Rocket Mortgage Classic 2019 picks and best bets: Is Dustin Johnson a lock to win? Not so fast
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
You’re forgiven if you’re suffering from a bit of a major championship hangover. Golfers are fighting along with golf fans. Brooks Koepka admitted as much last week, saying he was tired after two rounds at the Travelers. The new schedule has its advantages for being action-packed from April through June. Now we hit a lull until the Open Championship. That being said, that doesn't mean we'll give any bit of a watered-down opinion on this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic, at a new site, the reinvigorated Detroit Golf Club and its North and South courses.
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green of this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; handicapping advice from The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
In this weak field for the Rocket Mortgage Classic, is Dustin Johnson as close to a guarantee as you can get? One of our experts thinks so—the others disagree a little bit and looked elsewhere for some value. See who we like this week.
Rocket Mortgage Classic 2019 Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Vaughn Taylor (90-1) — This is an old school golf course. Length, being an advantage here, really depends on the direction of the wind. I want to say a bomber is probably a good bet every week, but this course, depending on rainfall and how hard the greens get, you could get a repeat of last week with a Chez Reavie-type: someone who is accurate off the tee (not necessarily the longest), a really good chipper and putter. Dustin is the favorite this week, but what’s the point in betting the favorite, right? Let’s go with Vaughn Taylor. He played really well last week. I think he’s got a lot of positive momentum, as we saw him birdie the last five holes Sunday at TPC River Highlands to finish fourth at the Travelers. I also feel like this course suits him. Vaughn and Chez are kind of the same player. They both hit it straight and possess outstanding short games. Vaughn is in good shape right now with his FedExCup position (No. 65), so he can let loose and play without fear—a recipe for a victory.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Jason Dufner (45-1) — Despite an underwhelming T35 finish at the U.S. Open, Dufner has persisted striking the ball at an elite level over the past few months. He’s gained on his drives in five consecutive events and on his approaches in five of six. His Poa putting splits are concerning, but ride the form with the irons and hopefully there will be enough makable putts to contend.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Ryan Moore (35-1) — Moore’s ball-striking and tee-to-green game overall is really strong. Per FantasyNational.com, over the past 100 rounds on the PGA Tour, Moore ranks 25th in strokes gained/off the tee, 3rd in approach, and 20th around the green. He’s also a super accurate driver, which should help get into scoring chances this week (he’s fourth in the field in that sample). He’s far from a guarantee on the green, but if he can seek pins, Moore can go low enough to contend at pretty long odds.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (6-1) — We'd understand being reluctant to back anybody other than Tiger Woods in the mid 2000s at such low odds. But Dustin Johnson is worth it. The 20-time PGA Tour winner is hitting the ball far and away better than anybody in this field, a huge advantage this week at Detroit Golf Club. The composite course has four par 5s, which plays to DJ's length advantage. Consider that over the past 50 rounds, Dustin Johnson is first in this field in strokes gained/tee-to-green, strokes gained/off-the-tee and second to only Gary Woodland in par-5 scoring, according to FantasyNational.com. We're willing to take the extremely low price on what should be another win for DJ.
Joshua Perry, Action Network golf handicapper: Kevin Kisner (45-1) — Kisner has been relatively solid throughout the year and has already come out win a victory this season in match play. He had a small slump about a month ago, but seems to be trending in the right direction now and enter this week off a good tournament at the Travelers. His struggles tend to come on courses where he needs to bomb it off the tee, which isn't his strength. But this week there are plenty of short par 4s and reachable par 5s for him to take advantage of.
