The losing streak has ended! It was another pretty difficult DFS week, with a lot of the chalk plays missing the cut or fading on the weekend. I had all of the big names near the top – Rory, Phil, Rose, and Berger – but unfortunately none of them were able to close it out. Huge congrats to James Hahn, who rode terrific current form (8 straight MCs!) to victory at Quail Hollow. Golf is a fickle game.
This week, the tour moves to TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship, the Tour’s unofficial “fifth major.” Sawgrass is a tricky Pete Dye design, so we can look to comparable courses such as Harbour Town for an idea of what type of player might perform well. The course is a typical par-72 layout with four par 5s, but it doesn’t really favor the bombers. Several par 5s will be reachable for most of the field, but the difficulties of the par 3s and par 4s will mitigate the length advantage of the bombers. Like most Pete Dye designs, the players will be navigating tricky doglegs, mounding, bunkers and water hazards, and will be forced to hit less then driver off many tees. Once in position, the players will hit approaches to very small greens (again, similar to Harbour Town), so proximity and scrambling should play major roles in targeting certain players this week. Experience is key. With the exception of journeymen winners like Craig Perks and Stephen “9&8” Ames, past winners here have had at least 5 years of experience playing the event. Each of the last ten winners at TPC Sawgrass has recorded at least one top-20 finish. You don’t need to strictly avoid first timers here, but like we talked about at The Masters, experience does play a pivotal role. And while we are playing up the Pete Dye angle, keep these 10 names in mind of players who have gained the most strokes on Pete Dye course designs: Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk, Luke Donald, Robert Streb, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, John Senden, Russell Knox, Bill Haas, and Ben Martin.
Although I’m going to focus heavily on recent form and some course history this week, there is some stat correlation that has popped out to me in my research. Be careful, however, because we don’t have tons of data on the European Tour players who are in the field. The key stats I’ll look towards this week:
- Birdie of Better %
- Good Drive %
- Ball Striking
- Par 5 Scoring
- Bogey Avoidance
- 3-putt Avoidance
And now on to the picks! Hopefully we can keep rolling with some solid picks across the pricing spectrum. The weather and the golf course look perfect this week, and the pricing is so soft that you can pretty much roster whoever you want. Here are the guys I’m looking at in all of the pricing tiers:
Rory McIlroy ($11,700) – Rory checks almost all the boxes this week for me. He’s 1st in par 5 scoring, 4th in birdie or better %, and 22nd in ball striking. The thing that’s going to make or break his week is putting, and specifically, avoiding 3-putts. Although he missed his first three cuts at TPC Sawgrass, he’s now had three consecutive top-8 finishes. He is so due for a win, and if not for a bad first nine holes at Quail Hollow, he would have won Wells Fargo a week ago. With a ton of great options at the top, Rory is one of the best.
Jordan Spieth ($11,400) – Do you really want to mess with Angry Jordan? After blowing the Masters on Sunday, Spieth has had a month off to tighten up the leaks (in his iron game) that we saw at Augusta. He’s an excelling putter and scrambler, ranks 2nd in birdie or better %, and 20th in par 5 scoring. Spieth finished 2nd in the Junior Players at the Stadium course, and has a 4th place finish in 2014 at The Players. He’s 3rd in my overall rankings this week.
Rickie Fowler ($10,600) – Considering the recent run of terrible finishes by defending champions, I’m a little hesitant to use Fowler. But his form is impeccable, and he should have easily won Wells Fargo a week ago. Fowler far and away ranks 1st in my statistical model this week. He’s 1st in bogey avoidance, 4th in ball striking, 6th in par 5 scoring, 7th in birdie or better %, and 19th in scrambling. I expect his ownership to be fairly high this week, but I’m pretty much all in on Rickie.
