Coop's Career Builder Challenge Preview
What a crazy day of golf we saw on Sunday from the TV coverage to the long enduring playoff battle that was won by Patton Kizzire. Last week was a challenging week for all as we saw all the chalk hit and ended up with a high 6/6 in gpp’s. Once again I didn’t have the tournament winner in my player pool and once again it was all that was missing as I had six of the top thirteen (Simpson, Stuard, Harman, Woodland, Knox and Kirk). I will continue to trust my process as I know having the winner in my player pool will happen.
This week we head to the state of California and the Career Builder Challenge. This is one of the wonky tournaments played during the West coast swing which always ends up being a birdie fest. The tournament is played over three courses. Each player gets one round on each course and then the T70 and ties play a second round on the PGA West Stadium Course in round four. Of note, if after three rounds there are 79 or more golfers at the cut line then the cut line will revert to T60 and ties. The winning score is typically around -25 but has ranged from -20 to -30 over the past six seasons. Hudson Swafford is the defending champ with the three previous winners being Jason Dufner, Bill Haas and Patrick Reed. Yes, I mentioned this being a birdie fest and Bill Haas is a previous winner. That right there should tell you how forgiving the courses are this week. One of the reasons for the forgiving courses is the three day pro-am. Pro-ams are usually played on Wednesday as a one day event. You will find a couple West coast tournaments were the pro-am is played during the tournament. In order to accomplish this multiple courses are needed and the courses are set up to play easier or the amateurs would really slow play down. Fortunately the courses being used this week are similar. All are short par 72 courses ranging in distance from around 7050 to 7170 yards. Each course features Bermuda greens. La Quinta CC should play as the easiest course followed by the Nicklaus tournament course. One thing to keep in mind if you are looking at course history is only the last two years worth of results has been played on the exact three same courses as this year.
This tournament has been able to produce a solid field and probably the best it has ever seen as there are twelve players in the top fifty playing this week. As mentioned already we are in for a birdie fest and when we have birdie fests we typically find variance. The field is loaded with mid level players along with up and coming players. When looking at previous leaderboards it’s not uncommon for the players who will be the big names this week miss the cut. Players such as Dufner, Henley, Lovemark, and Grillo have all MC over the years. It’s not a bad week to have a bigger player pool with less overall ownership or select more players under 10% owned for your player pool and go higher on them. I would not be surprised to see the 6/6 come in at less than 10%, last year the 6/6 was roughly 7% in GPP’s.
We are now two tournaments into the 2018 calendar year and we are starting to get some rolling stats for the players. This week you will want to focus on birdies. I will be tracking birdie or better % on par 4’s and par 5’s as my two main stats. Two other stats that I will make a focus are strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained approach. When breaking down the par 4 stats this week focus on yardage under 400 yards (9 this week) and 400-450 yards (15 this week).
TO FADE OR GO ALL IN
The majority of the top Euro players are at the Abu Dhabi tournament which has attracted a very good field. So one may ask why is John Rahm playing the Career Builder this week? After doing some research I found out that the Lagardere Sports Firm is operating the Career Builder this year. Why is this important? Rahm is a client of Lagardere Sports as they are in charge of his marketing. Rahm is the biggest name and best overall player in this field, last year he finished 34th in this tournament. Rahm has been playing very good golf finishing 1,2,3,4,5,7,15,36 and MC in his last nine tournaments. As with golf anything can happen as Jordan Spieth proved that last week. Everyone was expecting a top three finish from Spieth and he finished T18. One thing I do know is Rahm is a much better player currently than he was when he played this tournament last year as he was just getting his feet wet. One interesting note that I found was Rahm played the eight par 5’s on the two easier courses at even par last year and I highly doubt that happens this year.
PLAYERS I FEEL COMFORTABLE PLAYING THIS WEEK
Webb Simpson has made 7/8 cuts at this tournament which includes two tops tens. Simpson is coming off a T4 at the Sony Open were I had 35% Simpson while his ownership was around 10-12% but I expect that number to be higher this week. Simpson has been very solid since he changed his putting grip and he is second in this field strokes gained putting in 2018. Simpsons stats for 2018 when ranking him verse the field are all outstanding. Par 4 scoring fourth, Par 5 scoring sixteenth and all strokes gained stats minus around the green he is in the top ten. Simpson is playing great golf and I will continue to have a healthy portion.
Austin Cook is playing some of the best golf on tour right now as he posted solid results at the Tournament of Champions followed up by a 11th place finish at the Sony Open last week. This will be the maiden appearance for Cook at this tournament. Cook ranks 19th in the field this week in par 4 scoring and 14th in par 5 scoring for 2018. Cook continues to carry a hot putter and ranks 13th strokes gained.
I will be going back to the well with JJ Spaun this week. Spaun was touted last week garnering around 15% ownership. Spaun finished 50th last week and 50th in his only appearance at this tournament which makes me believe we will find lower ownership this week. What I like about Spaun is he is playing well off the tee and with his approach game gaining three strokes each last week. Spaun is ranked sixth in this field in par 4 scoring and seventh in par 5 scoring since the beginning of the fall season. Hopefully Spaun will find his putter and short game this week were he lost a total of three strokes last week. Spaun is going to find the winners circle this year and I want to be on him when he accomplishes this.
