Recap of The Wells Fargo
Last week was a great week for us at FTA. While Fleetwood and Glover missed the cut, virtually all other picks were hits. Personally, it was List, Molinari, Grillo, Casey, and Finau that carried my lines to my most profitable week since PGA National. Having no exposure to Jason Day capped my MME upside, but more on him in a bit. This week, we find many of the same targets in the field so let’s dive into which ones we should roster once again. Just like at The Masters, very loose pricing means entering MMEs without max entering puts you at a severe disadvantage. I’ll be sticking to single entry and 3-entry max contests.
This is an event where understanding the course is crucial to DFS success. Since the tournament is played here year after year, always with an extremely strong field (arguably the strongest), there are lots of trends we can recognize. The first one to note is how penalizing the course is due to the large number of hazards. The result is a tournament with lots of variance. So, what does this mean for us? The short answer is we want to stray away from the chalk whenever a comparable pivot is nearby in price. The longer answer requires a deeper dive into the trends at Sawgrass. @DataGolf (a Twitter must-follow) has a nifty visual that shows a breakdown of the strokes gained stats and how they translate to success at Sawgrass. View the visual and other tools for yourself at http://datagolf.ca/historic-event-data/.datagolf.ca/historic-event-data/.
At Sawgrass, putting accounts for 5% fewer of the variation in scores than in the average of all other events. All of that decrease is accounted for by an added emphasis on iron play.
Revisiting Descriptive vs. Predictive
Since putting is the least predictable aspect of golf, my model already pays little attention to it when forecasting player success at an event. Thus, the deemphasis on putting is great for us. It’s also worth noting that although SG driving is not deemphasized according to DataGolf’s visual, players will have driver taken out of their hands quite frequently. Therefore, there’s less risk in a player who has a tendency to find trouble with his driver (Tiger week??). Furthermore, players who excel with their irons, but struggle with their putter are likely where we can find the biggest advantage, and the best opportunities to leverage high ownership plays.
There are five players above $10k on Draftkings, and with lots of value available, I expect them all to carry at least decent ownership. Rory McIlroy is the most expensive, and is inarguably in much better form now than earlier in the season. However, most of his improvement has been with the putter, as he’s gained over .4 strokes per round putting this year. This number is higher than his strokes gained approach on the year, making him a fade for me.
Here’s what I wrote about Jason Day last week:
Well, his strokes gained putting is now 1.594 per round, and his SG around the green is an astonishing .603. Even last week though, as he admitted, his ball striking was lacking (his strokes gained approach is still -.349 on the year). With all the hazards at Sawgrass, he may not have a chance to recover from his errant shots like he did so insanely well last week.
I like Justin Thomas more than Jordan Spieth because he’s been better this year and is slightly cheaper, but both excel with their irons and are good plays.
Two Value Studs
To be honest, I’m shocked JT is the fourth most expensive. I would be higher on him if not for the fifth most expensive…
My favorite play in the top tier is also the cheapest: Dustin Johnson. The best player in the world is the 5th most expensive? Sign me up. He has “struggled” this year, right? Well, he’s finished top 20 or better in every stroke play event he’s played since September. He’s finished top 10 in five of his last seven stroke play events. He’s the best projected play in my model by far, whether looking at the last three years, two years, or just this year. And lastly, while rightfully known for dominating with driver, he’s also gained over half a stroke per round with his irons.
Rickie Fowler has found himself in the top tier a bunch this year. His demotion is partly due to the stacked field, but also a result of somewhat uninspiring play. Rickie’s Masters finish is really his only great one in months, and he hasn’t been consistent at all. While his strokes gained numbers aren’t bad, the loose pricing makes him a tough sell, and I’m not buying.
Jon Rahm is tough to project here. On the one hand, his outstanding driving ability has him the second rated player in my model, regardless of price. On the other, he’s losing .161 strokes per round with his irons. There is a lot of chatter surrounding his name in the DFS community this week, so I expect him to be fairly high owned. Surprisingly, though I’ve been on him a ton this year when others haven’t, I think I’ll be mostly fading him this week.
Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia project very similarly in my models. Sergio’s strokes gained profile would make him my clear preference, as he’s gained well over a stroke per round with his irons this season, but he’s been awful since his Masters collapse. This entire tier will be a fade for me. Rose has a reputation for being one of the best iron players in the world, but his strokes gained approach of .169 is quite mundane for a player in this price range.
This tier is flat out stacked. In fact, there are seven guys I really like here. Additionally, because it’s so stacked, ownership should be fairly spread out among them. This means each could be lower owned than their projected value deserves. I like the idea of attacking this tier aggressively.
Patrick Reed finished 8th in his first event since winning The Masters, so I expect his ownership to be fairly high. I will have none of him, however, as there are a handful of guys who rate significantly better in my model.
Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson are world class iron players and rate amongst the best in my model, especially when looking solely at their stats from this season.
