What a performance we saw from Justin Thomas at the Sony Open! He broke the 72-hole scoring record en route to his second win in a row in Hawaii. Thomas is a force to be reckoned with this week. He checked in as my 2nd ranked player last week, so all-in-all, I'm pleased with the result. This week, we head back to the mainland for the CareerBuilder Challenge in La Quinta, California. Although most of the top players in the world are in Abu Dhabi, this field is headlined by Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Zach Johnson, and Bill Haas.
Unfortunately, we have a confusing stop this week. We have three courses in use – La Quinta CC, PGA West, and the Stadium Course at TPC West. Players will play each course once over the first three days, then there will be a 54-hole cut, and the remaining players get another crack at the Stadium course on Sunday. These courses ranked in the top-10 easiest courses on last year's PGA Tour, with PGA West the easiest. Scoring averages were 69.1, 68.9, and 70.9, respectively last year. Since this rotation was only used last season, there's really just one year of "ideal" course history to draw upon; however, La Quinta has been a host course for a long time. These are all par-72 courses, so we get a few more scoring opportunities on the additional par-5s. Also, we're faced with bermuda greens, the surfaces that often have the highest splits amongst Tour players.
What stats are we looking towards this week?
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. Based on 2016 statistics, the best players in this field in BoB% were Ryan Palmer, Robert Garrigus, Patrick Reed, Alex Cejka, and Charles Howell III. 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, Webb Simpson, and Paul Casey.
Par 5 Scoring (P5)
Par-5 scoring should be crucial this week. Even though we have different courses, we have all par-72 tracks, which means plenty of par-5s are there for the taking. When we look for strong par-5 scorers, we see names like Patrick Reed, Harold Varner III, Hudson Swafford, Roberto Castro, Charles Howell III, and Ryan Palmer. Thinking about those players, we are also going to add a little edge to bombers, who should be able to overpower parts of this golf course.
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 Torrey Pines, Riviera, and last week's venue, Waialae Country Club.
1. PATRICK REED [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #9
Reed is far and away the best player in the field, and I'm pretty surprised that he's not playing in Abu Dhabi (considering his affinity for European Tour golf). Reed posted a 6th place finish at the Tournament of Champions when he was clearly under the weather, so I expect a better showing this week with him at full health. Reed is a birdie-making machine, and these courses should be set up very easily. I expect Reed in the hunt on Sunday afternoon.
2. BILL HAAS [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #42
I mentioned on Twitter this week that Bill Haas weeks are some of my least favorite. He's always chalky, always overpriced, and usually let's me down. He's not a great putter, doesn't make enough birdies, but somehow I always get suckered in. Here, Haas is a two-time champion and perennial top-10 finisher. He's an excellent iron player and has even won at Riviera, one of our comp courses for the week. Back the Brinks truck up and dump some cash on Billy Haas this week.
3. CHARLES HOWELL III [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #97
We are still in Charles Howell season, so let's keep riding the hot hand. Howell finished 8th last week at the Sony Open, and comes back to an event where he's made eight consecutive cuts. Howell finished runner-up here in 2013, and finished 11th last season on this same rotation of courses. He's going to be popular, but he's a solid play this week.
4. PHIL MICKELSON [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #21
Mickelson recently underwent hernia surgery, so his healthy and game are complete unknowns. In fact, he may not even tee it up this week, so keep an eye on the news. As a Tournament Ambassador for this event, Phil wants to put on a good show on the course, but I doubt he has anything resembling his A-game this week. But hey, he loves the West Coast, makes a bunch of birdies, and can contend any week that he's putting well.
5. JON RAHM [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #137
Arizona State product and DFS darling Jon Rahm is back. We love rostering him, mainly because he makes birdies in bunches. Rahm also loves playing desert golf, and I think this is exactly the type of event where he could get that maiden victory. We've seen some of his best performances on Tour come at weaker field events, just like we have this week.