To those complaining about the lack of an offseason in golf, we offer this challenge: How big of a golf fan are you? Isn’t more golf better than less golf? Over-saturation of a product is only a concern when that product is poor. And most agree the PGA Tour is more entertaining than ever with its depth of talent.
There is some serious money to be made in the fall season. Just like other sports when the season is starting up, oddsmakers don't know the pool of new players as well as they know the veterans. Capitalize on that value. To do so this week, just like we did last season, we have our collection of experts, including a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from on-site at The Greenbrier this week, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; The Action Network's senior writer Jason Sobel, who writes for the sports handicapping site that offers premium analysis for bettors; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
Back to our challenge: Would you rather: Watch middling MAC football on a Thursday night, or pay attention to the start of a new PGA Tour season, with future stars like Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler looking for their first PGA Tour victories? If you're reading this column, your answer is likely the latter, which is to say, welcome to the new PGA Tour season.
Greenbrier Classic 2019 Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Sungjae Im (22-1) — After a great rookie campaign that saw him go all the way to the Tour Championship, Im gets to jump right back into the action. The only thing he hasn’t done yet is win, and I think that’s going to change soon.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Joaquin Niemann (22-1) — Joaquin Niemann rates out as the best player in this field over the last 36 rounds, per Fantasy National. The good news: He only has the fifth lowest odds on the betting board. The 20-year-old has made the cut in two appearances, earning a fifth-place paycheck in 2018. And he ended the season hot: He gained strokes ball-striking in nine of his final 10 starts, earning two top-five finishes, finishing no worse than 31st.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Joaquin Niemann (22-1) — Niemann is an elite ball-striker relative to this field: 15th in strokes gained/approach and 10th in strokes gained/ off the tee, according to FantasyNational.com over the past 50 rounds. Since the U.S. Open, he's second in the field in adjusted stroke average, too. Niemann is a plus putter on Bentgrass, which he gets this week, and that makes him a real threat to win at solid odds.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Joaquin Niemann (22-1) — I've been on Niemann over the last couple of months, and I feel strongly that win could happen this week. The stats back it up, and he controls his ball at an elite level. Don't miss Niemann cashing this week.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer: Sungjae Im (22-1) — It might sound a little strange, but Im just finished up his rookie campaign and some people are asking, “Why hasn’t he won yet?” Yes, he’s that good. This is a guy who played 35 events during the 2018-'19 campaign, barely missing a single week for which he was eligible. Even if it was forced upon him, I like the fact that Im had a few weeks of downtime to rest up and recharge. I expect it’ll help him this week, as he begins his sophomore season with hefty expectations.
Golf Digest editors: Harold Varner III (55-1) — We were tempted to go with Kevin Na in this spot, who offers decent value as the defending champion at 34-1. But this tournament feels like it's wide open. HV3 was in the final group last year at The Greenbrier but settled for a T-5 after a final-round 72. He enters this week with the confidence of finishing the season on a high after contending at the Northern Trust. That might translate to his breakthrough win.
Lee Aldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Joaquin Niemann (22-1) — Niemann ranks fourth in our course-suitability metric this week, but that's just part of the story. Over the last two months, Niemann ranks seventh in Opportunities Gained and 6th in strokes gained/tee-to-green in the field this week. Three top 10s in his last eight events show that a win is just around the corner.
(Results from last season: We correctly predicted eight of the season’s 36 events. Pat Mayo correctly picked four winners in 2018-'19: Rory McIlroy (+950, Tour Championship); Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners). Our Golf Digest editors correctly picked three winners: Also hitting Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship; Patrick Cantlay (16-1 at the Memorial) Kevin Tway (55-1 at the Safeway). Brandon Gdula nailed Rory McIlroy (9-1, Canadian Open) and had six runners-up. And Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix and had a runner-up (Dustin Johnson) at the PGA.
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win the 2019 Greenbrier Classic (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jim Herman (210-1) — Sure, he won a tournament a couple months ago (Barbasol Championship), but he's off the radar. He didn’t finish inside the top 125. But getting a win and realizing he can do it in his early 40s has got to inspire some confidence. He’s a terrific ball-striker. If he has a hot putting week, he’s going to be a factor.
