2017 Farmers Insurance Open: Preview

Photo courtesy of PGATour.com

Congratulations to Hudson Swafford for earning his first PGA win! And another congrats to Adam Hadwin for shooting the second 59 of 2017 – pretty amazing considering only six golfers had shot sub-60 rounds on the PGA Tour, ever, and we have now seen two more join that club in consecutive weeks. Even more amazing is the fact that Hadwin accomplished this feat on a par 72 course.

As for our picks, we saw some mixed results – Hadwin was joined by Brendan Steele (T6), Chez Reavie (T12), and Bill Haas (T17) in the top 20, and Tom correctly faded Jamie Lovemark (MC at +3), but we also lost our picks of Zach Johnson, Emiliano Grillo, Ryan Palmer, and Harold Varner III to the cut. The format of the tournament – opening on a 3-course rotation and making the cut after Saturday, not Friday – added a level of difficulty to picking golfers. But it is up to you to know what you are facing each week. So with that being said, we will transition to this week’s test, the Farmers Insurance Open.

For starters, this tournament is played on two courses: Torrey Pines North and South. The pros will alternate on Thursday and Friday, and those who make the cut will finish the tournament on the famed South course (probably best known for hosting Tiger Woods’ huge comeback U.S. Open win in 2008).  The South course is considerably longer and tougher, but both are traditional par 72s. Tee times are worth considering due to this format (which should be posted on Wednesday). Golfers who get the chance to play the South course in the morning typically get better scoring conditions, and – so long as they make the cut – playing the South course on Friday could provide a small advantage headed into the weekend. Disclaimer: These factors serve better as tiebreakers, not sole reasons to pick or fade a golfer.

The most exciting  thing about this week is that we are seeing the deepest full-field event of the year by far, with even more notable golfers teeing it up than in past years. Yes, Tiger Woods is back, which undoubtedly means that he will get more coverage than if Trump stripped naked and strolled down Times Square. However, there are a lot of other great players in the field that we haven’t seen yet, including but not limited to Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes, Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, and (not including the Tournament of Champions) Dustin Johnson and Nike’s new poster child, Jason Day. Alright, enough set up, here are our picks for the Farmers.

Pick of the Week

Jon:

Luke List $7,200 – List seemingly has turned a corner in his game. He was cut last year at Torrey Pines, but as it sits right now, I like the way List has been playing, and I like that his stats lineup for a  good showing at Farmer’s. List has been going low dating back to last October, and I think he’ll continue at Torrey Pines.  His 4.3 average on par-5’s also bodes well for a course where that stat has been incredibly telling of past victors.

Tom:

Tiger Woods Jimmy Walker $9,400 – Psych! Tiger is not my pick of the week, and since he is Tiger, he will undoubtedly be a fair few people’s pick even though we recommend waiting to see how his stamina holds up, despite his storied history at this venue. Instead, my pick is probably equally risky in Jimmy Walker. On one hand, Walker has four top 10s (and one MC) in the past 5 years at this tournament. On the other hand, he burned people badly at the Sony Open, where he also has a great history. Walker has a tendency to burn you when you least expect it, but because of this trait, I think a lot of people will weigh his MC at the Sony higher than his history here, and I’m all for going against the grain with a player of Walker’s caliber.

Dustin Johnson

Will Dustin Johnson continue the success that earned him Player of the Year honors in 2016? Photo courtesy of sunsetviewgolf.com

Thick Steak Plays

Jon:

Dustin Johnson $ 11,100 – When Tiger used to dominate, one of his most intimidating factors was being bigger off the tee than the rest of the tour. Well guess who’s one of the biggest off the tee these days…that’s right, DJ. Dustin Johnson has got that tour swag going right now, and in his first full-field PGA event in 2017, I like DJ to make the inevitable “Tiger Watch” obsolete as he asserts his dominance at Torrey Pines.

Justin Rose $10,200 – It would appear that his back is perfectly fine. Rose had himself a stellar 2016 season, and was able to follow that up with a 2nd place finish at The Sony Open in Hawaii. For whatever reason, Rose is typically the victim of low ownership, and I would expect the same thing this week, with people grabbing Hideki and DJ instead. I like Rose a lot this week, and would trust him in both GPP and cash lineups.

