This week isn’t a major championship, but it’s sure going to feel a lot like one. The field, the venue, the crowds, and the attention of the sports world are all lined up for what should be a magnificent week of golf. The fantasy golf prizes available are also growing, so get ready to get in on the action this week in what should be an awesome tournament.
The PGA TOUR makes its annual trip to Phoenix for the WM Phoenix Open, which typically coincides with the week of the Super Bowl. The winner traditionally is crowned early in the afternoon before kickoff, but this year will be even crazier since the event also lines up with the site of the Super Bowl, which will be held in Glendale, AZ. It’s only about a 30-minute drive without traffic, so there’s sure to be plenty of crossover hype this week.
The event is already one of the PGA TOUR’s signature early-season events due to the unique and memorable feel of TPC Scottsdale. The course is most famous for its par 3, 16th hole that transforms into “The Coliseum” for this event and sees a crowd that totally encircles the short par 3. The environment on that hole is fun to watch throughout the week as players find special ways to celebrate that hole using the jerseys of college teams or sports heroes. The always raucous crowd at No. 16 is just part of what is the most highly-attended event on the PGA TOUR each year and sets up for exciting viewing as well.
Aside from The Coliseum, there are some great places to make up strokes relative to par. All three par 5s are eagle opportunities (although No. 15 does bring water danger), and No. 17 is a drivable par-4 which opens up all kinds of possibilities. The finish to every round and to the tournament is always packed with plenty of drama.
The venue and the crowds are just part of the equation, though. For this event to have the feel of a major, it needs one more thing–an elite field. This week checks that box as well. It’s the first of the PGA TOUR’s full-field elevated events, meaning all the big names are expected to be in attendance, including Rory McIlroy playing his first PGA TOUR event of 2023, Jon Rahm looking to win for the third time in 2023 and Scottie Scheffler defending his title from last year. Those players will be joined by eight of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings, with the only two missing being Cameron Smith and Will Zalatoris, who is still working his way back from injury.
The Rahm-Rory-Scheffler triumvirate is joined by Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele as the five golfers with salaries of at least $10K. We’re through the early part of the schedule with multiple courses and weird cuts and ready to settle into a great part of the schedule with standard tournaments, iconic courses, and plenty of strong fields leading up to April’s trip to The Masters. This week’s field starts at 136 (up from the usual 132) and will have a typical cut of top 65 and ties following Round 2.
With such an awesome, deep field, there are great fantasy options all across the salary spectrum. As usual, we’ll lean into SG: Approach in the picks below since it’s the metric most correlated with consistent success. We have plenty of course history to consider for many players since TPC Scottsdale has been such a regular. SG: Tee-to-Green is another metric that correlates to success here since SG: Off the Tee and SG: Around the Green are almost as important as SG: Approach in past tournaments.
Since this post is focused on GPP plays, we’ll also strongly consider the best places to get some leverage and make lineups unique. Wherever possible in large contests, it makes sense to go against the trend and target options with low ownership and greater chances of success. Since these are GPP picks, we also can accept a little more risk if it raises the ceiling of the lineup. High-risk, high-reward options with low ownerships create the “boom-or-bust” style lineups that usually lead to large-field success.
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 $800K 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 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 what type of format you prefer, 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
Rory McIlroy $10,800
Rory is rolling and comes in with a much lower ownership projection than I expected, and more importantly, much lower ownership than the sims indicate should be the case. He has the highest Perfect% of any golfer in the field at 24.3% and the highest SimLeverage in the whole field as well.
McIlroy matches a slate-leading 11 Pro Trends and is the second-most likely to win the tournament, according to the odds at various sportsbooks. McIlroy is projected for around 16% ownership, which is only the eighth-highest in the field, surprisingly low for someone with such a good chance to walk away a winner.
This will be Rory’s first PGA TOUR event of 2023, but don’t let that scare you off. He comes in with excellent form from his international play. He outlasted a very good field at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic two weeks ago and has won three times in his last seven global starts, finishing in the top four in every one of those contests. He has outperformed salary-based expectations in seven straight tournaments, with DFS contests dating back to the BMW Championship. The only player who can come close to Rory’s form is Jon Rahm, but he’s more expensive, and his ownership projection is significantly higher than Rory’s.
He has played this event one time in his career, two years ago, when he finished with a solid T13 alongside Rahm and Justin Thomas.
While he’s expensive and a little chalky, he still offers significant leverage due to his high percentage shot at winning. If you choose to go with Rory, just make sure to differentiate your lineup with some nonconformist picks elsewhere on your roster.
Using our PrizePicks promo code LABS ($100 sign-up bonus), you could bet Rory to finish under 67.5 strokes in Round 1.
Tony Finau $10,100
The lowest ownership projection of all the players at $9.5K or higher belongs to Finau, but he actually brings a lot of upside and the sixth-highest leverage of any player in the field. Finau also brings the second-highest SimLeverage in the field behind only Rory.
Normally, I try to avoid listing two players over $10,000, but his projected ownership jumps out and creates a great place to grab extra leverage. In addition, the players with salaries between $9,800 and $8,700 all offer very low SimLeverage opportunities.
Finau has missed the cut in five of his past six trips to TPC Scottsdale, but the one time he made the weekend, he was lost in a playoff to Webb Simpson. Last year, he fired a 68 in Round 2 after a rough start and missed the cut by one stroke. Aside from that missed cut last year, his other missed cuts came early in his career before he racked up four tournament victories over the last few seasons, including three in the last calendar year.
He won twice last summer in back-to-back weeks at the 3M Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic and added the Cadence Bank Houston Open victory last fall. Since the calendar flipped to 2023, Finau already posted three top-20 finishes in three events, including a top-10 finish two weeks ago in a strong field at The American Express.