Mayo: Andrew Landry (80-1) — If Andrew Landry has retained his stellar iron play from the last two months, he might be the best value. Over the last 36 rounds, Landry is top-15 in this field in strokes gained/approach, Birdies or Better and par-4 scoring; and he's also inside the top 3 in proximity from 125-175 yards and Par 4 scoring from 400 to 450 yards.
Gdula: Andrew Landry (80-1) — Landry’s past three finishes are 3rd, 19th, and 30th. Landry sits 146th in the world rankings but his data is better than that mark, implying he’s undervalued. He ranks top-33 in strokes gained/approach and strokes gained/off the tee over the past 50 rounds.
Riccio: Cameron Percy (180-1) — Percy's strokes-gained numbers put him in the top-25 to 30 in this field, and yet he's all the way down the bottom half of the odds board. He finished the year with two top-11 finishes, including two rounds of 64, so we know he can go low.
Sobel, Action Network: Grayson Murray (100-1) — There’s a history of surprise winners at this tournament, from Ted Potter Jr., to Danny Lee, so if you’re seeking another guy to fit the pattern, Murray might be the one. He’s the quintessential high-ceiling, low-floor player. At his best, Murray has proven he boasts the talent to hang with the game’s best. Based on finishes of 7-11-23 in the Korn Ferry Finals, it’s safe to believe he’ll be at his best when the season begins this week.
Golf Digest editors: Ryan Armour (100-1) — This isn't a sexy pick, but it's one that might give you some hedge equity come the weekend. (Meaning if he's in contention heading into Saturday and you carry a ticket with him on it, you might be able to bet on other players accordingly to guarantee a profit.) At last year's Greenbrier, Armour was in the top five entering the final round before fading on the weekend. That's actually been a theme of his in the past couple months, though he's only missed two cuts since May, so he's a good pick for DFS, too.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Shawn Stefani (120-1) — Stefani has made five of seven cuts on par 70 courses between 7,200 and 7,400 yards on Bentgrass greens, backing up his 11th-place rank on FanShare's course suitability metric this week. He also ranks 11th in the field this week for strokes gained/tee-to-green over the last two months and 28th for Opportunities Gained.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Bubba Watson (27-1) — Bubba has struggled in all aspects of his game lately. He probably knows the course better than anybody in the field since he has a home there, but I'm not sure he'll be able to improve drastically from where his game was just a month ago to contend.
Mayo: Bubba Watson (27-1) — Bubba’s played this event every season since 2013, and he has never really challenged for a win. He has zero top-10s in his five starts.
Gdula: Jason Kokrak (14-1) — I’m a big Jason Kokrak fan overall, but +1400 is a steep price to back him, and his odds are shortening. He’s an elite ball-striker, yet he’s third on my list among the three favorites, making him an easy fade candidate.
Riccio: Bubba Watson (27-1) — My projected odds on Bubba are in the 60-to-1 range, so you have oddsmakers here inflating the numbers based on name recognition. This is a pass.
Sobel, Action Network: Bubba Watson (27-1) — Bubba usually plays his best golf when he’s at his most comfortable – and he’s very comfortable at the Greenbrier, where he serves as an ambassador and owns a house on the property. So why is he a fade this week? Well, besides the fact that he’s fresh off a season during which he posted just three top-10s in 19 starts, there might be too many distractions for him.
Watson loves taking his kids fishing and canoeing and doing other activities with them, especially at this event, which has always felt like a glorified summer camp for those who aren’t playing to keep their jobs. I think he’ll have a great week. He’ll enjoy himself, the family will have a blast and he’ll serve as a worthy ambassador. I just don’t think the scores will follow suit.
Golf Digest editors: Jason Kokrak (14-1) — We're among the bigger Jason Kokrak fans you'll find. He's a regular guy who hits the ball a ton and made a huge jump in class last season. That being said, 14-1 for Jason Kokrak is not a number we can get behind.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Marc Leishman (27-1) — Leishman ranks just 77th in our course suitability metric this week, given that he's finished no better than 73rd in his last 4 events at Old White TPC. The Australian has also missed two of his last five cuts.
