Expert PicksJanuary 2, 2019

Sentry Tournament of Champions Betting Preview: "Take everything you have, and lay it on Dustin Johnson"

With the malaise of the holidays over, the PGA Tour season resumes with this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua’s Plantation course. And with that, Golf Digest’s weekly betting analysis column is back. Our panel of experts—which includes a PGA Tour caddie providing insight from the front lines every week thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network—plus golf handicappers, correctly predicted three of the six champions in the fall wraparound season. So we're excited to keep the momentum moving with winning picks in 2019.

Cam Champ earning his first PGA Tour win in the second start of his rookie season provided one of the highlights of the fall wraparound season. Now the stars are back playing. Thirty-three of the 37 pros eligible for this year’s Tournament of Champions are teeing it up, one of the strongest TOC fields in recent memory, including two-time TOC winner and defending champion Dustin Johnson.

Here's who our panel of experts likes this week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions Odds To Win (odds from DraftKings sportsbook):

PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Brooks Koepka (10-1) — "I like Brooks to win this week.  While it’s true that he’s been historically a guy who only gets up for big events (majors) I think his victory at the CJ Cup was a step in the right direction toward putting that notion to rest."

Pat Mayo, DraftKings analyst: Bryson DeChambeau (12-1) — Bryson storms into Hawaii, winner in three of his past six starts, sitting top five in this field in strokes/gained: off the tee; strokes/gained: short game; strokes/gained/approach; strokes/gained:ball-striking; strokes/gained on par 5s; strokes/gained on par 4s, including par4s from 350-400 yards (five on the course) over the last 24 rounds. Oh, Bryson also tops in the FantasyNational.com metric “Opportunities Gained,” which measures the amount of greens and fringes in regulation inside 15 feet. (Think of this stat as a more predictive version of greens in regulation). With its large greens, Kapalua actually generates almost 50 percent more three-putts per round than the PGA Tour average. So don't put too much value into greens in regulation this week—that's meaningless if you're on the green but 65 feet from the cup.

Francesco Molinari (28-1): This is nothing but a pure odds value play. Sure, since his dominant Ryder Cup he’s lost the ability to putt, but 28-1 is just too long for the No. 7 player in the world. Especially in a field of of 34 players, on slow greens, where a wedge is the most important club. That’s Moli’s thing.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: DeChambeau (12-1)

Gdula: Webb Simpson (20-1): Simpson hasn’t played here since a third-place in 2014 but leads the field in strokes gained on par 4s over his past 36 rounds. He’s also a solid Bermuda putter.

Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Justin Thomas (9-1) — My optimization model gives the 2017 Tournament of Champions winner the best chances of winning, despite oddsmakers giving him the third-best chance of winning, according to the odds.

Golf Digest editors picks: Brooks Koepka (10-1) — Given Koepka finished dead-last here in 2018, there is some built in value on the reigning PGA Tour of the Year. With an extremely limited field, we'll take the player whose game looked like it was the best in the world in 2018. Koepka was dealing with injuries over the first part of 2018, which we'll credit his dead-last finish to. Expect Koepka to be motivated to continue his dominance in 2019 in a big way here.

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Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win (odds per DraftKings Sportsbook):

PGA Tour Caddie: Andrew Putnam (80-1) — I like Andrew Putnam to surprise this week. He’s been quietly playing some nice golf ever since his eighth-place showing at the Canadian Open springboarded him to victory the next week in Reno. The fourth-place at the windswept Shanghai course showed me he’s ready to compete with the big boys. People on tour are noticing, and it won’t be long before the rest of the golf world sees it.

Riccio: Aaron Wise (33-1)

Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint):

PGA Tour Caddie: Satoshi Kodaira is a guy who just can’t seem to find the consistency week in and week out on the PGA Tour that he’s enjoyed in Asia.  Since his victory at the Heritage his best full field result on US soil is a 41st in Vegas back in October. He plays a heavy Asian schedule and while he won a month ago in Japan, that form hasn’t cleared customs yet on this side of the world. He’s a fade for me.

Matchups:

PGA Tour Caddie: Francesco Molinari (-120) over Cam Champ — Molinari is a slight favorite, but I think he should be a heavier favorite. People have certainly taken notice of Champ since his victory at Sanderson Farms and consistent start to his rookie season in the fall, but remember those are somewhat watered down fields. Molinari has been making hay for the better part of a year against the best in the world. Frankie has shown how his wind game holds up (Carnoustie), and the jury is still out on Champ’s driver in the wind.

Golf Digest editors picks: Brooks Koepka (-120) over Jason Day — We've seen Koepka dominate the end of 2018, whereas we haven't seen much from Jason Day lately. Day didn't play at Kapalua last year and finished T-12 in 2017, shooting in the 60s only one of those days. You need to go super low to succeed at Kapalua, and we like Koepka's chances of making birdies more than Day.

Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook):

PGA Tour Caddie: This one is easy: Lay whatever you have to lay on Dustin Johnson (-200). Oddsmakers are giving away free money. I don’t think much explanation is necessary, he’s got a great history on this course, he's healthy and he's playing well. I'd be comfortable dropping a lot of money on this one.

Mayo: Granted, an absolute bomb, but in this small of a field, Satoshi Kodaira is coming off a win in his last start in Japan, and picked up his 2018 PGA victory on a coastal, Bermuda course at The Heritage. That week he did damage with his irons, gaining 6.1 strokes on the field. He’s not in the same class as skill as most this field, but he’s not the bottom dweller the odds suggest he is.

Gdula: Matt Kuchar (+225) — Kuchar has a sixth and a 15th at this event in the past and has gained strokes on Bermuda greens and on par 4s of late.

Keegan Bradley (+250) — Bradley’s putter could be a problem, yet he ranks top-five in approach strokes gained and strokes gained on 350- to 400-yard par 4s (five of the holes this week).

Riccio: My optimization model gives Webb Simpson (+128) the third-best odds of winning this week. His stellar wedge play and consistency with his driver in the fall season should translate at the Plantation course, where he owns a two top-3 finishes.

Golf Digest editors picks: Patrick Reed (+138) - A winner here in 2015 and has finished in the top-six here in his three most recent appearances. Like Koepka, we expect Reed to start 2019 with a chip on his shoulder, which should portend success.

DraftKings lineups:

Mayo: Who I'm building lineups around this week — Justin Thomas $10,500; Jon Rahm $9.800; Bryson DeChambeau $8,700; Matt Kuchar $7,600

Riccio: Dustin Johnson ($11,000); Justin Thomas ($10,500); Webb Simpson ($8,500); Aaron Wise: ($7,500); Brice Garnett: ($6,400); Andrew Landry ($6,100)

FanDuel lineups:

Gdula: No-cut events aren’t an excuse to punt with too many bottom-tier options because the gap can grow quickly over 72 holes. Balance is a smart approach in a loaded field. Here are some mid-range options at solid prices on FanDuel:

Jon Rahm ($10,500); Webb Simpson ($10,000); Matt Kuchar ($9,000); Brandt Snedeker ($8,900); Billy Horschel ($8,100)

Riccio: Dustin Johnson ($12,000); Justin Thomas ($11,200); Jon Rahm ($10,500); Webb Simpson ($10,000); Aaron Wise ($8,200); Billy Horschel ($8,100).

About our expert pickers:

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 14-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, and he's on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.

Brandon Gdula is a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company. He also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.