Two weeks in Hawaii are a great way to start a New Year, and the PGA TOUR had a fabulous start to 2023, with Jon Rahm and Si Woo Kim emerging as winners at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open, respectively. After its stay in the Aloha State, the PGA TOUR begins the West Coast swing with a stop at La Quinta, California, for this year’s version of The American Express.
For the first tournament of 2023 in the mainland United States, we’ve got a pretty strong field lined up this week, including 10 of the top 20 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm lead the way, along with Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, who will be returning to play after having to withdraw from the Tournament of Champions two weeks ago. Tony Finau rounds out the five players over $10K. Last week’s champion, Si Woo Kim, is also in the field and is one of five players in the top 10 in the FedExCup Standings teeing it up this week.
In the early part of the season, the PGA TOUR has a few events that use multiple courses, and this is the first. All of the players will get in three rounds as part of the Pro-Am before the cut on Saturday, one day later than typical. After playing one round each on PGA West (Stadium Course), La Quinta Country Club and PGA West (Nicklaus Tournament Course), the pros that make the cut (top 65 and ties) will play the final round on PGA West (Stadium Course).
Last year, Hudson Swafford won his second tournament on this track, but he is now playing on the LIV Tour and not in the field this week. He finished with an eight-under in the final round to beat out Tom Hoge by two strokes. Hoge is back to try and get the win along with other top 10 finishers from last year: Brian Harman, Lee Hodges, Denny McCarthy, Will Zalatoris, and Cantlay.
All three courses are shorter par 72s that feature Bermuda greens. The PGA West Stadium Course is quickly becoming one of the most well-known in the country. The signature hole is the par-3 17th, known as “Alcatraz.” Like TPC Sawgrass, it’s basically an island green that plays extremely difficult, especially if the weather turns fickle. Also, like Sawgrass, this layout was designed by Pete Dye and has many similar characteristics and features. There is plenty of water and sand in play, as is also typical for a Dye design, with smaller greens that offer plenty of birdie opportunities.
In the picks below, we’ll be focused on players with success on this track in the past, good form, and good shotmaking metrics. This tournament is usually one where going very low is required to contend, so we’ll also be looking at Opportunities Gained as a key stat to consider. Since these are picks for GPP play, we’ll also pay close attention to places to gain leverage and go against the grain as far as ownership trends.
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 $500K Pitch + Putt, which pays out $100K 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
Tony Finau $10,200
Of the five players priced at $10K or more this week, Finau is my top GPP play. He is projected for the second-lowest ownership of that group, ahead of only Schauffele, whose injury makes him a total wild card. Finau has a much better course history than Schauffele and still comes with an ownership projection under 15%.
He has the second-highest SimLeverage in the tournament and the third-highest Perfect%, so the sims are very high on Finau.
Sportsbooks are also a big fan of Finau this week, giving him the fourth-best chance to win the tournament. He has proven that he can win at these tournaments that require scoring very low. He won at the 3M Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic with scores of -17 and -26, respectively. After a top 10 at the TOUR Championship, Finau added a victory at the Cadence Bank Houston Open in the Fall Series.
After finishing on the leaderboard but failing to claim many wins, Finau has proven he can finish strong on Sunday with excellent final rounds throughout the past year. He continued that trend in his first tournament of 2023 with a Final Round 66 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions for a T7.
In addition, Finau brings good history here, with made cuts in each of the past three seasons highlighted by a fourth-place finish in 2021 on a star-studded leaderboard behind Si Woo Kim, Cantlay and Cameron Davis.
Si Woo Kim $9,200
Coming off of last week’s win, Kim isn’t projected to be a popular play this week with an ownership projection under 6% –the lowest of any player priced at $8,200 or higher.
The low ownership projection is a little surprising, given his current form. Not only did he win last week at the Sony Open, but he has also made the cut in nine of his past 10 events with only a withdrawal at the Wyndham blemishing that record.
He has five top-10 finishes culminating in his win last week at the Sony Open. During that win, he led the field in SG: Approach and SG: Tee-to-Green, doing most of the heavy lifting with his overhauled approach game.
Kim will look to continue that success at this venue, which he knows well. Kim won at this event two years ago and placed T11 last year. He also placed in the top 10 back in 2016.
As a general rule, it isn’t great to chase the points and play the previous week’s winner, but since everyone seems to be looking past Kim, he actually can be a strong leverage option in this salary bracket.
Mid-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Kyoung-Hoon Lee $8,300
Lee is in my top GPP picks for a second straight week since people are still overlooking his upside in this mid-price salary range. He’s projected for under 14% ownership and has the second-best SimLeverage of all the golfers priced between $8K and $9K.