2019 Greenbrier: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Scottie Scheffler (+115) over Byeong Hun-An (Sportbet) — Scottie is a good ball-striker with a great imagination. Nice combo anywhere, but especially here.
Mayo: Scottie Scheffler (+100) over Cam Smith (Bodog) — With a brand new tour card, and on the heels of a hot stretch (first place/11th/seventh-place) in the Korn Ferry playoffs, Scheffler is already an elite ball-striker. Sneakily already No. 87 in the world golf rankings, Scheffler has a tough task to upend the Aussie, however, if Smith’s iron play persists from the end of the season, he just won’t make enough birdies to keep up.
Gdula: Scottie Scheffler (+100) over Cam Smith (Bodog) — I'm all over this with Mayo. I also like the fact Smith has lost at least three strokes via approach play in four of his past seven events.
Riccio: J.B. Holmes (+105) over Sepp Straka (Sportsbook) — Sepp Straka might be the trendy pick, as he enjoyed some success last season. But J.B. Holmes is a savvy vet with a ton of experience at the Greenbrier and four career top-25s here in the past, including a T-9 in 2018.
Sobel, Action Network: Robert Streb (even) over Tom Lewis (Bodog) — It’s no secret that Streb loves playing the Greenbrier; he owns two career runner-up finishes here. With a new lease on his professional life after getting through the Korn Ferry Finals, I expect Streb to put together a nice start to this season. Most books have him matched up against Tom Lewis, a talented Englishman who won the final KF event, but one who’s barely played any golf in the U.S. so far. This should be a smash matchup for Streb on a course he loves.
Golf Digest editors: Cameron Tringale (-110) over Branden Grace (Sportsbook) — Tringale really closed last season strong, and it appears oddsmakers haven't caught up to those results yet. Either that, or they're saying Grace is quite bad. Either form of reasoning is why we like Tringale here.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Joaquin Niemann (-115) over Marc Leishman (Sportsbook) — I favor Niemann in this spot, considering he has a decent track record here, compared to Leishman, who for the reasons I stated above, is a big fade.
Matchup results last season: GD Editors: 19 wins, 12 losses, two pushes; PGA Tour Caddie: 19 Ws, 14 Ls; Riccio: 15 Ws, 15 Ls; The Action Network: 11 Ws, 4 Ls; FanShare Sports' Alldrick: 6 Ws, 1 L; Mayo: 14 Ws, 15 Ls, 2 ties; Gdula: 11-19-2
Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Marc Leishman (+300) — It’s usually soft and mushy when we play the Greenbrier in July, but that’s not the case this year, with the fairways really firm and fast and the greens not as receptive. Favor elite ball-strikers this week. The greens are severe, you’re going to need to be in the right spot. Leishman is one of the better ball-strikers, so he should do well.
Mayo: Robby Shelton (+1600) — Twice a winner on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, Shelton was seemingly forgotten after the bigger names started infiltrating the leaderboard during the playoffs. Still, this is the perfect venue for his skill set. From his time on the PGA TOUR in 2017, he ranks fourth in this field in proximity gained from 125-150 and is in the top 25 in par-4 efficiency from 400-450 yards. Shelton also ranked in the top five of all players in overall birdie average and par-4 birdie average.
Gdula: Kevin Streelman (+600) — Streelman is coming off two straight missed cuts but ranks third in the field in strokes gained/tee-to-green and ninth in bogey avoidance over the past 50 rounds, putting him in position for a top-10.
Riccio: Zach Johnson (+600) — In a weaker field, Zach Johnson should be someone who elicits better than 6-to-1 odds on a top-10 finish. He had a poor 2018-2019 season, but you know he's motivated to start it strong on a course he knows well.
Sobel, Action Network: Scottie Scheffler (+350) — Last week, I spoke with NBC/Golf Channel analyst Justin Leonard and asked which player he liked to break through in the upcoming season. Before I could even finish the question, he was chuckling, because he couldn’t get Scheffler’s name out of his mouth quick enough. For what it’s worth, I completely agree with him.
