The Open Championship PGA DFS Picks

We have a Major this week! Expect games to be a little softer this week as the big tournaments tend to bring with a wave of newer players. It’s my personal strategy to stay away from the giant GPP tourneys until I have the bankroll to do attack them properly, but the micro-stakes games will still be flush with newcomers. This isn’t a reason to shove more money in play as that will violate good bankroll management, but it is merely a point of optimism heading into the week!

The Open is in Royal Birkdale for the first time since 2008. This makes for a tough decision as we move forward trying to analyze the player pool: do we focus on what has worked for players in this course back in 2008, or do we concentrate on what typically works on all link style courses and Open Championships of the past few years? The former comes with sample size concerns and the latter ignores the uniqueness of Royal Birkdale and how it may impact the field. I’m going to recommend plays for both approaches in this article but will likely tend to favor the 2008 results as a predictor for success in 2017.

Former Open Championship Success — All Courses

Using all past courses since 2012, we find that the most predictive metrics for the average round to be the following:

  • Strokes Gained: On The Tee
  • Birdie or Better Percentage
  • Par 3 Scoring Average
  • Par 4 Scoring Average
  • Driving Distance
  • Driving Accuracy

Using these factors in my model, I get the following Top 10 Plays:

  1. Justin Thomas — $8,200 (Avg. Round of 69.94)
  2. Rickie Fowler — $9,200 (Avg. Round of 70.02)
  3. Jordan Spieth — $11,600 (Avg. Round of 70.11)
  4. Hideki Matsuyama — $9,500 (Avg. Round of 70.38)
  5. Charles Howell III — $6,600 (Avg. Round of 70.73)
  6. Paul Casey — $8,100 (Avg. Round of 70.76)
  7. Brendan Steele — $6,800 (Avg. Round of 70.91)
  8. Russell Henley — $7,000 (Avg. Round of 70.92)
  9. Francesco Molinari — $7,300 (Avg. Round of 70.94)
  10. Kyle Stanley — $6,600 (Avg. Round of 70.95)

An enormous qualifier to this list is that it only considers golfers with enough rounds in PGA tournaments to Qualify for their leaderboards. This means Rory McIlroy, Thomas Pieters, Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, and Tyrell Hatton are excluded from consideration. We’ll tackle these names at a later time this week, but this article is just to get an initial set of names out for consideration.

Thomas, Fowler, and Spieth look to be in a class of their own in these results with Matsuyama in his own tier before a big clump of names from Howell III to Kyle Stanley. As I mentioned, I won’t be weighing these results too heavily but it is interesting to notice the lack of big-salary names: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, and Jason Day. I think this list gives us a few good value-names to consider in Howell III, Steele, Henley, and Stanley. If their names crop up to the top of our next list, I’ll be sure to roster them in my cash lineups. Let’s see how the 2008 results project to this 2017 field.

2008 Royal Birkdale Success

Using the 2008 results as an indicator of what it takes to succeed on this course, we come out with the following key metrics:

  • Strokes Gained: Approach
  • Strokes Gained: Around the Green
  • Strokes Gained: Putting
  • Birdie or Better Percentage
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Driving Distance
  • Driving Accuracy

The interesting difference here is the move away from scoring metrics towards the short-game Strokes Gained metrics. When combined with Driving Distance and Accuracy, it is fair to say that this course clearly tests all aspects of a player’s game and we will want to target a more well-rounded player with our big-money golfers. Using these factors, we get the following Top 10 projection:

  1. Steve Stricker — $6,900 (Avg. Round of 73.45)
  2. Kevin Kisner — $6,700 (Avg. Round of 73.47)
  3. Rickie Fowler — $9,200 (Avg. Round of 73.49)
  4. Louis Oosthuizen — $8,300 (Avg. Round of 73.55)
  5. Jimmy Walker — $7,000 (Avg. Round of 74.13)
  6. Francesco Molinari — $7,300 (Avg. Round of 74.13)
  7. Martin Kaymer — $7,700 (Avg. Round of 74.19)
  8. Dustin Johnson — $12,000 (Avg. Round of 74.21)
  9. Zach Johnson — $7,600 (Avg. Round of 74.22)
  10. Martin Laird — $6,800 (Avg. Round of 74.34)

The biggest difference you’ll notice is the jump in average score per round. This is largely due to the fact that Padraig Harrington won in 2008 with a score of +3, averaging 70.75 per round. The prior Open Championship held at Birkdale was in 1998 and Mark O’Mear won with a score of even par, averaging 70 strokes per round. Weather will have a lot to say about this, but similar to prior years I’m not expecting a very low score will be required to win this year.

Why I’m encouraged by these results are the strong across-the-board performance by almost every name on this list. With all 10 golfers, only four times out of a possible forty, is there a Strokes Gained metric below average (the four Strokes Gained metrics: Off-the-Tee, Approach, Around the Green, and Putting). Those belong to Jimmy Walker (SG:OTT = -0.181), Walker again (SG:ATG = -0.054), Martin Kaymer (SG: APR = -0.035), and Zach Johnson (SG:APR = -0.071). Outside of Walker off the tee, none of these metrics appear to be too damning.

In terms of overlap from our list, we see Francesco Molinari ($7,300) and Rickie Fowler ($9,200) appear both times. I’ll likely be locked on to both of these players in Cash games. The useful thing about this second list of 10 players is that many are sub-$8,000 golfers meaning we should have no trouble getting many of them in a lineup.

First Draft Cash Lineup

Using these two sets of projections, I built the following Cash lineup. The biggest variable remaining in finalizing this lineup is the weather, and checking to see whether AM or PM tee times will be more beneficial. Weather plays a larger role in links style courses, so don’t be afraid to pivot off a solid play if the weather doesn’t look like it will cooperate. With that said, here’s my tentative lineup:

Rickie Fowler — $9,200

Steve Stricker — $6,900

Kevin Kisner — $6,700

Francesco Molinari — $7,300

Rory McIlroy — $11,000

Louis Oosthuizen — $8,300

Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@APFantasySports) for more advice or to reach out for further questions.