The Masters: Fantasy Golf and Tiger’s Back

Apart from the return of Tiger Woods, this year’s Masters at Augusta National will see the arrival of Single Round Showdown on golf.

Say “The Masters” to any sports fan and they will instinctively know what you are talking about: the first golf major of the year, held at the iconic Augusta National Golf Club since 1934 and a career-defining tournament for the winner.

Last year’s winner was Spain’s Sergio Garcia, who defeated England’s Justin Rose in a play-off. But this year, the tournament has an extra dimension – one that could make non-golf fans around the world stay up late to watch Sunday’s final round. For the first time since his well-documented fall from grace, Tiger Woods is back with a realistic chance of winning: as I write the English bookmakers generally have Tiger as a 14/1 chance.

Fantasy golf for Masters

… But for a great many golf fans – especially in the US – it won’t be just Tiger that adds extra interest to the final three rounds of the Masters. This year, for the first time, daily fantasy sports firm DraftKings are bringing the “Single Round Showdown” to golf. It’s a contest format they found great success with during the NFL postseason earlier this year, and they have now adapted it to daily fantasy golf.

It will debut in the second round of the Masters on Friday, April 6th, meaning that for the first time in history, players will be able to participate in a contest based on a single round’s play. DraftKings will be offering cash games and guaranteed prize pools for contests based on rounds two through four of the Masters, covering Friday, Saturday, and the all-important Sunday.

As you would expect, players will score points for birdies, eagles, and holes-in-one, with the added twist that in the final round they will also score points based on the finishing position of their six chosen golfers. It is yet more evidence that “single game contests” are continuing to increase in popularity, with any potential legal challenge to them all but disappearing.

The increasing popularity is easily understandable: fantasy sports have captured the imagination of millions of sports fans around the world, but the traditional format – covering a whole season – meant it was all too easy for players to lose interest. If you are 45,678th half-way through the season, your chances of winning are all but over – and so is your incentive to stay involved.

Daily contests overcome that objection, and the attraction of a contest on the final day of a golf tournament – when there are probably no more than 20 golfers in contention for the places – is obvious.

Could Tiger win?

So will one of those golfers in contention for the green jacket be Tiger Woods? He’s won 14 majors and 79 tournaments on the US PGA tour. He famously burst onto the Masters stage in 1997: aged just 21, he won the tournament by 12 shots with a record score of 270. He dominated the golfing world like no player before him – but then came a succession of operations on his back, a very public divorce, and an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 2017. Tiger has started just 19 tournaments in four years: his last win was in 2013. Most tellingly, in a sport increasingly dominated by very fit young men, he is now 42.

Tiger winning the Masters would be the stuff of dreams, one of the greatest – and most emotional – sporting comebacks ever seen. Many sports fans will let sentiment cloud their judgment and include Tiger as one of their six golfers – after all, he tied 5th at Bay Hill just three weeks ago…

… But realistically, Tiger is ranked 103rd in the world. The winner of the Masters is far more likely to be a player like current world number one Dustin Johnson or his closest pursuer, Justin Thomas, both from the USA. But sports fans are romantics at heart: even if they don’t have Tiger as a DFS pick, they’ll be cheering for him if he’s in contention at Amen Corner on the final day. But probably not as much as the world’s TV executives: seeing Tiger shoot up the leaderboard on Sunday night will see millions of men suddenly deciding to stay up late…