Golf Digest editors: Hideki Matsuyama (11-1) — Hideki Matsuyama is perhaps more due for a win than anyone else on the PGA Tour. He hasn't won since 2017, but he continues to strike the ball on an elite level—leading this field in strokes gained/approaches in his past 50 rounds, per FantasyNational.com, and he's second in strokes gained/tee-to-green. Heck, Matsuyama has even gained strokes putting in his past four tournaments. Yes, really. Matsuyama has made every cut in 2019 and only missed two in 2018, and he finishes in the top 20 seemingly every week. (OK, it's just 19 top-20s in the past two seasons.) On a layout that should reward precision with your irons and excelling off the tee, this could be Matsuyama's week.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted seven of the season’s 27 events. We’ve picked the past two winners, with Brandon Gdula hitting Rory McIlroy (9-1) last week and our Golf Digest Editors predicting Patrick Cantlay (16-1) at the Memorial. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix and had a runner-up (Dustin Johnson) at the PGA. And our Golf Digest editors also correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) earlier in the season.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Shawn Stefani (250-1) — Sure, Shawn Stefani is a pretty obscure name, but he’s a guy who needs the money and plays well when his back against the wall. We’re getting close to the finish line of this PGA Tour season. The one thing every player wants is to finish inside the top 150 in the FedEx Cup. He’s inside that now at No. 139 and definitely trying to chase down top 125. I like him as a dark horse this week.
Mayo: Charley Hoffman (90-1) — Back-to-back MCs and you’re taking this guy, Mayo? Most people will see his name, roll their eyes and take a hard pass. But his bad showing last week was actually just one round—he lost almost three strokes on the greens in his opening-round 74 at the Travelers, and dropped another two strokes tee-to-green. Bad rounds happen. Round 2? The putting still wasn’t good (-1.6 strokes-gained/putting) but the ball-striking was off the charts (+4.0 SG: Ball Striking), en route to a three-under 67. We’re expecting a winning score in the 20-under range, and that sort of birdie fest sets up perfectly for Sir Charley. You’re getting a discount on one of the better ball-strikers in the field because of one bad round in Hartford. Don’t be too concerned about it.
Gdula: Corey Conners (175-1) — Conners could have a nightmarish time on the greens here, but if he doesn’t, he’s someone to fear. He grades out fourth in opportunities gained over the past 100 rounds and is top-10 in both strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/approach. Plus, he’s a more accurate driver than you may think (29th).
Riccio: Aaron Wise (50-1) — It hasn't been the most successful sophomore season for Aaron Wise, but we're catching him right as he's heating up. The 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson champ briefly caught a piece of the leaderboard at the U.S. Open before fading on the weekend. But this isn't exactly a major. The 22-year-old is striking the ball at an elite level relative to the field and isn't priced as such. He gained four strokes on the field at Pebble Beach on his approach shots, which should suit him on Detroit G.C.'s undulating greens. My model has his odds closer to 25-1, so you're almost getting double the value because of the name recognition. He finished top-five at last year's Northern Trust Open at Ridgewood Country Club on a similar-feeling venue. We think Detroit might fit Wise's eye, too.
Perry, Action Network: Sepp Straka (150-1) — I'll go way down the board here and recommend Straka, He's been strong off the tee and with the approach game in his rookie season on Tour. It's just the putter that hasn't really cooperated. We've seen him flirt with the first round lead a few times this year and put together some low rounds. The ball striking is where it needs to be for a high finish, now we'll just see if the putter heats up.
Golf Digest editors: Brian Harman (90-1) — Harman's struggles in 2019 have been puzzling. The Georgia Bulldog had such a strong 2018—rattling off six top-10s in a five month span—and entering the top-30 in the world rankings. That Harman has disappeared in 2019, with just two top-10s to his credit, to go along with 10 missed cuts. One of those top-10s came last week at the Travelers, where we saw Harman gain nine strokes on the field, well distributed in all categories. We're told by Sea Island guru Randy Myers that Harman is re-energized and ready to ascend to great heights again. We'll buy in on that.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Patrick Reed (45-1) — I have my eye on somebody with a two-way miss right now: Patrick Reed. I don’t know what’s going on—maybe a hangover from wining a major last year or something. He started to get it going at the U.S. Open, but he didn’t carry it into Travelers. He has a T-32 and a T-30 in those two starts. He’s missed only three cuts this season in 17 starts, but he just seems to be in neutral. He can’t get it going and get it finished off. He's really not hitting it well right now off the tee, and I don’t think his short game can bail him out here.
