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Wow! What a start to 2019! Xander Schauffele fired a smooth little 62 in the final round at Kapalua to tie the course record and overcome Gary Woodland to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions. It's a great time to be a golf fan, because we have so many great players to watch every week. The quality of play on the PGA Tour is extremely high on a regular basis and there are tons of players that have the ability to win each and every tournament. We are in for a great year from a DFS perspective.

The PGA Tour gave us an appetizer last week with a short-field, no cut event. We stay in Hawaii this week for a real meal...a full-field event that has a standard 36-hole cut. We're skipping from Maui over to Honolulu for the Sony Open. There are over 20 players from the Sentry field that will also play this week, including the defending Sony champion, Patton Kizzire. Of the last 20 Sony Open winners, 14 have competed at Kapalua the previous week.

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. 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. Thanks for joining me here at RotoBaller, 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: Waialae Country Club - Par 70 - 7,044 Yards

We are still in Hawaii and head to Honolulu's Waialae Country Club. Similar to Kapalua last week, Waialae is one of the easier courses on the PGA Tour schedule. However, there are some pretty stark differences between the two, as it's about 500 yards shorter than Kapalua and is a Par 70 instead of a Par 73. Perhaps the biggest difference will be the lack of Par-5 holes to score on...while Kapalua had four, players will only have two this week (both are VERY gettable). We know what to expect from Waialae, it was opened in 1927 and this will mark the 54th consecutive year it has hosted a PGA Tour event. Despite the lack of Par-5's, scoring will be plentiful and it will more than likely take better than 20-under par to win this tournament. There has been an eclectic group of winners here over the years, but I will be focusing on ball strikers with great approach games that can rack-up birdies on Par 4's.

 

The Horse

Gary Woodland (DraftKings - $10,800 & FanDuel - $12,000 )
Notable Course History: T7 (2018), T6 ('17), T13 ('16), T3 ('15)
Recent Form: 2nd (Sentry TOC), T8 (Hero World Challenge)

This week's Horse was probably always going to be Gary Woodland, even before his excellent performance at the Sentry TOC. As you can see from the header, he has an ELITE history at Waialae. The bummer is that Woodland had to go and put himself on everyone's radar with his excellent play at Kapalua last week. So even though this feels like a trendy pick, I have to roll with Woody at the Sony.

As you'll hear a lot this week, Woodland played extremely well at Kapalua. Despite not getting the win at the Sentry (it was more a case of Xander Schauffele winning the tournament, rather than Woodland losing it), we have to think he's heading to the Sony with tons of confidence. He did everything well last week, ranking inside the top-five in pretty much every Strokes Gained category (2nd T2G, 3rd Off the Tee, 3rd Approach, 2nd Total), which fits the profile of how Woodland has played of late (3rd in the Sony field in SG:T2G over his last 36 rounds).

We've always known the former Kansas Jayhawk was a tremendous ball striker, but what gets me really excited about Woodland's prospects both this week and this season, is his drastic improvement on the greens. If you watched last week's tournament for more than 15 minutes, you probably heard the announcers talk about Woodland's work with putting guru Phil Kenyon. The two hooked up at last year's Open Championship and a winter's worth of work certainly appears to have paid huge dividends. Woody finished the 2018 ranked 114th in SG: Putting, but has shown dramatic improvement lately, ranking 18th in the Sony field in the same category over his last 12 rounds, not to mention his mark of seventh in the field at the Sentry. We all know that a huge part of golf is the mental aspect and Woodland looks both confident and comfortable standing over putts.

There are a couple of drawbacks to Woodland this week. The most obvious from a DFS perspective is that he will be MASSIVELY popular. The combination of his eye-popping course history and play at Kapalua will put him squarely in the DFS consciousness this week. The other possible reason to have pause is probably just me playing junior psychologist, but I wonder what type of emotional toll coming sooo close to a win at the Sentry will have on Woodland. As I mentioned above, it's not as if he choked in the final round, but wins are really hard to come by on the PGA Tour and, while second is great, there has to be some mental disappointment in not closing things out at Kapalua. These are nitpicky concerns and definitely aren't enough to keep Woodland out of my lineups this week. There can be a game theory argument made to fade his huge ownership in large-field GPPs, but I'm of the "set it and forget it" mindset when it comes to Woodland in cash games and single-entry formats this week. Thankfully, both sites have Woodland priced up, which might help contain his ownership to a degree.