Chez Reavie was once again solid last week posting another T20. Reavie is on a roll and I will continue to ride him. He is striking the ball well and just needs more putts to fall. Reavie has finished T15 the last two years and nothing is telling me he won’t be worse this year.
PLAYERS I WILL FADE
Patrick Reed has solid finishes at this tournament including a win but overall he has finished outside the top twenty three times including a missed cut. This will be Reed’s first appearance of the calendar year and we have other players who have played more recently and in good form.
Brian Harman is the second most expensive player in this field behind Rahm by $300. I will find the $300 and play Rahm. Harman will be a good GPP due to his ownership but at that price he has to win. Harman has good history at this course but I would just rather play Rahm.
Kevin Kisner has solid history at this tournament but that is it, solid with no top tens. Kisner played very good in the fourth round of the Sony Open but his other rounds as well as his performance at the Tournament of Champions were just average. While Kisner is playing solid golf he isn’t doing anything to show me that he could win this tournament.
Last week I was heavily invested in Russell Knox at 33% and it paid off with a T10 but could have been better if not for two bogeys late on Sunday. Knox is playing solid golf and I feel he will be significantly higher owned this week. I will be passing on Knox as he gained minimal strokes last week off the tee and on his approach while gaining almost five strokes last week around the green. This week if he has to gain that many strokes around the green it tells me he has no chance at going low as he isn’t hitting the greens.
Chris Kirk did me well last week at 17% owned and I would imagine this week he will be owned by the field at around that percentage. Like Knox, Kirk gained slightly over six strokes around the green although his ball striking was better than Knox but not by a significant amount.
Last week I owned 13% Brian Stuard and he paid off with his T5 finish. Stuard, like Kirk had much better course history at the Sony Open than this weeks course. Stuard is known as a solid putter and he capitalized last week gaining seven strokes on the field. I am not saying that Stuard or Kirk will miss the cut but I highly doubt they have it in them to once again perform at the level they did last week plus there ownership will be higher. (Edit Wednesday 5pm) I have gone back in on Stuard as I needed another player in that price range plus Stuard is a good putter, he should be gaining strokes on the green since it’s a strong part of his game.
IS IT A GOOD TIME TO JUMP ON THESE PLAYERS
Brendan Steele did not play well at the Tournament of Champions two weeks ago finishing near the bottom. Steele is known for solid finishes on the West coast tour and has made 5/7 cuts at this tournament including his last three which have resulted in two top tens. Steele ranks fourth in the field in par 4 scoring for 2018 and 31st in par 5’s. Steele has been struggling with the putter so hopefully he can get it going in the right direction. Steele’s price is up this week which may keep people off him.
Jason Dufner was chalk last week and underperformed leaving many people disappointed. Dufner has made 7/8 cuts at this tournament including a win. Dufner saw a huge price increase and he may be one of the lowest owned players this week. I would check projected ownership on Dufner this week and if he ends up under 5% he could be a good GPP play. Dufner continues to putt well ranking fifth in the field in strokes gained putting for 2018 while his iron and scoring has been solid but not good enough to post a T10. For his price this week you will need a top five.
Chesson Hadley started out the fall season playing exceptional golf with two T5’s then he went to Mexico and had some stomach issues and wasn’t the same player during that tournament or the final one of the fall season. Hadley does not have good history at this tournament but I feel he is a much better player now. What interests me about Hadley is his price of 9k. To me this seems high and I don’t think people will be willing to pay that much for him based on his course history. If I can get a player like Hadley who was playing very good at 5% and own him at 10-15% I am willing to take that chance. If you look at current form and or stats from the beginning of the 2018 season you will find Hadley at the top of several categories.
Lucas Glover has made eleven consecutive cuts on tour and is known as a bermuda specialist as his performance is significantly better on that type of grass. Glover has solid history at this tournament but much like his results at other tour events he rarely finds the T10. Glover is a safe play this week and a good pivot off someone who may be more chalky in his price range.
Brandt Snedeker is back from his injury and playing on the West coast after only having limited play in the last few months. Sneds played only one tournament in the fall finishing 29th and then went overseas and had to WD due to dehydration. If not for his injury Sneds would be a highly discussed player this week but nobody knows what we will get this week. Sneds has decent history at this event but not as good as the events that will be coming up. If I can get Sneds at below 5% I am willing to throw him in a couple lineups. If Sneds is owned at a higher rate I will gladly pass and look to play him in the next couple weeks when he is playing on poanna greens.
WILL A MISSED CUT MAKE PEOPLE FORGET ABOUT ME
These players all missed the cut last week at the Sony Open and fortunately I faded all as I didn’t see Waialae CC being a good fit for them. For me I would much prefer play the following players on a par 72 course verse the par 70 as I feel the two extra par 5’s is a benefit to them. Peter Uihlen was fairly popular last week at around 12-14%. This week he is surrounded in price by several players who I feel will be popular thus lowering his ownership. When you look at Uihlen’s stats nothing sticks out as they are all middle of the road and he has no course history. For me, Uihlen is strictly a ownership play who I feel will be a good course fit.
