For the third fall swing event in a row, we’re given unusual circumstances that make you have to think a little bit beyond straight statistics or course history. The prior two weeks it was hard to make any statistical connections to past leaderboards because the types of golfers that played well were all over the map. That forces you into going down other paths to justify picks. This week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, we don’t have that statistics trend issue, but the tournament is held in Las Vegas, so the concern is if you can find six golfers that are either going to refrain from all the fun to be had in Vegas, or at least be able to keep it together and play well for four days while also taking part in the nightlife activities. Any of us amateurs that have had a few (or a lot) of drinks the night before or day of golf, or even just didn’t get enough sleep, know that the club is just much harder to connect with the ball the way you want, and I’m sure that’s no different with the pros. It’s impossible to judge personalities without knowing any of these guys, but we can get some useful information from past history on the course. Consistent poor play is likely the result of two things: bad course fit and/or bad pre-round preparation (staying out too late, for example). So, for starters, I am avoiding anyone that has played bad here before, assuming that it’s because of one or both of those reasons. As far as course fit is concerned, as long as the ball is kept in play you can score from pretty much anywhere, and the scores typically are low in this tournament. I am going to focus on birdie makers and overall good ball strikers (including the long hitters). I like the Ball Striking statistic this week because as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, it has pieces of both distance and accuracy off the tee, as well as iron play, and I think a good combination of any of those three will put guys in really good spots to rack up a lot of birdies. Long and inaccurate is just as good as short and accurate as long as your irons are good, so I want a mix of both of those kinds of players in my lineups. Here’s who I think fits the mold this week:
Bryson DeChambeau (10,700 DK / 11,600 FD)
Bryson started off hot last week until the wheels fell off after a 76 in the third round and could never catch back up, but he played really well coming into this week. He’s the ideal kind of guy for this event and it has shown from his record here as last year’s winner, plus a seventh-place finish the year before. He makes a ton of birdies (16th on tour last year) and is known on tour for how good his ball-striking is. Plus, he’s made it clear many times that he’s not out on tour looking for a good time, he’s trying to win every time he tees it up and beat the game, so we shouldn’t have to worry about him having one too many Rum-and-Coke’s the night before his rounds.
Hideki Matsuyama (9,700 DK / 11,100 FD)
Hideki didn’t have the finish last week that was hoped for, but he should have knocked some of the rust off and will be ready for this week. The nice part about an off week last week is he got a pretty nice price decrease which should allow you to pretty easily place him in with other expensive golfers if you go the “stars and scrubs” route, or fit in more quality golfers alongside him to stay more balanced. He’s an elite talent on tour and definitely isn’t priced that way. He was ninth on tour in Birdie or Better percentage last year and was 18th in Ball Striking, both putting him near the top in both categories in this field. As long as he can get the putter heated up, he should do some damage this weekend.
Charles Howell III (8,500 DK / 9,900 FD)
Charles is one of the steadiest guys on tour every year and can usually trust him to at least make the cut, which is key now with the new cut rule (T65+). He played great at the Safeway, finishing fourth, and he has a pretty good record at this event too. Four of the last six times he’s played the event he’s found himself inside the top 20 (including a fifth). He’s always known as one of the best ball strikers on tour (6th last year), which is likely why he does well at this particular course. He was 61st in Birdie or Better percentage last year, and his one event so far this year has him in sixth, which is plenty good for this field. He’s a safe play as he usually is with some higher upside given his history at the event.
Matthew Wolff (8,200 DK / 9,900 FD)
Wolff is making his first start of the season, so if you’re worried about rust after some time off this may not be the play for you, but it doesn’t play much of a factor for me usually. This is especially true for a guy that’s a great course fit and pretty underpriced based on his performance last year. Had he played enough rounds last year, he would have ranked 50th on tour in ball striking, right around where Bryson was. Better yet, his birdie or better percentage would have had him third on tour and would be first overall in this field, just above Brooks Koepka. He’s already got a win under his belt in his young career so he knows what it takes to get the job done and he should set up well to make a run at a second win this weekend.
Scott Piercy (7,900 DK / 9,600 FD)
Another premier ball-striker in the field, Piercy seems to have flown under the radar for the sites pricing him. He had a good 2019 season and already has a top 20 in the 2020 season. Plus, in the last five times he’s played this event, he hasn’t finished worse than 32nd and has two top 10 finishes, one of those being last year. He was 35th in Birdie or Better percentage last year which puts him towards the top of this field and as I mentioned he’s an elite ball-striker (9th on tour last year). Piercy has some good upside for being priced this low, and although he may carry higher ownership, this is a spot to jump on board and differentiate elsewhere.
Troy Merritt (6,900 DK / 8,200 FD)
Troy is not an exciting play by any means, but he’s another steady guy that you can count on to carry you through into the weekend. He’s been playing a lot this swing season already (mostly overseas), and he’s coming off a missed cut at the Safeway so he should be rested from playing so much. He hasn’t had any spectacular finishes in this event, but he’s made four out of his last five cuts here, which you can’t say about a lot of the guys priced similarly to him. He fits the statistics as well, finishing last year as the 25th best in Ball Striking and tenth in Birdie or Better percentage. At this price, especially with the new cut line rule, making the cut is good enough, and I’d expect Merritt to get that done.
Talor Gooch (6,400 DK / 7,600 FD)
Gooch was rewarded this week from his good play last week (throwing out the 76 on Sunday) with a price decrease. Same reason to like him this week as last week being one of the elite iron players in the field. Off the tee isn’t that great, but being in the rough doesn’t hurt and the course is relatively short so his irons should make up for that. He was 49th in birdie or better percentage last year which is very good especially in his price range. Coming off some good play last week and missing the cut on the number the tournament prior (with two rounds in the 60’s), I’m looking for Gooch to not only make the cut but play similarly to what he did two years ago when he finished 16th here.