 

The Ponies

Justin Thomas (DK - $11,400 & FD - $12,300 )
Notable Course History: T14 (2018), Win ('17), MC ('16), T6 ('15)
Recent Form: 3rd (Sentry TOC), T12 (Hero World Challenge)

You don't need me to tell you that Justin Thomas is an elite player, but he's without a doubt my favorite "spend up" option this week. It's not hard to see that JT has been sharp at Waialae Country Club, including a win in 2017. However, the course history header above doesn't tell you just how dominate his 2017 Sony performance was. Thomas fired an opening round 59 (!) in '17 and never looked back, shattering both the tournament and PGA Tour records for 36, 54, and 72 hole scoring. JT finished T14 in his Sony title defense last year, when his game wasn't hardly as sharp, but still has eight consecutive sub-68 rounds at Waialae.

Thomas' recent form suggests he is closer to "2017 JT" than "2018 JT" and he heads into this week fresh off a third-place finish in the Sentry. The Kentucky native put on a ball striking clinic at Kapalua, leading the elite field in both SG: T2G and Approach. Thomas logged a third-place finish despite fighting the putter throughout the week and finishing 21st in SG: Putting for the week. A final-round 65 was aided by JT's best putting performance of the week by far and is an encouraging sign as we head to Honolulu.

It's no secret that Thomas can rack up birdies, he was fourth on Tour in Birdie Average last season, but his dominance on Par-4's seems especially noteworthy this week on a Waialae layout that has 12 of them on the scorecard. JT has feasted on Par-4's throughout his career and ranked third in Par 4 Scoring Average and fourth in Par 4 Birdie or Better Percentage on the PGA Tour in 2018. Thomas also grades out fourth in the Sony field in SG: Par-4's over his last 50 rounds.

Out of Waialae's 12 Par-4's, players will face approach shots in the 125-175 yard range on around 10 of them. Thomas has been money from these distances, ranking sixth in proximity from 125-150 yards and 10th in proximity from 150-175 yards when compared to the Sony field over his last 36 rounds.

There's a lot to love about JT this week. Elite course history and recent form, being at the top of the list. He's also the odds-on Vegas favorite at just 5/1 to win. Thomas is the most expensive player on DK and (somewhat ridiculously) the second-most expensive on FD. I've just started toying with lineup construction as I write this, but while JT is pricey, it looks relatively easy to get him in lineups. Fire him up this week!

Charles Howell III (DK - $8,900 & FD - $10,400)
Notable Course History: T8 (2017), T3 ('13), T2 ('12), T2 ('07), T3 ('05)
Recent Form: T14 (Sentry TOC), Win (RSM), MC (Mayakoba)

There are lots of different directions we could go in the $8k range. Both Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar have had tremendous success at the Sony throughout their careers, but I had to go with the Waialae "Godfather"...CH3. Charles Howell III is like the guy in your hometown that drives a Toyota Corolla and lives in a modest home, but owns all the property in the county. Howell is quiet and unassuming, but has won roughly $7.9 billion on the PGA Tour in his career. Ok...so maybe not that much, but it's a lot, and in classic CH3 fashion he's never actually won the Sony Open, but stands third in all-time tournament earnings.

I won't do a complete breakdown of his course history, but Howell has been playing great at Waialae since before a lot of you were old enough to vote. In 17 career appearances at the Sony he's never missed a cut. Yep...17 for 17. He's knocked out two seconds, two thirds, two fourths and a slew of top-10's.

Howell would always be in the conversation from a course history perspective, but I find him especially appealing this week due to his recent form. He picked up his first PGA Tour win in over a decade in November, taking down the RSM Classic during the swing season. In typical Howell form, his stats are solid, if unspectacular. He's one of those guys that doesn't really do anything great, but is "pretty good" across the board. I know...we're normally not targeting "pretty good" for DFS purposes, but somewhere inside of the Waialae clubhouse there is a phone booth that Howell ducks into every year. He walks in as CH3, but steps out as "Super Chuck" and has gained over 30 strokes total against Sony fields in his career.

Howell will be a popular DFS option this week, I don't have much doubt about that. His course history is just too good to ignore. He profiles more as a cash game play...solid, safe, but unlikely to actually win this tournament.