Tom:

Jon Rahm $9,200 – Jon beat me to the punch on two of my picks this week, and the first was DJ. He will likely be a favorite of many, but I agree with Jon’s logic: he’s firing on all cylinders right now, and if his tee game is on point, he has the best chance of anyone to overpower the tough South course (with that being said, he could also make an interesting fade if you are feeling gutsy, because he is coming off a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi which could lead to a jet-lag-induced letdown).

But onto my pick, Jon Rahm. Rahm is no longer a well-kept secret based on his usage last week, and price tag this week. He is an all-world golfer, and I see him having the greatest success in tournaments that require patience and skill, not necessarily going low like last week, so I predict Rahm will wait for his moments, and keep himself in contention throughout the weekend.

Gary Woodland $8,600 – This week marks two out of three that I have endorsed Woodland. And that doesn’t concern me, because Woodland always shows up in these early events (much like Walker, Perez, Howell III, Steele, and more). In fact, Woodland might be the least talked about golfer in this category. And in this event, he is as sure a bet to make the cut as any. With a top 10 two years ago, Woodland was in position to win last year before literally getting blown out (as so many in the field were) by the torrential wind and rain on Sunday to the tune of an 82. That being only a few strokes above the average in some of the toughest conditions in PGA history, I’m hoping to scoop up some course history that others will overlook from Woodland.

Middle of the Road

Jon:

Kevin Chappell $7,400 – When I’m as high as I am on Dustin Johnson, I am likely to be similarly high on DJ Lite, AKA Kevin Chappell. It’s no secret that Chappell is the guy that other players think should have won by now on the tour, and I could see him coming out swinging in 2017. The only thing that scares me is very little course history coupled with the tendency to not play well early in the year.

Charles Howell III $7,300 – It looks like old Charlie Three-Sticks has picked up right where he left off. For DFS purposes, he essentially should be used as the cornerstone for cash lineups because he is such a consistent cut maker.  Not only that, but Howell boasts multiple top 10s at Torrey Pines in recent years, and his price has fallen due to the stronger field.

Tom:

Pat Perez $7,600 – DJ lite was the other guy Jon beat me to the punch on picking, because if he can keep the ball in play, he has the power to shoot some low rounds this week, and keep up his solid play from 2016. But in keeping with my theme of golfers who show up early in the season, I like Perez for the obvious reasons (this is his home course, he has a good history, and has already won this season) and for a new one: Perez actually took last week off, which shows good decision making given his age, and shows that he was even more committed to preparing for this week.

Danny Lee $7,100 – Even though we did not mention it, I was all over Lee last week with the price tag of $6,800. He has been in and out of the conversation surrounding the young talent that has dominated the PGA Tour recently. Inconsistency has plagued him in the last two seasons, and fittingly, he struggled through the weekend at the Career Builder after jumping out to a hot start that had him in the top five through two rounds. I actually think his game lends itself to tougher courses though, and thus will be going back to the well with Lee despite it costing me last week.

Tom’s Fade of The Week

Tiger Woods Jason Day $11,400 – Psych #2! That’s the seventh Tiger reference I’ve counted from this post, so I guess we’re doing our due diligence as golf writers. And picking Woods as my fade is more likely than pick of the week, but who wants to be that guy who faded Tiger Woods in his epic comeback tournament? Just not going in there. And besides, I couldn’t resist picking the heir to his Nike thrown. My rationale with Jason Day is that 1. I’m not convinced he is comfortable with the equipment and wardrobe change, and 2. I think if you pick wisely, you won’t get burned by fading the Aussie even if he does win. Simply put, with the strength of the field and the prices the way they are, I’m a strong advocate for avoiding the highest priced player all together, and leaning instead on lineups with the mid-range, 7-9K guys.

Jon’s Flyer of The Week

I’m offering two flyers this week because I’m really high on Martin Laird given his price tag (see below), but also predict he will have higher ownership than a true flyer pick.

Martin Laird $6,500 – I really like Party Marty Laird this week for a few reasons: 1. His course history looks good, coming in at T8 and T7 the past two years. 2. His recent form, including the wraparound season, would suggest that he’s poised for another good showing this at Torrey Pines. And finally, 3. His statistics in total driving, birdie or better % and strokes gained tee-to-green are all top 20 on tour.

John Huh $6,700 – A pick that might make some go, “huh?” John Huh has played well at Torrey Pines, and I’d look for him to play well following a strong showing this fall and at Waialae. Huh has been cut one time at Torrey Pines since 2012, and also was able to notch two top-10 finishes here in the same time span.

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Career Builder Challenge

704x422Justin Thomas is hot hot hot right now, with PGATour.com already asking, if his “best is yet to come?” It’s always fun when the first full-field tournament of the year results in history being made. However, not as fun when 17 lineups between 2 novice daily fantasy golf players only feature Justin Thomas once, so let’s put Hawaii behind us and move on to the California swing. The Career Builder Challenge at PGA West is a unique event to say the least. It has never been quite the same since the five-day birdie fest known as the Bob Hope Challenge, but it is still played as a pro-am, still is played on three different courses, and although it’s been dialed back to the traditional four days, it is still typically a shoot out affair. There are not a ton of big names signed up this year, with Patrick Reed being the odds-on favorite to win, and Lefty getting his start on the 2017 season.

Statistic-based strategy is a little “iffy” right now, with the data pool in 2017 being inherently shallow, and so course history and current form are perhaps the best indicators of how players can fair. 2016 stats are great to look at, but often don’t often tell the whole story. So, without further ado, here are some of our picks for The Career Builder Challenge.

**Check out the first installment of a consistent “Tom’s Fade of The Week,” and “Jon’s Flyer of The Week.” Playing to our strengths, Tom has often picked high-level fades to avoid, while Jon has a knack for finding those guys near the bottom of the barrel who can rise up the leaderboard and win you some money.

Pick of the week

Jon:

Bill Haas $10,500. This took a lot for me to put Mr. Haas up as my pick of the week. And he very well could let me down just like Chris Kirk did last week. However, history speaks for itself. Haas clearly knows how to play this work, notching a win here, back when it was the Humana challenge, and following that up with a t9 finish last year. He seems to have figured out this course, and I like that he was able chip in on 18 at Waialae to build momentum.

Tom:

 

Kevin Na $8,800. Is Patrick Reed my favorite player of the week? Naaaa… Okay, that was too obvious, but so is picking Kevin Na this week, in my opinion. Na had a steady week with four rounds in the 60s at the Sony Open, and is ready to pop in 2017. He has made the cut here in La Quinta the past three tries, including his best finish at T3 last year. My only caution any time that I endorse Na is ownership percentage. For whatever reason, Na is always incredibly popular on Draft Kings. I think it is because of his well-known battle with nerves and anxiety, that reflects that of the average DK player trying to create winning lineups: he’s the every man golfer. But I don’t care if everyone takes him this week, because I feel so strongly about a top 10 finish this week.

 

Thick Steak Plays:

Jon:

Zach Johnson $10,200. As mentioned previously, stats are a little harder to look at with a such a small data pool. We then have to guess based on 2016 and current form. ZJ certainly showed that he could go low in Hawaii, and I’d look for him to continue at PGA West. GIR’s and Putts are huge – I’ll say it all week. Those stats are going to lead to low rounds, and Johnson has proven more than capable in those areas.

Emiliano Grillo $9,800. If Tom doesn’t mention Jon Rahm as either his pick of the week, or at least one of his picks, then we’ll have words. Aside from Rahm though, I like Grillo to build on an impressive 2016 rookie campaign. He finished high in driving accuracy, GIR percentage, strokes-gained, and our going low composite stats. The concern is he has no course history here, but that didn’t stop him from making 22 cuts last year as a rookie.