Mayo: Gary Woodland (14-1) — This is setting up to be a terrible call when the US Open champ comes out and smokes everyone, but following his media tour of America, on the heels of his first Major win, feels like the next start may be a bit of a let down. Oh, and don’t forget, Woodland doesn’t normally putt as well as he did at Pebble. Usually, it’s more three-putts from 10-feet than draining every 45-footer.
Gdula: Dustin Johnson (6-1) — This fade really, really feels dangerous, but it’s 100% about the asking price. Johnson’s win odds, per my simulations (15.1 percent), are right around in line with his sportsbook asking price (14.3 percent) and actually imply some +EV, but that’s not really encouraging enough for a 6/1 bet. I can’t fault anyone for backing DJ, but I’ll just be filling my card in other ways.
Riccio: Kevin Streelman (45-1) — There's a lot of hype for Kevin Streelman this week, and perhaps rightfully so, as Streelman has gained more than five strokes tee-to-green in his past six starts, which have led to four top-15 finishes. He's been playing great lately, but if you look long-term like my model does, you'll see the full sample size. And it's not pretty. My model has him as the 62nd-most likely player to win this week, with projected odds of about 150-1. Oddsmakers are using more recent data to set his price this week, and I'm totally fine passing because of that.
Perry, Action Network: Rickie Fowler (11-1) — Fowler is playing alright, but the finishes haven't been up to his standard. It's been six weeks since his last top 10, spanning over four tournaments. If I'm going to pay up for someone at Fowler's number, I'd want to see some better form.
Golf Digest editors: Bubba Watson (55-1) — This worked really well for us last week, even at a venue in TPC River Highlands where Bubba has found insane success in his career. Which is perhaps a sign that Bubba's game is really in the dumps right now. A tight, tree-lined course with heavily undulating greens doesn't sound like the place for Bubba to find his game—we'll sell his chances again this week.
Rocket Mortgage Classic 2019 picks: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Dustin Johnson (-180) over Chez Reavie (Sportbet) — Two factors here: 1. This course is a bomber’s paradise. If DJ has the short game clicking with the long game this week, he’s running away. Chez has been playing great this season and obviously was at his best over the weekend in Connecticut while winning for the first time in 11 years at the Travelers Championship. An emotional win like that can take a toll. It would be totally normal to have a little bit of a hangover after a win like that. Give me DJ in this match up.
Mayo: Kevin Kisner over Sungjae Im (-110) (Bet365) — I love Sungjae, but he’s been living off a hot putter his past two starts. Per FantasyNational.com, Im has gained an AVERAGE of 5.7 strokes/putting in those turns. Come on, now. I’d be more concerned about Im losing strokes in five of his last six events with his irons, especially at a second shot golf course. It could flip, sure, but it’s more likely the putts stop dropping with such ease. Kisner? After his lull following the Match Play victory, the irons are back, the driving is improving, and the putts are starting to fall again. Kiz is the play.
Gdula: Kevin Streelman (-116) over Aaron Wise (FanDuel) — I really like Streelman’s game over a large sample of 100 rounds: 16th off the tee and 13th in approach, plus accurate driving (8th). Wise’s irons have been hit-or-miss lately, and so has his putter.
Riccio: Peter Uihlein (-125) over Jonas Blixt (Sportbet) — Uihlein has a huge length advantage over Blixt, and that's reflected in my model—which likes Uihlein 60 spots better than Blixt this week. That's a huge difference not accounted for in the oddsmakers' price. I'll take Uihlein.
