The PGA TOUR continues its West Coast swing to start 2023 by moving a couple of hours south and west to the coast for its annual visit to Torrey Pines. This week’s Farmers Insurance Open starts a day early on Wednesday and wraps up on Saturday in a unique schedule designed to keep it from going head-to-head for ratings with the NFL on Conference Championship Sunday.
Aside from getting started and finishing early, the format is a return to normal as far as the field and the cut. Last week’s cut followed Round 3, but this week’s cut is after Round 2, as is normally the format. To maximize daylight hours, Players will each play one round on Torrey Pines GC (North) and one round on Torrey Pines GC (South) before moving to the South course for the weekend after the cut.
Torrey Pines is a magnificent venue and remains one of the most well-known courses in the world. Its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and beautiful hole setups atop the cliffs just outside San Diego make it one of the most iconic and picturesque stops on the PGA TOUR each season.
The course is the longest course in the annual PGA TOUR rotation, and most of the past winners have been bombers off the tee. As usual, though, it isn’t just a bomber’s paradise since SG: Approach has remained the stat most correlated to success. A strong long-iron game and creativity on approaches can set a player up for strong finishes.
This is also a place where many players have extensive course history since it has hosted this event every season since 1968 and also hosted the 2008 and 2021 U.S. Opens. Of the past 14 winners, 12 have posted top-10 finishes in earlier versions of this event.
One of the two exceptions to that rule was Jon Rahm, who won in his tournament debut back in 2017. He also won the 2021 U.S. Open for his first major championship and will return this week to a course he enjoys riding a great wave of form after winning each of his first two PGA TOUR starts in 2023. On Sunday, he edged out Davis Thompson last week in La Quinta to win The American Express and will be the headliner in the field this week. For years this track was dominated by Tiger Woods, and Rahm’s great results at this track and recent run of dominance make him feel somewhat similar coming into the week.
Rahm is joined in the field by Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas from the OWGR top 10. Other big names in the field include Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Max Homa and Hideki Matsuyama.
Last year, Zalatoris almost broke through his first PGA TOUR victory at this event but was beaten at the very end by Luke List, who got his first PGA TOUR win in his 206th career start after defeating Zalatoris in a playoff. Rahm finished just one shot out of the playoff and tied for third with Jason Day and Cameron Trigale.
In the picks below, we’ll be focused on players with success on this track in the past, good form, and good shotmaking metrics. Since these are picks for GPP play, we’ll also try to find 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 $600K Pitch + Putt, 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
Collin Morikawa $10,000
Morikawa is a boom-or-bust play and a major wild card coming into this week. He may be a little over-priced given his risk factors, but that sets him up for extremely low ownership and a very attractive way to go contrarian and got a top-flite player that very few other lineups have.
Morikawa is projected to be owned in under 13% of lineups, while every other player priced over $9K is projected for over 15% ownership. The rest of the players in the top six in salary all have projected ownership of over 18%, so Morikawa could be a fascinating way to differentiate your lineup.
Part of the allure of taking the shot on Morikawa is that the upside is so high, which is exactly what we’re looking for in GPP. When he’s on his game, Morkawa has shown he can be the best player in the world, but we haven’t seen him in top form lately. In fact, he hasn’t won on the PGA TOUR since his win at The Open Championship in July of 2021, which gave him two major championships before his 25th birthday.
While he hasn’t won on the PGA TOUR, he has flashed some glimpses of his top form. He finished T15 at the World Wide Technology Championship in his final official event of the Fall Series and added a sixth-place finish at the Hero World Challenge to wrap up 2022. He looked to be on his way to starting 2023 with a win at the Sentry Tournament of Champions before he was chased down on Sunday by Jon Rahm and had to settle for second place.
Morikawa’s iron game is usually superb, and he has shown he knows his way around this course. The California kid finished T21 in his tournament debut in 2020 and finished in the top five at the U.S. Open at this track.
While there’s definitely opportunity cost with so many elite options around him at this price point, there’s enough potential upside to build around Morikawa this week. The downside isn’t all that awful either since he has made the cut in all eight tournaments he has played since last July.
Sungjae Im $9,300
Like Morikawa, Im makes sense as a GPP target partly because he comes in a little under the radar. Aside from Morikawa, he has the lowest ownership projection of any player priced over $9K.
The projections love Im this week, and he brings the highest Projected Plus/Minus and the most points per $1,000 Salary in the entire field. He has the fourth-highest ceiling projection and the fourth-highest median projection despite being available for the seventh-highest salary.
With those strong projections and low expected ownership, he has the highest Leverage and the highest Leverage Rank of any player priced over $8K.
