Picks for The Players Championship
Good week last week predicting 2 of the top 5. Perez and Tringale didn’t pan out, but my non-longshot picks faired well enough with Rose catching a top 5 and Furyk a top 2 (I was pulling so hard for a playoff at the end… sigh…).
The players this week should be awesome. The field is one of the best in golf, it’s going to be really fun to watch. But will it be fun to play DFS?
A buddy and I have recently been discussing how golf’s major tournaments compare to the lesser hyped events in terms of gaining a DFS edge. He makes an interesting point – when you are picking between Rory, Phil, Furyk, Westwood, Rose, Donald, etc., all of them are incredible players and any one of them could come out guns blazing and dominate the field. The skill-gap between players is presumably less in a major making the outcome inherently more random.
I think I agree for the most part. Certainly at The Players, which doesn’t allow the token amateurs and old dudes, instead opting pack in the absolute maximum amount of talent, there really are no free lunches. But the picks this week provide an excellent use case to see if statistical methods can tease out which guys should play up to their lofty world rankings, and which we should avoid.
Before the projections come out each week I always try to envision what they will look like. That is, if I had to project the tournament just off of the top of my head, how would I rank the field? This week it seemed pretty obvious; based off of current form you’d have to have Rose, Kuchar, Bubba, Rory, Donald and, to a lesser extent, Keegan, somewhere near the top. Stenson and Westwood have been doing good things in Europe, Sergio is a horse for the course and always a good bet, and guys like Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson are just too good to ignore.
But looking at the machine’s picks we see a different, more nuanced picture. Coming off a Masters win, Bubba is projected outside the top 40… One look at his course history tells us why – he’s missed more than half the cuts here, and when he has made the cut he hasn’t gone lower than T37. Phil Mickelson falls outside the top 30; if you’ve been paying attention at all you know he’s been wildly inconsistent.
Would it surprise me if Phil or Bubba won this event? A little bit – but anything can happen. Bubba has openly admitted the course doesn’t suit his eye, but Phil has won The Players in the past and can perform miracles when the mood is right (creeepy… as far as Phil photos go, this one’s a classic). The machine knows it’s dealing with Phil Mickelson – but given Phil’s past performance, and his recent form (probably dominated by the cuts-made stat and his falling average place in tournaments when has made the cut) it’s trying to make the projection that, on average, if this event were played many times with this exact field, would minimize error. So maybe Bubba 40+ and Phil 30+ makes a little sense.
The other surprising group to mention are Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley all falling outside the top 20. Seems like a bold call the way these guys are playing and given their pedigree. But again, when you look at the numbers, Rory has only made the cut one time out of four tries at The Players (granted, it was last year, and granted he posted a solid T8). Keegan’s track record is also pretty dismal. Lee actually has several decent finishes here and appears to be in decent form… of all the fades this week he is the one I’m least able to explain by looking at the standard checklist of stats and course history. Like Bubba, Lee has verbally expressed dislike for TPC Sawgrass in the past and has famously skipped the event several times… but the Machine doesn’t know any of that.
When we look at those on the top of the projections there are some obvious choices, but digging deeper on some of them raises similar questions. Why, for instance, is Rory so badly punished for his poor course history while Justin Rose is projected in the top 3? Rose has made the cut only half the time at the players and never logged better than a T22 when he did make it to the weekend. Similarly Stricker, who I swear the Machine has a secret love affair with, has missed many cuts here – but has posted as low as T6 in 1999 and, more recently, a T12 in 2011. Why not punish the Strick?
There are incalculable combinations of factors that could be at work here, and for lack of an infinite amount of time to deconstruct the black box we will just have to wait and see. Anyway – whether you avoid this week’s DFS action (there’s a ton of it – $100k guarantees on both DraftStreet.com and DraftKings.com), or you decide to dive in, The Players is bound to be an utterly entertaining ride.
Projections for The Players Championship: