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PGA DFS Picks: The Players Championship

We’re loading up another PGA DFS picks column to tackle TPC Sawgrass at the Players Championship and finding you some winning golfers this week.

PGA DFS Course Notes:

  • Enormous, elite field of 154 golfers
  • Cut: Top 65 and ties after 36 holes
  • No 2020 winner due to COVID: 2019 winner was Rory McIlroy (-16)
  • The course: TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra, FL – Pete Dye design
    • Par 72 (7,189 yards)
    • Water everywhere on this difficult, risk-reward golf course
    • Plays longer in March than it did in May
    • Bermuda turf overseeded with ryegrass; dormant, speedy Bermuda greens overseeded with velvet bent and poa trivialis
    • Look for big scoring spreads like at Bay Hill
    • Wind probably won’t blow like it did at Bay Hill
  • 6/6 will be tougher this week in the huge field
  • Focus Stat Categories: Strokes Gained: Approach, SG: Off the Tee, SG: Around the Green, Par 4 scoring, SG: Putting (Bermuda), Opportunities Gained, Bogey Avoidance

The Picks:

Elite PGA DFS (DK $9,500 and up):

Dustin Johnson (DK $11,200) – Joel and Sia did a great job explaining how there’s a lot of different ways to approach your build this week in the breakdown, and there’s not really one right answer. But if I’m entering 10 GPP lineups, I’ll probably start with DJ and one of the $9K guys, be it JT, Webb, Morikawa or Cantlay. It’s a great spot to get some leverage by using the guy I think is most talented golfer in the field at twice (or more) the projected ownership. He’s talked about how he likes this venue in March more than May, and he’s No. 1 in my model by a long shot. He’ll be the anchor of my single-entry lineups and there’s really no good reason to fade him.

Rory McIlroy (DK $10,600) – Rory continues to struggle with closing out tournaments, and the fact that he’s technically the defending champ here doesn’t inspire additional confidence on a golf course that’s given him problems in the past. The risk-reward nature of TPC Sawgrass and its reputation as the “fifth major” lends more similarity to the Masters and Augusta National more than any of the other majors, and McIlroy has yet to “master” what it takes to win among the azaleas. He could easily play solid golf and score another top ten, but I won’t be overweight on Rory this week.

Justin Thomas (DK $9,900) – This is probably the week where I take my biggest stand on JT, because there’s a little bit of a discount and because I can’t imagine the field going too heavy on ownership on a player who’s missed two of his last four cuts. But there’s plenty to like about some of the things we’ve seen Thomas do in his recent rounds, and my model reflects it as he’s No. 3 on my list. The opportunities have been there and it’s exactly the kind of venue where JT could post a couple really low scores and find himself at the top of the leaderboard after two or three rounds.

Webb Simpson (DK $9,500) – Webb is probably the best way to start building in cash games and he’s a candidate for single-entry anchor because of how well he’s played TPC Sawgrass over the past three attempts. He’s fifth on my overall model and he ranks second in the field (over his past 36 rounds) in SG:APP on correlative courses (including Bay Hill, Augusta National, TPC Boston, Shesan International and Quail Hollow). There’s no clear weakness to his game – he ranks 60th or better in every focus stat metric that matters this week – and the price is excellent.

Also consider: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau (GPP)

Mid-Range PGA DFS (DK $7,600 to $9,400):

Colin Morikawa (DK $9,400) – We don’t necessarily have to look to Morikawa this week, because the official records don’t indicate any course history here, but a little digging shows us that he started off last year’s event quite well (-4) in a bizarre first-round environment that saw no fans allowed on the grounds before the tournament was canceled amid the creeping horror of the pandemic. He’s an incredible ball striker and he’s made strides in his short game, but I’m leaning toward more shares of the next two guys on this list for the comparative discount.

