Fantasy Golf Picks: 2017 Tournament of Champions Sleepers, Starts & Preview
SBS Tournament of Champions
Defending Champ: Jordan Spieth
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Note: Dennis Esser and I are running our PGA One and Done League again this season. The rules are simple: You pick one golfer per event and his winnings from that tournament will be your score. All events will be added together at the season's end (Tour Championship) and the person with the money is the champion. You can only use a player once all season, so be strategic. There's also a "Lone Wolf" rule: In the off-chance you are the only person in the pool who uses a particular player, you get double his earnings for that week.
We will be starting the pool for at Sony Open (next week) in attempt to attract as many people as possible. Last season we had around 200 entries, hopefully we can more than double that this year and really juice up the prize pool. It is a one-time fee of $50 and you can enter (And read the full rules and payouts) here. Everyone is welcome, you know, that pays. GOOD LUCK!!!!! Not really. I want to win.
SBS Tournament of Champions Field
32 Players | No Cut
The first event of the calendar year, the Tournament of Champions has returned with a flashy new sponsor and a list of invitations for every player who hoisted a novelty check in 2016. Most accepted the invite; some bigger names, did not. Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel and Masters Champ Danny Willet have all decided they have better things going on than making a pit stop in Hawaii.
Of the 32 winners left over, there’s a distinct big four: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and HOT FIYAAAAAAA Hideki Matsuyama. Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas represent the next tier in terms of betting odds. After that, we have a slew of recognizable names like Brandt Snedeker, Daniel Berger, Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner, Branden Grace, Ryan Moore, and Russell Knox before hitting the “they seriously won last year?” range: Brian Stuard, Super Nintendo Chamlers, Jim Herman, and Rob Pampling. Fortunately, there’s no cut. So, rostering some of these duds won’t murder your team like it would in a normal week.
SBS Tournament of Champions Key Stats
Strokes Gained: Approach-The-Green
Par 4 Birdies or Better
Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green
Putting > 15-Feet
Greens in Regulation
SBS Tournament of Champions Course
Plantation Course at Kapalua | 7,452 Yards | Par 73
Since 1999, the Plantation Course at Kapalua has played host to the first event of the calendar year. And, frankly, very little has changed at the venue over that time. It’s the only Par 73 on TOUR, putting surfaces are sloooooooowwwwwwww, the grounds are littered with undulations from tee to green, and fairways are wider than Kiradech Aphibarnrat. FYI, “undulation” is just fancy golf talk for “hilly”. Now, based on that description, you’d expect bombers, ones who are unconcerned about driving accuracy, to run train. But that just hasn’t been the case. Of the winners in the past ten years, only DJ and Vijay Singh would be considered “bombers.” And DJ’s 2013 triumph was a weather shortened 54-hole victory. The rest of the champs have only been at 65% on the power meter: Spieth, Reed, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker, Jonathan Byrd, Geoff Ogilvy, and Daniel Chopra. Now, these guys aren’t accuracy mavens either, but the shifts in elevation across the layout afford shorter hitters the luxury of making up the distance gap flatter courses just don’t allow.
When you’re assessing a group of players, and skills off the tee are mitigated, the logical step is to move on to the next shot: Approaches. Since the winning score routinely breaches into the sub -20 area, you need to target players that are sticking it as close as possible to the pin. Birdies are going to be made by everyone, so targeting the players who bank as many easy ones as possible, especially on Par 4s, will unlock the Sunday leaderboard.
Generally, when an event has four Par 5s, pounding Par 5 Birdies or Better is a given, however Kapalua makes its Par 5s easy for every player, and there’s no real eagle advantage to be had. The field could only muster 14 total eagles on the Par 5 in 2016. Par 4s are not only more prevalent this week, they’re also the most difficult holes on the course. Making birdies on those tougher holes will end up being the difference.
We can research all the stats we want, but never forget that players’ recent form is still the best predictor of success. There was a cool correlation Jude DeLoye (Twitter: @Jude_UT4) sent me regarding the results from the Hero World Challenge and how that has translated for the Tournament of Champions...
The Hero World Challenge leaderboard in 2016
1 Hideki Matsuyama
2 Henrik Stenson (Not in field)
T3 Matt Kuchar (Not in field)
T3 Rickie Fowler (Not in field)
T3 Dustin Johnson
T6 Bubba Watson
T6 Jordan Spieth
T6 Brandt Snedeker
Also, if you have pertinent info like this to share, please, send it my way. Doing my own research sucks. Very Tedious. SAD!!!
SBS Tournament of Champions Picks (Yahoo Game)
Patrick Reed & Vaughn Taylor - Reed has ended up on the podium in Kapalua each of the past two years and benefits greatly from the slower greens and his masterful work from around said slow greens (8th SG: Around-The Green). His work from off the putting surfaces will foster very easy scoring opportunities on the Par 5s and short Par 4s… Since there’s no cut, and I feel great about Reed's outlook, lets gamble on Taylor. The biggest skill for making birdies this week will be approach shots, and Taylor is one of the best on TOUR in that one thing. He’s second in the field in SG: App (I’ll be using 2016 numbers until 2017 builds a big enough sample to be reliable) and it’s served him well here in the past. The distant past, VT hasn’t played in this event since 2006. I’m not much of a course history whore, but it really sticks out that his two finishes were both T10s (T4 2006; T8 2005).
Jordan Spieth & Hideki Matsyuama - This duo will be the most popular on Fantasy squads this week, but now is no time to go contrarian and fade them. Speith has never finished worse than second in this event, while Matsyuama scores the best in the key stats, took a T3 in his only ever appearance, and has won four of his last five starts. Use those guys.
Brandt Snedeker & Fabian Gomez - A familiar invitee to the ToC, Snedeker has always padded his bank account during his Hawaii voyage, with two Top 3s, three Top 10s, and no finish worse than 11th in four career starts at Kapalua. He doesn’t quite fit the Hero Challenge Top 5 narrative, though. He finished sixth. Slower greens tend to normalize the advantage players have with the flat stick, but sometimes those sluggish surfaces can prove to be a massive benefit for one the TOUR’s best putters. As we’ve seen with Spieth, Stricker and Day at this event, a great putter can just start draining 30-footers with ease if they’re clicking that that. Snedeker is in that putting class... Gomez parlayed a surprising T6 in this event last season into a win the following week at the Sony Open. Gomez is fairly pedestrian in most skills, but gets progressively better the closer he gets to the hole. It’s the same for Speith and Reed, they just happen to be better players. This week, it’s all going to be about his mid-range putting. Gomez lead the TOUR in 15-20’ putts last year, and if he can continue that consistency, he’ll make enough birdies to place.
Daniel Berger & Jason Dufner - It’s been quite the break for ToC rookie Berger, but he ended 2016 in fine form, finishing runner-up to the unstoppable Hideki at the WGC-Champions. Skill wise, he fits perfectly: 23rd SG: App, 17th Birdie Average, 13th Fairway Proximity, and 14th Par 4 Scoring Average. However taking Berger is a bet on his upside. Now 23, he’s already put a first place check in the bank and can build on his incredible upside. I want to get in early… Dufner is on the other end of the spectrum. We know what we’re getting from him. He’s excellent Tee-to-Green (23rd), on approaches (27th), eats up Par 4s (23rd), and hits about every green in regulation (6th), he just needs to putt. Which can be problematic: 164th on SG: Putting. Since these are some of the easier greens he’ll play this season, a week around the field average, and instead of being an unmitigated disaster, should have him challenging for a Top 5.
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