Finau also matches nine Pro Trends in this field, the fourth-most in the field. Despite his checkered history here, Finau’s upside is too high for his low ownership projection, and he can be a strong contrarian play against the chalky plays in this price range.
Mid-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Sahith Theegala $8,500
As mentioned above, there’s not a ton of leverage in the options in the upper $8K to upper $9K range, but I do like Theegala at this salary, even though his ownership is projected at just over 10%.
One reason I think Theegala is a good play at this price is that he showed he can excel at this track with a T3 last year in his debut at this event. He also comes in with great form, having exceeded salary-based expectations in five straight events with an Average Plus/Minus of 24.4 DraftKigns over that stretch.
Like most of the elite players, Theegala took last week off after the Farmers Insurance Open. Theegala finished T4 at Torrey Pines after opening with a sizzling 66 on the North Course. He has shown he can attack tracks like that one and this one to put up very low scores in a hurry.
Besting this field for his breakthrough win would truly be a feat, but Theegala has the moxie to content and outperform his relatively affordable salary and palatable ownership.
Tommy Fleetwood $8,100
Speaking of players looking for their first PGA TOUR victory, Fleetwood is in the field this week as he continues his quest for his first win on U.S. soil. He will be making his first career trip to the WM Phoenix Open but comes in with very good form after a good fall in Europe. Fleetwood claimed his sixth European Tour win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last November and finished T5 at the DP World Championship. He made the cut in Abu Dhabi and Dubai last month as well.
Fleetwood’s wedge play is usually exceptional, and his game fits this course very well in theory. Since it’s all in theory, though, he’s expected to come in with very low ownership. His 6.9% ownership projection is the second-lowest of all the players with salaries of at least $7.7K.
The 32-year-old Englishman brings the third-best SimLeverage of all players priced between $8K and $9K, and he has shown he can contend in elite fields when he’s in form. He struggled last season, but his win in Europe last fall shows he’s trending the right way coming into his trip to the States, which usually results in good finishes for Fleetwood in the run-up to The Masters.
Value PGA DFS Picks
K.H. Lee $7,500
Of all the players under $8K, Lee has the highest Perfect% and only the ninth-highest ownership projection. He also has the second-highest Projected Plus/Minus in the entire field.
Lee did miss the cut at The American Express in his last start but still managed to outperform salary-based expectations for his fifth straight start and his eighth time in his last nine events. During that run, he has three top-10 finishes including at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this year.
Lee also has some success at this course, finishing tied for second two years ago and making the cut last season as well on his way to a T38.
Garrick Higgo $7,200
While there isn’t a ton of picks and ownerships that I love in the $8K-$10K range, there are multiple great options in the low $7K range that I think bring a ton of upside. In some ways, this is the “sweet spot” in the salary structure, and these players allow you to build around big names while still bringing upside of their own. The names I really like in the low $7,000’s include Higgo J.J. Spaun, Russell Henley, Denny McCarthy, Lucas Hebert, Wyndham Clark, Taylor Pendrith, Taylor Moore, Keith Mitchell, Davis Thompson, and Chris Kirk. You can mix and match those players to help balance tee times, ownership, and risk/reward by using the tools highlighted at the top of this post.
With so many strong options in this salary range, it’s hard to select from the sea of options, and I actually started this section over multiple times with different players highlighted. Ultimately, I landed on Higgo because he offers one of the highest ceilings and one of the lowest ownerships. The 23-year-old South African has a lot of “boom-or-bust” in his game, but the high points have been high enough to make him worth a look at this salary with projected ownership under 2%.
Higgo has the fifth-highest SimLeverage in the field since no one is on him this week, but he’s in over 6% of finishing in the optimal lineup. He made his debut at this event last season with a T21 and comes in with good form after going 3-for-3 making cuts on the California swing to start his 2023, highlighted by a T11 at Torrey Pines and a T20 last week at Pebble Beach.
Sleeper PGA DFS Picks
Martin Laird $6,700
Laird hasn’t done much in 2023 yet, but he brings the highest ceiling projection of any player under $7K and has projected ownership under 2%. He has the highest points per $1,000 of salary, the highest Projected Plus/Minus, and the eighth-highest Perfect% of all the golfers with salaries under $7K. In fact, his points per $1,000 of salary and Projected Plus/Minus are the third best in the entire field.
Part of the reason the projections like the 40-year-old Scotsman so much is that he has a great course history. He has made the cut in 12 of his 14 most recent events at TPC Scottsdale with four top-10 finishes. He climbed to a top-15 finish just last season, so all those results aren’t ancient history.
Laird did show good form last fall as well, posting top-25 finishes at the Houston Open and the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba. Since he hasn’t placed highly yet this year, he’s coming in under the radar, but he has a good shot to post a strong finish at this track he knows well at this salary which leaves lots of flexibility.
Kevin Kisner $6,800
Another veteran who is a solid bargain to consider is Kisner, who should be well-rested after only playing one time in 2023. He knocked the rust off last week and made the cut at Pebble Beach with a T34 that started with a rough 76 but finished with a strong 67-69 in the final two rounds. He was also playing well before his holiday break, placing T4 at the QBE Shootout (an unofficial PGA TOUR event) alongside partner Max Homa.
Kisner has made the cut in three of his five career appearances at this venue, including last year when he placed T38 and had three rounds of two-under or better, with just a bad third round holding him back from a much higher finish.
Like Laird, he may no longer be able to contend with the very top players in the world when they’re in top form, but he knows his way around the course and has the kind of balanced tee-to-green game that makes him a solid play with good upside from under $7K.
With so many strong options just over $7K, I don’t think it’s necessary to take too much of a flier on ultra-cheap options this week since there are plenty of ways to differentiate your lineup in the $6,700-$7,700 range that comes with high ceilings and low projected ownerships.
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