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Happy New Year RotoBallers and welcome to Horse For The Course! For those of you that read this article last season, welcome back! If you are stopping by for the first time, let me say thanks for joining me here at RotoBaller and I hope you'll want to make this article part of your weekly PGA DFS research this season.

I try to make HFTC more than just a "picks" column (though you can certainly use it that way if you are in a hurry) by digging deep into each highlighted player. Obviously, our weekly jumping off point is a player's course history, but there isn't a firm set of rules when it comes to who is featured in this article (as you'll see right off the bat this week). My goal is to help you succeed as a PGA DFS player. Period. I will touch on different GPP and cash-game strategies throughout the column each week and hopefully have some useful info for both beginners and experienced DFS players.

Those of you that were regular readers last season might notice a small difference in the player headers. I'm adding notable course history and recent form along with the player's name and DFS prices, in an effort to both jam as much information as possible into the article and serve as quick reference for those of you that don't have time to read each player breakdown. I encourage all of you to follow both me (@JoeNicely) and the RotoBaller PGA account (@RotoBallerPGA) on Twitter for player news and updates throughout the week.

We are kicking off the season at The Plantation Course at Kapalua. The Sentry Tournament of Champions is a no-cut event that's comprised of winners from the 2018 season. Justin Rose, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson qualified for this event, but elected not to play. Dustin Johnson won last year's TOC in dominating fashion. Course history is a little spotty, as not everyone qualifies to play this tournament every year. This tournament is somewhat similar to WGC events...a small field, made up of mostly elite players, with no cut. This forces us to adjust our DFS strategy a bit this week.

OK, enough with the formalities. To steal a line from Baker Mayfield, I woke up feeling dangerous this year! Let's tee it up!

You can also find out who the smart money is on by checking out Spencer Aguiar's PGA DFS: Vegas Report every week.

Editor's Note: Our friends at Fantasy National have built some incredible DFS Golf lineup tools including a Lineup Optimizer, Stat Engine, Ownership Projections and Course Breakdowns. They are by far the best daily fantasy Golf tools in the industry. Seriously. You can read all about them here and see screenshots. 

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The Course: Plantation Course at Kapalua - Par 73 - 7,518 Yards

The Plantation Course is one of the most beautiful stops of the PGA Tour season. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, it was opened in 1991. The Plantation Course sits at the foot of the West Maui Mountains and incorporates drastic elevation changes into the layout. We will see some of the longest drives of the season this week, as players will have several downhill tee shots. We are dealing with a rare Par 73 course that features four Par-5's this week, so we are looking for players that flourish on Par-5's. Weather conditions, specifically the wind, can sometimes be a factor at Kapalua, but the conditions are usually mild to moderate enough to allow for very low scoring. Every winner of this tournament since 2014 has been at least 20-under par, so we definitely want to pay attention to players that can make birdies. Long drives come to mind at Kapalua and Dustin Johnson took home the 2018 title, but this is not a bombers-only course. The past winners list is fairly diverse, with players like Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, and Steve Stricker having won here in the past.

 

The Horse

Jon Rahm (DraftKings - $9,800 & FanDuel - $10,500 )
Notable Course History: 2nd (2018)
Recent Form: Win (Hero World Challenge), 4th (DP World Tour Champ.)

The no-brainer for this week's Horse selection should probably be two-time TOC winner Dustin Johnson. While DJ can win any tournament, any week, I'm a little reluctant to pay $11k for him in a field of this caliber. Johnson should have a great 2019, but with rumblings of some off-course issues during the offseason, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach with him.

I think most of us that play PGA DFS regularly probably judge Jon Rahm a little too harshly. I know that I'm guilty myself, because after riding him on an almost weekly basis during his breakout rookie season in 2017, Rahm rarely found his way into my lineups last season. It feels like Rahm had a disappointing 2018, but the Spaniard had a win on both the PGA and European Tours and managed top-five finishes in two majors (The Masters & PGA Championship). Perhaps the feeling that Rahm underachieved last season was spurred-on by his inconsistency. As opposed to his two top-five's in two of the majors, he missed the cut in the other two (U.S. & British Opens). In 20 PGA Tour starts he logged 15 Top-25's and four missed cuts. Not exactly much gray area.

We can probably chalk Rahm's inconsistency up to his aggressive style of play. Rahm hits driver perhaps more than any player on Tour and it usually works well for him, as he ranked second in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in 2018. However, this mindset can put Rahm at a disadvantage in some situations (especially majors). That is most definitely NOT the case this week. The Plantation Course has some of the most generous fairways on the PGA Tour, which will allow the Spaniard to bomb away with impunity. So while there are weeks that we might leave Rahm out of our DFS lineups because of his aggressiveness, that very trait is what makes him such an interesting target in the TOC.

Rahm has limited history at Kapalua, finishing second in his tournament debut last year at 16-under par. We know that we will need birdies this week and Rahm has shown the ability to pile up birdies and eagles throughout his career. He finished third on the PGA Tour in Birdie Average and fourth in Birdie or Better Percentage in 2018. We also have to love his Par-5 prowess, as we're tackling a course with four of them. Rahm ranked sixth in the Par-5 Birdie or Better category last season and is also sixth among the TOC field in Strokes Gained: Par 5's over his last 36 rounds.

One difficult aspect of this tournament is that it's the first one after a lengthy layoff and we don't usually have much feel for a player's current form. Rahm has been fairly active during the swing season, winning Tiger's Hero World Challenge and logging a top-five in the Euro Tour Finals in November, which makes us feel comfortable with the current state of his game.

