Note from Kevin: I’m excited to announce that Geoff Ulrich has joined the team here at The Sports Geek. I’m sure a lot of you recognize his name, as Geoff writes golf articles for DraftKings and has also done a golf podcast for DraftKings in the past as well. Geoff is one of three nominated for Fantasy Golf Writer of the Year this year! Take it away with your DraftKings Farmers Insurance Open Picks Geoff…
This is the first really strong, full-field event of the year and it’s also going to be played on a course that is going to be much different than the first three courses the players have been exposed to in 2017. Torrey Pines is consistently ranked near the bottom of the list in terms of birdies or better made for the week and it has been getting a TON of rain lately. Early reports are of thick rough and a wet course which should make it play long, and more like a US Open. Two courses will be in play this week and while the North course—which each player will play once—used to be incredibly easy, it’s been revamped and should be a sterner test than usual. The fact the North is different won’t throw me off players with good course history here but it’s still a factor to consider.
Distance off the Tee: You don’t have to be a massive hitter off the tee to win here but it certainly helps. The South course plays at up to 7,700 yards and the North course—which used to be a short par 72 at between 7000 and 7100 yards—has been lengthened 200 yards in recent reno’s. Three of the last six winners have ranked 1st or 2nd for the week in Driving Distance. High winds in 2016 saw a strange mix of long and short hitters contend but in 2015 the average season long Driving Distance rank of the top ten players for that week was 32nd. I wouldn’t eschew all of the “non-bombers”, but strong play off the tee is needed more so this week than the past few, and that does favour the big hitters in general.
Westcoast factor/Poa Greens experience: While the greens on the North course have been switched from Poa Annua to Bentgrass, the South still uses Poa and they are traditionally very hard to putt on. Torrey Pines has always ranked as one of the toughest courses to make a putt on from inside ten feet and experience playing on the greens here is beneficial. Since 2009, all of the winners had played this event at least twice before winning. Players with good course history and good West Coast records playing on Poa/Poa-Bent mixes, should be favoured.
Weather: Wind and rain wrecked havoc with the last two rounds of this event in 2016, but the weather this week sets up pretty nicely with no rain and Friday being the only day with slightly worrisome winds (up to 15-17mph). At the moment it doesn’t appear as if the weather is severe enough to warrant draw stacking but you might want to check the Friday afternoon forecast once more before lock. Players with high ball flights really struggled here last year but with a wet course and no bad weather they should prosper in this year’s edition.
Jason Day ($11,400) or Dustin Johnson ($11,100) or Both?
For me the question between who to spend up for this week boils down to Dustin Johnson or Jason Day. Hideki Matsuyama has obviously been on a hot streak but I’m worried about the poor putting he showed at the Sony Open and his record at West Coast events outside of Phoenix (which has Bermuda greens). Day has the superior recent history at Torrey with a win in 2015 and a T2 in 2014, but Johnson has been no slouch at this time of the year over his career. Johnson has multiple wins at Pebble, multiple top fives at the NTO (now Genesis Open) and a T3 from 2011 here—all events which use some form of Poa Annua greens. DJ is also coming off a T2 last week way over in Abu Dhabi, so jet-lag, and the history of him saving his best West Coast golf for Riviera and Pebble are the only concerns. If forced to choose I’m going Day here, but given the soft pricing this week playing the “shove them in strategy”, and using both of these players is very viable and gives you exposure to the immense upside each brings.
Jimmy Walker ($9,400): Walker has recorded eight top tens and 10 top twenties at the three early season courses which feature Poa on the greens (Pebble, Riveria, Torrey Pines). Since 2011 he’s never missed consecutive cuts at events in January/February and I think that trend stays the same this week. He shouldn’t be ignored based on one bad start at the Sony.
Gary Woodland ($8,600): He may have finally figured out this event as he shot a 67 at the South Course in the second round last year, a round which vaulted him to the lead at mid-way. He crumbled in the wind storm in the final round in 2016 but should have perfect conditions to deal with this week. Torrey South sets up great for his length and his early season opener was extra promising. Woodland should be squarely on your radar here.
Others: Marc Leishman, JB Holmes, Tony Finau
Charles Howell III ($7,300): This is your free square of the week on DraftKings. Going back to 2005 Howell has played this event every year and never missed a cut—with the exception of when the US Open was played at Torrey in 2008. He dominates West Coast events, even if he never wins them. At $7,300 he’s far too cheap and not worth fading outside of large scale tournaments.
Martin Laird ($6,500): Laird has amassed a nice West Coast swing record over the past couple of seasons. He’s finished inside the top ten at Torrey in his last two attempts, and also recorded a T11 at Riviera last year as well. Laird’s always had good length off the tee, but seems to have finally found a way to score at Torrey Pines and has recorded three sub-70 rounds in the past two years at the South course, no small feat at all. Recent form is great going back to the swing season.
Lucas Glover ($6,700): Sets up nicely for this course with great off the tee stats and loads of experience. Thick rough and a hard course would probably favour him as well since he’s so good at finding greens in regulation. The putter is responsible for some recent missed cuts here and poor final rounds but his recent spring season form makes him good value.
Others: Robert Garrigus, Michael Kim, Scott Stallings
High-upside GPP Pivots:
Justin Rose ($10,200): I don’t think Rose will be overly popular, even though he finished 2nd in his last start. There’s so much talent at the top this week and his two missed cuts at Torrey in his last two appearances will keep the lots of players away. One note on Rose, the last two years he played the Sony Open (2010 and 2011) he ended up posting his two best finishes ever at this event (this year he played the Sony and finished second). I’m also buoyed by the fact Rose placed 6th last year at Pebble Beach, another venue with Poa greens which correlates somewhat to this event.
Daniel Berger ($8,800): Berger is playing this event—and the Westcoast swing in general—for the third time in his career. He played poorly on the West Coast last season but shot a 68 on the South course here in his debut in 2015. Length off the tee is great and he should be lower-owned due to two mediocre performances to start the year.
Jamie Lovemark ($7,700): On everyone’s no fly zone after being the chalk last week. Good length off the tee though, good par five scoring stats and experience playing on the West Coast (T20 at Riviera last year) means he’s ripe for a quick bounce back.
Other: Rickie Fowler, Harris English
Players to Consider (in no order):
– Jason Day (or Dustin Johnson), Jimmy Walker, Marc Leishman, Gary Woodland, JB Holmes, Lucas Glover, Charles Howell III, Martin Laird, Robert Garrigus, Michael Kim, Tony Finau
– Justin Rose, Kyle Stanley, Scott Stallings, Jamie Lovemark, Rickie Fowler, Daniel Berger, Danny Lee, Nick Watney, Bud Cauley, Harris English