Daily and weekly fantasy sports have become all the rage. Battling it out over an entire season is fun, but sites like DraftKings offer a quicker payoff and big payouts for winners! Not only do they offer daily action in the four major professional sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) as well as college basketball and football but also the PGA Tour.
Your DraftKings lineup is made up of six golfers you select from within the $50,000 salary cap.
Each week DraftKings offers a wide selection of games to enter at a variety of price points. You can even get a feel for the game in a freeroll contest. Before you put your cash on the line, I’ll offer my Top Values and Steals in this space every week, specifically geared to help build a winning DraftKings squad. I’ll also give you my Overpriced golfers to avoid and a couple of “Vegas Says…” tips to help you find those players for GPPs.
What’s tricky about this event is that there isn’t a 36-hole cut… it’s a 54-hole cut. The event is a giant pro-am which uses three golf courses (TPC Stadium Course, Nicklaus Course, and La Quinta), so players see each course once, before a final round cut shrinks the field to a number that will all play the final round on the Stadium Course. For our purposes, we should focus research on the Stadium Course for that reason, but honestly, it’s tough to gauge different players playing different courses on different days. Just pick good players!
The saving grace is that these courses all have similar attributes: they’re short, par-72 tracks that will lead to low scores. The Stadium Course is the toughest of the three, so you’ll see the lowest scores shot on the Nicklaus Course and at La Quinta. There’s heavy bunkering this week, and approach shots will be at a premium. The overseeded rough on the Stadium Course makes iron shots very difficult, and Pete Dye’s notorious collection areas around the green will challenge players. Accuracy, ball-striking, and par-5 scoring are my keys this week.
The past three winners of this event are similar players: Hudson Swafford, Jason Dufner, and Bill Haas. Swafford can rip it off-the-tee, but he’s known for his ball-striking prowess. Dufner and Haas are both deadly iron and wedge players, and all three players are notoriously bad putters. That reinforces my belief that accurate ball-striking is at a premium above putting. Two names come to mind, who I’ll highlight later.
Recent Tournament History
This rotation of courses has only been used the past few years, so these are the most important data points we have. Here are the leaderboards from the past three installments of the CareerBuilder Challenge:
Current Form Review
Each week, we’ll look backward at the last three tournaments on the PGA and European Tours. Because this is the start of a new season, many of the world’s best haven’t played since the Tour Championship. Tread lightly. Here are the leaderboards from the past three events: the RSM Classic, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and last week’s Sony Open.
We still have a small sample size for stats this season, especially with the influx of web.com Tour players. Tread lightly when it comes to interpreting these metrics, especially on a week where players are seeing three different courses.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Ball-striking, especially with irons, is going to be a major key for players this week. All three tracks are short, par-72 venues, with the Stadium Course being a Pete Dye design. Dye is known for making players think, and emphasizing accuracy over distance. The players are going to need to back a bundle of birdies this week. In terms of recent play, the players to target in strokes gained approach are Sung Kang, Chez Reavie, John Peterson, Kevin Na, Zach Johnson, and J.J. Spaun.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Every week, off-the-tee play is a main target. Guys who can hit it long and straight have a huge advantage over the rest of the field. It makes courses shorter, and allows them to hit approach shots from shorter distances, setting up birdies. Even on shorter courses like we’ll see this week, hitting the ball long and straight will lead to success. The best off-the-tee players are Kevin Chappell, Jon Rahm, Sangmoon Bae, Bud Cauley, Luke List, and Kevin Streelman.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage, because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. This event should lend itself to low scores, with some short par-4s and reachable par-5s. The best players in this field in recent birdie or better percentage are Jon Rahm John Peterson, Brian Harman, Patton Kizzire, Jason Dufner, J.J. Spaun, Wesley Bryan, Bud Cauley, and Kevin Kisner.
Par-5 Scoring (P5): All three tracks this week are par-72s, which means par-5 scoring will be a major differentiator. Players who can attack these holes and rack up birdies and eagles will be leading throughout the week. This could mean bombers, or it could mean elite wedge players. Some of the best par-5 scorers in this field are Kevin Na, Jon Rahm, Brian Harman, Nick Watney, Bill Haas, Harold Varner, and J.J. Spaun.
*In order of my rankings
Jon Rahm ($11,800) – I’m going to continue to write-up the top ranked player in the field if I think he’s going to win, and that’s what I expect from Rahm this week. I also think he’ll go lower-owned than expected, with people choosing balanced teams beginning with Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, and Kevin Kisner. Rahm finished a mediocre 34th here last season, but he’s a dramatically improved player these days. He won the DP World Tour Championship in Europe and then followed up with a runner-up at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, so his form is strong.
