It doesn’t always pay off, but last week’s experience proves why the attempt can be worth it.
Because Expert Picks publishes before tee times are released, I always reconsider my selections in the four tournaments contested on multiple courses. Because of weather and/or the ease of one track versus another (or others when three courses are used), my objective is to maximize starts where the most points are projected to be scored in PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf.
RELATED: Power Rankings | Expert Picks
As it concerns the Farmers Insurance Open, because Torrey Pines North is vastly easier than Torrey Pines South, I always want six of my eight starts covering the first two rounds to be on the North. As explained in this space last week, a 4×2 or 2×4 variation is a valuable option if the 3×3 model isn’t workable based on your picks.
I like having a balance (3×3) when weather isn’t a factor, but last week, because I wanted four guys on the North when conditions were easier on Thursday, I swapped out three of the guys who appeared in Expert Picks to build a preferred rotation. So, I replaced Tony Finau (who finished T2), Marc Leishman (T18) and Hideki Matsuyama (T53) with Patrick Reed (win), Gary Woodland (T48) and Bubba Watson (MC). That gave me four on the North in the first round and two in the second round. Jon Rahm (T7), Adam Scott (T10) and Rory McIlroy (T16) retained their original positions on my roster.
Although Finau was rostered by 44.16 percent of all gamers, neither Sean nor Ben was among the lot. Also, Reed’s ownership percentage was just 12.19 and none of the others in my little league selected him, so the lineup change delivered. Sniping the 50 bonus points for Reed all alone was the response I needed after going just 3-for-6 at The American Express.
Shifting the focus to this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, full fantasy scoring is back on with just one course hosting. It’s the only event of this four-week stretch (ending with next week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) for which ShotLink contributes to PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf.
Since the Farmers concluded, I’ve received numerous questions about Will Zalatoris and Peter Malnati. Zalatoris finished T7 at Torrey Pines and Malnati placed T10, but as of Tuesday afternoon, only Zalatoris is in the field at TPC Scottsdale.
There is a myth out there that all top 10s automatically get into the next open. The WMPO is an open, but because it hosts only 132 golfers (due to its latitude and available daylight hours at this time of year), the cutoff for automatic entry always falls right around the top-10 category in the Priority Ranking.
The top-10 category (No. 25) slots after the Major Medical Extensions and ahead of the graduate reshuffle category. After Scott Piercy withdrew, Kelly Kraft moved up to first alternate. Both he and D.A. Points (second alternate) are exempt on the PGA TOUR via Major Medicals. This means that Zalatoris and Malnati would have slotted as third and fourth alternate, respectively.
Zalatoris already had a spot in the field via a sponsor exemption, and he still needs it because the top-10 category isn’t high enough to gain entry on merit. Malnati remains at third alternate, which is coincidental because he already was third alternate in the first position of the graduate reshuffle.
If Malnati doesn’t get into the WMPO, his top-10 exemption will roll forward to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. (It’s not an open but it accepts top 10s just like The American Express and the RBC Heritage, neither of which are opens, either.) However, because the AT&T is a 156-man field and because Malnati’s position in the overall pecking order is so high, he’ll get into next week’s event on merit, anyway. Of course, he’s under no obligation to play, but he loses the top-10 exemption regardless, not that he “needs” it.
Meanwhile, it’s possible that Zalatoris wouldn’t gain entry on merit into the AT&T – although he’s a non-member, he has Special Temporary Membership with position in Category 34 – but his top-10 exemption doesn’t roll over because he’s playing this week on the sponsor exemption. Like Malnati, Zalatoris doesn’t “need” it in the context of the season and his chase at a TOUR card. If you haven’t already been following Rookie Watch this season, he’s been the focal point for most of it. To read the current edition, click here.
PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf
My roster for the Waste Management Phoenix Open (in alphabetical order):
You’ll find my starters in Expert Picks.