Perry, Action Network: Hideki Matsuyama (-110) over Rickie Fowler (Sportbet) — As mentioned, Fowler hasn't been himself lately, while Matsuyama has been pretty consistent for months now. He's beat Fowler in five of the last seven events where they've both teed it up, including three straight. I'll take the guy who is in better form.
Golf Digest editors: Viktor Hovland (+100) over Bubba Watson (Sportbet) — Hovland is coming off two straight weeks leading the world's best players in strokes gained/off-the-tee stats, proving he's already one of the world's best long-ball hitters. Give us the kid with the momentum and the motivation to secure a tour card for next year over Bubba, who hasn't finished better than 50th place in his past four starts. This seems easy.
(Matchup results last week: Riccio: 1 for 1 (Bryson DeChambeau (-110) over Tommy Fleetwood); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Francesco Molinari (+104) over Jordan Spieth); GD Editors: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: Action Network guest picker: 6 for 7; GD Editors: 14 wins, 8 losses, two pushes; Riccio: 12-9; PGA Tour Caddie: 13-11; Mayo: 10-10-2; Gdula: 10-12-1.)
Top 10 (odds from Sportsbook.ag)
PGA Tour Caddie: Sungjae Im (+325) — He’s played a ton this season, making 27 starts already. Eleven of those have been top-25 finishes. I think he’s a grinder and if you’re going to rate rookies, he’s having a very solid year. He lapped them on the Web.com Tour last year. He’s 26th in the FedEx standings right now. That’s a terrific rookie campaign to this point, and there are no signs of slowing down.
Mayo: Vaughn Taylor (+750) — Fresh off a fire Sunday at The Travelers where he ended up T-4, Taylor is now riding five straight cuts (three Top 25s) into play in Detroit. Like Dufner, the irons have been fantastic, gaining over three strokes on the field in three of his past five starts, and unlike most of the duds I write about, he’s actually been rolling well all year, having gained on the greens in 13 of 16 2019 starts. VT’s major hiccup all year has been his driving. That looks like it may have started to resolve itself, however. Taylor has gained off the tee in three of his past four start after only finding positive digits in eight of the previous 10. He’s a long shot, but one who keep lingering around the leaderboard.
Gdula: Vaughn Taylor (+750) — Taylor rarely gains strokes off the tee, but his approach (23rd) and accuracy (20th) should get him into scoring position often. In fact, according to FantasyNational’s opportunities-gained metric, he ranks third in the field over the past 100 rounds.
Riccio: Sam Ryder (+1250) — Sam Ryder had a run of four top-10 finishes starting around this time last season before quieting down in 2019. It looks like he's starting to find that form from last year. Ryder has made his last three cuts and gained strokes on his approach shots in six of his past eight starts. That should bode well for this Donald Ross track, and at almost 5-to-1 odds, it's worth taking a chance on a strong finish for Ryder.
Perry, Action Network: Kevin Streelman (+295) — Streelman has been stringing great results together for a while now. He's been inside the top 15 four times in his last six events spanning over three months. When he's faltered, it's been his putter that's failed him.
Golf Digest editors: Charley Hoffman (+725) — These seem like extremely high odds to get on Hoffman, who obviously has one of the best pedigrees in this weaker field. He has now gained strokes on his approach shots in his past seven events, and it wasn't too long ago that he popped on the weekend at the Valero Texas Open. This could be another week where the strong approach game leads to a high finish.
(Top-10 results last week: Everyone: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Action Network: 3 out of 6 (+196, +800, +1000 hits); Mayo: 7 for 22; GD Editors: 6 for 22; Gdula: 5 for 22; Riccio: 5 for 22; PGA Tour Caddie: 5 for 23.)
Mayo: Who I'm building around this week: Dustin Johnson ($12,000); Jason Dufner ($8,000); Charley Hoffman ($7,800); Andrew Landry ($6,800); Talor Gooch ($6,800).
