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The First Tee at The Zurich Classic (TPC of Louisiana)
Charlie Hoffman ended his winless drought last week by winning the Valero Texas Open, holding off a late Patrick Reed charge and holing a 10 foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to clinch the victory. Hoffman came into the week as one of the favorites, with respect to previous course history and current form, however he had struggles with closing out tournaments on the weekend. Hoffman played fantastic golf on Sunday, and the birdie putt on 18 was anything but a tap in. He had to play the ball about a foot outside the cup and his putting was the biggest differentiator between himself and Reed. Despite making a birdie putt on the last hole to try and force a playoff, Reed missed birdie putts on the 16th and 17th holes, both inside of 10 feet, so it was something in and of itself that he even had a chance to force a playoff. The 2nd place finish marks Reed's 9th top ten of the year, including his third runner up finish. Reed has always had the reputation of that as a closer, so his third runner up finish without a win is something of an anomaly given his history on Tour. I don't see any reason to be concerned though, as Reed is having a fantastic season and will surely get a win this season if he keeps putting himself in those spots. Hoffman, after missing three of four cuts to start the season, has now survived ten consecutive cuts and has a ton of momentum heading into the second quarter of the Tour season.
As opposed to last week, the Zurich Classic has a fair amount of star power in the highest ranks. World #1 Jason Day headlines the field, and despite having a skillset that has not seen success at the TPC, he is still the favorite by a good clip. Former champion Justin Rose is next on the list. He's having a fantastic season thus far, finishing in the top 20 in seven of the eight events he's played in, and will have a great chance to throw up another win in an event he's had tremendous success at in the past. Rounding out the top tier is Ricky Fowler. Despite not winning a tournament in 2016, Fowler has been knocking on the door, finishing 3rd, 5th, 2nd, 6th, 8th and 10th in six of his last eight events. Fowler's blend of power and finesse should suit him well at the Zurich, and with a lack of punch in the 2nd tier, he'll have a great chance to get his first win in 2016.
There are nine former champions in the field this week; Justin Rose, Billy Horschel, Seung Yul-Noh, Vijay Singh, Jason Bohn, Jerry Kelly, Andres Romero, KJ Choi and David Toms. I've made note of the success that premium ballstrikers have had at the Zurich, and the list of former champions does nothing to dispel that notion. None are overpowering players, which should give insight into what is needed to post four good rounds at the TPC Louisiana.
There is an interesting blend of grizzled veterans and young stars in the field this week. For the young guns, Daniel Berger, Smylie Kaufman, Danny Lee, Byeong-Hun An and Patton Kizzire lead the way. Berger is still searching for his first win, but comes into this week having finished 11th, 5th and 10th in his last three tournaments with the 10th place finish coming at the Masters. All five have the type of games that can win this week, and I'd be surprised if Lee, Kaufman or Berger weren't in the hunt come Sunday afternoon.
For the second consecutive week, we are treated with the field playing at a Tournament Players Course, which means great conditioning, a tough setup and a tight finish.
The TPC Louisiana (Avondale, LA) opened for play in 2004 and is a Pete Dye design, with input from PGA Tour veteran Steve Elkington and Kelly Gibson. As is par for the course with Pete Dye, he crafted the course with a charm specific to local Louisiana. Wetlands and Cypress trees dot the landscape, and the course is part of the Audubon Golf Trail. The one thing I love about Dye golf courses is that you can instantly tell where you are geographically by looking at the wildlife and vegetation around the course, and the TPC is no different.
The course will play to just under 7400 yards this week, but despite the total yardage being longer than your average course venue, the length is distributed fairly to the point that longer hitters really don't see much of a distinct advantage, if any at all. In fact, looking at the list of former champions you'd be hard pressed to find a player who depended on their length off the tee.
As is typical with Pete Dye courses, the TPC is a challenging test that demands players be on their mental game as well as their physical. It is a risk reward test with plenty of hazards lining the fairways and greens, which forces players to set up their approach shots with precise tee shots. The sightlines off the tee are fairly straight forward, but that is a big part of the test with Tour level players. They need to set up their shots strategically, which means hitting plenty of fairway woods and hybrids off the tee. This is why ballstrikers tend to triumph at the TPC, they are comfortable with approach shots in the 150-175 yard range, as opposed to trying to set up short irons and wedges by overpowering the course off the tee.
- 1.)Justin Rose: There are several players at the top that can be viable candidates to lead your team this week, but PP$ wise, Justin Rose makes the most sense to me. Rose is a former champion at the Zurich, and has played The TPC of Louisiana very well each time he has competed there. Over the last four years, Rose has finished no worse than T15, including a win. He will cost you nearly 24% of your salary this week, but he is more than worth it with the continued success of ballstrikers at the Zurich.
- 2.)Rickie Fowler: As I mentioned above, Fowler has put together an impressive season, despite the fact that he has not won in 2016. His ability to lay back off the tee and rely on his mid-irons is the main reason why I favor he and Rose over Jason Day this week. When you factor in Fowler's penchant for getting hot with the putter, he fits the bill as the type of player who can shoot a sub 65 round and back that up with three other rounds of maybe -1 or -2.
- 3.)Jason Day: I don't think he sets up well for the TPC, but he is too good to leave out of your lineups, especially with a lack of talent in the top tier. This was similar to how I saw last week playing out, a week where Day struggled and didn't justify his hefty price tag. I value a player's win percentage more than anything, and in that department, Day trails only Jordan Spieth over the last 18 months. It won't be easy to build teams around Day, but he is a necessary evil in GPP's, so I will have around 10% exposure this week.
- 4.)Billy Horschel: In terms of skillset and course setup, Horschel looks to be a nice play this week just as he was last week at the Valero, where he finished 4th. Horschel relies heavily on his ballstriking and his short game, which is exactly what you are looking for this week. There is a litany of golfers capable of winning this week, but if I'm going to hang my hat on certain guys, I want them to have a history of winning golf tournaments, not just finishing high. Horschel has seen better days, but his consistency makes the choice easier. He's made 10 of 11 cuts this year, and coming off his best finish of the season, I like Horschel a lot for GPP rosters.
- 5.)David Hearn: Hearn represents one of the better values this week. He's priced generously at $7500, and has survived five consecutive cuts at The Zurich, including a 6th place finish in 2015 and two other top 25's in his last five tries at the TPC. He's coming off a T13 last week in San Antonio, where he showed off his impressive ballstriking skills by finishing 4th in proximity to the hole. Those skills are what he will need to call on in order to see success this week, but there's nothing to suggest otherwise. He's one of my favorite GPP plays of the week and I will have heavy exposure to him this week.