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PGA DFS: Horse For The Course - TOUR Championship

Welcome back golf fans! I hope everyone enjoyed the break last week. Hopefully the start of football helped to curb your PGA DFS withdrawals. We are back in action for the TOUR Championship and the stakes don't get much higher. After an entire PGA Tour season and the FedEx Cup playoffs, we are down to the final 30 players. The title of FedEx Cup Champion and 10 million dollars will be on the line at East Lake Country Club.

The TOUR Championship always has a slightly different feel than any other week of the golf schedule because players are trying to win the actual tournament, but are also keeping an eye on the points standings that determine the winner of the FedEx Cup title. There are five players in the field that can claim the FedEx Cup with a win this week: Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, and defending champ Justin Thomas. Every other player in the field will need a win and "help" in the points standings to win the FedEx title.

This event is very interesting from a DFS perspective. There will be no cut this week and we have an extremely small field of only 30 players. Because of the limited options available to us, game theory will force us to get creative with lineup construction if we hope to take down a DFS tournament. There is a high probability that lineups will be duplicated due to the small player pool, but we'll discuss some strategies for differentiating our lineups throughout this week's article. We've had a week to recharge our golf batteries, let's tee it up!

Horse For The Course will take a look at players that have traditionally flourished at the course that hosts this week’s PGA TOUR event. This is not a traditional picks column, but rather an attempt to pinpoint players that have outstanding results at a specific course. "The Horse" is a player with an elite course history and that has a great chance to repeat his success in this week's tournament. "The Ponies" are players with very good course history, that might be entering this week's tournament under the radar or have a DFS price that is a great value.

For a full review of the DraftKings PGA Slate this weekend, check out Seth Finklestein's column reviewing picks at every price point.

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: East Lake Golf Club - Par 70 - 7,385 Yards

Opened in 1908 as the original home of the Atlanta Athletic Club, this Tom Bendelow designed was overhauled by Donald Ross just five years after opening and was freshened up by Rees Jones in the mid-1990's. Those of you that have followed the FedEx Cup Playoffs should be very familiar with Ross, as we have seen several of his designs over the last portion of the PGA season. The fairways are narrow and players will be finding the rough with regularity. Distance off the tee will be an advantage, so I'm looking for ball strikers with length that are accurate on approach.


The Horse

Justin Thomas (DraftKings - $10,300 & FanDuel - $11,000 )

On a normal week, I try to identify the player with the best combination of elite course history and great current form in order to name the Horse. On a normal week, Justin Rose would be a slam-dunk for the TOUR Championship honor with his history at East Lake and runner-up finishes in his last two tournaments. This is not a normal week.

At the time of this writing, ownership projections are a little foggy, but I get the feeling that the masses will flock toward Rose in this spot. My usual advice would be to eat the chalk if you love the play, but the size of the TOUR field offers a very unique situation where we must differentiate our lineups or find ourselves almost certainly duplicated by multiple entries in tournament fields.

In the spirit of taking a contrarian line this week, I'm dropping down the price scale to a different Justin...Justin Thomas. Though Rose might check all of our normal boxes, JT is definitely no slouch. I feel that he heads into the TOUR Championship a bit more under-the-radar than the other elite players available. While Bryson DeChambeau has been grabbing headlines for wins and Dustin Johnson has been grabbing headlines for...ahem...other reasons, JT has quietly been grinding away.

Over his last five tournament starts, Thomas has a win against an elite field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, two Top-10's and two Top-25's. He has also had success at East Lake in his two appearances, logging a runner-up finish last year and a T6 in 2016. Our friends at Fantasy National confirm that JT has an affinity for Donald Ross layouts, as he ranks fifth in Strokes Gained: Approach and eighth in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green over his last 12 rounds at Ross courses. We must also weigh the mental aspect of this week's tournament. Thomas wasn't able to capture a major championship this year and will be hungry to "save" his season by winning his second consecutive FedEx Cup title, which he can do with a victory in Atlanta.

While salary cap relief isn't as important as usual this week, JT does offer a $900 discount from Rose on DraftKings. He is a great place to start your lineups. While we are touching on salary, I strongly recommend that you don't be a slave to using the full salary cap on either site. You would be very surprised how much you can differentiate your lineups by leaving just few hundred dollars on the table. With the situation we are in this week, I wouldn't shy away from leaving a great deal more than that in an attempt to gain leverage in tournaments.


The Ponies

Tony Finau (DK - $8,600 & FD - $10,300 )

I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about my main man and official U.S. Ryder Cup team member Tony Finau. Finau hasn't been featured in this article very often this season and the reason for that basically boils down to the fact that he hasn't been on Tour long enough to build up much course history at different venues. That is again the case this week, as Finau has only one career appearance at East Lake, logging a T7 in last year's TOUR Championship. Despite his lack of starts in Atlanta, I'm confident in his ability to succeed on the Donald Ross layout.

