We’re getting to the point in the season where the impact of golf returning to the Olympics can be felt. It doesn’t help that in the past two weeks, the Olympics lost two of the highest profile players in Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, as well as the next two Irishmen in Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell.
As for the schedule, this week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational has been moved up over a month earlier than its usual place in early August, which of course is right when the Olympics will take place. Forced to conflict with the French Open on the European Tour, this WGC will actually not be recognized by the Euros, which means that several of their top players are staying overseas where they can compete for coveted Ryder Cup points. That list includes Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Rafa Cabrera Bello, among others. Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson are also taking the week off in general.
So what does that leave us with in Akron at Firestone CC? Well, we’ve still got the likes of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Justin Rose (injury status still uncertain). Last year’s champ Shane Lowry will also return to defend his title, despite lots of incentives to tee it up in France.
So like any other WGC, there is a bevy of elite players from start to finish, and lots of tough choices in terms of building a roster. There is also the complication of no cut line this week, with the shortened field, so every player will get four rounds regardless. We will go through our usual high end, value, and fade picks this week, but also talk a little strategy.
High End Plays
As for any strong field, the immediate question becomes, ‘who do you pick between Day, Spieth, and McIlroy?’ With McIlroy across the pond, we will substitute DJ into this question, who actually passed McIlroy in the world rankings, and passes Spieth in salary this week anyway.
DJ could go either way – I personally get nervous about players coming off such a mentally and physically draining win like the U.S. Open, and DJ surprisingly has a poor track record here. On the flip side, he is playing mind-boggling golf right now and is rested headed onto a course that demands length as much as any on tour.
Jon’s note: I really like Dustin this week if for no other reason than his length off the tee. This course is a 7,400 yard par 70…it’s really long. DJ’s essentially handicaps the field against him, as he can make those long holes that much easier
Between Day and Spieth, you can’t overthink it – look no further than the scoreboard. Though Spieth hasn’t been a bust this season by any means, Day has been solid, especially on the biggest stages this year. He already has one WGC title (the match play) this season, and of course the Players victory. Day also rallied back from his opening 76 at Oakmont to finish T8. I endorse Day highly, and will probably roster him 2 to 1 over Spieth (who you have to try in at least one lineup, always), but will also save several lineups to avoid these top players altogether.
Moving down to the 9-10K range, our top picks are:
Brooks Koepka, 9.9K. Koepka seems to be a favorite of many, including Rob Bolton of PGATour.com. So you may be getting in a high ownership line, but we think its better than staying out of the line because Koepka has been solid this season, solid in his debut in this tourney last year (T6), and should feel incredibly comfortable on this “bomber course.” The key is that he ranks 35th in Strokes Gained Putting, and 13th in total SG.
Hideki Matsuyama 9.3K. We are adding Matsuyama to the list NOT as an endorsement to build your lineups around him. In fact Matsuyama has turned a highly impressive season into a disappointing one as of late, and seems to be in a funk since the Players. This just means to us that the Japanese talent will be a popular fade, and based on his salary relative to his ability, he is worth throwing into a few lineups as a contrarian play.
Marc Leishman 8.1K. Call him a favorite of ours, because he is. Leishman always seems like a steady play, and especially without a cut, we feel that he can stay in the mix even if he doesn’t put 4 rounds together. The script for the Aussie typically revolves around par 4 scoring, so at one of the most challenging par 70 courses on tour, par 4 performance is critical, and Leishman is again in the top 10 in this stat (7).
Jon’s note: Here it comes. I’m all in on Rickie Fowler this week. At 9k, he’s essentially a steal from where he’s been typically priced in the 10k and above range. To top it off, his course history here is pretty remarkable with a number of top-10 performances at Firestone. Adam Scott also has remarkable history here with a win and a few top-10’s at well.
We have discussed the fact that on one hand, options seem extremely limited beneath 7k, despite the overall depth of the field. However, almost any player in that 7k range could make a strong pick, so we believe this is the range that will make or break your lineups. Especially if you look to roster any of the elite players, you will probably need to have 3-4 players from the 7k range to make it work. Here are our favorites:
Bill Haas 7.9K. Tom says yes, Jon perhaps says no… The argument for Haas lies in his form. He scored 4 rounds in the 60s at Congressional, and went an incredible 62 holes without a bogey to finish (he made only two bogeys all week, both early in his first round). The argument against him is that he has not been as strong this year in the best fields, and his tee to green style game isn’t the ideal fit for Firestone.
Danny Lee 7.4K. Ever since his win at the Greenbrier last year, Lee has been waiting, and seemingly ready, to burst through on a bigger stage. He’s made 7-straight cuts, though only one (Wells Fargo) going for a top 10, and we trust his patience and steady play to help take advantage of four guaranteed rounds.
Harris English 7.3K. Few were on English for his solo 2nd at the Dean and Deluca, while many jumped on him for his relatively disappointing T26 at the Fed Ex St. Jude. Followed by a ho-hum T37 at the U.S. Open, we feel English will be slipping back under the radar this week. His game – 6th in SG-Putting, and averaging just under 300 yards off the tee – should allow him to contend this week.
Jon’s note: David Lingmerth, 7.6K, is my guy down here. Again, multiple top-10’s, and he’s been no slouch this year. I think he’s got a good shot, however he’s definitely a GPP play only.
Bubba Watson 10.1K. Bubba figures to be a popular pick because one would think he should overpower this course, then that one might look up course history and see the bulldog finished runner up to Shane Lowry here last year. However, his best finish here in the past 5 years, aside from the last, was a T19 in 2012. Overall, this course seems to cause Bubba fits, likely because of the precision it demands off the tee (not just raw length).
Kevin Chappell 7.4K. Reaching much lower, Kevin Chappell has been a popular pick all season because of his good, consistent play. So naturally, we’re going to fade the guy we call “DJ Lite,” because there are simply more elite players for a similar price, and this field will be too much for Chappell to compete. Let’s hope that DFSers simply stick with him when they see the price cut and don’t realize the strength of this tournament…