Fortinet Championship 2021 DFS picks: Jon Rahm is still a play at an astronomical price
Kevin C. Cox
I hope you enjoyed your offseason, because the new PGA Tour year starts right now! The Fortinet Championship is under a new sponsorship, but it’s the same event that we see each year in Napa, Calif. The Silverado Resort’s North Course will play host to this event, offering plenty of birdie opportunities along the way.
The big story at the start of the week is the field. Not only is this the first event for the new graduates of the Korn Ferry Tour but the No. 1 player in the world, Jon Rahm, will be in attendance. Rahm enters the week with the shortest odds in recent memory (+300 to win) and with a DraftKings price that we haven’t encountered in at least four years.
Price range: $9,000 and above
High Upside: Will Zalatoris ($10,500 DraftKings)
The newly crowned Rookie of the Year makes his first start as a full member of the tour. Zalatoris posted a T-8 at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational and a T-29 at the Wyndham Championship -- his last two starts. With a month off from competitive golf, he will certainly be well-rested on a course that should allow him to lean into his strengths: ball-striking.
Safest Option: Cameron Tringale ($9,700 DraftKings)
Tringale struggled with his driver towards the end of last season, but with a few weeks to round into form, I suspect most golfers get back to their personal baseline. For Tringale, that would be an improved approach play and a putting stroke. He ranked 16th on tour in putting last season and this mix of poa annua and bentgrass greens have been his best surface.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Marc Leishman ($9,500 DraftKings)
Leishman finished third at the Travelers Championship in June. Since then, he hasn’t cracked the top 30 and has lost strokes nearly across the board. Outside of the Zurich Classic this year, which was a team event, this is the most expensive Leishman has been since the 2019 Greenbrier. It seems like you’d be buying high on a golfer without much momentum.
Pick To Win: Jon Rahm ($12,100 DraftKings)
Rahm is clearly the best player in the field and it’s not particularly close. He gained 2.06 strokes per round last season, which is 0.86 strokes per round more than Webb Simpson, his next closest peer. Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, the gap between Rahm and Simpson is the same as between Simpson and Brendon Todd -- the 24th ranked player in the same metric.
$8,000 to $9,000
High Upside: Mito Pereira ($8,000 DraftKings)
Pereira kicks off his first full season as a PGA Tour member after getting the battlefield promotion last summer. Pereira only played 24 rounds last season on tour, but he flashed brilliance in the ball-striking categories. Since his debut, only Bryson DeChambeau, Viktor Hovland, Daniel Berger, Justin Thomas, and Corey Conners were better ball-strikers -- per the RickRunGood.com golf database. That’s some mighty fine company to keep.
Safest Option: Max Homa ($8,700 DraftKings)
Homa lost a bit of his upside at the end of last season but the “good news” is that only one thing went wrong -- the putter. He was horrendous with the flatstick, losing a total of 17.55 strokes putting over his final six measured events. That’s uncharacteristic for Homa, who was basically a neutral putter last season. With a few weeks off from competitive golf, I think it’s safe to assume he fixed the putting stroke.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Phil Mickelson ($8,100 DraftKings)
The win at the PGA Championship is starting to look more and more like the outlier for Mickelson. That was his only top-15 finish of the season and he ended the year by losing 14.2 strokes on approach over his final six rounds. There seems to be too many leaks to plug in his game at the moment.
Pick To Win: Charley Hoffman ($8,800 DraftKings)
There’s a case to be made that Hoffman is one of the most mis-priced golfers in the field. He’s coming off a season where he piled up top-20 finishes while proving to be one of the better iron players on tour. Even outside of his finishing position, Hoffman has the ability to make birdies in bunches, which is valuable in any fantasy format.
$7,000 to $8,000
High Upside: Hank Lebioda ($7,100 DraftKings)
It’s clear that we don’t know what version of Lebioda we will get this week. Will we get the version that produced three straight top-8 finishes in June/July or will we get the version that missed his last two cuts of the season? At this price, in this field, I think it’s worth finding out. If we get the “good” version, then Lebioda can be the slate breaker.
Safest Option: Pat Perez ($7,900 DraftKings)
Realistically, Perez is a bit too reliant on his putter for my taste but he has improved his approach play and is finding a way to get it done. He’s not only made 10 of his last 12 cuts but he has eight top-30 finishes in that stretch. At this price, you’d sign up for a T-22 right now and move on with your week.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Brendan Steele ($7,400 DraftKings)
It’s hard to look past the two-time winner of this event but Steele spent most of 2021 struggling to make the cut. Over his last eight events, he failed to make the weekend four times and his best finish was a T-37 at the Memorial. His driving prowess has been lost and he’s giving away a ton of strokes around the green. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on Steele.
Pick To Win: Hudson Swafford ($7,200 DraftKings)
In no way is Swafford a safe play, but he is flashing enticing upside at the moment. His last three events produced a T-37, T-11 and T-17 -- with the final two coming in the playoffs. He’s gained at least two strokes on approach in each of those three, which is a solid foundation to build upon.
$6,900 and below
High Upside: David Lipsky ($6,700 DraftKings)
Lipsky secured his card via the Korn Ferry Tour last season, after posting seven top 10s, including a win and three more runner-up finishes. I worry that there will be a learning curve moving to the PGA Tour full-time but he’s made noise on this circuit already. He finished T-8 at the Palmetto Championship last season and also teed it up at the WGC Workday (finished T-48). He actually has 18 PGA Tour events under his belt since 2015, with two top 10s and four top 25s.
Safest Option: Mark Hubbard ($6,500 DraftKings)
Hubbard made his last five PGA Tour cuts last season with two top-20 finishes. When he’s at his best, Hubbard is striking it well off the tee. He’s been much better in that category recently and he’s a well-established PGA Tour pro being priced amongst guys making their debut.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Kyle Stanley ($6,700 DraftKings)
Stanley is a familiar name in this range but there’s not much else to boast about. He hasn’t cracked the top 40 in any of his last eight events and has lost a combined 24.68 strokes putting over his last eight measured starts. It doesn’t matter how the rest of his game plays, he cannot roll the rock into the cup.
Pick To Win: Michael Thompson ($6,900 DraftKings)
Thompson has made three of his last four cuts and has back-to-back top 25s at this event. When I’m in this range and looking for a winner, I defer to golfers who have actually won before. Thompson notched his most recent victory last summer at the 3M Open.
Listen to Golf Digest's weekly betting podcast, "Be Right," where we interview the industry's leading experts (and sometimes tour pros) to help you make your bets and pick your fantasy lineups. And be sure to subscribe to "Be Right" wherever you get your podcasts!
Rick Gehman, founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.