Finau has long-been a phenomenal talent with unbelievable distance off the tee, but with frustrating shortcomings in other areas of his game. It seems that Finau has finally put it all together in 2018 and is delivering on the promise he's flashed over the last couple of years. He has shown marked improvement this season in areas of his game that held him back in the past. Finau sits at 71st in Strokes Gained: Putting and 34th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green on the PGA Tour in 2018, huge jumps from his ranks of 136th and 81st in the same categories in 2017. This improved tee-to-green play has been the catalyst for Finau to go on a MASSIVE TEAR throughout the FedEx Cup playoffs, logging finishes of 2nd-T4-T8 in the three events of the PGA postseason that he's made starts in.

Finau gets a ton of grief for not winning more tournaments and I suppose that criticism is fair, but I could make the argument that it's never been harder to win on the PGA Tour due to the talent level of this generation's players. In any case, Finau could silence the critics in style with a win at East Lake this week. His standing of third in the points standing gives him the luxury of a "win and clinch" scenario. Finau is always a popular DFS option and that will be the case again this week, but I'm hopeful that Bryson DeChambeau will soak up a bit of ownership at a similar price point. While we want to be creative with lineup construction, it's hard to pass up Finau's upside at this price.

Billy Horschel (DK - $7,300 & FD -$7,900 )

Let's move on to another guy that is striking the ball like an absolute rock star. Billy Horschel has all the prerequisites we are looking for in a Pony by offering a perfect blend of excellent recent form and strong course history. The former Florida Gator is notoriously streaky, but has found his groove at the perfect time of the season. Horschel has been on fire in the FedEx Cup playoffs, logging a T11 at the Wyndham, a T3 at the Northern Trust, and a T3 at the BMW Championship. He was forced to withdraw mid-round at the Dell Technologies with an illness, but his performance at the BMW should relieve any concerns we might have about that.

In addition to his trending form, Horschel has a tremendous track record at East Lake. He logged a T7 in 2013 and won the TOUR Championship in 2014. That win and his hot play in the playoffs, helped Horschel capture the 2014 FedEx Cup title. His performances over the last few weeks are eerily similar to the run he made in '14. Horschel has been striking the ball at a world-class level. The stat engine at Fantasy National helps us to zero-in on recent trends and we find that Horschel in first in the TOUR Championship field in both Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and Approach over his last 12 rounds. Pretty impressive stuff when you consider those stats are compared to the best 30 golfers in the world. The thing that's helped Horschel find this high gear is the cooperation of his streaky putter. He ranks 12th among the TOUR Championship field in Strokes Gained: Putting over his last 12 rounds.

Horschel will draw lots of DFS attention this week. His recent play and affordable price will put him on plenty of radars. He is practically a "free square" on FanDuel, as well as being cheap on DraftKings. We will need to use Horschel carefully and attempt to differentiate in other spots, as he should be a popular option this week.

Paul Casey (DK - $6,800 & FD - $9,100)

As I mentioned in the intro, we must be a little creative in our thinking this week. Paul Casey interests me more for game theory reasons than anything he's done on the course recently. After arguably the best PGA Tour season of his career, that included a win at the Valspar Championship back in March, Casey's play has nosedived over the last month. The Englishman didn't play well in The Open Championship and missed the cut at the PGA Championship with an ugly performance. He then struggled at the Northern Trust before somewhat righting the ship with a T21 at the Dell Technologies.

Things get interesting for me at the BMW Championship, where Casey carded three sub-70 rounds before withdrawing prior to the final round with a "back injury". I'm hopeful that casual fans will check out Casey's game log, see the 69th place finish at the BMW, notice that he withdrew with an injury and skip over him. While Casey isn't a lock this week, the truth is he played much better than his 69th place finish indicates and the "back injury" was a result of extensive rain delays that forced the BMW into a Monday finish.

Casey is the type of player that can right the ship quickly and his game appeared to be trending up at the BMW. His course history at East Lake is elite, as Casey has rattled off three consecutive Top-5's in the TOUR Championship since 2015. The Englishman's kryptonite has always been the flatstick and Fantasy National confirms that is short game has been the source of his recent woes. Casey ranks at or near the bottom of the field in both Strokes Gained: Putting and Strokes Gained: Around the Green over his last 12 rounds. So if he can figure a few things out with the flatstick at East Lake, we could see an immediate jump in his results.

I'm willing to gamble on Casey repeating his success at East Lake in order to gain leverage in DFS tournaments. The Englishman isn't a sure thing, but in a week that will require high finishes by every player in our lineup, I like the sneaky upside that Casey brings to the table. Trying to pinpoint DFS ownership in a 30-player field is difficult, but we can hope that Casey's recent form and WD at the BMW Championship lower his ownership levels this week.


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Premium DFS Golf Tools and Lineup Optimizer

Our friends at Fantasy National have created some game-changing DFS Golf tools, and you can read all about them here. They are hands-down the best daily fantasy Golf tools in the industry.

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