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DraftKings PGA Preview: The American Express (2020)

Jan 14, 2020

Kevin Kisner has top-15 finishes in each of his last three events, including a fourth-place at last week’s Sony Open.

After two weeks in Hawaii, the PGA Tour moves to Southern California for The American Express. This tournament has been known by a number of different names through the years including the Bob Hope Classic, CareerBuilder Challenge, Humana, and last year’s Desert Classic. Rickie Fowler and Sungjae Im are the two favorites in the betting markets at 11:1 and 16:1, respectively.

DraftKings provides us with a salary cap of $50,000 to select six golfers (average roster spot of $8,333). Rickie Fowler ($11,500) and Sungjae Im ($11,000 are the only golfers in the 11K range. Paul Casey ($10,700), Tony Finau ($10,500), Byeong Hun An ($10,300), and Charles Howell ($10,100) are the only other golfers on DK with five-figure salaries. The site has a variety of contests at different price points starting at $0.10 per entry. A popular contest is the $5 “Drive the Green” with a $100,000 first-place prize.

All of the tips and information that I mention in this article are plays that I will be considering for my own lineups. In fact, most of the plays mentioned are based upon my customized model that includes a variety of statistics and results. However, that doesn’t mean that I will end up with all of the guys that I mention. This article is written early in the week and additional news, research, and roster construction could lead me to different plays. Remember to check the news and social media reports leading up to the first golfer teeing off. Though golf is more difficult to get injury news, you might be able to pick up a nugget or two that helps with roster construction – especially when dealing with possible withdrawals.

Remember that golf is very difficult to play but DFS golf is even tougher. The best golfers will perform at a high level throughout the course of a golf season. However, from week-to-week, a major variance can occur. Any golfer on the PGA Tour is capable of winning an event. On the flip side, even the best golfers in the world are capable of missing the cut in a given event (e.g. Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, and Matt Kuchar all missing the cut last week at the Sony Open despite being three of the highest-ranked golfers in the field).

Work at having a solid process week in and week out as opposed to getting bogged down by recency bias or the ups-and-downs of the weekly golf grind. Use all the information available to you to make the best decision possible for your lineup. Good luck and, most importantly, have fun! Whether you win or lose, golf is one of the most entertaining fantasy sports to follow because you get four days of action.

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Tournament Notes

  • This is a pro-am event, which means the play will probably be a little slower and adds a slightly different dynamic to a normal PGA event. Each pro will be paired with an amateur. Because of this, the event is played on three different courses (PGA West TPC Stadium, PGA West Nicklaus, and the LaQuinta Country Club). Each of the 156 PGA golfers will be guaranteed three rounds of golf (instead of two) before the cut. Golfers will play each course once and then the top-65 golfers (and ties) will make the cut and play on the Stadium Course for Sunday’s round.
  • The Stadium Course at PGA West is a Par 72 course measuring 7,113 yards. Last year it was ranked the 40th most difficult on tour.
  • The Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West is a Par 72 course measuring 7,159. It was the second easiest course on tour last year.
  • The LaQuinta CC is a Par 72 course measuring 7,060 yards. It played as the easiest course on the PGA Tour last season.
  • Adam Long came from behind to defeat Phil Mickelson last year in a playoff as the number 417th players in the world and a 500-to-1 long shot. He will be back to try and defend his title this year. Nine past winners are scheduled to play this week including Hudson Swafford (2017), Jason Dufner (2016), Bill Haas (2015 & 2010), Brian Gay (2013), Mark Wilson (2012), Jhonattan Vegas (2011), D.J. Trahan (2008), Charley Hoffman (2007), and Phil Mickelson (2004 & 2002).
  • The average winning score from the last 10 years is nearly 25-under par. The last time a winner shot worse than 20-under par was in Charley Hoffman (-17) in 2007.
  • Two-time winner Phil Mickelson is the official tournament host and his charity, The Mickelson Foundation, is the host organization.
  • Among the golfers in this week’s field, Andrew Putnam has the longest streak of PGA Tour made cuts with 14. Sungjae Im has made the cut in 11 consecutive PGA Tour events. Paul Casey and Harold Varner have both made 10 straight PGA cuts.
  • Only 11 of the world’s top-50 golfers are teeing it up this week. Tony Finau is the highest-ranked player in the field at 15th.
  • Ten of the last 11 winners of this event played in Hawaii (Sony Open or TOC) to open up the calendar year.
  • With the event being played on three different courses, there is a greater variance on the type of player that can perform well here. Since each player gets three rounds, the difference in scoring between the top finishers and those that miss the cut will be smaller than normal. Looking at overall fantasy scoring, and even how players play in no-cut events may be helpful. Considering that this event is a pro-am, the courses are set up nicely to encourage scoring.
  • The putting surfaces are Bermuda overseeded with rye and poa. They tend to be some of the slowest greens on the PGA Tour.

