The PGA TOUR is back in action this week after their brief offseason and holiday break. The first event of the new year is the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which returns to the Plantation Course at Kapalua on Maui and remains in its typical leadoff spot on the calendar.
The 39-man field this year shapes up to be a very nice one, featuring 17 of the top 20 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is not in the field, but Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Viktor Hovland are all in play from the top 10.
Qualifiers include all the Champions from the last year and the top 30 from last season’s final FedExCup points list. The inclusion of those high finishers in FedExCup points is now the new normal as this event becomes the first of this year’s 17 designated events that will promise participation from the game’s top players and elevated purses.
Winners from the Fall Series returning to action include Tony Finau, who won in Houston, Tom Kim, who won the Children’s Open, Seamus Power, who won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, and Adam Svensson, who won The RSM Classic in the PGA TOUR’s most recent official event. Several winners from the offseason unofficial events are also scheduled to tee it up, including Sahith Theegala and Tom Hoge, who teamed up to win the QBE Shootout, and Viktor Hovland, who defended his title at the Hero World Challenge.
The course awaiting the field this week is a unique layout but should be familiar to many of the pros. This will be the 25th year that the tournament has been played on the par-73 Plantation Course. It’s the only par 73 in the rotation and can play extremely easy relative to par if the wind isn’t a factor. Last year, we saw record-setting scores and a victory for Cameron Smith at an incredible 34-under.
While Smith won’t be back (thanks, LIV), scoring could again go low depending on wind conditions. Two years ago, with the wind in play, the track played pretty difficult, but last year without the wind, almost every hole was a birdie or eagle opportunity.
For DFS lineups, it’s important to target players who are strong on par-5 scoring and in events where scoring goes very low. There are four par 5s on this track and only three par 3s. The fairways at Kapalua are wide, and the greens are big, so scrambling isn’t emphasized as much here as at other venues. Instead, it’s best to target players who can gain strokes on approach and with the flat stick. Elite putters typically have a good track record at Kapalua, so SG: Putting is slightly more of a factor here than it typically is for me.
In this weekly post, the focus is players who are strong plays in GPP contests. These contests usually have lots of entries and pay out big prizes to the top few percent. One example is the DraftKings $600K Season Tee Off, which pays out $200K to first place. In large contests like this one, it is critical to try and target players who have a chance to outperform salary expectations and come with low projected ownership.
The players highlighted will be good options if they deliver in all formats, but they come with risk factors that usually keep them from being the safest plays. Safety and reliability should be the focus of lineups in cash and double-up contests, where finishing in the very top spot isn’t quite as important. On the other hand, GPPs call for high-risk, high-reward options with high ceilings and low projected ownership. To find specific guidance for all the different kinds of contests, check out our full Daily Fantasy Golf coverage each week.
No matter how you prefer to play, be sure to use the FantasyLabs PGA Models to help you make the best choices. These models use stats and simulations to highlight different players’ strengths and weaknesses. A couple of key new stats to specifically use for GPP play are Perfect% and SimLeverage, which are further explained here.
Usually, I rely on the Stroked Gained Model, which is very predictive of results. I also tend to lean into players that gain shots on approach since week-to-week putting performance can be extremely volatile, even for the best players on the PGA TOUR.
As you dig into the numbers, you can enjoy the many tools that FantasyLabs offers, including the Lineup Optimizer, which effortlessly creates up to 300 lineups. Alternatively, you can use the Lineup Builder if you prefer a more hands-on approach.
Check out my top picks in each price range listed below.
High-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Justin Thomas $9,900
There are five golfers in the field priced at $9,500 or higher, and Thomas has the second-lowest projected ownership of that quintet at just under 25% ownership. While that number is much higher than would usually be in play for GPP picks, it’s important to remember that in this limited field, all players will get some extra chalk since there are fewer options to consider all around.
He offers impressive course history at Kapalua, with a pair of career victories and five top-five finishes in his seven appearances. He is usually very consistent with his iron play and has the distance off the tee to create plenty of birdie chances.
He also comes in with solid form after a solo fifth-place finish in the Hero World Challenge in early December and a win at The Match alongside Jordan Spieth over Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. While neither of those is an official PGA TOUR event, it does show his game isn’t rusty, and his ability to win this event in the past shows he can come out of the holiday break with his game on point.
According to the Vegas Odds, he has the third-highest chance to win the event, so getting him at the third-highest salary feels right, but at the fifth-lowest ownership adds a little bit of nice leverage.
While there isn’t any big-name star coming in totally off the radar, Thomas is about as close as we will get in this small field.
Will Zalatoris, $8,900
Zalatoris is very much a “boom-or-bust” play this week and offers the highest SimLeverage Ratings in the entire field. He’s projected to be owned in under 12% of lineups but has the third-highest ceiling of all players projected for under 15% ownership, behind only Colin Morikawa and Max Homa (discussed below).