Others to consider for each category (in alphabetical order):
Scoring: Corey Conners; Harris English; Max Homa; Sungjae Im; Patton Kizzire; Rory McIlroy; Sebastián Muñoz; Carlos Ortiz; Brendon Todd
Driving: Corey Conners; Harris English; Rickie Fowler; Sungjae Im; Patton Kizzire; Martin Laird; Rory McIlroy; Carlos Ortiz; Brendan Steele
POWER RANKINGS WILD CARD
Rickie Fowler … Most weeks, you know the Wild Card when you see it, but I can’t remember the last time it was so apropos for a golfer on a specific track. He won’t be buoyed by tens of thousands of spectators like usual, but few have performed as consistently strong at TPC Scottsdale as he has. Captured the elusive title in his 11th appearance in 2019 and he’s twice a runner-up. The impact the event has had on him personally with family is unrivaled.
Carlos Ortiz … It’s not often that a 54-hole co-leader fades outside the top 25 in a final round, but after tackling Torrey Pines South for a 66 in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, the course battled back and he signed for a 78 in the finale to finish T29. It’s one bad round at the worst time, but his trajectory since breaking through in Houston cannot be ignored. Top 15s at Mayakoba and Waialae followed before last week’s spirited run. He’s sharp tee to green and his putter isn’t a liability. With a 3-for-4 slate at TPC Scottsdale where he finished T25 last year, the rally should keep on rollin’.
Harris English … This is a mild endorsement because it’s fair to wonder how differently he feels after finally connecting for victory once again at Kapalua. We knew that it was an emotional achievement and his loyalty to play the following week at Waialae was admirable, but he finished T32, and then missed the cut at Torrey Pines by seven. Confidence remains elevated at TPC Scottsdale where he’s 7-for-9 with four top 20s, including a T16 last year, but consider shifting your focus to another talent who hasn’t recently fulfilled a long-term goal.
Matt Kuchar … So much for the QBE Shootout bump on which partner Harris English capitalized at Kapalua after the duo prevailed in the team exhibition in December. Kuchar missed the cut at Waialae and for the second straight return trip since his victory there in 2019. I’m giving him one more week of slack because he’s 7-for-7 at TPC Scottsdale since 2009 with three top 10s and a T16 most recently in advance of this year. If he can’t submit something even bordering on impressive here, then it might be time to turn the page on the 42-year-old for good. The man-crush is still a flicker despite the slump, so you know that I’ve been patient.
Brendan Steele … From 2011 through 2018, he was a thoroughbred for the track what with four top-six finishes among six top 20s. He missed the last two cuts here but both occurred during extended stretches of inconsistency. No such concern upon arrival this week after a T4 at Waialae and a T21 at PGA WEST.
Byeong Hun An … The T8 at PGA WEST is enough of an example not to be concerned at TPC Scottsdale despite a stretch of poor play that preceded it. Since debuting with a solo sixth in 2017 (when he held outright possession of the 54-hole lead), he’s added a T23, a T20 and a T9, respectively. His scoring average in 16 rounds is 68.38.
Russell Knox … He’s traded five top 20s with five missed cuts this season, so we should calling him, “Coin Flip.” Similarly polarizing record at TPC Scottsdale with three top 20s against two MCs, but he scored 10-under 274 in the last two. Most of all, his balanced bag blends well with the test that rewards it.
Brooks Koepka … Even if he arrived with form, expectations would be low given he’s gone T41-T42 since breaking through on the PGA TOUR at TPC Scottsdale in 2015. It’s also his first look at the place in four years.
Jason Day … He’s not in no-man’s land but it sure feels that way. The 33-year-old is scuffling like a veteran 10 years his senior. Even full-season investors are fidgeting despite a pair of top 15s in the fall. Maybe I’m slow to adjust my expectations but it’d be foolish to be surprised if he rips off, say, another four straight top 10s like he did last summer. The Aussie oughta eat up TPC Scottsdale but there’s just not enough evidence to suggest that he’ll connect. It’s also his first appearance in eight years.