Patrick Cantlay (DK $9,200) – Cantlay is an incredible golfer from tee-to-green and he’s in the top 15 of my model. He’s yet to really break through at the Players but he has a couple of Top 25 finishes and his last six tournaments haven’t yielded a finish worse than T17, performances that included a win at the ZOZO, a solo second at the AMEX, and a T3 at Pebble Beach. The biggest knock is the fact that he withdrew from the WGC-Workday with an illness/dehydration, but that could have just been a stomach bug that really left him in the dumps – pun intended.

Tony Finau ($9,100) – Like DJ, there’s no discernible reason to exclude Finau from your lineups this week, especially at such an affordable price. My biggest concern is his SG:ARG on correlative courses, but with the overseeding of these Bermudagrass greens, we’re going to see the surfaces a little more speedy – just how he likes them. The scoring opportunities for Finau (No. 10 overall on my model and No. 9 in the field for Opps Gained) should be there this week and I’m definitely going to be overweight on the field.

Hideki Matsuyama (DK $8,700) – If you clicked the link about last year’s first round scores, Hideki fired a nine-under par 63 and tied the course record in the doomed 2020 event, and the ball-striking sensation seems to like how the greens roll here in March, as he finished T8 here in 2019 when they made the switch. Even if he struggles with his putter a bit, the T2G game should carry him through and get his name in the mix on Sunday.

Paul Casey (DK $8,400) – Casey is a feast-or-famine GPP play who’s had a mixed bag of results at the Players, but he’s a good fit in this price range and he’s been striking the ball extremely well en route to some international success at Dubai, where he won, and locally at Bay Hill last week, when he finished T10. His T2G numbers on Pete Dye courses are solid, and he’s got the chops and nerves of steel to win at TPC Sawgrass.

Adam Scott (DK $8,100) – Scott makes more sense for cash than GPPs, as he sports a more-than-decent course history here and has been making cuts lately – but has just one top 10 finish (T10 at the Farmers) since the U.S. Open in September 2020. He’s usable in tournaments as a last piece, but he’s not very exciting and not part of my GPP core.

Tommy Fleetwood (DK $7,900) – Sia’s betting the farm on Fleetwood notching the low score of day one at an enticing 66-1, and that’s a really amazing price for a golfer as talented as Fairway Jesus – who’s been striking the ball quite well as of late. He’s got plenty of upside and seems to play his best in big events – and the Players qualifies. A top 10 finish wouldn’t surprise me.

Cameron Smith (DK $7,900) – This is a tough call for GPPs, because game log watchers will see his recent finishes and be inspired, while course history hounds might get scared off by the missed cuts in 2017 and 2018. But the switch to March yielded a better result (he made the cut) in 2019, so I’m willing to throw out the previous struggles and focus more on the form and his attractive No. 34 spot in my mixed model.

Will Zalatoris (DK $7,600) – Another talented golfer who saves his best golf for tough tracks and strong fields, Zalatoris is getting his first crack at TPC Sawgrass but seems to have a game that translates to any venue. He’s solid off the tee, he doesn’t make big numbers, and he’s a fine large-field GPP or single-entry tourney play at this price.

Also consider: Viktor Hovland (GPP), Scottie Scheffler (GPP), Daniel Berger, Jordan Spieth, Tyrrell Hatton (GPP), Matthew Fitzpatrick, Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen (GPP), Jason Kokrak, Joaquin Niemann

Value PGA DFS (DK $6,600 to 7,500):

Abraham Ancer (DK $7,500) – We can thank the soft pricing for Ancer making the value range at just $7,500 this week, and while he doesn’t spike a top 10 rank in any one key metric heading into the Players, he’s a top-notch ball striker who finished T12 (right alongside Rahm and Joel Dahmen) at this event in 2019. I’ll be ahead of the field in GPPs at hopefully around 20-25% in my 20-max, and he’s on the short list for consideration in SE.