Sergio Garcia ($9,900) – Sergio is Mr. Course History this week, for those of you interested. He’s the all-time leading money winner at The Players, and (somehow) managed to win the event in 2008. Additionally, he has finished 2nd twice, 3rd once, and 8th once. Surprisingly, he doesn’t show up very highly in my statistical data, but he is an excellent ball striker and a great birdie maker. Sometimes, you have to take elite course history over data. Garcia is a lock for cash games, and definitely has top-10 or top-5 upside.
Hideki Matsuyama ($9,700) – I love Hideki, but his scrambling and putting last week at Wells Fargo was absolutely atrocious. That worries me heading into this week, because he’s going to have to rely heavily on his short game. But Hideki is 2/2 in making cuts at The Players, with a 23rd and a 17th place finish. Statistically, we all know he’s an elite driver and ball striker. He ranks 3rd in birdie or better %, 11th in par 5 scoring, and 16th in ball striking. He’s another one of the many great options this week.
Henrik Stenson ($9,500) – I’m hoping and praying that Stenson’s MC last week will keep some people from using him… because I want ALL THE STENSON. He’s the prototypical player for TPC Sawgrass: an elite ball striker who keeps the ball in play, and who has an elite course history. Stenson won the event in 2009, and has three other top-10 finishes. He ranks 2nd in good drive %, 2nd in ball striking, and 11th in par 5 scoring. And at this price point, he’s an elite play in all formats.
Patrick Reed ($8,700) – Reed is more of a form play, with four top-10s in his last six starts on Tour. He doesn’t have much course history, but he plays well in Florida and checks out in my statistical model. He’s 3rd in scrambling, 9th in bogey avoidance, and 27th in par 5 scoring. Although I think he’s a great value play, I personally won’t have too much Reed because of the next guy I’m going to mention.
Branden Grace ($8,600) – Grace doesn’t have much course history here, but has made the cut in his two attempts. I’m looking towards his torrid recent form (win at the RBC Heritage, 9th at Valero), and his course fit. Looking at my model, I’m surprised that Grace didn’t rank higher than 18th, but he’s solid across the board. He’s well above average in each of the 7 categories I’m focusing on, especially in bogey avoidance and scrambling. Grace is probably my favorite play of the week at this price point.
Zach Johnson ($8,300) – Zach’s definitely struggled a bit with the equipment change to PXG, but he seemed to flash some signs at the RBC Heritage, our best comparison course to TPC Sawgrass. He faded on Sunday as Branden Grace pulled away, but it shows that even when he’s not playing well, Zach loves these strategic, Pete Dye layouts. Zach ranks highly in birdie or better %, par 5 scoring, good drive %, and ball striking in my model, and has a great course history (he’s made 7 straight cuts with no finish worse than 32nd).
Matt Kuchar ($8,100) – Kuchar is another course horse, making 6 of his last 7 cuts at TPC Sawgrass that includes a win in 2012. His recent form is pretty mediocre, but that’s what you expect out of Kuchar most weeks…he’s a top-20 machine. Similar to Branden Grace, Kuchar is well above average in all of the 7 statistical categories I’m looking at this week. He’s mostly a safe cash game play, but I think he does offer top-10 upside at this track.
Chris Kirk ($7,800) – Kirk has made four straight cuts at The Players, with back-to-back 13th place finishes the past two years. Kirk ranks fairly well in my model this week: he’s 34th in bogey avoidance, 27th in scrambling, and an above average scorer on par 5s. Kirk also seems to fit the mold of a player who could play well here, since he won at Colonial which is a similar course to TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town. Although he’s not flashy, he comes in with some of the best form on Tour (made six of his last seven cuts with five top-25s). The only concern with Kirk is that he seems to be a chalky play this week.
Kevin Na ($7,800) – Na is another specialist who fits the mold for TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town. His form was pretty mediocre the past few months, but he still managed to finish 4th at the RBC Heritage. Na also has some of the best course history here, with three top-7 finishes, including a 6th place finish last year. Statistically, Na ranks very highly in my model: 15th in good drive %, 21st in birdie or better %, 28th in bogey avoidance, and 46th in scrambling. Similar to Kirk, the main concern for using Kevin Na this week is his ownership.