Im has played a busy schedule this season, as usual. He finished in the top 20 at The American Express and the Sentry Tournament of Champions but did miss the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He already has four top-20 finishes this season and has climbed into the top 20 in the OWGR as well.
In his career at Torrey Pines, Im has made the cut in all five tournaments and finished a career-best T6.
Mid-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Jason Day $8,800
I wish Day’s ownership projection was a little lower, but I’m ready to eat a little chalk here since his game is tuning up, and this location is so perfect for him. His projected ownership is just under 18%, but I think it’s worth it as long as you’re sure to differentiate your lineups in other slots.
Day has looked sharp with six top-25 finishes this season, including last week at The American Express. He has made the cut in 9-of-13 events at Torrey Pines, including wins in 2015 and 2018 and top-five finishes in 2019 and last year when he finished third.
Day has a chance to get off to a hot start on the North Course on Wednesday, and I think he’ll be on the leaderboard coming down the stretch on Sunday. Despite the ownership and the injury risk, he brings too much upside to overlook at this salary.
Hayden Buckley $8,000
Buckley is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Day as far as course history, having missed the cut in each of the previous events he has played at Torrey Pines. However, he can still be considered as a GPP option this week based on his recent stellar form.
Buckley has exceeded salary-based expectations in 12 of his past 14 events, according to our game logs, with only a missed cut at the Fortinet and an early withdrawal at the Wyndham tarnishing an outstanding run.
His best finish during that run of strong showings game two weeks ago at the Sony Open when he finished just one shot behind Si Woo Kim to claim a solo runner-up finish. On the strength of that performance, he leads the field in SG: Tee-To-Green over the past six rounds.
The second-year player brings a very high ceiling due to his elite ball striking, and he offers the highest Leverage of any player priced at $8K or higher.
He is also projected for a very attractive ownership percentage under 8%.
Value PGA DFS Picks
Ben Griffin $7,300
Griffin has exceeded salary-based expectations in seven straight tournaments dating back to last October’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship, where he finished in third place. He also posted top-20 finishes at the Cadence Bank Houston Open and the Sony Open in Hawaii, and last week, he made the cut at The American Express on his way to a T32.
Of all the players in the entire field, Griffin ranks No. 7 in SG: Approach over his last 75 rounds. He matches six Pro Trends and has a very high floor, but he is still projected to be owned in fewer than 8% of lineups.
Matthew NeSmith $7,100
NeSmith is always a strong play on courses that reward shotmaking, so it isn’t surprising that he has a strong track record at The Farmers Insurance. He has made the cut in all three of his appearances here, although he has finished just outside the top 25.
He always measures well in SG: Approach and is a solid pick in this price range since even if his putter gets going a little bit, he could end up climbing the leaderboard. NeSmith missed the cut last week at The American Express, but he finished the week with a 65 on Saturday after starting with a 75 on Thursday. Hopefully, that first round was just a bit of knocking the rust off, and he’s primed for a strong season to build on his two top-10 finishes from the fall at the Sanderson Farms Championship and the ZOZO Championship.
He has the seventh-highest Projected Plus/Minus in this tournament and the fourth-highest Leverage. His ownership projection is also nice at under 5%.
Sleeper PGA DFS Picks
Kevin Streelman $6,800
Streelman brings some valuable veteran savvy at this price range and has a shot at making the weekend at a track he knows well. The 44-year-old finished in the top 15 at the U.S. Open in 2021 and has also made the cut in six of his past seven appearances at the Farmers Insurance Open. He finished third back in 2016.
Streelman missed the cut in Hawaii in his first tournament of 2023 but did have a solid Fall Series, making the cut in five of seven events with a pair of top 25s.
For this week, Streelman has projected ownership of under 1% and is one of just eight players under $7K with a positive Projected Plus/Minus.
He has the second-highest Leverage of any player under $7K, behind only Charley Hoffman.
Austin Smotherman $6,700
Smotherman is worth a flier here after his T11 last year in his debut at this event when he ranked second in the field in SG: Approach behind only Will Zalatoris.
The 28-year-old built on that result and ended up with six top-25 finishes last season. Those results were enough to earn him an exemption for this season when he was moved into the top 125 in the FedExCup standings after six players who finished inside the top 125 left for the LIV tour.
After avoiding having to play his way back to fully exempt through the Korn Ferry Tour, Smotherman posted a pair of top-25 finishes this fall before finishing with rough showings at the Houston Open and The RSM Classic. After the holiday break, though, he looked ready to return to form with a made cut in Hawaii in his first event of 2023.
He has the length off the tee, and a solid approach game makes him fit the profile for success on this track. While there’s always a risk with plays this cheap, he makes sense as a flier play this week.
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