The 2016-2017 PGA season tees off Thursday morning at the Safeway Open from Silverado Country Club in Napa, CA. The fall slate of tournaments is always interesting, as there hasn’t been much separation from the drama of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Ryder Cup, but yet every returning vet and rising young star does seem to get a clean slate here, a chance to define what the next year of their career is going to look like. And fantasy players have new, different players on hand every week, new rookies to consider and plenty of competitive golf on interesting courses.
Paul Casey ($11,600) – This is a course that might forgive an errant putter, but demands solid ball striking, and Casey fits the bill, finishing the 2016 season second in total GIR % and seventh in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He will need to score big on the par-5’s to take home the title, but as the most expensive option on the board, he should be a safe choice to make the cut, making him a great centerpiece to a cash game lineup.
Emiliano Grillo ($10,900) – He started off his rookie season last year with a win here, and ended up extending that season all the way through East Lake, ultimately finishing eleventh in FedEx Cup points, so there is no reason not to expect him to start off his 2017 season playing well. He finished the 2016 season fourth in Total Driving, and that combination of distance and accuracy off the tee should be key factor here – with four par-5’s, it will be extremely helpful to put up a low number on the longer holes, but distance alone won’t cut it with a course groomed to cause problems when players miss the fairway off the tee (as they did in droves last year, with only 53.94% of fairways hit in total).
Jon Rahm ($10,200) – He had just eight starts on Tour over the last year after qualifying from the Web.com Tour mid-season, and we haven’t seen him in action since the Wyndham Championship back in August, where he missed the cut. That was his only MC in those eight tries, so you know he has been anxious to get back out there and continue what he started in his rookie year: 7/8 cuts made, with three top-tens. If he played enough rounds to qualify, his Birdie or Better of 25.37 would have been good enough to place him second on Tour for the year, firmly between Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, pretty decent company to keep.
Jhonattan Vegas ($9,100) – He finished T10 here last season, and after watching an entire year of him sticking iron shots routinely, it’s not hard to see why. Top-10 on Tour in GIR % and T24 in Par-5 scoring, his skill set seems to match up very nicely with this course, and he will look to add that into an even better showing than that T10 he had last time around.
Tony Finau ($8,300) – His best chance of attacking this course is going to be on the par-5’s (T17 in Par-5 scoring last season), but he will need to have great control off the tee to get that done – better than the 52% of fairways he hit last season. But by the end of the year, he was bringing that number up, striking it very cleanly off the tee over his last several tournaments, which included three top-25 showings in August and September.
Jason Kokrak ($8,100) – He ended the season last year with three straight top-20 performances at The Barclays (T7), the Deutsche Bank Championship (T8) and the BMW Championship (T17). Over those solid performances, he actually propelled himself up to #59 on Tour in the All-Around ranking, much higher than he sat for most of the year, and a sign that if he can continue with the same level of play, there is no reason he shouldn’t continue to expect stellar results.
Smylie Kaufman ($7,900) – He started off his rookie season with a win last October at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, continued it with eight top-25 finishes over the course of the year and ended it just one solid round away from advancing to the Tour Championship. That last solid round escaped him as he shot a 76 on Sunday at the BMW Championship to drop to 43rd on the points list and miss his shot at going to East Lake, but just being in that position indicates a solid first year on Tour, something he can look to build on in year 2, starting now.
Hudson Swafford ($7,800) – After making his final 12 cuts of the 15-16 season, he probably wished he didn’t have to take a month off before getting back out there. But not only did he flash the consistency to make all those cuts, he also did it while finishing inside the top-25 in both Birdie Average and Birdie or Better %, meaning he wasn’t just staying alive – he was actually out there scoring you some fantasy points, even on the weekends where he wasn’t finishing inside the top-25. That is how he ended up with a 60-fantasy point per outing average despite just the one top-10 and five top-25’s on the year.
Cheng-Tsung Pan ($7,400) – He might have ended the year second to Murray in the All-Around on the Web.com Tour, but he is another rookie looking to make his mark on Tour this year. He also only had seven top-ten performances compared to Murray’s eight, but his array of talents might even seem more suited to this particular course, and there is no telling what a solid start to the season might mean for his confidence – this could prime him for a stellar rookie campaign. Last season he finished inside the top-20 among his peers in Driving Accuracy, GIR , Putting Average, Birdie , Scoring Average, the aforementioned All-Around, Total Driving and Ball Striking. Oh, and Scrambling. That’s everything, isn’t it?
Grayson Murray ($7,500) – The first of two Web.com Tour studs from last year in a row on my list here, Murray was the money leader there last season (earning him his exemption), and number one in the All-Around. He finished with eight top-ten performances, and the 23-year-old is going to look to build on that starting now, something that might actually be possible for a player whose GIR (70.86) and Total Driving stats (92) from last season were solid even by Tour standards.
Johnson Wagner ($7,100) – Wagner has the kind of game that for me, actually gives him a relatively high floor this weekend. Wagner played his way to the Deutsche Bank Championship last season, after recording a pair of top-five finishes in August, and he did it largely with solid ball-striking, concluding the year at #13 on Tour in GIR %. And because, as I discussed with a number of more expensive options above, that is the skill-set that is most likely going to propel golfers up the leaderboard this weekend all else being equal. That makes Wagner someone I would consider in any format contest.
Robert Garrigus ($7,100) – He had six top-25 performances last season, starting with the AT&T Byron Nelson back in May, and culminating with three straight in August (Travelers, John Deere Classic, and Wyndham) before missing the cut in his final appearance, at The Barclays. He did his damage from the fairway, with his irons, finishing 14th in GIR % and 21st in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. If he picks up where he left off, he should be consistently putting himself in positions to make birdies this weekend, which means you are going to want to be considering him for your lineups in any format contest.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theasquad) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.