Course Fit & Key Statistics

Overall Statistics
My customized overall stat model measures all key stats (driving, approach, short game, putting, etc…) from both a short-and-long-form standpoint. The best golfers, in terms of stats for this week (in ranked order), are Sungjae Im, Paul Casey, Scottie Scheffler, Vaughn Taylor, Byeong Hun An, Cameron Tringale, Sebastian Munoz, Carlos Ortiz, Aaron Wise, and Harold Varner.

Recent Scoring Ability
It is always important to be playing well coming into a tournament. In particular, since we are playing DFS, it is valuable for a golfer to be scoring well, and not just making par after par. The golfers that rate out the best in my customized recent form scoring model, which emphasizes fantasy scoring (in ranked order) are Vaughn Taylor, Scottie Scheffler, Sungjae Im, Byeong Hun An, Carlos Ortiz, Brian Harman, Alex Noren, Henrik Norlander, Cameron Tringale, and Harry Higgs.

Course History
The golfers who have gained the most total strokes at this tournament during the last five years (in ranked order) include Brendan Steele, Phil Mickelson, Lucas Glover, Charles Howell, Bud Cauley, Bill Haas, Hudson Swafford, Chez Reavie, Brian Harman, and Jason Kokrak. Howell leads the field with 10 straight made cuts while Harris English comes in with seven straight. Glover and Steele have made the cut in each of the last five years. Phil Mickelson is the only golfer in the field with a multiple top-five finishes in the last five years as he finished T2 last year and T3 in 2016.

Ball-Striking
Because each of the three courses are shorter than normal and the event is conducive to amateur play (with it being a pro-am), then an emphasis on ball-striking is important. Distance is never a bad thing, but it is not necessary at this event. In looking at the best ball-strikers (ignoring around the green and putting), the following ten golfers (in ranked order) rate out the best in both the short-and-long-term: Ryan Moore, Kyle Stanley, Brian Stuard, Chez Reavie, Doc Redman, Ryan Armour, Paul Casey, Russell Knox, Tony Finau, and Kevin Kisner.

Official World Golf Ranking
All the statistics and course history are good to know but sports (in particular, DFS golf) oftentimes comes down to playing the best golfers. Sure, salary is involved but the more good golfers you can fit in your lineups, then the better chance you give yourself. According to the OWGR, the best ten golfers in this field (in ranked order) are Tony Finau (#15), Paul Casey (#17), Francesco Molinari (#20), Rickie Fowler (#22), Kevin Na (#27), Kevin Kisner (#30), Sungjae Im (#35), Billy Horschel (#36), Chez Reavie (#37), and Abraham Ancer (#39).

Favorite Elite Play

Sungjae Im ($11,000)
If I have to pick one of the high-priced guys, then I am definitely going with Sungjae Im. I definitely think he can win this tournament and I will have a few shares of him. However, I expect him to be highly owned. Of the six golfers in the 10K range, he is the only one in the top five for total shots gained and fantasy scoring over the past 36 rounds. In fact, he is first in fantasy scoring and second in total shots gained. He is a consistent cut maker (17 out of 18, including 11 in a row). He has 12 top-25 finishes in his last 18 events. That alone won’t make him a good play at this price point, but it does further speak to his consistency. He has a runner-up and a third in his last six events.

Favorite Upper-Tier Plays

Kevin Kisner ($9,900)
I don’t normally play Kisner because he is a short-knocker and doesn’t have a huge ceiling. However, driving distance isn’t important at this event and he has top-15 finishes in each of his last three events, including a fourth-place at last week’s Sony Open. He hasn’t had any high-end finishes here in the past but has made the cut the last three years. This year could be different because his form coming in is better than in year’s past. I don’t like paying this kind of price for him, but he should be able to score on these courses and he is trending in the right direction. The top-end golfers aren’t as appealing to me this week, which leads me to Kisner.

Scottie Scheffler ($9,500)
Even though Sungjae Im is far and away my favorite play, from an equity standpoint, I will be starting the majority of my lineups with Scheffler. He rates out as the second-best golfer in the field this week in my custom rankings. He becomes an overall better play than Im because he is priced $1,600 lower. In the last 36 rounds, only Im has scored more fantasy points. He is third in total shots gained (behind Denny McCarthy and Im). His only weakness is around the green and putting. Considering that most players (especially great ball strikers like Scheffler) will be putting their approach shots within 15 feet on these slower greens, he should be okay. With two top-five finishes in his last three starts, I expect him to once again be on the leaderboard on Sunday.

Brendon Todd ($8,800)
Five straight top-30 finishes, including a fourth-place and two wins. That’s a pretty good 2019-2020 season so far. In the last 24 rounds, he is second in total shots gained and third in fantasy scoring. He is an average ball-striker but knows how to score. He has missed the cut here in his last two starts but was sixth in 2014. That was back when he was winning tournaments (like he is this year). I love the 7K range and so I will not have as much exposure to him as some of my other plays, but I still anticipate over-weighting the field with him.

Favorite Mid-Tier Plays

Vaughn Taylor ($7,900)
He will probably be my highest-owned golfer this week. He is in great form, he finished T7 here last year, and he is priced less than the average roster spot. In the last 24 rounds, he is fifth in fantasy scoring (which is what DFS is all about). He has played the weekend in 16 of his last 17 starts. He finished T12 last week. In the two events prior to the Sony Open, he finished 10th and runner-up.

Harris English ($7,700)
He missed the cut in his last event (RSM) but he had top-six finishes in four of his five prior starts. In the last 24 rounds played, he leads this field in fantasy scoring and total shots gained. He only finished T51 at this event last year but that was his seventh straight made cut here. He was T11 in 2018. He is a great value considering his great recent form and solid course history.

Denny McCarthy ($7,600)
In the last 36 rounds, McCarthy is first in total shots gained and fourth in fantasy scoring. He has five top-15 finishes in his last six events. The only reason that he is not my favorite play this week is that he tends to rely on his short game. He is arguably the best putter on Tour. These kinds of easy courses can help out someone like McCarthy that isn’t a good ball-striker. If he can just play average from tee-to-green this week then he’ll have a chance to be on the leader board on Sunday.

Favorite Lower-Tier Plays

Henrik Norlander ($7,100) 
You could win a lot of bar bets with even the biggest PGA fans by asking “who are the only two golfers in this field to have top-10 finishes in their last two PGA starts.” Rickie Fowler would be the common answer, but the name Henrik Norlander would probably never be uttered. Norlander finished T9 last week after a T5 finish at the RSM. He is quietly having a great rookie season. He has made five straight cuts on the PGA Tour after finishing T7 at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship. In the last 12 rounds, he is ninth in fantasy scoring and 12th in total shots gained. He has not been higher than 1.2% owned this season so let’s hope that he stays under-the-radar. He’ll be our little secret.

Cameron Tringale ($7,100)
In the last 36 rounds, Tringale is ranked ninth in both fantasy scoring and total shots gained in this field. That is not too shabby considering that he is the 43rd most-expensive golfer on DK. He has made the cut in 12 of his last 13 starts. He has a mixed history at this event making the cut last year after two straight MC’s. He was T14 in 2016 and T30 in 2015.

Favorite Punt Plays

I do not anticipate having any players below $7,100 in my core player pool this week since I like the mid-tier so much and don’t feel the need to spend up on the upper-end golfers (with the exception of Im).  Nine players that might be sprinkled into a Sungjae Im lineup here and there include Nick Taylor ($7,000), Harold Varner ($7,000), Cameron Davis ($6,900), Bo Hoag ($6,800), Stewart Cink ($6,700), Sam Ryder ($6,500), Steve Stricker ($6,400), Xin-Jun Zhang ($6,400), and Ricky Barnes ($6,100).

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Jamy Bechler is a regular contributor to FantasyPros for NBA, NFL, and PGA. You can follow him on his DFS twitter @WinningDFS101. When he is not playing DFS, Jamy is an author, host of the “Success is a Choice” podcast, and a leadership consultant, working with businesses and teams across the country (including the NBA). Even though he offers his advice on players and contests, after additional information and consideration, he may end up using different players and strategies than what he recommended in this article.

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