The PGA Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s slate, using the FantasyLabs Tools and metrics to highlight notable golfers.
The PGA Tour resumes its Florida swing at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida. These players are gearing up for the first major of the year, the Masters, in April, so the field is loaded and dialed in. The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort plays as one of the toughest on Tour, so we’ll see some stellar and, well, not-so-stellar play this weekend. Let’s dive in.
Players at the Copperhead Course have averaged just 39.97 DraftKings points and a terrible -7.81 Plus/Minus on just 38.0 percent Consistency. Further, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of year-to-year consistency with players. Only a few have made multiple cuts in a row, and playing well in the past is not necessary for future success. Just take last year’s winner, Adam Hadwin ($8,800), as an example: Prior to last year’s victory at 14-under, he had missed the cut in 2016 and finished 71st in 2015. Tony Finau ($9,400), who placed fifth last year, missed the cut in 2016 and 2015. Gary Woodland ($9,000) won in 2011 and since has missed the cut twice and had an eighth-place finish in 2014. You get the point: This course and tournament is tough to predict and could be somewhat random.
That fact could be exacerbated this week by perhaps the most important storyline to watch: wind. This is subject to change, but as of Tuesday it looks like there will be a big wind difference earlier in the day versus later. The morning should be calm with almost no wind, while it’s predicted to blow around 15 miles per hour in the afternoon. If that holds true, the players who go off early Thursday morning will be at a significant advantage over the later tee times. Those haven’t been released yet, but make sure to monitor this angle over the next couple of days.
Anyway, back to the course. I backtested various metrics within our PGA Models to find out which have been the most valuable at Innisbrook. Per the Trends tool, here is how the top-20 percent of golfers in various metrics have done (in Plus/Minus valuation) at this course. I’m listing only the metrics that tested positively above the baseline.
- Course Driving Accuracy: +5.68 Plus/Minus above baseline
- Recent Tournaments Played: +3.69 Plus/Minus
- Long Term Eagles: +3.54 Plus/Minus
- Long Term Bogeys: +2.32 Plus/Minus
- Recent Par 4 Scoring: +1.59 Plus/Minus
- Long Term Driving Accuracy: +1.13 Plus/Minus
- Recent Scrambling: +1.10 Plus/Minus
- Long Term Par 3 Scoring: +0.83 Plus/Minus
- Recent Bogeys: +0.60 Plus/Minus
- Long Term Tournaments Played: +0.59 Plus/Minus
- Recent Driving Accuracy: +0.27 Plus/Minus
The stat that keeps popping up, although no metric really seems to be incredibly important, is accuracy off the tee. This is a par-71 course playing at 7,300 yards, and it is different in that it features five Par 3s. Players won’t have to hit the driver as much, which means ball-striking and iron play will be important this week. Although Course DA backtested well, Course Adjusted Round Score did not, which means I’m not necessarily chasing past success. In general, in cash games I want accurate players, and in tournaments I want to heavily play the wind and ownership angles.
We’re running a little blind without tee time info, but I’ll still tease out the guys who are popping in the PGA Models. Jordan Spieth ($11,800) is the current favorite with 10.5 percent implied odds to win, which he did just two years ago. He has some of the best course history here, going 18th, first, 20th, and seventh in his four visits. As I mentioned above, golfers often play well one year and miss the cut the next; Jordan’s consistency is a rare trait in this field. Spieth is expensive, but his price tag is deserved: He’s first in the field with a 68.0 Long-Term Adjusted Round Score and 16.3 birdies per tournament. Further, he ranks in the bottom-five in bogeys per tournament, which gives him a unique combination of safety and upside. You need grinders in this tournament, and Jordan certainly exemplifies that.
