For a lot of experienced fantasy golf players, one of the first pieces of research done each week is to check prior year leaderboards to see who won or was near the top and then get a sense for what similarities those players have to help make decisions on the current year. At the Northern Trust this week, 2013 is the year to look to as the last time this event was played on this course, and the consensus throughout the fantasy community based on that leaderboard is to target BALL-STRIKERS. I briefly touched on this last week, but it is important to note again to be careful with that term when you’re narrowing down your player pool. What does “ball-striker” mean in terms of this course? I imagine many people will heavily weight the Ball Striking stat category just because the term ball-striker has been thrown around, without even really understanding what that stat is made up of. For starters, the stat is a combination of driving distance, driving accuracy, and greens-in-regulation, so you’re getting a mix of off-the-tee stats and approach-the-green stats. There has been a lot of commentary from players that this is a course where you club down off the tee at times, so if these guys are hitting irons off the tee (obviously lowering distance and increasing accuracy), is a statistic that is two-thirds off-the-tee helpful? Further, looking at the leaderboard in 2013, there are guys like Justin Rose, Adam Scott, and even Graham Delaet that are really accurate off the tee that may point you to thinking driving accuracy indeed is important. However, guys like Gary Woodland, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson are towards the top of that leaderboard too and they all are not known to be fairway finders in their careers. Take all of those guys though and you’ll find one thing in common; they are (or were) all very good approach-the-green players. To better prove my point, if you take D.A Points out of the equation, everyone in the top six of the leaderboard in 2013 was in the top 30 in Shots Gained – Approach. Only half of them were in the top 30 in Ball-Striking. If you keep going down the leaderboard into the top 20s, you’ll find many golfers that ranked in the 100’s in ball-striking and not many that have bad rankings in Shots Gained – Approach. So, by choosing to use the Ball Striking stat category, you are likely leaving out a large handful of golfers that actually do fit this course well. Probably obvious now, but I recommend targeting the really good iron players this week with the Shots Gained – Approach or Greens-in-Regulation stat, and also look to the good around-the-green players. The 2013 leaderboard seems to indicate that scoring will be more difficult than your typical PGA tournament and thus being able to keep bogey off the card is obviously helpful but likely will keep them in contention as well. Here are some of the guys I like this week:
Justin Thomas (10,000 DK / 11,400 FD)
JT is one of the best iron players on tour and he’s coming in hot off three finishes in the top 12. He went through a rough stretch that likely stemmed from an injury, but he looks to be back in form and will be dangerous throughout these playoffs and especially in this event. If there’s a piece of his game that lets him down, it’s his putter, but I’ll mention below with another guy that putting might be a little easier on the kind of greens this course has so hopefully that works out in JT’s favor.
Patrick Cantlay (9,200 DK / 11,300 FD)
We went through a time where Cantlay was one of the most expensive golfers on every slate, and for some reason, the hype (at least by these sites) has dropped off again and he has a favorable price for how good of a golfer he is. He’s especially good in the stat categories I mentioned earlier. He’s 11th on tour in Shots Gained – Approach and is an elite short game player as the 3rd best in Scrambling. He has a win this year and consistently plays well in loaded events and majors, and we should expect the same this week.
Matt Kuchar (9,100 DK / 10,100 FD)
Kuchar might be my favorite play of the week. It seems as though the season he’s having gets a little overlooked because of his non-golf related incidents, and he’s also coming into this event off of a couple of very average performances so he’s not as popular as he had been for much of this year. However, he’s about as good as it gets with his irons and he’s in the top 20 in scrambling on Tour which is plenty good. Also, in this event in 2013, he finished 19th, which included a 78 in the fourth round that was the second-worst score posted in the whole tournament. Even just an average score on that round would have bolted him up the leaderboard and put him on a lot more radars for this year. Plus, on top of it all, there’s a lot of money on the line and if anyone is out there motivated by the money, it’s Kuchar.
Sergio Garcia (7,400 DK / 9,100 FD)
Sergio is the Tour’s striker-extraordinaire. Golf balls, tee boxes, sand traps, greens, caddies. You name it, Sergio connects with it. He’s never popular anymore because he’s a headcase and his game hasn’t been the greatest at times, but when he’s on he is much better than what the sites are pricing him at. In all seriousness, Sergio has always been a good ball striker/iron player and that should suit him well this week as long as he keeps his head in the game. He’s priced around guys like Niemann, Hatton, Kokrak, Moore, and Glover who all get a lot of hype on “ball-striker” courses, so Sergio should go very low owned with a pretty high ceiling.
Jim Furyk (7,100 DK / 8,600 FD)
Furyk just continues to roll along racking up solid finishes in all types of events, never gets priced up, and now gets an event that should be perfect for him. He’s in the top ten in both Shots Gained – Approach and Scrambling, and better yet, he finished tied for sixth in this event in 2013 which indicates his game does fit this course. He’ll likely be popular because of his finish in 2013 and how good of a season he’s having, but he should be worth the play still.
Emiliano Grillo (7,000 DK / 8,300 FD)
Grillo is an elite iron player, ranking third on tour just behind Stenson and Justin Thomas. His scrambling is awful, but that is likely because of his putting. The good news is, this putting surface should bring him back to the pack a little. Eric Patterson tweeted today stating that Si Woo Kim, Keegan Bradley, and Emiliano Grillo (three horrendous putters) have historically good numbers on fast bentgrass greens, so I’d expect to see Grillo’s scrambling/around-the-green game to see vast “improvement” this week.
Talor Gooch (6,000 DK / 7,000 FD)
Finally, if you’re really looking to mix it up in your lineups and want to squeeze in two of the really expensive guys or load up on the mid-tier guys with a “filler”, look to Gooch who is minimum-priced on both sites. He has a handful of solid finishes this year and his iron play is where he finds success. He’s 14th on tour in Shots Gained – Approach, ranking right around some other guys that are likely to be popular this week like Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay.