It was a solid opening week for my rankings at the Safeway Open, with my 8th ranked golfer (Brendan Steele) taking home the trophy. My top-5 ranked players were Paul Casey, Emiliano Grillo, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, and John Rahm, who finished 3rd, 26th, 8th, 8th, and 15th, respectively.
This week, the Tour heads to Malaysia for a co-sanctioned event with the Asian Tour. Only 60 PGA Players receive automatic spots in this field, and the rest is rounded out by Asia's best players. This week's field is headlined by Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, and Sergio Garcia. Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia are coming off decently long layoffs, Paul Casey comes in scorching hot, and Hideki Matsuyama comes in off a win on the Japan Tour last week. It's also important to note that this is a no-cut event, meaning every player gets to play four rounds, no matter what. That always lends itself to a stars-and-scrubs roster construction.
The course hasn't changed since 2010, but it has changed names a few times (now called TPC Kuala Lumpur). This is a par-72 course which only measures 6,985 yards, making it one of the shortest the players see all year. This means distance isn't going to be as important, and ball-striking, driving accuracy, proximity to hole, and greens in regulation are my target stats. Our two course horses fit that mold to a tee: Kevin Na and Ryan Moore. I also don't think putting is as important this week, because last year's leaderboard was littered with…uh…sub-par putters: Justin Thomas (win), Adam Scott (2nd), Hideki Matsuyama (5th), and Tony Finau (8th).
What Stats Are We Looking Towards This Week?
Birdie or Better % (BoB%):
There's 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. Last year, there were some really low rounds here, and Justin Thomas won with a total of -26. Guys like Thomas, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, and Smylie Kaufman come to mind in this week's field when targeting birdie makers who will benefit from the no-cut format. It's possible to have a player finish top-10 in fantasy points while not finishing anywhere near the top-10 in the actual event.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:Approach):
TPC Kuala Lumpur is a fairly short course, so hitting fairways and subsequently hitting greens will be critical. I think players will distance themselves from the field based on proximity to the hole on approach shots on the par-4s, and tee shots on the par-3s. When looking at how players in this field finished in 2016's SG:Approach stats, you'll see some names that are reflected in my rankings below: Adam Scott (1st), Kevin Na (2nd), Hideki Matsuyama (3rd), Kevin Chappell (9th), and Paul Casey (11th).
Par 5 Scoring (P5):
Not as critical as par-4 scoring this week, but there are reachable par-5 holes that players will need to dominate. I'm not just targeting bombers here, but players who score well on all types of par-5 holes (i.e. great wedge players).
As usual, we will be looking towards strokes gained tee-to-green from last season, but with a lot of players coming off month-long breaks, it's a bit unpredictable.
1. ADAM SCOTT [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #6
The fact that Scott isn't the top-priced player this week is pretty crazy, but I'll take it. He ranked 1st in SG:Approach in 2016 on the PGA Tour, which shows his ball-striking prowess. He finished 2nd here a year ago, and is due for a win after a scorching FedEx Cup playoffs. He didn't play well in Japan last week, but I think he was just getting the jetlag out of the way.
2. HIDEKI MATSUYAMA [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #18
Unlike Scott, Matsuyama did play well in Japan last week, earning the victory. He's an elite ball-striker (finished 3rd in the SG:Approach category in 2016) who just needs a cooperative putter to dominate any field. Hideki has made three straight cuts here, including a 5th place finish last year. I love him this week.
3. JUSTIN THOMAS [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #33
Thomas finished his opening round at the Safeway Open with two triple bogeys on the back-nine, en route to a 75. He then backed it up with scores of 66, 66 and 67, showing that he's ready to repeat. In a no-cut event, this is the player type I want to target, and Thomas obviously loves the golf course…he shot -26 last year! I'll have him paired with Scott and Matsuyama on many rosters this week.
4. RYAN MOORE [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #31
The obviously course horse, with wins here in 2013 and 2014 followed by a 10th place finish in 2015. Moore is coming off an exciting FedEx Cup playoffs and his first Ryder Cup experience, so I'm not sure how he'll respond. But he'll surely have the positive memories of TPC Kuala Lumpur to draw upon, though.
5. SCOTT PIERCY [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #34
One thing to note about Piercy: when he's hot, he's hot. We saw it last summer when he parlayed a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open into a runner-up finish at the WGC-Bridgestone. Piercy shot an opening round 62 at TPC Kuala Lumpur last year, en route to a top-10. Coming off a great Safeway Open (in which he probably should have won), Piercy could be dangerous this week.