Lee has the highest ceiling projection of all the golfers under $9K and the highest projected Points per $1,000 of all the players over $8K.
He has exceeded salary-based expectations in eight of his past 10 tournaments with an average Plus/Minus of 19.93 DraftKings points. That run of success includes last week’s Sony Open, where he finished T28, and three top-10 finishes earlier this season at THE CJ CUP, the QBE Shootout (unofficial event), and the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Last season, he claimed his second straight AT&T Byron Nelson. His winning scores at those victories were -25 and -26, so he can definitely thrive where birdies are bountiful.
On this track, he has made the cut in three straight years but has yet to finish in the top 10. Given his current form and low ownership, he could be a great play if he climbs to that level this year.
Wyndham Clark $8,100
Of all the players with salaries of at least $8K, Clark has the lowest projected ownership for the week at just 5%. He offers the third-highest leverage and second-highest SimLeverage of all players priced more than $8K and less than $9K as a result of that low ownership projection.
Clark’s form is a question mark, which may be contributing to keeping ownership low. He hasn’t played since The RSM Classic before Thanksgiving. He followed a rough start to the Fall Series with three top-20 finishes in his final four events of 2022, including a T10 at The RSM Classic for his best finish of the young season. He finished with a pair of 66s on the weekend, which was an encouraging sign after a troubling fade on Sunday the previous week.
In his past 10 tournaments, Clark has exceeded salary-based expectations seven times, including each of his four most recent events.
Clark has played this tournament four times in his career, making the cut in three of those trips and posting a pair of top-20s, including a T13 last year.
Value PGA DFS Picks
David Lipsky $7,300
Lipsky joins Lee as returning options in my picks for this week after posting a nice T4 last week in Hawaii. His ownership will likely increase a little bit after last week, but he’s still projected to be under 10% owned.
Lipsky has the highest Projected Plus/Minus of salary of all players $8K and lower, and the most points per $1,000 of any player in the field.
Prior to withdrawing from The RSM Classic, Lipsky posted a T10 at Mayakoba and a T22 at the Houston Open. He also had a strong debut at La Quinta last year, finishing T14.
Ben Taylor $7,000
Taylor has been one of the best rookies on the PGA TOUR so far this season, and getting him at this price makes him a very important value to consider. The 30-year-old from London went to LSU and lives in Florida and earned his way to full-time status on the PGA TOUR this year with a strong season on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, which included five top-10s and 10 top 25s in his 24 events.
He has made the cut in seven of his eight tournaments this season, including a pair of top-five finishes at the Houston Open and last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii. He has exceeded salary-based expectations every time he has made the cut with an impressive Average Plus/Minus of 24.06 DraftKings points.
Taylor has played this event in each of the past two seasons but missed the cut both times, but he comes in with enough momentum to flip that script this week. He starts the week with the second-highest Projected Plus/Minus of all players under $8K.
That recent sterling form and five Pro Trends have him projected with just under 10% ownership, so he’s a little chalkier than my normal picks in this price range.
However, I think his upside makes him worth eating the chalk a little bit to get him in lineups.
Sleeper PGA DFS Picks
Davis Thompson $6,900
Of all the players under $7K, none has a higher mean projection or ceiling projection than Thompson, who also brings the highest Projected Plus/Minus from that salary range. Despite those high marks, Thompson is projected for less than 3% ownership.
Like Martin, he worked his way onto the PGA TOUR this season with a strong year on the Korn Ferry Tour and has gotten off to a strong start, making the cut in five of his six tournaments, including last week at The Sony Open in his first tournament since last fall. The highlight of his season so far was a top-10 finish at the Fortinet Championship, which he followed with a top 15 at the Shriners Children’s Open.
James Hahn $6,800
Hahm will be teeing it up for the first time in 2023 after withdrawing prior to last week’s Sony Open due to a sore neck. He is in the field and expected to be ready to go this week after a strong fall with four made cuts in his last five tournaments, including a T27 at the Houston Open in his most recent PGA TOUR appearance.
The 41-year-old veteran has made the cut in six of eight career appearances, with a solid T32 in 2021 as his best recent result.
He brings the highest Perfect% of any player under $7K and the highest SimLeverage as a result of his 1% projected ownership. His 89% Leverage is the highest of all players under $7K as well as the second-highest in the entire field.
As with all players under $7K, there’s definitely risk involved here. Still, the potential for a big return is definitely there, especially since he has been an upside play in six of his 10 most recent tournaments and exceeded salary-based expectations in eight of those events, including a top-five finish at last year’s 3M Open in similar scoring conditions.
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