Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports

PGA DFS: Sony Open

PGA DFS Expert Ryan Baroff breaks down the top golfers to target on DraftKings for the Sony Open

We have our first full-field event of 2017 here at the Sony Open, after an exciting Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. This week’s field is headlined by Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Branden Grace, and Justin Thomas. It’s going to be a very interesting week because Thomas, Matsuyama, and Spieth finished 1-2-3 last week, Grace burned everyone, and Rose is coming off a back injury. We could see record ownership on Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama.

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.

Tournament Stop

Waialae CC, designed by Seth Raynor, is a golf course that is almost polar opposite to that of last week’s Tournament of Champions. We’re going to see thicker rough, firmer fairways, and difficult-to-hit greens. It’s also a course that favors the tacticians: a par-70 that measures 7,088 yards. Think “old man” golfers, players who do well in windy conditions, and stay away from bombers (for the most part). Because it’s a par-70, that means we lose a couple par-5s and have an added emphasis on par-4 scoring. We also have par-3s (and approach shots) that are going to emphasize the 200-225 yard range, so that’s another small factor to consider. I also weigh course history pretty heavily here, because it’s a specialized event that certain players target or skip. What I mean by that is players who come to the Sony Open usually do so because they love and appreciate this kind of test. Bombers like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, for instance don’t fit the mold, and therefore, chose not to play.

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: Jerry Kelly

Finished in the top-10 in two of the last three years: Jimmy Walker, Zac Blair, Harris English, Zach Johnson, Hudson Swafford, Matt Kuchar

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 Tournament of Champions, and highlighted the players in this field:

Statistical Report

Birdie or Better % (BoB%):

There aren’t 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 we can expect the same this year. Guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Ryan Palmer, Jimmy Walker, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, and Smylie Kaufman come to mind in this week’s field when targeting birdie makers who. 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 (SGA):

I think hitting greens in regulation are a key this week, but I didn’t want to simply look at that stat. I also think there are some proximity yardages to key on, but that’s inherently unpredictable. I’m going to target ball-strikers, so SGA is a good all around metric to measure whose iron play has been best. The 2016 SGA leaders in this field are Kevin Na, Hideki Matsuyama, Webb Simpson, and Paul Casey.

Strokes Gained Putting (SGP):

Putting is always volatile, but we definitely see a correlation between good putters and success at the Sony Open. We want to look at year-end SGP ranks, but also target players who have positive splits on bermuda grass greens. The two names that pop on both lists are Fabian Gomez and Bryce Molder. We also see studs like Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Palmer, Kevin Na, and Daniel Berger.

Par 4 Scoring (P4):

Since this is a par-70 course, we have two fewer par-5s than normal which means we have two extra par-4s. Par-4 scoring average and par-4 birdie or better percentage are both statistics to focus on this week. When we look for strong par-4 scorers, we see names like William McGirt, Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, and Russell Knox. Thinking about those players, we are obviously targeting accurate players who are excellent ball-strikers this week.

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. For correlation courses, we can look at results from Mayakoba, Harbour Town, and Colonial. 

Weather Report

As always, check back on the weather Wednesday to see the final forecast. This week it looks like players will see temperatures in the low to mid-80s with a chance of rain on Friday. Sounds like weather won’t be too much of an issue, except for the winds, of course.

Studs

*In order of my rankings

Jordan Spieth ($11,500) – If Spieth shows up with his A game, he’ll win this week by a bunch. He has a lot of demons from 2016 that he’s trying to exorcise, and I expect a great year from him. He made some uncharacteristic errors last week, but blistered the course on Sunday to finish in third place. He missed the cut in his only appearance here, but Spieth can erase that from his memory pretty easily. If we’re looking for par-4 scorers, birdie-makers, and great putters, Spieth is at the top of the list.

Justin Thomas ($10,500) – Speaking of keeping tee shots in play, this might be a great spot to fade Thomas. He MC here last year, but did finish sixth in 2015. He’s coming off an emotionally draining win at the Tournament of Champions, where he clearly made some mental and physical mistakes down the stretch. It’s hard to ignore his record recently, and he’s been playing well at these tropical and windy courses (last week and in Malaysia).