Jordan Spieth … After opening with 69 on Torrey Pines North, he split just four fairways and hit only eight greens in regulation en route to a second-round 75 on the South. Even for the most faithful, consider that he’s missed the cut at TPC Scottsdale in his last two trips.
Kevin Streelman … Like many others in the field, he lives nearby but he’s never put four rounds together at TPC Scottsdale. As a PGA TOUR member, he’s 7-for-12 with no better than a T30 in 2015.
Ryan Moore … Hasn’t missed an edition since his debut season on the PGA TOUR in 2006, and he has three top 10s among six top 20s, but he’s missed the cut in each of the last three. Also 0-for-2 since returning to competition after taking five months off.
Erik van Rooyen
RETURNING TO COMPETITION
Matthew Wolff … Remember what you were doing this week two years ago? He does. He was making his PGA TOUR debut at TPC Scottsdale. In what was his only appearance as an amateur on the circuit, he finished T50 due to a weekend fade after reaching the midpoint tied for 24th. After missing last year’s cut, he’s back again but this time in the wake of an injury to his right hand during the first round of last week’s Farmers Insurance Open. While the severity of the malady can’t be quantified, that he’s remained committed to pegging it is all the news speculative gamers need to give him a whirl. Not unlike how Patrick Reed was under-owned for his victory at Torrey Pines following his missed cut at PGA WEST, Wolff’s ownership percentage will take a hit this week. That’s a green light to strike.
Sung Kang … He was a late scratch before the Farmers due to a sore back. It granted him a break after missing the cut in each of the two previous weeks. Currently 160th in the FedExCup and without a top 25 since play resumed last summer. The 33-year-old is fully exempt through 2021-22 because of the eligibility adjustments that extended his two-year membership exemption for winning the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson.
Martin Trainer … An ankle injury forced him out of the Farmers after one round. Since winning the Puerto Rico Open almost two full years ago, he’s cashed in only six tournaments.
Camilo Villegas … Withdrew from the Farmers prior to his second round. An explanation wasn’t released. He had opened with 80 on Torrey Pines South, so he’d have needed a 63 on the North to make the cut. He has four starts remaining on his Major Medical Extension to earn 135.233 FedExCup points and retain status. To eliminate that deficit at the WMPO, he’s need no worse than a three-way T3 worth 145 points. He’s only 23.911 points from securing conditional status. A two-way T32 worth 24.25 points would fulfill that goal.
Scott Piercy … Opened 2021 with missed cuts at Waialae and PGA WEST, but he’s withdrawn early from each of the last two events. He hadn’t appeared at Torrey Pines since 2016, anyway, but this is the first time that he hasn’t played TPC Scottsdale in 10 years (and that was because he wasn’t eligible on merit given his conditional status at the time). Currently 88th in the FedExCup, so if an injury, illness or personal matter is at the root of this pair of DNPs, then there’s no need to rush back right now.
POWER RANKINGS RECAP – Farmers Insurance Open
Power Ranking Golfer Result
1 Jon Rahm T7
2 Rory McIlroy T16
3 Marc Leishman T18
4 Harris English MC
5 Patrick Reed Win
6 Hideki Matsuyama T53
7 Jason Day MC
8 Xander Schauffele T2
9 Tony Finau T2
10 Billy Horschel MC
11 Francesco Molinari T10
12 Cameron Smith MC
13 Sungjae Im T32
14 Viktor Hovland T2
15 Si Woo Kim MC
Wild Card Gary Woodland T48
SLEEPERS – Farmers Insurance Open
Talor Gooch T48
J.B. Holmes MC
John Huh T65
Matt Jones T48
Russell Knox MC
BIRTHDAYS AMONG ACTIVE GOLFERS ON THE PGA TOUR
February 2 … none
February 3 … Heath Slocum (47); Chris Stroud (39)
February 4 … none
February 5 … Kevin Stadler (41)
February 6 … Tim Herron (51); Ricky Barnes (40); Collin Morikawa (24)
February 7 … none
February 8 … none
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Source: PGA tour