First, the easy part: If you have Dustin Johnson active, youmustreplace him immediately, if you still can. He has withdrawn from the event due to a back injury. Darren Clarke is still in the event, but has an injured groin that may well hamper his backswing and follow-through; I recommend that you avoid him this week.
The most important factor affecting the entire field right now is the weather. The course got soaked with an inch and a half of rain Tuesday night, and the course sustained some minor damage that delayed the opening of the gates for spectators by about half an hour. The damage won't affect play, but the rainfall will; players reported after Wednesday's practice rounds that the great majority of drives landing in the fairways resulted in mud-balls. In case you're wondering, the answer is assuredly no; Augusta National will not shift to a lift-clean-place rule for any round, unless Noah pulls up beside the 13th tee in the ark and asks if he can play through.
The very wet fairways will mean that drives will get almost no roll. That affects everyone, but it will have the greatest effect on the shorter hitters. Guys who can fly it 310 yards won't mind so much that they don't get the extra 30 yards of roll, but the shorter hitters (Mark Wilson, Steve Stricker, David Toms, K. J. Choi) are going to find a fair number of long irons and even hybrids in their hands for par-4 approaches. Remember that the fast Augusta greens are designed to accept high approach shots; low screamers will roll right off the back, and there are goblins hiding behind some of those greens. If you're thinking that the rain will soften the famous slick greens to allow players to stop a 4-iron on a dime, remember that the course features a green-drying system that allows the greens to play at a ridiculous Stimpmeter rating even when there's standing water on the fairways. Bottom line: Go with the bombers, especially since Augusta's "rough" offers little in the way of penalty for stray tee balls. Think Bubba Watson (but see below), Robert Garrigus, Ryan Palmer, and Kyle Stanley.
One more weather note, and it's an important one. The weather forecast for Augusta, as of the time of preparation of this note (5:00 pm EDT Wednesday), calls for a period of storms late Wednesday evening, and a small chance of additional rain throughout the night and into tomorrow afternoon. That isn't all that big a deal, but the next part is: The chance of thunderstorms jumps to 50|PERCENT| by 4:00 pm Thursday, when the later starters are making the turn, and is 60|PERCENT| from 5:00 pm through the evening and into Friday morning. The weather will improve Friday afternoon, but Friday morning's golfers are likely to get wet.
Why is this so important? Because the late-Thursday guys who are facing bad weather are the same ones who are set to tee off early Friday. That means that the field will be divided in half, at least for the first two rounds: Half the field will probably get reasonable weather both days, and the other half may get awful weather for their first 36 holes. Your roster, at least for Thursday and Friday, should feature golfers in the former group. Here's a list of a few key players in each group:
The fair-weather guys: Garrigus, Ross Fisher, Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Stricker, K. T. Kim, Stanley, Bill Haas, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, and Johnson Wagner, all of whom tee off before 10:00 am.
The mud-sloggers: Jason Dufner, Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk, Ryo Ishikawa, Toms, Choi, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Bubba, Phil Mickelson, and Hunter Mahan, all of whom tee off after 12:30 pm.
Another factor to consider is the chalk. As I noted in a post last August, the PGA Championship is where you'll want to take The Field instead of the favorites, given the large number of quasi-fluke winners there over the years. If you took that advice at the PGA last year, your horse came home when Keegan Bradley won in his first start in a major. The Masters, however, is not the same play; you're probably better off picking well-established players. That's a product of a couple of factors: (1) The Masters is played at the same course every year, so the established players get to know the course much better than a PGA Championship rotation course that they might see once every six years. (2) The field is much smaller; there are only 93 entrants, and many of those are former champions (who get lifetime exemptions to play) like Craig Stadler, Larry Mize, and Sandy Lyle; those guys will not be holding any trophies on Sunday evening. That means that The Field is much smaller than at the PGA. Back the chalk.
Finally, this post would be chicken-hearted if I didn't at least include my picks. While I'd love to select my favorite guy in the field, I tend to doubt that Miguel Angel Jimenez will make any noise on Saturday (though I do think he'll make the cut). I'll pick a foursome of Bubba (despite the weather handicap), Bill Haas, Luke Donald, and Tiger Woods, whose iron game has suddenly become superb. The one name that gives me some pause here is Donald, since he isn't as long off the tee as most pros are. But he's the #1 player in the word for a reason. Haas has the long game to stay in the hunt, and proved last year at The Tour Championship that he can handle intense pressure. The one knock on him is limited Masters experience, which means he doesn't have a lot of practice on the treacherous Augusta National greens.
If I get a couple of mulligans, by the way, I'm going with two guys paired together for the first two rounds: Stanley and Jason Day. Stanley is only one bad decision away from being a back-to-back winner this year, and Day finished second in three majors last year. He comes up strong on the big stages.
Spring is here, everyone; have fun watching over the next four days.