Russell Knox ($7,600) – Knox is one of the Jacksonville residents in the field, who likely has played the course a ton throughout the years. Knox comes in 5th in my rankings this week, with the only glaring weakness being his putter (and his tendency to 3-putt). But he’s 2nd in bogey avoidance, 3rd in good drive %, 11th in ball striking, and 20th in scrambling. Knox has made both of his cuts at The Players, and is coming off a 2nd place finish at the RBC Heritage. Knox is a different player this season, and he’s one of the few guys in this price range that I could see winning the whole thing.
Marc Leishman ($7,300) – Leishman is the only other guy (besides Knox) in this price range that I could see winning the event. He comes in 2nd in my statistical ranking: 2nd in 3 putt avoidance, 12th in bogey avoidance, 22nd in scrambling, 22nd in birdie or better %, and 36th in ball striking. Leishman seems to be rounding into form, and has made three consecutive cuts at TPC Sawgrass with an 8th place finish in 2013.
Russell Henley ($7,100) – I’m not the world’s biggest Russ Henley fan, but I can’t ignore what the data is telling me. Henley was atrocious to start the year, but has made three of his last four cuts with a top-5 finish in Texas. Henley is another guy who fits the mold, and has a great course history here and at Harbour Town. The past two Players Championships, Henley has finished inside the top-25. When looking at the stats, he ranks 3rd in 3-putt avoidance, 6th in bogey avoidance, 21st in ball striking, 32nd in scrambling, and 38th in good drive %. It hurts, but I love Henley this week.
David Lingmerth ($7,000) – Lingmerth is another Jacksonville resident who likely has a ton of experience playing the course. Nothing about Lingmerth statistically pops for me, but he does seem to fit the mold for The Players. He is a great ball striker and accurate driver, who has a 2nd place finish here in 2013 (couldn’t catch Tiger). Lingmerth is also a form player, and seems to be turning his season around. He’s made six of his last seven cuts, with a 33rd and a 17th in his previous two events. Trending up.
Luke Donald ($6,900) – Like Stenson and Garcia, Luke Donald has impeccable course history. He’s only missed two cuts here in over a decade, and has finished in the top-6 three times. Luke is finally playing better this year, and finished second at Harbour Town, the other course where he has a terrific course history. Statistically, Luke ranks 5th in bogey avoidance, 8th in scrambling, and 9th in 3-putt avoidance. I don’t think he has the game to win these events anymore, but I can easily see him cracking the top-15 this week.
Jhonattan Vegas ($6,300) – This price is entirely too cheap for Vegas, given his recent form. He’s made five of his last six cuts, including a top-5 at the Zurich Classic. At Sawgrass, Vegas has made his past two cuts and has a 7th place finish in 2012. When checking my stats, Vegas ranks 9th in ball striking, 27th in par 5 scoring, and 28th in bogey avoidance.
Sean O’Hair ($6,200) – I’ve been burned by O’Hair soooo many times this year, but I’m going to give him another shot this week. He’s another Pete Dye specialist who has had success here and at Harbour Town. His record here is hit-or-miss, with several missed cuts and several top-20 finishes. He seems to be in decent form as well, with six top-35 finishes in his past nine starts (one WD, two MC). In my statistical model, O’Hair ranks 15th (which I had to double check). He’s 25th in scrambling, 31st in bogey avoidance, 39th in ball striking, and a great par 5 scorer. Not a core play for me, but I’ll have some GPP exposure to O’Hair.
David Hearn ($6,100) – My gut punt of the week is David Hearn, who seems to be gaining some steam in the industry. Hearn ranks 9th in good drive %, 26th in bogey avoidance, and 50th in ball striking. He’s an accuracy player who putts well, which is exactly what we want this week. Hearn has made all four cuts at this event, including a 6th place finish in 2014. He’s also made three of his past six cuts on Tour with three finishes inside the top-20. For $6,100, you can’t do much better than Hearn.
Good luck this week!