ranked inside the top 10 in putting for the week just once since 2006). Thanks to pro bono putting guru Steve Stricker's handiwork at Doral, that doesn't seem to be an issue this week.

Group 2: Steve Stricker: The veteran's pedestrian record at Augusta National (he has two top-10 finishes in a dozen starts) is one of the game's great enigmas, but his limited schedule and refreshed attitude suggests his fortunes are poised to change.

Group 3: Nick Watney: It has been a strangely inconsistent year for Watney (one top 10 in nine starts), but when he is on, he has the power and touch to become the next surprise champion.

Group 4: Hiroyuki Fujita: Although he has been limited to just one start this season, Fujita is a machine in Japan, having won four times in 2012, and he has a putting stroke that is perfect for Augusta National. 

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Three wins this season. A scalding-hot putter. A proven track record at this venue. Yes, all signs point to Tiger resuming his climb up Mount Nicklaus this week. 

Group 2: Keegan Bradley: The high-ball hitter finished inside the top 10 in his last four starts, and for the past few months he's had Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters winner, in his ear on how best to play Augusta. This big-time talent could bag major No. 2 this week.

Group 3: Rickie Fowler: Coming off his best finish of the season (T-3 at Bay Hill), and he's made the cut in each of his first two Masters appearances. No reason to suggest he takes a step back this year.

Group 4: Angel Cabrera: Regardless of his form coming in, El Pato has rung up seven consecutive top-40 finishes at Augusta, including the 2009 win. Good news, then: he posted his best result (T-16) of the season in Houston.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Duh!

Group 2: Ian Poulter: A guy who can putt like he does in the clutch at the Ryder Cup can win the Masters.

Group 3: Bill Haas: His game is pointed toward something big.

Group 4: K.J. Choi: K.J. has shown he knows how to make those towering pines shiver at Augusta National.

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Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

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Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.

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Likely ROY Wise not looking past 'special' East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:05 pm

ATLANTA – Much like the PGA Tour Player of Year Award, voting for the Rookie of the Year Award is very much a rubber stamp this season.

Brooks Koepka is a lock to win the Jack Nicklaus Trophy after winning two majors - the U.S. Open and PGA Championship - despite missing a portion of the season with an injury. Similarly, Aaron Wise, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson, is the only rookie this year to advance to the Tour Championship, which is normally the threshold players use for voting for Rookie of the Year.

“I knew with the rookie class that we had it was going to be tough, and the players still have to vote but it’s definitely something that was important to me,” he said on Wednesday at East Lake. “My focus is just finishing strong this week and giving them a reason to vote for me.”

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For Wise, who had four top-10 finishes this season and begins the week 21st on the FedExCup point list, the chance to win the award is gratifying, but being among the best 30 players on Tour, and securing his spot in all four major championships next season, is an accomplishment worth savoring.

“To win Rookie of the Year you have to have a solid season, but to make it to East Lake, so many guys don’t get this far. You really have to have a special season and this is really special,” Wise said.

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Stanford returns home to share Evian celebration

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 5:33 pm

Angela Stanford’s eyes welled with tears when her flight touched down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in her return from winning the Evian Championship.

When she lands from the south, as she did Monday, she always looks for the towering grain elevators in her Saginaw hometown. She also always looks for downtown Fort Worth’s skyline.

She got teary with the replica of the Evian Championship trophy in her carry-on in the luggage bin above her seat, knowing she wasn’t bringing it home just for her.

But for her mother, Nan, who’s battling a second bout with breast cancer.

For her father, Steve, who got her started in the game.

For other family and friends.

For Shady Oaks, the club Ben Hogan made famous, where she is a member.

And for TCU, her alma mater.

She realized how empty she felt in so many returns from major championships.

She’s 40 now.

She won in her 76th try in a major.

For so long, Stanford believed she had what it took to win a major, but that only made the string of disappointments harder.

“So I remembered what it felt like coming home from so many disappointments, but not this time,” Stanford said. “This time I got to bring something home for everyone to see.”

When Stanford got off the plane, her parents were among a group of family and friends waiting to greet her. So was her TCU coach, Angie Larkin, who brought along the Horned Frogs mascot, Superfrog.

Tour pros Kristy McPherson, Dori Carter, Kendall Dye and Emory University coach and former tour pro Katie Futcher were all in Fort Worth helping Stanford celebrate.

“It was pretty cool,” Stanford said. “Of course, I asked them all if they wanted to see the trophy.”

She pulled it out of her carry-on and never put it back.

“It’s a heavy trophy, but I told them I’m carrying this everywhere,” Stanford said.

There was a celebration dinner with family and friends Monday night, and another celebration with friends on Tuesday.

“I think it’s just the start of many celebrations with more friends to see,” Stanford said.

Stanford went to work with a new swing coach about a year ago, Todd Kolb, from Sioux Falls, S.D. In her flight home, she thought about how grateful she was for all the help poured into her game, not just the good work Kolb is doing, but the foundation important figures in her life helped to lay. She thought about the lessons and wisdom Amy Fox, Mike Wright and Joe Hallett passed along.

“I’m still using things I learned from my first instructor,” Stanford said. “Amy Fox is a huge reason I’m playing on tour. Mike Wright is a huge reason why I’ve won on tour. Joe Hallett helped me navigate through a tough time in my career.

“They were all important to my winning Sunday. They all gave me building blocks, and they’ve all helped lay the foundation to what I’m learning now from Todd.”

Stanford said being able to share her gratefulness made her return home special.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s been everything you could imagine it would be.”