Webb Simpson ($9,700) – Webb impressed me a lot last week with a top-5 finish, after catching fire on the weekend. Surprisingly, Simpson gained the majority of his strokes on the green, which isn’t usually the case. It seems that he’s finally found a comfortable putting stroke, and that could mean big things are in store for him. Webb is always an excellent ball-striker and par-4 scorer, and I think he’ll fare well this week. He’s posted two top-10s at this event, and will be one of the most popular plays on the board.
Brian Harman ($11,500) – Harman continues to show no signs of slowing down. He led for much of the Tournament of Champions, and then led for much of last week’s Sony Open. In any event, he’s posted five consecutive top-10s, which is by far the best stretch of golf in his career. Harman finished 3rd here last season and 11th in 2016, so there’s no doubt he loves this event. Harman is riding a hot putter, but I don’t see him slowing down yet.
Bud Cauley ($8,400) – Besides the obvious favorite Jon Rahm, Bud Cauley is my pick to win this week. He’s produced a stellar course history, including a 3rd place finish last season, and is coming off a top-10 finish at the RSM Classic. Cauley is an elite ball-striker and sub-par putter (much like Russell Knox) and fits the mold of what I’m targeting this week. I also think he’s a player primed for his first career win, and a comfortable venue in a low-pressure environment should be perfect.
Phil Mickelson ($10,000) – Any time we head to California, Phil Mickelson is in play. After opening this season with a 3rd place finish at the Safeway Open and a 15th at the WGC-HSBC in Hong Kong, Lefty returns to one of his favorite events on Tour. Although he doesn’t have a stellar record here, he did finish inside the top-5 in 2016. This sort of birdie-fest and low pressure environment should suit him well, and I expect big things from Mickelson as he finishes the twilight years of his career.
J.J. Spaun ($7,900) – I’ve gone on record saying that Spaun will win in the next two months, and this could easily be the spot. The San Diego product does most of his damage on the west coast, and this event should line up very well for him. Spaun stuggled a bit last week, but that was on the heels of three straight top-15 finishes. He’s been knocking on the door of his first career win for a while now, with a handful of top-10 finishes in his rookie season. Spaun is fearless, and I could see him getting off to a blistering pace this week.
David Lingmerth ($7,800) – Lingmerth is one of my favorite contrarian GPP plays, especially considering his pedigree and course history. Lingmerth is a multiple-time PGA Tour winner, and has finished runner-up at this event twice (lost in a playoff to Jason Dufner in 2016). We haven’t seen much of him recently, but he did finish 17th at the RSM Classic, posting four rounds in the 60s. He’s an excellent ball-striker and putter.
Scott Piercy ($7,400) – He doesn’t have very good course history here, but I’m willing to overlook that because Piercy has dramatically improved his iron play over the past year. Piercy led the field in strokes gained approach for much of last weekend, and would have contended if not for an ice cold putter. The Las Vegas native loves desert golf and playing in California. He’s always elite off-the-tee, so pairing that with strong iron play is a deadly combination.
Russel Knox ($8,500) – Knox really intrigues me this week. He’s posted two top-10 finishes in his past three events, including last weekend at the Sony Open. Knox is an excellent ball-striker but a sub-par putter, the exact mold of the past two champions of this event. He really showed improved short-game skills at Waialae this past weekend, so I’m going to give him a chance this week on a course where he hasn’t shown much upside previously.
Ryan Palmer ($7,100) – Palmer impressed me with his ball-striking last week, but surprised me by his ice cold putter. Palmer is usually very solid on the greens, especially at Waialae where he’s excelled in the past. He’s been dealing with off-the-course issues recently, including his wife’s breast cancer treatment and the death of his father, but he seems to be back in the right mindset now. He absolutely loves this event, posting five top-10 finishes, including three in the past five seasons.
This section focuses on “odds” players – those players whose odds vary the greatest with respect to their DraftKings salaries. Keep in mind, this doesn’t make these players “good plays” or “bad plays”, but it simply measures the value based on their price. I’ve done this not just with the actual rankings, but as a percentage. So, if two players have a difference of 10 spots in pricing versus odds rankings, the player ranked higher overall will have a higher percentage. It’s a quick way to find value. I use an aggregate of odds from various odds makers to come up with my valuation.
The value differential column shows the number of spots lower in salary than their odds to win imply. The differential % column shows that as a percentage of the players DraftKings salary ranking. Here is a list of the top-20 “values” based on my aggregations:
On the flipside, we have the list of players Vegas believes are overpriced based on their odds to win. Using the same model and calculations as above, here are the top-20 worst “values” based on my aggregations:
DraftKings lineups for the CareerBuilder Challenge:
Stars and Scrubs: Jon Rahm, Webb Simpson, Bud Cauley, Aaron Wise, Sam Saunders, Taylor Gooch
Balanced: Brendan Steele, Chez Reavie, Bill Haas, Charles Howell, JJ Spaun, Brandt Snedeker