Golf Digest editors: Andrew Landry (+800) — We'll use the great analysis from Mayo and Gdula in why they like Landry as one of their sleeper picks to say he might not win, but a strong finish is more likely than 8-to-1 odds.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Bronson Burgoon (+700) — Burgoon has hit a real purple patch of form right now. He has made 7 of his last 8 cuts which includes a 19th place finish and two 5th place finishes. These results are down to his excellent tee to green game of late where he ranks 10th in the field this week for Shots Gained Tee 2 Green over the last 2 months and 6th for Opportunities Gained over the same period. The Old White TPC should also suit his game: we have him ranked 19th in our course suitability metric this week.
Top-10 results last season: Mayo: 10 for 31; GD Editors: 10 for 30; Gdula: 7 for 29; Riccio: 6 for 30; PGA Tour Caddie: 6 for 31; Action Network: 4 for 13; FanShare: 4 for 7
Mayo: The win is inevitable for Viktor Hovland. So you may as well build around him on DraftKings every week until he cashes that novelty check. He’s pricy, yes, and tough to stack with Joaquin Niemann, but in this field where there’s a lot of hidden value at the bottom, it’s doable. One of those hidden value guys: Grayson Murray. He's a tour winner and heated up following injury in the KFT playoffs, basically mirroring Scheffler, minus the victory: T23/T11/T7.
Here's who I'd build my lineups around on DraftKings this week: Viktor Hovland ($10,900); Joaquin Niemann ($9,700); Andrew Landry ($7,400); Grayson Murray ($6,800); Robby Shelton ($6,400).
Riccio: Though my model doesn't evaluate Bryson DeChambeau quite as high as oddsmakers do this week, I'm able to fit him into my build with a more balanced lineup. You can also play Niemann, my pick to win, and Na, the defending champ, with a couple strong ball-strikers who should make the cut.
Bryson DeChambeau ($11,100); Joaquin Niemann ($9,700); Kevin Na ($9,200); Sam Ryder ($7,100); D.J. Trahan ($6,600); Jamie Lovemark ($6,300).
Golf Digest Editors: We really like this lineup. You have two of the favorites at the top half with Sungjae and Niemann, who more than half of our panel believes will win; you have last year's winner, Kevin Na; you have the Korn Ferry Tour Championship winner in Tom Lewis; you have someone who's grossly undervalued in DraftKings scoring this week in Sam Burns; and Kristoffer Ventura, one of the hottest players on the Korn Ferry to end the year, winning twice on the tour.
Sungjae Im ($9,800); Joaquin Niemann ($9,700); Kevin Na ($9,200); Tom Lewis ($7,900); Sam Burns ($6,900); Kristoffer Ventura ($6,300).
Alldrick: Here's a lineup build I like this week: Joaquin Niemann ($9,700); Byeong Hun An ($9,500); Zach Johnson ($8,300); Tom Lewis ($7,900); Bronson Burgoon ($7,800); Shawn Stefani ($6,700).
FanShare Sports' Under The Radar DFS Pick of the Week — Robert Streb (FanDuel: $9,900; DraftKings: $8,500) — Streb's unusually high price will put a lot of people off of playing him this week. But pay attention to him. Streb has made seven of seven cuts on par 70s between 7,200 and 7,400 yards on Bentgrass greens. Streb ranks 7th in the field this week for DraftKings Points Gained on these courses and has good form, including a third at the Barracuda Championship and a fifth at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.
Here's a look at who's buzzing this week, according to FanShare Sports.
Gdula: There are a lot of value plays in the mix this week, but my favorites are Andrew Landry ($8,500) and Brian Stuard ($8,300). At the top, Viktor Hovland ($12,100) and Joaquin Niemann ($11,000) are my top targets. Don’t overlook Scottie Scheffler ($10,200) in the mid-range, either. This is a week where you can build balanced lineups or target a top-and-bottom heavy approach for more tournament variance.
Riccio: My FanDuel lineup: Bryson DeChambeau ($12,300); Joaquin Niemann ($11,000); Kevin Na ($10,300); Jamie Lovemark ($8,500); Sam Ryder ($7,700); D.J. Trahan ($7,600).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the 2019 Wyndham Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a UK based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.