The Daily Spin – DraftKings Daily Fantasy Golf Preview – Northern Trust Open

Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte February 17, 2016 06:22

Now that we are past the early part of the season, we are finally approaching what I would call ‘the good stuff’. Gone are the Pro-Ams, the two and three course setups and the 3 day cut with inflated scores on courses where even the most mediocre of players have a chance to go low. From here on in, it is all about preparing for Augusta and The Masters.

There is much to look forward to. Each week moving forward, we will begin to see an influx of European players coming over to tune up on American soil in preparation for the majors. These players can make or break your fantasy lineups each week. Last season, many of these players frustrated owners in their early starts here. Most of these players arrived having played extremely well in Europe for a long stretch and have risen to near the top of our Who’s Hot page. Be a little bit cautious of some of these players as some do not have extensive history playing in the U.S.

Another exciting development is that many of the top names in the World Golf Rankings will start to pop up more often from here on in. This week, at the Northern Trust Open, for instance, Rory McIlroy makes his return to the PGA Tour. Outside of Jason Day, the field feels almost like that of a major. As interest in fantasy golf continues to rise, the pricing will get a little bit looser for these big events, but for this week, DraftKings has chosen to be a little more aggressive at the top with how players are priced.

Although Jordan Spieth is coming in off of a disappointing 21st place finish last week at Pebble Beach, his price is $900 higher and he is the top priced golfer along with Rory McIlroy at $13,200. DraftKings will do this from time to time in a stacked field to help space out the players at the top. You could legitimately make the argument to roster any of the Top 10 players in salary this week. While that does present an interesting challenge at the top of the field, we are really fortunate this week to get back those stronger players in the $7000-9000 dollar range that may not be contenders, but can be counted on to make the cut for us in our cash games.

That leads us to a discussion of strategy for the week. Many of you have heard the staff here at FGI discussing what types of contests to play each week and how much of your bankroll to put at stake. So far this season, you have probably grown sick of hearing us tell you to stay cautious, or play less, or focus only on playing small GPP events each week. It makes us sound scared, but it is not the case. With many of these early season events, we tend to deal with oddities that slowly fade as the season moves on. We have weaker fields, multiple courses and a bunch of events that tend to produce a lot of scoring, thus negating some of the advantages that the real shot makers have on tough courses. With events like last week, where players that are normally in the $6000-7000 range get bumped up to the $7000-8000 range, there is a lot of volatility over which players make or miss the cut. This is the reason why we limit our cash game exposure early in the season.

This week, we can play our normal strategy and invest a normal portion of our bankroll in cash games. We will have a much better chance than normal of getting players through the cut so those folks that are taking bigger risks with multiple scrubs on their rosters are going to start to feel a little more pain as they will not be rewarded as much for the risk. Where it made sense last week to get aggressive with cheaper players due to the fact that regardless of how they played, they would get three rounds, this week, it makes a lot more sense to use established, veteran players who are familiar with the course and know how to work their way out of trouble.

What tends to happen by this point in the season is that a love affair begins to sprout between fantasy owners and the newer players on tour that have carried them throughout the fall season and into the new calendar year. You can see it each week as the ownership percentages start to cluster around them even though their salaries have not risen much due to the influx of higher ranked talent. Over the next few weeks, some of these players should experience a little bit of a correction, or rude awakening on their PGA journeys.

It makes a lot of sense this week to back off some of those trendy early season picks. I am not saying that it is impossible or even improbable that some of these golfers will succeed, but it is a tough challenge this week. Here is a quick look at how a few players performed in their first time out at Riviera:

Jordan Spieth – MC (2012)
Dustin Johnson – 59th (2008)
Jimmy Walker – MC (2005)
Bubba Watson – MC (2007)
JB Holmes – 51st (2006)
Bill Haas – 51st (2006)
Matt Kuchar – 56th (2007)
Paul Casey – MC (2005)
Kevin Na – MC (2004)
Ryan Moore – MC (2007)
Keegan Bradley – MC (2011)
Jason Dufner – MC (2007)
Brendan Steele – MC (2011)
Tony Finau – 56th (2015)
Justin Thomas – 41st (2015)
Morgan Hoffmann – MC (2014)

Now, this list is not exhaustive and there are plenty of players that have made strong debuts here. Last season, Kyle Reifers (8th), Carlos Ortiz (20th) and Adam Hadwin (22nd) all made strong first impressions at Riviera, but normally, crowding in on these players will not be a great strategy. Leaning towards experienced players with a little bit of form is going to give skilled fantasy players an advantage over their novice opponents who are still thrilled by the newer flashy names that have been staples of their rosters up until this point.

