We had a solid week of picks at the CIMB Classic with Justin Thomas leading the way to back-to-back wins in Malaysia, and our other top picks performing well. There should be a lot of form carrying over into this field, and players who don’t have to travel far to China should have a slight edge over the others.
This week, we head to Shanghai for the WGC-HSBC Champions. The field is headlined by Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, and Sergio Garcia. It’s important to note that for the 2nd consecutive week, we have a no-cut event, so target the birdie-makers. We have some decent course history to draw upon since the event has been played at this course – Sheshan International – six of the past seven years. I’m leaning heavily on course horses this week.
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.
The course is a tree-lined par-72 track that measures just over 7,200 yards, so it isn’t the longest course players see. There’s water in play throughout the course so that the big numbers can pop up. Although everything should point towards accuracy (as last year’s leaderboard did), we’ve seen bombers like Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson win here. Four par-5s are pretty tame, which is likely why those bombers had success. For example, when Bubba Watson won this event at -11, he was -14 for those par-5 holes. The fairways and tees are seashore paspalum grass, which should be comfortable for those players who primarily play in Asia, while the greens are Bentgrass.
Several other things to note about the course: Scrambling, and especially putting, seems to be very important. Players can find some trouble off the tee, and there is water in play on eleven holes at Sheshan International. I’ll be targeting some of the better putters in this field. Also, if you look at the previous winners of this event, the common thread is pedigree: Russell Knox, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Francesco Molinari, and Phil Mickelson. In a no-cut event especially, a stars-and-scrubs roster construction is the way to go.
Recent Tournament History
Here is the data we can draw upon for this week’s Tournament History:
Finished in the top-10 each of the last three years: None.
Finished in the top-10 in two of the last three years: Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer.
Current Form Review
Each week, we’ll take a look backward at the last three tournaments on the PGA and European Tours. However, because this is the start of a new season and most players have had a month or so off, we will focus on course history and stats. I have, however, included the top-20 from last week’s CIMB Classic, and highlighted the players in this field:
Birdie or Better % (BoB%):
There are not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. Guys like Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Thomas Pieters, and Rafa Cabrera-Bello 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 close to the top-10 in the actual event.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG: OTT):
You can target driving distance alone, but I also wanted to target some accuracy metrics, as well. Last year, players hit 80% of the greens from the fairway, while only hitting 50% from the rough. Certain bombers can overcome those stats because they hit it far enough that they’ll have wedges in their hands anyways. However, SG: OTT stats point toward the bombers while allowing certain shorter hitters to pop, too. In 2016, the top-10 in SG: OTT were: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, J.B. Holmes, Ryan Palmer, Jason Kokrak, Andrew Landry, and Boo Weekley. That’s 7-8 bombers and a couple of tacticians.
Par 5 Scoring (P5):
I expect the winning score this week to be around -15, with the bulk of that scoring coming from the par-5s. When Bubba Watson won here, he finished -11 for the tournament but was -14 on the par-5s. Even a shorter hitter like Russell Knox was -8 on the par-5s last year, so scoring there is crucial to success this week. Although I always target bombers who have great par-5 averages (Rory, DJ, Brooks, JT), I’m also looking at elite wedge players.
Strokes Gained Around the Green (SG: ATG):
I think all short game metrics, including putting, are super important this week. While putting is very volatile, I would look at players who perform better on Bentgrass greens. I’m also going to target players who are elite scramblers. The SG: ATG metric covers all of these aspects of the short game. There were a ton of missed greens last year at this event, and I expect the same this year. A few names show up when cross-referencing those two lists: Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, and Charl Schwartzel.
*In order of my rankings
Rory McIlroy ($12,100) – He’s been experimenting with TaylorMade equipment, and from what I’ve been reading, he’s mashing their drivers. Although he hasn’t won at Sheshan yet, he’s finished 11th, 6th, 4th, 5th, and 4th in his five appearances. When we’re looking at par-5 scorers, bombers, and scramblers, few check those boxes as well as Rory.
Dustin Johnson ($11,900) – As usual, the issue with DJ is motivation. He was just named player of the year, won the Ryder Cup, has had some time off, and well…do we think his game is sharp? Personally, I don’t, and I would lean towards drafting Rory ahead of Dustin, but you really can argue either way. However, DJ ranks 1st in my statistical model this week, by a wide margin, and he’s a former winner at this venue in 2013.
Adam Scott ($9,400) – Besides Paul Casey, Scott comes into Sheshan in the best form of the field, including a sneaky top-10 last week. Although his course history is pretty poor, I love Scott this week. Scott ranked 1st last year in strokes gained, 9th in birdie or better %, and 13th in driving distance. He’s exactly the type of player I’m targeting this week.
Hideki Matsuyama ($10,000) – Finally cracked the top-10 in the world rankings, which was much overdue. Hideki contended last weekend after winning in Japan the previous week, so he’s very comfortable playing in this part of the world. With him, it’s all about the putter because he is near the top of every relevant ball-striking stat there is.
Justin Thomas ($9,300) – I still think Thomas is going to be overlooked and under-appreciated this week. He’s now priced near the top of a stacked field with tons of elite options, people don’t love to roster players coming off a win, and Thomas (the defending champion) was still just 13% owned in most contests. Put that all together with his mediocre 27th place finish a year ago, and I think you’ll get a lower-owned JT than expected. He is a birdie maker and crushes par-5s, so there’s no reason to fade him here.
Brooks Koepka ($8,500) – Makes birdies, check. Bomber off the tee, check. No-cut event, check. Everything lines up for Brooks to not only contend, but to potentially grab the biggest win of his career. People forget that Koepka spent time on the European Tour, so he has plenty of experience overseas and in Asia. He was fantastic at the Ryder Cup, including an absolute beatdown of Danny Willett on Sunday.
Emiliano Grillo ($7,800) – How players drive off-the-tee this week is critical, and that’s why I love Grillo. He’s also played across the world, so traveling to Malaysia and China shouldn’t wear on him too much. He finished 3rd at the China Open last year, showing some form on the Asian continent. Grillo is a stellar ball-striker, and he posted a respectable 35th here as a rookie. He showed some game last week, and I think you’ll see him inside the top-10 come Sunday afternoon. Grillo ranks extremely highly in my statistical model and is a great putter on Bentgrass greens.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello ($7,600) – If you were hoping for low ownership here, close your eyes. In his last five European Tour starts, RCB has finished 5th, 5th, 12th, 31st, and 10th, with a stellar Ryder Cup performance mixed in. He’s another player who is overdue for a victory and has the pedigree to win a World Golf Championship. He is a fantasy golf monster and one of my favorite plays in no-cut events. RCB is an elite scrambler which is going to be a major key this week at Sheshan International. He’s coming off a top-10 finish in Malaysia, too.
Bernd Wiesberger ($7,700) – Wiesberger finished 17th here last season in his first appearance, and has been a model of consistency on the European Tour all year. He’s extremely overdue for a win, and his breakthrough could come here. In his past four events, he’s finished 2nd, 5th, 7th, and 2nd, and he tends to play well in challenging fields and on difficult courses. He’s an excellent pivot of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who will be the ultimate chalk.
Ross Fisher ($7,800) – Fisher is one of our course horses this week, with two runner-up finishes previously and a 3rd last season. He’s also coming off two recent runner-up finishes on the European Tour, so he’s itching for a win. Fisher is one of those players who randomly pops in WGCs and majors, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contending on Sunday afternoon. He’s a tactician who can putt the lights out.
Alex Noren ($7,300) – Noren is one of the best stories in Europe this year, winning three times and seemingly contending on a weekly basis. He’s now cracked the top-5 in the Race to Dubai and has positioned himself to win the whole thing. He hasn’t played much in China, but has a 9th at the China Open recently, and has flashed a couple of low scores here at Sheshan International. A sneaky play this week.
Chris Wood ($6,800) – Wood has been battling a neck injury the second half of this season, which has hurt his game massively. But at a discounted price in a small field without a cut, he has the type of upside to win you GPPs. His form is starting to return (20th and 22nd in his last two starts), and he’s seen this course several times before. If his putter clicks, we could see a repeat of the BMW PGA this year, where Wood dominated a pretty stacked field.
This section focuses on “odds” players – those players whose odds vary the greatest on 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 oddsmakers 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-15 “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-15 worst “values” based on my aggregations:
DraftKings lineups for the WGC-HSBC Champions
Stars and Scrubs