Last week I discussed how well Luke List plays par 5’s as he is second best on tour scoring eagles and has a high birdie rate. List has made 4/4 cuts at this tournament with his best finish being sixth. As always with List you need to hope his putter is having a good week as he has the tendency to struggle on the greens. List is similar to Mickelson in the way he can score DK points and typically outscores players who have similar or slightly better finishes than him. List had a low ownership last week around 5% so it will be interesting to see were he is projected this week.
Harold Varner is a player I played quite often in the fall season as I feel he is on the verge of breaking through and winning a tournament this year. HV3 has not had great success at this tournament only making 1/3 cuts but I feel he is a much better player currently. If you followed HV3 last year at the beginning of the year he was often a first round leader after the first 5-8 holes only to lose it on his second nine. As the year progressed HV3 became a more consistent player and was in contention at the Wyndham Championship in August. HV3 ranks 24th in par 5 scoring in 2018 while the rest of his stats are not stellar. HV3 is strictly a ownership play after missing the cut last week while hoping he continues to play the par 5’s well and the rest of his game starts to show up. One last note on HV3, he had two solid rounds last year with a 65 and 70 but unfortunately he ended with a 77 to miss the cut. (Edit Wednesday 5pm) I have backed down on HV3 as the correlated courses of Phoenix and RSM Tournament have showed poor results to. In general HV3 has not played well on the West coast either.
Beau Hossler has made 5/6 cuts and will be playing in his home state of California this week. Beau is one of many young talents on tour and I am hoping he comes in at less than 5%. The stats don’t back playing Hossler this week but my gut is telling me he will be a good course fit and will be comfortable playing close to home.
Aaron Wise has made 3/5 cuts this year and placed 34th last year in this tournament. People have been playing the NCAA champion for the last couple weeks but I have been holding out for this tournament. Wise’s par 4 scoring has been solid as he is ranked 35th in the field. Wise also has solid putting and off the tee stats but what is worrisome and he will need to do much better at is his approach game as it has been off.
COUPLE PLAYERS WITH SOLID HISTORY
Ryan Palmer has made 8/11 cuts with five top tens at this tournament. Palmer has not played much golf recently finishing 58th last week in his only tournament since August. Palmer had a very disappointing year of golf in 2017 making only 10/19 cuts as he was not playing at full health. What is encouraging about Palmer is he gained almost five strokes last week on his approach. If Palmer can continue striking the ball well while getting his putter going he could be a rewarding risky play this week.
David Lingmerth should go relatively low owned this week for a player who has never missed a cut at this tournament and has two second place finishes. Lingmerth has not played much golf recently as his wife recently gave birth. This is purely a course history pick.
Bill Haas is not known as a birdie maker but over the years this is the one tournament were he has consistently been able to overcome his tendency to make pars and produce birdies. Haas has made 11/12 cuts with two wins and only one finish worse than 27th. Haas missed the cut last week and that coupled with his reputation as a par maker should lower his ownership this week.
DO WE DARE TO THROW DARTS AT THE FOLLOWING
Looking for some players who should be less than 3% owned to throw some darts at in a couple gpp’s and I propose Keith Mitchell. Mitchell was a web.com graduate who joined the tour last fall. He came in with high expectations as he was tearing up the web.com tour and missed his first two cuts. Since then he has made his last three cuts including a 25th last week at the Sony Open. Mitchell is a big time hitter and should do well on the par 5’s.
John Peterson played two really good rounds of golf last week unfortunately he had one really bad round on Saturday to take him out of contention. Perhaps it was the missle scare that sent him all out of sorts on Saturday which would have done the same to many of us. What I like about Peterson is he was second last week in strokes gained approach. If he can continue that type of ball striking this week he should once again post some good rounds. Peterson lost his strokes around the green last week which shouldn’t be a factor this week. In addition I like his price of 7.1k as it should lower his ownership as I don’t see people wanting to pay that much for him.
I am hoping that the T10 finish of Ryan Blaum at the Sony Open goes relatively unnoticed. Blaum struggled during the fall swing so hopefully his solid finish last week gives him confidence this week were he finished 50th last year at this tournament. Blaum played solid golf last week gaining strokes off the tee, on his approach and around the green while his putter was flat gaining zero strokes. I like Blaum’s price of 7.4k as this should keep people off him were as if he was under 7k I feel he would be more popular.
Nobody is going to own Maverick McNealy this week at the price of 6.9k. The former #1 amateur, McNealy turned pro last year and has struggled to get acclimated with the tour as his results have not been good. The only reason I will throw McNealy in a couple lineups is he has huge ability and he will be playing at home in California.
That’s all for this week. Time to start getting ready for next week as the birdie fests will be over and the players will be competing on a tough course.