January 23, 2023, 4:41 pm
The PGA Tour returns this week after the birdie fest that was the American Express. Jon Rahm was able to hold off an impressive showing from rookie Davis Thompson and capture his second win in as many starts in 2023. A staggering 21 golfers reached a score of -20 or better last week, but that will not be the case this week.
Next up the tour heads to La Jolla, California for the Famer’s Insurance Open played at Torrey Pines. This week is a full 156-player field that will feature two courses over the first two days of the tournament that each golfer will play in the North Course and the South Course. The top-65 and ties will advance to the final two days both played at the South Course. The North Course generally plays 2-3 strokes easier than the South Course, so taking advantage of the North Course is critically for not only making the weekend, but winning the tournament. Both play to a Par 72, however the North Course is 500 yards shorter with Bentgrass greens while the South Course features Poa greens.
A key thing to remember this week is the for the second year in a row, the PGA Tour has moved this event to a Wednesday-Saturday to avoid the NFL on Sunday to showcase one of their premier events. Before we get more into the field, let’s look at the past five winners at this event:
2022: Luke List (-15)
2021: Patrick Reed (-14)
2020: Marc Leishman (-15)
2019: Justin Rose (-21)
2018: Jason Day (-10)
In contrast to this past week, longshots have not fared too well at this event over the years. Yes, Luke List was able to come out on top as an 80-1 surprise last year, but the average winner over the last five years has been about 40-1 pre tournament. A hard course as well as attracting the best of the best players to compete in the tournament every year, it’s no surprise that longshots tend to not pop up too often here.
While the field is once again strong for this event, it is a little surprising to see some of the names electing not to play. Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Matt Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay and Viktor Hovland are some of the notable names not teeing up this week. Jon Rahm (rightfully) has opened as the betting favorite this week at +450 on DraftKings Sportsbook which is a staggering number at first glance, but Rahm comes in having won four times in his last six worldwide starts. He also owns an impressive history at this event that includes a win in 2017 and followed that up with 29th, 5th, 2nd, 7th and 3rd last year. This was also the site of his lone major championship victory at the 2021 U.S. Open.
Here are the key stats I am considering when building my lineups this week.
- SG: Approach– A staple stat that translates to any course. It is the stat that has been proven to be stickiest over a long sample and correlates with long term success. It is even more critical this week given the difficult test of golf the players face.
- SG: OTT/ Driving Distance– These are two different stats, but both related to driving the ball. SG: OTT (Off The Tee) measures how well a player does off the tee on Par 5 and Par 4 holes. This course is long and we want players who are good off the tee. Driving distance isn’t essential to success here, but those who can drive it a long way on a long course naturally have a distinct advantage and have more room for error.
- Proximity 200-plus- nearly 30% of all approach shots at this event are from this distance, so accuracy from this range is paramount. Three of the four Par 3s on the South Course also are from 200-plus yards, putting even more emphasis on performance with the long irons.
- Scrambling Gained/ Bogey Avoidance: Given the distance of most approach shots in this event, this leads to a lot of missed greens and the need to get up and down for par. Scrambling looks at how well players perform when missing the green in regulation and their ability to chip in close for a good look at par. Bogey avoidance is self explanatory and while a bogey isn’t the end of the world in this event, we want to look for golfers who can limit them as much as possible.
Round 1 Props
Thrive Contest Plays for Wednesday’s Round 1 Action
Rickie Fowler 11.5 Pars MORE (100 PTS) – Rickie has been playing better and more consistently lately to the delight of many. Still a fan-favorite despite struggling over the past couple of years, it seems Fowler is on the right path. Last year Rickie opened on the North Course and went over this number. Rickie is playing well enough to not get totally lost in the shuffle, but not well enough where he will scorch the course either. Perfect recipe for a good amount of opening day Pars to go over this number.
Justin Thomas 3.5 Birdies MORE (80 PTS) – Easily eclipsed this number in his first two rounds here last year before not playing as well on the weekend. The newlywed is one of the best iron players in the field and that should give himself plenty of opportunities to hit the over on this number Wednesday.
Hideki Matsuyama 12.5 Bogeys + Pars MORE (75 PTS) – To go under this number, we would need six birdies/eagles from Hideki in the opening round. Is that doable? Yes. Is it likely? I’m not willing to bet on it. He has gone over this number six of his last eight rounds at this event. It will be a little scary if he opens the tournament at the easier North Course, but Matsuyama hasn’t been playing well enough recently to prevent me from taking this.
Props Record YTD
DFS Top Tier Play
Before we get in Zalatoris, this is a disclaimer to fade Rahm ($11,600) at your own risk. He isn’t a “must play”, but it’s pretty close. I do want to highlight a non-Rahm option in this range and Zalatoris is the best of the bunch. Finishing second after losing in a playoff to Luke List last year, Willy Z will be looking to exercise the demons of a year ago. This is the type of event we like to use Zalatoris, where his iffy putting is neutralized and the rest of his game can propel him to the top. He ranks first in approach over the last 50 rounds, is in the top-20 of driving distance while gaining stroke off the tee and is in the top-5 of bogey avoidance, so he checks so many boxes this week. His price point is good enough to start Rahm/Zalatoris and have enough left over where it wouldn’t be horrible.
Others Considered: Max Homa ($9,100), Xander Schauffele ($10,300)
DFS Mid Tier Play
Smalley bounced back well last week with a top-25 finish after a missed cut at the Sony Open. Smalley fired a nine under 63 to close out the tournament and will look to bring that good form into this week. Smalley is not a bomber off the tee by any means, but he’s certainty long enough to handle his own here. He can get hot with his irons, especially from that key 200-plus range this week. Finished 56th here in his debut last year and that was with a career-worst putting performance, losing 5.4 strokes on the green to the field. If he can show improvement on that number from last year and keep his recent form going, I like Smalley to place well this week.
Others Considered: Keegan Bradley ($8,300), Jason Day ($8,800)
DFS Value Play
Smotherman doesn’t have one elite skill, but he does a lot of things well. He’s top-50 in the field off the tee, driving distance, approach (including from 200-plus) and bogey avoidance. The putter is the weakness, but as noted with Zalatoris, that is not as much of a concern on these more difficult courses. The Poa greens is also a feather in the cap for Smotherman’s putting as that is the surface he loses the least amount of strokes on traditionally. As a debutant in this event last year, Smotherman carried some strong iron play to an eleventh-place finish and I look for more of the same this week.
Others Considered: Patrick Rodgers ($7,300), Davis Riley ($7,500)
Outright Betting Picks
*All odds are curtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
Will Zalatoris (+1600)
Max Homa (+2200)
Taylor Montgomery (+2800)
Luke List (+8000)
Position Player Name DK Salary G Will Zalatoris $9,700 G Alex Smalley $7,700 G Austin Smotherman $6,700 G G G REMAINING BUDGET $25,900 for 3 plays