Scott Piercy (DK - $7,600 & FD - $9,500)
Notable Course History: T25 ('18), T57 ('17), T13 ('16), 2nd ('15)
Recent Form: T19 (Sentry TOC), T6 (Mayakoba), T10 (Shriners), T5 (CJ Cup)

I'm gonna throw a couple of quick hitters at you as we work our way down the salary scale. It feels like Scott Piercy deserves some consideration at this price point. The Las Vegas resident has a very solid track record at the Sony and has routinely professed his love for Waialae Country Club over the years. Piercy had a very strong swing season, logging three consecutive top-10's in October and November. He rebounded nicely from an opening-round 76 last week to shoot a pair of weekend 69's and finish T19 at the Sentry.

Piercy falls into the Keegan Bradley-esque "great ball striker, terrible putter" category. He finished 2018 at 14th in SG: Approach and 24th in SG: T2G on the PGA Tour, but sat at a sickening 186th in SG: Putting for the season. Piercy's results over the fall indicate that things with the flatstick are at least improving.

Piercy is a polar-opposite type of play than our previously mentioned Charles Howell III. At the end of the day, we are simply hoping that Piercy can find his putting stroke this week, which makes him unpredictable. However, that unpredictability is exactly what makes him such an intriguing candidate for GPP lineups.

Jimmy Walker (DK - $7,400 & FD - $9,300)
Notable Course History: MC ('18), MC ('17), Win ('15), Win ('14)
Recent Form: T39 (CIMB), T29 (CJ Cup)

It isn't often that I would refer to the two-time winner of an event as a wild card, but that's the best way I can describe Jimmy Walker this week. He has a tremendous history here, winning the Sony Open back-to-back in 2014 and 2015, but has also missed the cut in his last two appearances. To complicate matters ever further, Walker has no recent form to speak of, having last played in a PGA Tour event in mid-October.

If you follow golf closely, you are probably somewhat familiar with Jimmy Walker's trials and tribulations. He seemed to be on the cusp of joining golf's elite after a breakthrough win at the 2016 PGA Championship, but a mysterious illness, that was eventually diagnosed as Lyme disease, has derailed his career over the past couple of years. When Walker was able to play, he didn't play very well, which explains his missed cuts in his last two starts at Waialae.

Walker seemed to put several of the pieces of his game back together in 2018. He had an exciting stretch of sharp play last season that began with a top-20 at the Masters and included a top-five at the Valero, a runner-up at The Players, and a top-10 at the Byron Nelson. Unfortunately, Walker faded as the season wore on and his season ended with a thud at the Dell Championship. Walker had a very light fall, playing the CIMB Classic and Nine Bridges on the Asia Swing with mediocre results.

As we prepare for this week, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Walker. We love the course history, but aren't sure which Jimmy Walker will show up in Honolulu this week. The version that won this tournament in back-to-back years or the player that's missed the Sony cut the last two years? I expect Walker to be somewhere in the middle this week. He's well rested and displayed his old form in spurts last year. With a lot of iffy plays at the bottom of the DFS salary scale this week, he's an interesting option to consider for those of you that multi-enter large GPPs.

Jerry Kelly (DK - $7,100 & FD - $7,800)
Notable Course History: T14 ('18), MC ('17), T9 ('16), T6 ('15), Win ('02)
Recent Form: Champions Tour

We've now come to the "totally random player with unbelievably elite course history" portion of the article. Jerry Kelly (I know right?) might be the only guy that can tell CH3 "Hold my beer" when it comes to successful course history at Waialae. The 52-year-old grizzled vet has OWNED the Sony Open for around two decades, notching a win back in 2002 and remaining a top-10 mainstay.

Kelly spent the 2018 season on the PGA Champions Tour, so stats are a little tough to come by, but he played very well against his peers. He was second in scoring average in 2018 and finished fourth in the Charles Schwab Cup money list. Kelly averaged 279 yards off the tee in 2018, which is very short by PGA Tour standards. At just over 7,000 yards, Waialae doesn't put short hitters at a disadvantage, which is one of the reasons Kelly has managed to stay so competitive here in recent years. He was first on the Champions Tour in Par 3 Scoring Average and fourth in Par 4 Scoring Average, which shapes up well this week on a layout that only has two Par-5's.

A lot of DFS players will be reluctant to roster a 52-year-old senior tour player (Dass Ageist!), but I'm always willing to think outside the box to gain an edge in GPPs. Kelly's $7,100 price tag looks pretty nice as we get to the last spot in lineup construction and I'm totally comfortable slotting him in this week.

 

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