Before I dig into this week’s tournament, I want to touch on a point that I brought up on the webcast on Monday night that I have received about a dozen questions on since the webcast/podcast was posted this morning. In it, I mentioned the ‘optimal lineup’ for our model. I foolishly believed that this was something that would be easily understand, so I am sorry for the confusion here. The optimal lineup is nothing more than fitting the highest ranked players from our model into a lineup using the weightings and settings that we provide each week when we post the model.

Now, there are a couple of ways to figure it out. You can look at the model and start to piece through it in a way that will get you close, which, for our purposes is a reasonable approach. You will not like every name that pops up at the top of the model, but if you are sticking to players in the same general vicinity, you should be fine. Another slightly more complex way of figuring out the exact optimal lineup is to use a solver on Excel. I do not have the time to walk everyone through the process for setting that up, but if you are savvy with Excel, it is not too tough to figure out. I usually make our stat guy do it for me so I am good to go each week.

My intention is to make it a little easier for everyone as I will start to post the optimal lineup each week in my article here. Now, realize that as you adjust the weightings and settings within the model, your optimal lineup will fluctuate, but at least you can see what the model is telling us from an initial look. We have had good success with it so far as it fared well in beta testing during the fall season and into 2016. I will not claim that it is a cure all, but use it as a reference point each week to work off of.

This week, we make our way to Riviera Country Club and the Northern Trust Open. Last season I did really well with my picks (14 of 17 through the cut) here and even nailed the winner, James Hahn as one of my sleeper picks of the week. It’s safe to say that this was a favorite event of mine last year and I think we have a winning formula to keep us on the right path for the week. The course itself is a Par 71, 7279 yard course that has no water hazards, but plenty of challenging doglegs and strategically placed bunkers that will present plenty of challenges to the field. You can expect to see some higher scores than normal this week as the cut line tends to be on the positive side most years. Players will get frustrated and those that fall back early will struggle and can end up posting some ugly scores. To help us find a few players to succeed this week we want to focus on these six key statistics:

Strokes Gained Tee To Green – 25%
Birdie or Better % – 20%
Strokes Gained Putting – 20%
Par 5 Scoring – 20%
Scrambling – 10%
Proximity – 5%

Good luck this week in building your lineups. We have had a few tricky weeks lately, but patience and proper bankroll management have helped us to keep gaining ground. Sticking to the process that we have developed is really going to start paying dividends as the year wears on. As always, let me know if you are struggling or need any help with lineup construction or strategy in general. I’m happy answer as many questions as you want to pass on to me each week. I am not happy until we get you to the point where you are able to feel confident in your abilities to be a winning player. It is not easy and it requires a great deal of work to succeed regularly over time, but we have proven that it can be done so stick with it.

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The optinal lineup that the model generated for the week:

JB Holmes – $9,800
Charl Schwartzel – $9,600
Brendan Steele – $8,300
Harris English – $8,100
William McGirt – $7,300
Vaughn Taylor – $6,800

I want to note a couple of things here on the model. It might feel a little uncomfortable to own Taylor the week after he wins, but his win alone did not propel him up the list. Taylor has a strong course history at Riviera and would probably be the sexy pick this week were it not for his win Sunday which tends to scare people away to some degree. I am comfortable using the veteran here, but understand that there could be a bit of a letdown this week after cashing such a nice check a week ago. Another player that may make you wince a little bit is William McGirt. I stayed away last week in my write up, but he was popular in cash games as well as GPPs. McGirt is a hot and cold type of player so when he misses, it can be really ugly which in turn rattles owners the following week. It is always much easier to roster a player who missed the cut, but was right on the line as opposed to the player who blows up the first day and never even comes close to making the cut. I am not a huge fan of McGirt due to his volatility so if you are going to use this as a cash game lineup, you could pivot off of McGirt, but he is not a bad play here as he finished 6th in 2014 and 14th in 2015 so if you can get past some of that recency bias, then good old Dirt McGirt will not be quite as intolerable.

BLUE CHIPS

Jordan Spieth ($13,200)
Rory McIlroy ($13,200)
Dustin Johnson ($11,300)
Hideki Matsuyama ($11,100)
Bubba Watson ($10,400)
Sergio Garcia ($10,100)

The upper tier is loaded with top ranked players this week and though I mention just six players here, there is a case to be made for each player above 10k to be included in the rankings. In fact, I wanted to mention the two that did not make the list, Jimmy Walker and Justin Rose specifically due to them both being interesting options for those of you that play in the $300 GPP each week. Jeff and I predict these two to be the lowest owned among the elite players above 10k this week which makes them extremely compelling in contests with smaller fields of elite fantasy players that all tend to gravitate towards the same information each week. If you are looking at it from the point of view of strictly looking to differentiate your lineup at the top, then Rose and Walker are both options to be considered.

Jordan Spieth proved to be a bit of a disappointment last week at Pebble Beach and did not find his game until the final round on Sunday afternoon. It was a rare finish outside of the Top 10 for Spieth and may scare a few owners away this week as his price rose by $900 as well. However, Spieth was 4th at Riviera last year and the challenging course suits his game. He is dominant in all of the major statistical categories that are relevant this week. He will contend more often than not, but his price does make him tough to roster. I would advise against using Spieth for cash games this week and will use him lightly in GPP play as I think he will still draw plenty of interest from owners.

Rory McIlroy is the obvious pivot off of Spieth this week as I think his ownership level will hover around 10% and though it is his first start here, he is certainly good enough to contend in his debut. Over on the European Tour, McIlroy has been dominant in recent events with a 6th place finish at the Omega, a 3rd place finish in Abu Dhabi and won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai back in November. He is not quite as strong as Spieth with the putter, but his tee to green game is second to none and he has a little more muscle off the tee than Jordan. Rory makes for a solid GPP play in the bigger satellites and GPPs this week as I suspect his ownership numbers could dip especially low there giving your teams a huge boost if he performs up to expectations.

Dustin Johnson looks just a little bit out of form this season. He has not quite found that dominant tee to green game yet, but with DJ, it is only a matter of time and Riviera has been a case of very close calls in recent years. He has been runner up here the last two years and has five Top 10 finishes in eight starts. He is a threat to win on almost any course, but his putter has always held him back. Fortunately, his tee to green game is so good that it gives him a lot of scoring opportunities, particularly on the Par 5 holes. After stumbling a bit at Pebble Beach where he was even more dominant, owners may be a little confused about DJ this week so there is plenty of opportunity for him in GPP events.

Hideki Matsuyama had no trouble in his first start at Riviera finishing in 23rd place in 2014 and following that up with a 4th place finish last year. Coming off of an impressive clutch performance in Scottsdale where he defeated Rickie Fowler in a stirring playoff, Hideki will be feeling confident. He is a great ball striker with a Top 10 tee to green game. Like DJ, his putter usually lets him down, but he flashed brilliance in defeating Fowler so perhaps things are turning around. Proximity, scrambling, scoring…Hideki checks those boxes as well making him a compelling play on this challenging course. Given the mid range value this week, I still have no plans to pay this much for a cash game option, but he is worth using in moderate amounts for tournament play.

Bubba Watson did everything that was expected out him last weekend in finding a way to miss the cut at Pebble Beach. In doing so, he let down his good friend, Mark Wahlberg, who dragged him out for the weekend. Fortunately, with all missed cuts comes a lower expectation the following week and Bubba is a great candidate to bounce back. I am hoping that we get Bubba’s putter from 2015 instead of what we have seen so far this season. All other stats fit well for Bubba and he won here just two years ago. He is a good tournament play and could actually get overlooked.

Sergio Garcia is a guy that can be counted on to contend for second place in almost any tournament he enters. He has three Top 10 finishes here in nine starts and was on the cusp of victory last year before bogeying the final two holes to blow it. He has not played much lately, but did finish in 7th place in Qatar in January. Sergio has a rock solid tee to green game with a streaky putter. He makes does not miss many cuts so he is a great cash game play. Given that he is not a finisher, I am less apt to use him as much in GPPs, but I will own a few shares.

VALUE PLAYS

JB Holmes ($9,800)
Charl Schwartzel ($9,600)
Bill Haas ($9,200)
Paul Casey ($8,900)
Brendan Steele ($8,300)
Harris English ($8,100)
Keegan Bradley ($7,800)
Luke Donald ($7,500)

JB Holmes is playing really well with three straight finishes of 11th or better over the last month. Holmes has four Top 10 finishes at Riviera though none within the last couple of years. The difference so far this season is that Holmes has been putting the ball really well to go with his strong tee to green game. He scrambles out of trouble well and last season was a Top 20 player in both Par 5 scoring and birdie or better percentage. Given his recent history and his past performances here, I expect Holmes to be a really popular play. I will use him in cash games, but given his high levels of ownership, you may not want to play him as much in GPP events.

I was not planning to write up Charl Schwartzel this week, but over and over I kept coming back to him. He won a couple of times in recent months and has finished in the Top 5 here in two of the last three years. Last season, Schwartzel really struggled to get on track and had a lot of mediocre finishes as his normally good putting was awful and he posted just three Top 10 finishes in 19 starts. Things appear to be back on track for Charl now and he is a tremendous value this week. His price being a little higher actually makes him more appealing as I think it will keep his ownership levels lower than normal, particularly given his placement near so many other big names. He is a good option for all formats this week.

Bill Haas missed the cut here last season, but his wife was just getting ready to pop out a kid so we can wave that performance given the additional stress he was under. This year he should return to form at an event that Haas won back in 2012. Prior to missing the cut last year, Haas finished in the Top 23 four years in a row. Outside of a missed cut at The Farmers, Haas has been great this season with three Top 10 finishes in six starts. After a really good 2014, Haas was not quite as consistent last year. So far in 2016, it looks like he is back to his old self and is putting well again. I also like that Haas can scramble well which will be a key to getting out of trouble around some tough greens this week. Haas is a good option for cash games and GPPs.

Paul Casey is always a name that makes me wince when I put it into my columns. He never fails to let me down, but this week will be different. Casey had a nice season last year (except for the big FU at the Deutsche Bank) although he came up just short of a win. He lost in a playoff here to James Hahn last season, but has three Top 25 finishes in his last three starts here so his course history is reasonable. In 2015, he was a great ball striker with tee to green numbers to match. He’s barely average on the greens, but was in the Top 10 in proximity last year. He can score on the Par 5 holes and makes a lot of birdies. He may be lacking in his scrambling abilities, but he makes up for it by hitting greens at an extremely high clip. I will own plenty of shares of Casey in all formats this week.

Brendan Steele would normally see his price go up after a number of quality finishes, but the field is so strong that there just is not any room for him to rise. That is to our benefit this week as it gives us another duel game (cash/GPP) threat to build around. Steele is 4/5 at Riviera and has finished in the Top 15 in each of the last two years. Steele will kick us in the teeth whenever we get too comfortable with him to remind us of why he is not priced higher, but at $8,300, I am willing to take that chance this week. He is yet another great ball striker whose putter tends to show up in flashes. Steele is one of my favorite cash game plays this week and given the smooth distribution of ownership around his price range, I am very comfortable using him for GPPs as well.

Harris English was viewed by many in the industry last year as just a cut maker as he tended to disappear by Saturday afternoon and faded back to the middle of the pack. He is still making cuts at a steady clip this season, but his 3rd place finish in Scottsdale two weeks ago showed that he can contend as well. He has yet to miss a cut at Riviera and finished 10th two years ago so the upside is there. English has good balance to his game and is good not only from tee to green, but on the greens as well. English is another cash game staple for me and given his upside potential, I am comfortable using him for GPPs as well.

Keegan Bradley hit rock bottom going into the Waste Management Open two weeks ago, but rewarded patient owners with a Top 25 finish after missing two cuts to start the year. Hopefully, that will be a sign of things to come as Riviera tends to be a course he excels on each year. He missed the cut in his first start, but has reeled off four Top 20 finishes since then and two Top 5 finishes. At one point, Bradley was the complete package in terms of being a good tee to green player and putter. Since ditching the anchor putter almost two years ago, he has not been able to adjust well and his game has suffered. He still has potential to do well, but he will contend less and less often until he fixes the hole in his game. Keegan should be safe for cash and given his upside potential, I will use him in GPPs as well.

Luke Donald is a sneaky play this week as he appears to be a guy who has rediscovered his passion for the game after almost giving it up last season. Were it not for a couple of bad holes to end his final round last week at Pebble Beach, Donald was on the verge of a Top 10 finish. When Donald was rolling some years back, he was always very good at Riviera with where he recorded three straight Top 10 finishes between 2008-2010. He probably will not be in the Top 10 this year, but he should compete well. His tee to green game and putting are looking better than recent year and his scrambling and proximity play will keep him in the mix. This is a course where a player with Donald’s game cannot afford to make any mistakes, but Donald appears to be back on track towards being a player who limits them. I am comfortable with Donald in cash games, but like him in GPP even better due to owners leaving him alone for the most part.

SLEEPERS

KJ Choi ($7,100)
Cameron Tringale ($7,000)
Charley Hoffman ($6,900)
Vaughn Taylor ($6,800)
Jason Gore ($6,600)
Daniel Summerhays ($6,500)

I am going to break KJ Choi’s cut streak this week at 15/15 by naming him as one of my top plays of the week. It is just hard to find better value than to have a player available for $7,100 that has made every cut here and also not finished outside of the Top 33 since 2004, an utterly amazing streak. Choi is a good scrambler and putter, but nothing else of note statistically. He’s simply a crafty veteran who handles Riviera well. He will be in a couple of my cash game lineups and a few GPPs.

Cameron Tringale started the season strong in his first four starts before missing the cut in his last two events. Hopefully, your memory is short enough to forget those and to remember that Tringale is a California kid who has always played well here in making all five cuts with four Top 25 finishes as well. He tends to be just above average from tee to green and putting, but not substantially so. Given some of his struggles I am borderline on Tringale for cash games this week, but he has a lot of potential for GPPs given his low price and high ceiling.

Charley Hoffman is a player that I try to avoid most of the time and that has largely served me well. However, every once in a while you get an opportunity to roster Charley at a ridiculous price and you just have to take your chances with him. This is one of those weeks as Charley has been priced among the scrubs and his odd versus his price make him one of the most mispriced players this week. Hoffman got off to a rough start this season missing three cuts before rebounding and making the last two. This was around the time last year when he went on a tear all the way through The Masters so we will be watching him closely. His numbers are ugly this year, but normally his tee to green game and putter are decent. He has made seven of nine cuts here, but no Top 10 finishes. Charley is purely a GPP play this week and I do not see many people owning him.

Vaughn Taylor is a player that I really tried not to write up this week. Maybe it is just superstition, but choosing a player with such an average pedigree the week after he wins is normally a losing strategy. That said, Taylor played brilliantly to win at Pebble Beach last week and has made the cut at Riviera in five of his last six starts including three Top 25 finishes. I think at this point, fantasy owners are actually a little scared to own the previous week’s winner so I do not think his ownership will spike that high. I will own shares in GPP events, but he is acceptable for cash as well.

Jason Gore just keeps making cuts and at his price this week, that is too much to ignore. He is a local guy and went to school at Pepperdine giving him perhaps a little more familiarity with the course. His stats are underwhelming this season, but the one that counts the most being cut made percentage, he is right where we need him to be. He does not have amazing tournament history here, but that will not be new for Gore as that has been the case for him at most courses season and he still keeps making cuts. As a bonus, he has made the cut the last two times out at Riviera. I will own a few shares of Gore in GPPs.

Daniel Summerhays has one of those weeks last week where he just did not compete well at all and missed the cut by a mile. For that reason, owners are going to avoid him this week, which could be to their own detriment. Summerhays has missed just the one cut this season and has been a really steady play for us most weeks. He has also finished in the Top 30 the last two years at this event. Given how ugly his play was last week, I am a little concerned about rostering him for cash games, but even Vegas agrees that his price is just too low this week and I think he scared enough owners so that he has a lot of GPP Value this week.

Good Luck!!

-myz

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Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte February 17, 2016 06:22

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