The rest of the $10,000-plus guys each have their pros and cons. Rory McIlroy ($11,300) has as much upside as anyone in the world, but he’s been playing poorly of late, ranking last among the group with a 69.2 Recent Adj Rd Score. He’s especially had trouble off the tee, which could be problematic at this course. Sergio Garcia ($10,900) is one of the best iron players in the world, and he’s coming off a top-10 last week in which he hit 75.0 percent of his Greens in Regulation (GIR). He’s been nailing fairways, too. Henrik Stenson ($10,200) seemingly fits this course like a glove — his 73.0 percent Long Term Driving Accuracy mark ranks second in the field — but has been oddly bad over the past several months. Playing poorly on the Asian Tour in his most recent event a month ago isn’t exactly a positive sign. And finally, Justin Rose ($10,000) was a tad disappointing last week but has still been one of the hottest golfers this season: He’s made all eight of his cuts.
One quick note on Stenson. His distance off the tee has been oddly low of late …
Distance isn’t really important here, but I’m worried that the sharp decline in performance in that regard could be indicative of a nagging injury, almost like a drop in fastball velocity is a precursor for MLB pitchers.
In general, all of these guys have merits this week, so I’d definitely play the wind and ownership angles in tournaments.
One way to use FantasyLabs to find potential value golfers in our Models is to leverage our LT Adj Rd Score metric. If you sort the field by LT Adj Rd Score, you are looking at a list of players who have been the best golfers over the past 75 weeks. Among these golfers, those who have low salaries make great value plays.
Chez Reavie ($7,900) has crushed lately, posting a stellar +17.94 Plus/Minus on 80 percent Consistency over his past 10 tournaments. Sure, he’s struggled over his past two, finishing 52nd at the WGC-Mexico Championship and 73rd at the Genesis Open, but that was mostly because of poor putting; he averaged 30 and 29 putts per round, respectively, in those contests. He still nailed fairways, which is no surprise: His 71.2 percent LT Driving Accuracy ranks fourth in this week’s field, and his recent mark of 69.0 percent ranks sixth. He has middling course history, although that could change this year. If he has a good wind tee time draw, he’s a no-brainer cash-game value at just $7,900.
On one hand, Steve Stricker ($7,500) is 51 years old and competed in a Senior Tour event literally last week. (He won.) On the other hand, he is still crushing tournaments and seems to be a great fit for this course. He ranks first in the field with a 74.9 percent Long Term DA mark, and he should have a leg up given there are five Par 3s — one more than usual. Strick missed the cut last year but still nailed fairways and putted well. In 2016 he finished seventh, and he has solid history dating back to 2010 and beyond. I’m not sure where his projected ownership will be — not many players are excited to roster a 50-year-old — but he seems to be quite safe for cash games, and he’s very affordable at just $7,500.
Right at that same price point sits Kevin Streelman ($7,500), who has been a very valuable DFS asset of late, posting a +19.76 DraftKings Plus/Minus on 90 percent Consistency over his past 10 tournaments. He’s a former winner here (2013) and finished 18th last year despite being below expectations in driving accuracy. He’s been especially great off the tee of late, however, not dipping below 62 percent in any of his five tournaments in 2018. While he’s had some bad putter luck over the past six months, Streelman continues to put up consistent performances because of his awesome ball-striking.
The Bump and Run
Paul Casey ($9,800): He might as well be in the stud category, as Casey’s 68.2 LT Adj Rd Score ranks second in the field, behind only Spieth. Casey remains one of the best ball-strikers on tour, although he does have sketchy history here. He hasn’t played the course much, last missing the cut both in 2014 and 2012. I’m not putting a lot of stock in those results.
Gary Woodland ($9,000): He’s a former winner here (2011) and has been all over the place historically at this course. Still, he’s elevated his play this season and won just a month ago at the Phoenix Open. Woodland is known as a bomber but certainly has the iron play to run this course well: He’s top-10 in this field in Long Term GIR.
Two more guys I’d like to buy a bit low on are Ross Fisher ($7,600) and Chesson Hadley ($7,400). The former is coming off two disappointing performances, going 46th and 45th and the WGC-Mexico Championship and Dubai Classic. The latter personally spurned me in a big way, shooting a second-round 78 at the Honda Classic to miss the cut. But I’m forgiving both of these players, as they’re ideal fits for this course if we’re taking the ball-striking and driving accuracy angle.
Be sure to visit our suite of Tools to research all of the golfers. Good luck this week!
Photo credit Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports