The beginning of a new season is often focused on all the new guys on Tour and how they perform on the big stage, but we also get to see how the returning guys have improved their games over the excruciatingly long three week offseason, which should set us up for some really good golf viewing over the weekend. Although three weeks doesn’t seem that long, many of these guys haven’t played in a lot longer than that due to not making the playoffs, so they really have had a lot of time to work on their games to prepare for the next season where many guys only get a small handful of weeks off once the season gets going. This tournament, A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, should feature some good ball-striking and short gameplay if prior leaderboards are any indication. For the first event of the new year, I’m going to focus in on the good iron players and around-the-green specialists, and hope that these guys have had enough time off to work on their putting. As past readers of my articles are aware, good putters rarely find their way into my favorite plays and this week is no different. Putting is often streaky and random, so filling lineups with guys that are elite in other categories can lead to big scores if they find hot putters. Here’s who I think fits the mold this week:
Marc Leishman (10,200 DK / 10,900 FD)
Leishman’s game has started to come around towards the end of the 2019 season, and it looks like his game is starting to flash again heading into an event where the field strength is not great and his skill set should fit the course. Although he doesn’t have a great record at this event, his iron play and scrambling should be good enough to keep him in contention this week. He finished the season 28th in Shots Gained: Approach, 54th in Proximity to the hole, and 16th in Scrambling, all rankings that will put him near the top of this field. He’s also going to go overlooked in this field as many will take their chances with Hovland or Kokrak, an exciting new rookie and another good iron player with better history respectively, but Leishman at the top of his game is one of the best players in this field and it’s hard to pass on a guy like that going overlooked in a weaker field like this.
Scott Piercy (9,600 DK / 10,500 FD)
Piercy is known to be one of the better all-around ball strikers on tour, and players like that usually find themselves towards the top of the leaderboard here. He finished the year ninth in Ball-Striking and also 17th in Scrambling, two statistics that should be key carrying into the first event of the season. He had a solid 2019 season and should build on that going into this new season provided his putter doesn’t let him down. He’s set up to start the season off well in a less-than-stellar field.
Keegan Bradley (9,100 DK / 10,400 FD)
Speaking of good ball strikers that are let down by their putter, Keegan is at the top of that list. Despite a handful of events that he wound up in the middle of the field or worse throughout the season, Keegan still finished inside the top 20 in stats like Proximity to Hole, Shots Gained: Approach and Ball Striking. His scrambling and putting are horrible which has held him back from some very good finishes. Many times players like this figure it out for a week or two and can crush an event because of how good their ball-striking is. Given that he’s had a few weeks off to undoubtedly work on his short game and putting, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him put on a show this weekend.
Russell Knox (8,400 DK / 9,500 FD)
Continuing with good iron players, Knox plays a lot like Keegan with a better around-the-green game, and that could be dangerous this weekend. He finished last year seventh in Proximity to Hole and 18th in Shots Gained: Approach, both stats just above where Keegan landed. However, he’s 46th in Scrambling, which should land him closer to the top of this field. He had a rough end to the season and hasn’t logged a finish better than 20th since May, but time off for guys with natural ball-striking ability gives them a chance to dial in the putter and that should work in Knox’s favor this weekend.
Kevin Chappell (7,000 DK / 8,300 FD)
It’s always tough deciding on whether to play someone coming in from a long time off, especially from an injury like a back injury. However, if he wasn’t healthy enough to play he surely wouldn’t give it a go this week, and Chappell on his game is worth much more than what the sites are pricing him at now. Even if he’s taking it easy, he’s much better than most of this field and he shouldn’t need his “A” game to rack up enough points to pay off this price. Typically, down in this price range, you are looking for someone to just make the cut, which should be in the cards for Chappell, plus he has a top-five type game that offers a ceiling that not a lot of other players in this price range can give.
Roberto Castro (6,900 DK / 7,600 FD)
Castro is one of my favorite plays in weaker field events because he’s almost always priced right around where he is now and he has much better results compared to when he’s up against the big guns. I especially like him this week because his game fits the course and he’s done well here before. He finished 29th in Proximity, 29th in Shots Gained: Approach, and 39th in Scrambling on Tour last year, all of which make him a great statistical candidate even if his price was much higher than it is. He had a good showing at this event two years ago, finishing tied for 20th, as well as a seventh-place finish in 2012. He’s coming off of five straight made cuts since the U.S. Open, and he’s in line for another good showing this week.