Jimmy Walker ($9,900) – Luau Jimmy almost struck again last week, but he imploded on the weekend when it looked like he had the tournament in control. I think he’ll have a nice bounce back here at the Sony, where he’s a two time winner. The Texan can clearly battle the windy conditions, and he putts fantastically on these surfaces. All he has to do is keep his tee shots in play.

Hideki Matsuyama ($11,000) – Form vs. Course History. Matsuyama is by far the hottest player in the world right now, but he’s coming to a course where he’s missed three of four cuts. Interesting. While I don’t think he will win this week, I highly doubt he’s missing the cut. Expect some of the momentum to carry Matsuyama to another solid top-10 finish. And we know he’s going to make a bunch of birdies.

Brandt Snedeker ($9,700) – Snedeker also fits the bill of an accurate player who can putt well and handle windy conditions. He lost in a playoff last season to Fabian Gomez, and surely wants some redemption. Sneds played pretty well last week at the Tournament of Champions, and should carry plenty of momentum from his win in Fiji and solid performances since. He is a winner at Harbour Town, which is a good pointer towards success here.

Steals

Russell Knox ($8,100) – Although he’s missed nearly all of his cuts at the Sony Open, Knox fits the mold of the player we’re targeting. He’s deadly accurate, and not a bomber. He’s a new player now, and I think he’s extremely motivated to win more events and get himself on the 2018 Ryder Cup team. He played decently at the Tournament of Champions, which is a nice warm up on the Hawaiian Islands for this week. He’s played well at Mayakoba and Harbour Town, which is a nice pattern to see.

Chris Kirk ($7,700) – Although Kirk MC here a year ago, he has two top-5 finishes previously. He stated that this track fits players (like him) who hit a draw, and even drew a correlation to Colonial, where he’s a winner. Kirk was one of the hottest players in the fall, posting four top-10 finishes in five events. I love his chances this week.

Branden Grace ($7,500) – An interesting stat: 12 of the past 18 Sony Open winners played in the Tournament of Champions. Although Grace burned everyone last week, it could be a really interesting spot to go back to him at low ownership. I’m surprised he’s not playing in South African this week, but it’s a sign that Grace wants to make the transition to full-time PGA Tour member. His goals are likely major championships and the FedEx Cup, so we should see plenty of him this year. 

Pivot plays:  

Scott Piercy ($8,900) – The Silver Fox loves playing in Hawaii, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy to miss the Tournament of Champions. He had a great 2016 season, nearly winning the U.S. Open and then the WGC-Bridgestone. Piercy has finished 13th and 2nd the past two years at the Sony Open, and has a handful of other top-25s as well. I love him this week, and he should go a bit overlooked with everyone focusing on Spieth, Matsuyama, and Thomas.

Ryan Palmer ($8,300) – Palmer’s record in Hawaii should be a green light for everyone, but we haven’t seen him play in nearly four months. He won the Sony Open in 2010, and has finished inside the top-17 each of the past three years. Palmer is a Texan who should be very comfortable in windy conditions and on bermuda grass greens, so it’s little surprise that he plays well in Hawaii.

Harold Varner III ($7,800) – Some people may have missed Varner’s win in Australia this winter, but it was awesome to see him break through. I think more wins are coming, and considering he did it on a course with windy conditions and bermuda greens….well, why not here? Although he’s a bomber by reputation, his iron play and wedge game has really improved over the past year. Varner finished 13th at the Sony Open in 2015, and I think he’ll build on that success this week.

Vegas Says…

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 best “values” based on my aggregations:

Overpriced

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 Sony Open:

Stars and Scrubs:

Jordan Spieth $11,500
Justin Thomas $10,500
Daniel Berger $8,800
Brian Stuard $6,600
Steve Marino  $6,200
Bryce Molder $6,000

Balanced:

Jimmy Walker $9,900
Scott Piercy $8,900
Pat Perez $8,000
Harold Varner III $7,800
Kevin Na $7,700
Branden Grace $7,500

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