The uncertainty around Zalatoris is all about his health. The last time we saw him, he was forced to withdraw from the BMW Championship with two herniated discs in his back. If and when Zalatoris is healthy, most people agree that he’ll contend on the PGA TOUR and have a breakout season.
While he is ready to return and has been cleared for a “full go” since early December, no one knows the exact state of his game. Rust could definitely be a factor, though, and he had to make adjustments to his swing to prevent the injury from recurring. Most people will pass on him this week, even at this pretty affordable price, to see how he looks before buying back in.
The upside is obvious. Even before he won his first PGA TOUR event at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, he had already proven he could contend in the most elite fields by posting runner-up finishes in back-to-back major championships. The SG: Approach phenom was in contention at the BMW Championship the week after his breakthrough win when he sustained the back injury that has kept him sidelined since.
He’s far from a safe play, but he has the kind of high ceiling to target in GPP lineups. If you’re not ready to go “boom-or-bust” with Zalatoris, there are a number of safer options just below him, but they will likely come with higher ownership.
Mid-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Cameron Young $8,800
Young has the second-highest SimLeverage in the entire limited field and has the fifth-highest Perfect% in the field as well. Last season’s PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year will be making his debut at this event, but he has proven he can play with the best in the world.
His runner-up finish at last year’s edition of The Open Championship and his strong play at the Presidents Cup vaulted him onto the international scene, but he also had a solid winter with a third-place finish at the Hero World Challenge and a T7 at the QBE Shootout in non-official PGA TOUR events.
Young has the distance and the ability to go low to contend at this event, and his game should fit the course very well. His ownership will be curbed a little since newcomers to this event don’t usually contend on Sunday.
Max Homa, $8,600
Homa and Young are both in the top 10 in Leverage in this field, and Homa brings the fifth-highest SimLeverage as well. The new father took time off in October but returned at the Hero World Challenge and QBE Shootout, posting a fourth-place finish with his teammate Kevin Kisner.
Homa began the new season by defending his title at the Fortinet Championship after finishing T5 at the TOUR Championship at the end of last season. He finished T15 last year and posted 13-under over the weekend after starting just one under in Round 1. If he gets off to a stronger start this year, he could end up high on the leaderboard again with projected ownership under 14%.
Value PGA DFS Picks
Russell Henley $7,700
Henley has been an SG: Approach darling over the past year, but he hadn’t converted that to a win in over five years. He changed that narrative with a win at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba in November. He won by an impressive four strokes at that tournament.
Despite that big win in the fall, Henley is only projected for under 14% ownership. He has the second-highest Pefect% of all players under $8K.
Henley also brings a good course history, having posted a third-place finish back in 2015 in this event. He also had success in Hawaii with a win at the Sony Open Hawaii back in 2013 and a playoff loss last year at the event. This course is a very different track than Waialae (more on that next week), but he’s always enjoyed his trips to the Aloha State.
Sepp Straka $7,100
Of all the players between $7K and $8K, Straka has the highest SimLeverage. He is projected for ownership under 6% but has performed well in the simulations. Part of his under-ownership may be due to his struggles toward the end of the PGA TOUR official events. He missed the cut in each of his three November events after finishing near the bottom of THE CJ CUP in a non-cut event. Prior to that, he did start the new season with a nice runner-up finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Straka showed some good signs of returning to better form in the non-official events posting a T10 at the Hero World Challenge, where he was a late addition in Tiger Woods’ place and actually shared the lead after Round 1. He also had a good week at the QBE Shootout, where he and teammate Brian Harman placed in the top 10.
Sleeper PGA DFS Picks
Scott Stallings $6,800
Stallings has been in the news over the past week for his wayward invitation to The Masters, but he’s also a solid sleeper play under $7K in this event. He has the highest SimLeverage of any player under $8.4K, so he brings much more upside than his salary indicates. He has the second-highest ceiling projection of all players expected to have less than 10% ownership and the second-highest ceiling projection of all players under $7K.
The 37-year-old PGA TOUR veteran qualified for this event by making it to the FedExCup Finals at the end of last season. He finished an impressive run with top 10s at the Travelers Championship, John Deere Classic, and the Rocket Mortgage Classic and capped the season with a runner-up finish at the BMW Championship. This fall he also played well with a top 15 at the Sanderson Farms Championship and a T5 at the QBE Shootout, playing with his partner Trey Mullinax, who also makes an interesting sleeper play at $6,200.
Trey Mullinax $6,200
Like Stallings, Mullinax had a nice summer run that carried over into the fall with a top-five finish at the Houston Open in his most recent tournament. He qualified for this even with his breakthrough win at the Barbasol Championship in July and finished in the top 25 in the Open Championship the following week.
Mullinax leads the field in projected Points per $1,000 of salary and ranks just outside the top 10 in SimLeverage, with his ownership projected to be just under 10%. He should be a nice play from the bottom of the salary structure that offers a solid ceiling, nice differentiation, and plenty of salary to spend in other spots.
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