Tom:

 

Brendan Steele $9,300. Jon’s reference to Rahm comes from the fact that he was my prized third-round pick in our season-long league, as a guy I think can end up top 10 on the money list in a breakout year. But let me be clear: I plan on taking a wait-and-see approach with Rahm this week. Granted, it’s easy for me to do that because I am hedging, and will benefit from Rahm winning even if I don’t play him much in DK lineups. So instead, I’m picking some more obvious, chalky fruit in Brendan Steele. Steele won the Safeway Open to kick off the 2016-17 season, he’s coming off a T6 finish in the Tournament of Champions, and is known for great play in California. Done.

Scott Piercy $8,300. As you can see, I have skipped over a lot of the thickest of steak players this week, and am including a moderately thick play in Scott Piercy. That brings up a good tid-bit on contrarian lineup strategy. By far, and especially when talking about other novice players, the most common strategy lineup is to pick one or two players >9,000, two <7,000, and sprinkle in the mid-range plays to round it out. Thus, in weeks where you don’t love the high-end plays, a great strategy is to make some lineups with all 7,000-9,000 players, as you will likely create unique combinations that way. Piercy is a perfect anchor for this approach at the CareerBuilder, as he also is a steady cut-maker with top 10 upside, and a history of good play early in the season.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-1-40-10-pm

Career Builder History

Middle of the Road:

Jon:

Chez Reavie $7,500. While not as cheap as I would have hoped, I like Reavie this week. Chez had himself quite a day on Sunday of the Sony Open. In a similar “go low” style of  course, I think Chez can build on his Hawaiian momentum in California. If he can continue trending upward on his strokes gained approaching the green, then I think he is certainly capable of making those eagle putts that he has become recently accustomed to making.

Adam Hadwin $7,500. My love for Adam Hadwin knows no bounds. This guy is a birdie monster – ranking 12 in total birdies for 2012. He has had relatively good success recently at PGA West, and I would look for him to build on a good 2016 season, and come out and start making birdies left and right as he’s known to do. In terms of DFS scoring, Hadwin is like going to Hyde Park Steakhouse during happy hour: It’s a damn good deal.

Tom:

Ryan Palmer $8,000. No tricks or gimmicks here, Ryan Palmer is up there with Mickelson and Haas as the biggest horse the course this week. He has finished no worse than T17 here in the past four years, and his success at this event dates back to the Bob Hope classic. Palmer had a disappointing 75 on Friday to miss the cut last week, but he did open with a 66, and should be able to bounce back in California.

Harold Varner III $7,200. Let me preface by saying: I am not picking Varner for a guarantee of a T25 finish, or even a guarantee of a made cut. I am picking Varner because he’s a young player with boatloads of talent, and is bound to go off eventually. He hasn’t done much since debuting as a rookie last year, but he did make 18/28 cuts, and converted 4 into top 10 finishes. What I like about Varner is that he’s known for making birdies, and he will get three rounds to do so before the cut, as the cut will occur on Saturday this week, after each player gets a shot at each course. People should be off of Varner after back-to-back missed cuts, which is why he is risky, but also a potentially sneaky pick.

Tom’s Fade of The Week

Jamie Lovemark $9,600. There are two main reasons to fade a player: his cost does not match your assessment of his value, or you perceive his ownership to be higher than your assessment of his value. Lovemark checks both of these boxes for me. On one hand, I  think he fits the bill as a great play – long off the tee, capable of going low, and coming in with form (T4 and T6 in previous two starts) + history (T6 here last year). Wait a second, wow, Lovemark sounds like a perfect pick! The only problem is, Draft Kings also picked up on this, and consequently inflated his price to 9,600, and there is no doubt the public will pick up on this and lead to high ownership. So with a guy who is still relatively unproven, in a game that is incredibly difficult to achieve consistency, I see Lovemark as both a strategic and logical fade this week.

Jon’s Flyer of The Week

Peter Malnati $6,300. Malnati is my flyer of the week. Malnati shot in the 60’s all last week at Waialae good for a T27. I look for Malnati to continue to go low this week at PGA West. Malnati has proven he can make his birdies, and his weakness comes when he has a bad day and can’t recover. With the set-up of the Career Builder (cut on the last day), Malnati’s value is understated at his current price. I look to Malnati to have a good few days at PGA West, and hopefully be in contention come Sunday.

 

 

 

2017 Sony Open at Waialae: Preview

2017 Sony Open at Waialae: Preview

sony-open-logo

Source: PGATour.com

Welcome to the 2017 PGA Tour! For those who also have not wrapped their heads around the wrap-a-round season for fantasy golf purposes, the season is officially getting underway! After a much needed hiatus, Tom and I are back and better than ever.

Waialae

Waialae Course History

Our new approach: provide daily and season-long fantasy golf analysis and strategy in a way that will not only be accessible to the casual fan, but in fact is catered to that level of commitment. Tom and I are not sharks — we are both in graduate school, and don’t have $200 to throw down every week in DFS, let alone $5,000. Thus we play the game from a different point of view than the shark gamer, who is looking for a 3-5% return on investment. We try to focus on smaller bets and having fun – novel concept, we know!

With that being said, Tom and I have both experienced our shares of fantasy success, but we each take a little different approach. I prefer to look at a small pool of relevant statistics, while Tom — who has been a fan of the sport since before fantasy was relevant — takes an analytical approach, based on his knowledge of players and courses. Together we try to give the most accurate predictions possible.

Picks of The Week

Jon:  Chris Kirk $7,700 –  is my pick of the week. Kirk struggled in 2016, notching only 3 top-10s all season. But look out 2017! Kirk already has 3 top-10s, including a 2nd place finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship back in October.  He ranks high in approaches from 100-125, which bodes well for Waialae – a shorter course. And oh yeah, Kirk knows how to finish at The Sony Open. He had top-10s in both 2013 and 2014.

Chris Kirk

Will Chris Kirk capture a victory in Hawaii this week? Source: PlayersWiki

Tom: Marc Leishman $8,200 – Granted, part of the reason Leishman is my pick of the week is that I expect a lower ownership with the underrated Aussie, there are also some fact and figures to consider. First and foremost, Leishman is a quiet cut-maker. Last year, although he only had 2 top-10 finishes, he also only missed 5 cuts. On top of that, he has yet to miss the cut at the Sony Open in 7 appearances, and like Jon’s Kirk pick, he strung together top-10s here in 2013 and 2014. Thursday will only be his third start this season, but he started off with a 5th place at the CIMB Classic, and a T24 in Mayakoba.

Thick Steak Plays

Jon:

Jimmy Walker $9,900 – It would seem that all Jimmy has done here is win. Hitting back to back wins in 2014 & 2015, Walker will look to get back on the Hawaiian throne. Walker looked like he was already in form last week at the Tournament of Champions, and still has the swagger of a major winner. Walker also scores high in putts made from 15-20 feet, which bodes well for these Hawaiian courses, where the pros can get close from short distances.

Hideki Matsuyama $11,000 – Hideki feels like he’s in prime position for a breakout performance this season. He’s won twice already in “the offseason” and finished second in the Tournament of Champions, as Justin Thomas was just able to hold him off. Possibly the most ridiculous stat for Hideki right now, is of the 20 rounds he’s played, 16 of them have been in the 60s. If you’re looking for a low round, Hideki is your guy.

Tom:

Jordan Spieth $11,500 – I’m just going to call it: this is one of the weeks you want to have Spieth in your lineups. A. He lead the field in birdies last week, and even if commentators love to talk about the blow up holes and (exhaustively) connect them back to 12 at the Masters, we all know he can easily navigate a tournament without a blow up hole. B. Spieth has to be charged up after his friend Justin Thomas followed up some early-week pranking with a win at the Tournament of Champions. And C. Being the highest-priced player and only costing $11,500 is not as bad as it could be, so you would be wise to choose him.