The DJ-esque results we clamor for on a weekly basis haven’t been there as of late. Sure, he was runner-up at the PGA Championship, but he’s scattered a T-35/T-20/T-28 around that result. Not what you expect when you select Dustin Johnson. Still, he’s a cut above the field in terms of talent this week, and his T2G game is exactly where it needs to be to run away with this event. In his last start at the U.S. Open, despite that T35 finish, he was still Top 10 in T2G he just couldn’t sink a putt. Those -6.1 strokes are third most strokes he’s ever lost in a single event dating back to 2012. Expect a rebound, and pray that gaudy $12K price tag keeps the masses away, and load up … Talor Gooch and Andrew Landry are perfect last guys on your roster. Gooch got into the field late, so most people don’t even know he’s in the field, but would it surprise you know he’s actually eighth in the field in SG: APP over the past 50 rounds, just behind Ryan Moore, Chez Reavie, and Corey Conners? Well, now you do. And Landry, the finish wasn’t great at Travelers, but you’re looking for a potential birdie maker just waiting to break out again, it’s Landry. He’s won on tour already, was Top 10 in ball-striking a week ago, and just needs some lucky with the flat stick to get into contention. Plus, he’s super cheap. Need those guys if you want to afford DJ.
Riccio: The top-two players in my lineup are also the two have the best odds of winning, according to my model. Throw in consistency with Kyle Stanley and Brice Garnett, and high upside with Hadley and Ryder
Dustin Johnson ($12,000); Hideki Matsuyama ($10,200); Kyle Stanley ($7,700); Chesson Hadley ($7,200); Sam Ryder ($6,600); Brice Garnett ($6,200).
Golf Digest Editors: Starting off your lineup with the winners of the past two events is reassuring. Some might expect Gary Woodland to have a little bit of a Pebble Beach hangover, but his confidence must be through the roof right now. He should rack up some DraftKings points this week. Same thing with Chez Reavie. Rinse and repeat from last week: Hit the ball dead straight and hit your irons close, and you'll succeed this week, too. We like Hoffman and Taylor to possibly win this week, and we're rounding the lineup out with two guys who have made the cut in the majority of their events this season.
Gary Woodland ($10,900); Chez Reavie ($9,700); Charley Hoffman ($7,800); Vaughn Taylor ($7,600); Cameron Tringale ($7,000); Hank Lebioda ($6,900).
Gdula: In cash-games (head-to-heads, double-ups, etc.), I think you have to spend up for Dustin Johnson ($12,500) and not think twice. You can also try to pair him with Hideki Matsuyama ($11,300) and rely on a few values to get you to a full lineup. In tournaments, Rickie Fowler ($11,700) could be going lower-owned than he should. That ownership leverage is enticing.
My favorite low-end plays are Kevin Streelman ($9,500), Jason Kokrak ($9,300), Keith Mitchell ($9,000), and Vaughn Taylor ($8,800).
Riccio: I'm able to jam five of the top six players in my model into this lineup, and I added Brice Garnett, who had a strong week at a similar venue last year at Aronimink, a Donald Ross outside Philly.
Dustin Johnson ($12,500); Rickie Fowler ($11,700); Hideki Matsuyama ($11,300); Aaron Wise ($9,400); Sam Ryder ($8,000); Brice Garnett ($7,000).
GD Editors: The salary allowance FanDuel uses allow you to construct a solid lineup even while taking Dustin Johnson at such extremely high odds. Alongside him, you get five guys who could win this week, including Brandt Snedeker, who seems to always excel at Donald Ross courses; Ryan Moore, who is an iron machine; and three others who should definitely make the cut.
Dustin Johnson ($12,500); Brandt Snedeker ($10,600); Ryan Moore ($10,200); Aaron Wise ($9,400); Rory Sabbatini ($9,400); Cameron Tringale ($7,900).
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 Valspar 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.
Joshua Perry is one of Action Network's golf contributors. For their staff's favorite picks for the U.S. Open, click here.
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