Russell Henley (DK $7,400) – Henley is my “off-the-wall, model-loves-him” GPP play this week, because he’s had a pretty rough go of it in his last four tries here. A little more course history research shows a T24 and T17 in 2015 and 2014, so there’s some room for optimism. It makes sense that when the course played a little faster tee-to-green, he had more success, especially when you consider his less-than-stellar SG:OTT numbers. But Henley usually avoids the big numbers, hit great approaches and has a decent-enough short game to compete with the best, so I’m mixing him into my GPP builds.

Lanto Griffin (DK $7,300) – Griffin appears to be taking the next step forward in his career as he gains more confidence, and since his MC at the AMEX he’s posted four straight finishes of T26 or better, including a T21 at the API last week. It’s not a course where too many golfers play “lights-out” in their inaugural run, but he’s going to make a few of my GPP lineups.

Cameron Tringale (DK $7,200) – Tringale hasn’t played here since 2017, but he’s made the cut in three of his last four tries and has a T35 and T16 in his last two runs at Sawgrass. He and Chris Kirk (No. 9 overall) are the only $7K golfers in the top 10 of my model this week, and Tringale’s ranking at No. 7 is largely a result of a solid short game, a high rank in bogey avoidance and SG:APP on correlative courses. He’s worth a look.

Christian Bezuidenhout (DK $7,100) – He wasn’t on my initial list, but the more I dig into his recent form (T7 at the API) and the revelation that he was -7 in last year’s first round. The dude can putt like a demon and he’s solid around the green, so if he can keep it in the fairways (and there’s a lot of less-than-driver here so that should help his chances), there’s no reason he can’t find a Top 10. He’s probably going to be on my single-entry teams and I’ll be close to 40 percent in large-field GPPs.

Chris Kirk (DK $7,000) – The other of my $7K model darlings, Kirk makes for fine value in any format and his biggest weakness (putting) becomes a veritable strength on fast surfaces, which TPC Sawgrass should provide this week. He might be popular, as he’s projected around 11-12% right now, but I’ll have shares close to or exceeding that in GPPs.

Emiliano Grillo (DK $6,700) – Grillo is the best ball striker you’ll ever see under $7K and his reputation of having a poor short game is probably the reason he’s not projected over 10% ownership this week. I like his chances of making the cut (3-for-his-last-4 at the Players with a T11 in 2017) and he’s played well in three of his last four events (T21-T11-MC-T22), and the missed cut at the Genesis was the result of a 72-73 opening two rounds, which isn’t that horrendous.

More value golfers to consider: Sergio Garcia, Marc Leishman (GPP), Corey Conners, Sam Burns, Ryan Palmer, Kevin Kisner (GPP), Cameron Davis (GPP), Keegan Bradley, Alex Noren, Harold Varner III, Mackenzie Hughes

Longshot Punts PGA DFS (DK $6,500 and under):

Richy Werenski (DK $6,400) – The main reason I’m considering Werenski is his immediate form, as he finished T4 last week at Bay Hill, and while normally in a field this size and strength I’d be scared of the golfers under $6,500, we’ve got a few high-upside guys this week. He’s not great off the tee, but as we discussed, that could be mitigated (like last week) with more “less-than-driver” than usual.

Doug Ghim (DK $6,200) – Ghim could blow up and make a couple of double-bogeys in his first four holes, but he’s also capable of firing a 65 on day one and putting himself in decent position for making the cut and posting a top 25 finish. It’s hard to recommend using him at more than 10 percent, but at that rate you’ll be around 2x the field ownership.

Jason Dufner (DK $6,100) – Dufner has a major championship under his belt and while that was a long time ago, he’s made four cuts in a row at the Players including a T5 in 2018, and he’s better-than-average on tougher courses with his ball-striking and prefers fast greens. Don’t go overboard, but he’s fine to grab in 1/20 since nobody will be on him.

Additional punts: Nick Taylor, Rory Sabbatini, Jhonattan Vegas, Harry Higgs (GPP)

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