Gary Woodland $9,100 – Let me preface by saying that I’m also really high on Jon’s picks of Walker and Matsuyama. And I don’t think you’d be ill-advised to roll Justin Thomas out again this week; Thomas and Matsuyama are in a heated-battle for hottest golfer on Tour right now, and both are theoretically young enough to avoid burnout. But I’m here to talk about Woodland, who I love at 9.1K. In keeping with the theme started with Leishman, Woodland is a cut-maker. While he hasn’t won in the past three seasons, he’s made the cut in 80% of the tournaments he’s played. Woodland also has an intersting history with this course. After missing the cut in his first two attempts (2009 and 2011), he skipped the tournament for three-straight years, and then finished T3 in 2015 and T13 last year. Add to that, Woodland’s last finish was a runner-up in Mayakoba.

 

Middle of the Road

Jon:

Russell Knox $8,100 – Knox won twice in 2016, and rarely missed the cut. While he finished middle of the road at the SBS Tournament of Champions, Knox has been as consistent as anyone on the tour. Be weary as he has missed the cut a few times at Waialae, but his top-10 rankings in both total birdies and average birdies bodes well for the course. Consider Knox a boom or bust candidate best deployed in GPP formats.

Pat Perez $8,000 – I can’t even believe I’m saying that Perez is a player to watch this week, but there’s no denying that the  40-year-old is playing good, early-season golf. Maybe dressing like a hipster out of Seattle has revitalized his game, or maybe it’s made him feel so douchey that he feels like he has to get off the course as quick as he can. In any case Perez is playing well. Perez has notched multiple top-10s here, and they have recently came in years where he performed well at Mayakoba. Well guess what, Perez won at Mayakoba, and is coming off a top-3 finish at the Tournament of Champions, so look for him to contend again this week.

Tom:

William McGirt $7,900 – Jon stole my pick of Pat Perez, who was almost my pick of the week in fact (the only negative on him is that ownership is likely to be sky-high), but alas, more picks = more fun. When McGirt started 2017 right where he left off a breakthrough 2016 performance, I exclaimed to my partner in crime – who ironically has always been higher on McGirt than myself – that I would do myself a favor and put McGirt in at least one lineup every week. See, the irony comes from the fact that McGirt attended my alma mater: little old Wofford College, yet I have regularly faded him and paid the price. Well I’m sorry William, I will never doubt you again! But seriously, McGirt played incredible golf in 2016, and followed it up with a top-10 finish in his first Tournament of Champions. Let’s hope it’s not his last, and let’s hope he continues that good play at Wailae (where he finished T13 last year).

Harris English $7,500 – No long-winded essay about why you should pick Harris English. It’s simple: he’s an excellent golfer, you probably forgot that he’s an excellent golfer, but he certainly has not forgotten how much he loves Wailae. Aside from disappointing showings in his debut, and last season when he failed to break par on the weekend, English has cracked the top 10 every time. Oh, and those other two were still made cuts.

Here’s Your Flyer

Jon:

Cody Gribble $6,800 – What the what!? If you need a low end play to fill out your roster, I present to you Cody Gribble. Gribble played a few PGA events in 2015, after finishing T21 in the U.S. Open in 2014. Admittedly, he may have been out of his league. After a 2016 campaign on the Web.com tour that secured his spot on the PGA, Gribble seems a bit more ready for the limelight. The former Texas Longhorn (see also: Jordan Spieth) won his first event at the Sanderson Farms Championship, which earned him a spot at The SBS Tournament of Champions, where he finished T14. Gribble has his putter figured out on these Bermuda greens, and has the ability to go low, which is a must in Hawaii.

Tom:

Wesley Bryan $6,700 – I invite you to play a game: Pick your Rookie. It’s a favorite at the Sony Open, which used to be the debut for rookies on the PGA Tour, and was highlighted by Russell Henley shooting the tournament record (256/-24) in his rookie-debut, en route to winning in 2013. Jon offered you Cody Gribble, and I’m offering you Wesley Bryan, who just happened to putt the lights out while notching 3 wins and leading the Web.com tour in several categories last season. Bryan somehow translated internet fame from posting trick-shot golf videos with his brother into success on the actual pro circuit. He should be a fun player to watch, and a course like this is perfect for him to show off his tee-to-green and putting chops.