With Justin Rose out of the event, Rahm comes in as the fourth-most expensive player on DraftKings, while sportsbooks give him the second-best odds to win the Sentry this week. Though his salary is higher, he's actually a better value on FanDuel, where he is just the seventh-highest priced player. It's hard to get a pulse on ownership for the first couple events of the season, but I think that Rahm will be popular this week. With this being a no-cut event, I'm willing to load up on him in all formats. He brings tournament-winning upside to the table with no fear of a missed cut.

 

The Ponies

Bryson DeChambeau (DK - $8,700 & FD - $10,900 )
Notable Course History: 26th (2018)
Recent Form: Win (Shriner's Open), T12 (Hero World Challenge)

If we take recent form into consideration, I feel obligated to list Bryson DeChambeau as this week's top Pony. "The Mad Scientist" closed out 2018 as the hottest golfer in the world, racking up three victories in a four-month stretch. DeChambeau nabbed two wins during the FedEx Cup Playoffs and won his only official start of the swing season, the Shriner's Hospitals for Children Open in November.

During his short time on the PGA Tour, the 25-year-old has shown himself to be an extremely streaky player. In contrast to his huge "up" this fall, we can look at an ugly "down" period from 2017, during which he missed eight consecutive cuts over a two month stretch (before winning the John Deere later in the season). Ever the tinkerer, DeChambeau currently has his swing grooved and I'm always willing to hop on board during one of his heaters.

While we usually look for strong course history in this column, I'm willing to chalk DeChambeau's 26th-place finish in last year's TOC up to his aforementioned streakiness. Despite that underwhelming performance, DeChambeau's numbers indicate that he should be a terrific fit for The Plantation Course. He is excellent off the tee, ranking 12th in SG: Off the Tee and 25th in Driving Distance last season. DeChambeau also piles up birdies and in 2018 ranked seventh in both Birdie Average and Birdie or Better Percentage.

Perhaps what I like most about DeChambeau heading into this week is his willingness to be aggressive on Par-5's. He went for Par-5 greens in two at a 67% clip last season and it paid huge dividends for him. In 195 attempts to reach Par-5 greens in two, DeChambeau made a birdie or better 131 times, good for the fifth-best conversion rate on the PGA Tour.

One drawback to Bryson this week will be his massive ownership. The combination of his strong play to close out 2018 and his modest price tag will make him one of the most popular options on DraftKings. He obviously has tournament winning upside which makes him viable in GPPs despite the expected chalkiness and you can lock and load him in cash lineups.

Patrick Reed (DK - $8,200 & FD - $10,300)
Notable Course History: Win (2015), 2nd (2016), T6 (2017)
Recent Form: 11th (Hero World Challenge), 2nd (DP World Tour Champ.), T7 (WGC-HSBC)

Maybe you love him, maybe you hate him, maybe you love to hate him...no matter how you feel about Patrick Reed, you probably feel it intensely. I've always thought that things are more fun on the PGA Tour with a villain in the mix and Reed has shown an increased willingness to embrace that role over the past year. While you may not like Patrick Reed the person, you have to respect Patrick Reed the player.

Reed is a classic "elite course history" selection this week, as he's been downright dominant at The Plantation Course. In four career appearances at Kapalua, Reed has finishes of T6-2nd-1st-T16. Perhaps this is due to the intensity with which Reed attacks every tournament. While most players look at a Tournament of Champions in Maui as a semi-vacation, Reed shows up with the same determination he would bring to a major championship.

Reed is never going to be a player with stats that leap off the page, as his personality and intangibles are a huge part of what makes him great...but his success putting on Bermuda greens catches my eye this week. Reed ranks fifth in the TOC field in SG: Putting on Bermuda over his last 50 rounds. He is by no means a long hitter, but he has been surprisingly effective on Par-5's over his last 36 rounds and ranks fifth in the field in SG: Par 5's.

Reed usually goes underowned in DFS formats due to his lack of popularity and statistical measurables, but I expect him to be fairly popular this week due to his price and strong course history.

Cameron Champ (DK - $8,100 & FD - $9,100)
Notable Course History: None
Recent Form: 6th (RSM Classic), T10 (Mayakoba Classic), Win (Sanderson Farms)

We go from a player with elite course history in Patrick Reed, to a player that has absolutely none in Cameron Champ. I like to use course history as a nice jumping-off point, not as the end all, be all...but it's rare that I'm willing to give a player Pony status in his tournament debut. Cameron Champ is a rare player.

After blowing through the Web.com Tour last season, Champ has announced his presence on the PGA Tour with authority in the swing season. In his five starts over October and November, the 23-year-old made all five cuts and logged a win, two top-10's, and a top-25.

Champ is perhaps the next evolutionary step in the "bomb and gouge" style of play. He DESTROYS the ball off the tee, averaging 328-yards per drive and had a 400-yard drive at the Safeway Open. What makes Champ different from some of the long-hitters we've seen come and go on the PGA Tour is his ability to putt. In 15 measured rounds during the swing season, Champ ranked out 28th in SG: Putting and 11th in Total Putting. It has to be terrifying to other Tour players when this kid bombs it past you off the tee AND putts better than you!

I'm highlighting Champ this week not just for his amazing talent, but because Kapalua should fit his game like a glove. The very wide fairways of The Plantation Course will allow Champ to bomb away. He will EAT on the four Par-5's, as he has a Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage of 65%.

It's probably wishful thinking to hope that Champ is still flying under the DFS radar. You can perhaps catch him at reduced ownership in tournaments with lower-dollar entry fees, but I expect his ownership to increase as you move up the ladder. I almost wish he was more expensive on both sites, because at these prices he is basically a lock-button play for me and lots of DFS regulars.

 

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