Tiger Woods may end up being one of the least owned players in this tier, yet could be in line for his best finish of the year. He won’t have to hit driver much, and his iron play looked better last week than it has all season (which is saying something because his SG approach is .804). He had a rare off-week with the putter, which if he corrects this week could reignite the Tiger buzz in a big way. I especially like him as a pivot off Hideki Matsuyama (hasn’t played well all year- his ball striking has been uncharacteristically mediocre) or Patrick Reed.
My two favorite plays in the 8k range, since I think they will be less owned than Stenson and Casey who rate as slightly better values, are Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. Mickelson is having a fantastic season, primarily due to outstanding iron play. He has gained .922 strokes per round with his irons, and won’t have to pull driver very often, another plus for him. DeChambeau has been on a tear recently. He could have easily won each of the past two events if not for some chunk mistakes (two doubles and one worse) two weeks ago, and a dreadful opening round last week. Earlier in the year, his strokes gained driving was the only reason he rated well in my model. Just in the past few weeks, his strokes gained approach has caught up (now at .703). In other words, he’s hot in the right way for Sawgrass.
Francesco Molinari has actually seen a large price increase, which is odd for a week with such loose pricing. He did, however, lead the field in strokes gained ball striking last week, which could lead to high ownership. His putting has been so bad that he actually trails Adam Scott in putting this year. Yeah, it’s been that bad. So bad, in fact, that if his ownership is high, I can’t see him being worth it. This hurts to say, as I’ve been bullish on him all year and he may be finding his best form.
While sites are calling for Molinari to be fairly chalky, I’m not sure I see it. He was 10% owned last week, and just 3% at The Masters. These are the last two stacked field events we saw, giving us a baseline. I can’t see his ownership making a sudden jump despite the even stronger field coupled with a price hike.
Tommy Fleetwood was a major disappointment last week as the highest owned player in the field (by a large margin). His price has decreased, though, so I think he’ll still carry decent ownership. He rates very well in my model, and I have no objection to taking him. Do note that I definitely prefer Bryson and Phil for slightly more. Because Molinari’s iron play is better, I prefer Moli as well.
There is an abundance of value in this tier, as has been the case pretty regularly this year.
Priced alongside Alex Noren and Matt Kuchar, I think Bubba Watson is a great under the radar pick. His short game has been abysmal this year, which makes him risky at a course where greens can be difficult to hit. However, his iron play has been good, he’s been excellent off the tee, and Draftkings’ scoring system plays perfectly to his game. Even if he’s not on the top of leaderboard, he can pull a Tony Finau from last week and easily pay off his price tag with eagles and birdies.
Noren has missed two cuts in a row, but he hasn’t been priced this low all year. My guess is people will still flock to him. If you’ve been reading my articles all season, you know I’ve suggested Kuchar’s success may be unsustainable. Let me rephrase that, however, because he has shown the consistency for quite some time now. Rather, I think it’s more accurate to suggest he’s been playing at or around his ceiling; I just don’t see the upside considering the fact that he’s gaining next to nothing with his ball striking.
There are six players who really stand out to me at $7400 or $7500. All of them are familiar names:
Luke List, Adam Scott, Emiliano Grillo, Tony Finau, Zach Johnson, and Patrick Cantlay
All six may be chalky, but I don’t care. I feel as though I’ll be diversified enough by stacking the 8k range and fading the 9k range entirely. Cantlay is third in the field in odds of making the cut according to my model. List and Grillo are probably in the best form of the five. Certainly, Scott has been in the worst. However, he excels on Pete Dye courses, and his game is tailor-made for Sawgrass. An emphasis on iron play where putting is minimized SCREAMS Adam Scott. The only hesitation here is that he’s in a two week funk with his ball striking.
My expectation is that his recent struggles will make him the lowest owned of this bunch. It should come as no surprise then that he’s my favorite gpp play of the gang. One encouraging sign from last week, in fact, was that in the midst of his ball striking struggles, he putted quite well.
ZJ is probably the best cash play out of all of them, as his game suggests his success here is no accident. He has gained more strokes with his approach shots this year than anywhere else.
Brendan Steele comes at a small discount to the group above, but rates nearly as well. Additionally, he’ll probably carry far less ownership. He has been better off the tee than approaching the green, but his iron play has been solid at .525, too. For reference, that’s slightly better than both Rickie and Rory.
Keegan Bradley is only $6900 so if you need the salary relief, he’s a great play.
Chez Reavie and Jason Kokrak are also viable as punts. If you need one extra hundred, you can dip to Stewart Cink at $6700. I don’t think that’s necessary in a week with so much value, though. Personally, I won’t dip below Keegan.
For all DFS intents and purposes, THE PLAYERS is a fifth major; pricing is loose and the world’s best are all here. For every great play, there are several nearly as great pivots. The result is that even the most casual of DFS golf players will have no trouble putting together a solid lineup. Personally, I think there’s a greater edge to be gained with tight pricing… just a little tidbit to consider when entering contests. That being said, THE PLAYERS is one of my favorite events and I can’t wait for Thursday!