This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $1.755M
FedEx Cup Points: 550 to the Winner
Location: Akron, Ohio
Course: Firestone Country Club (South Course)
2017 champion: Hideki Matsuyama
With apologies to Russell Henley, it's just amazing/fantastic/choose your adjective that Tiger Woods is in the field this week. By the slimmest of margins, Woods qualified for his first WGC event in four years by virtue of his stirring charge at the Open Championship. He ended in a three-way tie for sixth, moving him to the exact cutoff point of 50th in the world rankings. He eked past Henley, who missed the Open cut, by .0122 OWGR points (2.3766 to 2.3644 after Carnoustie). And now golf fans, fantasy golf fans, and even non-golf and non-sports fans want to see whether Woods can take the next step in his remarkable comeback by winning a tournament. And what better place than at Firestone, where Woods has won a record eight times, lastly in 2013, which also happens to be his last win anywhere. Woods went on to play in two WGCs in 2014, tying for 25th at the old Cadillac Championship at Doral before withdrawing from the Bridgestone in agony midway through the final round. That came about four months after Woods' first back surgery; he would have a second operation just a month after the Bridgestone. He hasn't been back at a WGC since. Until now. Making Woods' entry even more timely is that this is the last year the tournament will be played at Firestone; next year, it moves to TPC Southwind in Memphis.
One of the smallest fields in golf checks in at 73 this year. It's usually very chalky at the top, though there have been some semi-surprise winners, notably Shane Lowry in 2015, Keegan Bradley in 2012 and Hunter Mahan in 2010. It's not uncommon for a few lesser guys to finish in the top 10; just last year that included Adam Hadwin, Russell Knox, Scott Hend, Thorbjorn Olesen and Hudson Swafford, all of whom were outside top-40 OWGR at the time. The thing about those guys is that aside from Hend, a veteran with significant experience in big events, they play on either the PGA or European Tours. You'd have to go back quite a few years to find someone else from the worldwide secondary tours who has finished top-10 in this event. That's just a little nugget to keep in mind when constructing lineups. Also with regard to lineups, with such a small field, finding golfers few others are picking isn't easy. So don't get overly cute in trying to uncover a hidden gem, don't overthink things, don't double-cross yourself. And by all means, don't freak out if your guy bogeys the first hole – there's no cut this week. The first thing we noticed when looking at the DraftKings board was how bad the bottom is; we see very few viable options at $7,000ish and down. So don't avoid the few good long-shot choices there are just because they will be popular – better to try to separate yourself at the top of the board, where quite a few of the big names have the potential for a good week.
Now, on to the course-zzzzz. Sorry, dozed off for a sec. There's not a lot of excitement at Firestone. The most exciting thing we can think of is that it's ... long. Of course, 7,400 yards isn't long these days, but for a par-70 it is. It's the longest regular par-70 on Tour (the U.S. Open at Shinnecock was a little longer). There are only two par-5s. No. 2 is a baby 526 yards that's the easiest hole on the track, but one that curiously produced only nine eagles last year. No. 16 is the brutish 667-yarder virtually no one can reach in two. There have been only two eagles there since 2008. Jon Rahm last year needed a 393-yard drive and a 56-foot putt. The year before, Justin Thomas needed a 414-yard drive plus a 56-yard hole-out. Bombers surely have an advantage at Firestone, but don't completely discount moderate or even shorter hitters, as accuracy counts more than usual on the narrow, tree-lined fairways. All facets of tee-to-green play are important this week. There are seven par-4s of more than 460 yards, something we take into account in the key stats and Champion's Profile below. Firestone played relatively easy last year, as it was only the 18th-toughest track on Tour. While the course on the whole is a bear, no one hole stands out. The past couple of years, the par-4, 494-yard 9th has been the hardest. In fact, six of the nine hardest holes were on the front in 2017, so even if your guy gets off to a slow start, chill! No cut!
The field: All the top guys are entered, from No. 1 Dustin Johnson to No. 51 Zach Johnson before there's an interruption (yep, Henley is 52nd). In fact, all but six of the 73 are ranked in the top-100: South Africa's Brandon Stone (No. 107), India's Anirban Lahiri (108), Japan's Ryuko Tokimatsu (109), Australia's Wade Ormsby (156), South Africa's Jaco Ahlers (271) and Kodai Ichihara of Japan (363). That's the nature of the WGCs, rewarding accomplishments from Tours around the world. All those guys are at the bottom of the DK board and, along with Ted Potter Jr., Patton Kizzire, Andrew Landry, Satoshi Kodaira, Aaron Wise and Shubhankar Sharma, seem like horrible options this week.
Weather-wise, there wasn't much rain in the forecast for Thursday and Friday, more for the weekend. But the most rain should fall earlier in the week, and that could make the long course play even longer. As usual, it will be hot and sticky, though not very windy.
Key Stats to Winning at Firestone (in order of importance)
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Ball striking (total driving + greens in regulation)/strokes gained: tee to green
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Par-4 efficiency scoring 450-500 yards
2017 - Hideki Matsuyama
2016 - Dustin Johnson
2015 - Shane Lowry
2014 - Rory McIlroy
2013 - Tiger Woods
2012 - Keegan Bradley
2011 - Adam Scott
2010 - Hunter Mahan
2009 - Tiger Woods
2008 - Vijay Singh
There aren't many tournaments in which driving is so important – distance and accuracy. And with greens in regulation always paramount, we'll be looking for the best ball strikers. But with hitting greens in regulation harder here than at most tracks, scrambling also should be a consideration. Let's focus on the past eight years: Every winner has been top-25 in driving distance, and five of the eight have been top-15 in driving accuracy. All eight have been top-12 in greens in regulation; Matsuyama and McIlroy were first. Matsuyama, a middle-of-the-pack putter, was eighth in putting average his winning week, and seven of the past eight champs have been top-10. So in looking for the winner, you'll have to largely focus on the big hitters. But when constructing a six-man lineup, no need to shy away from some of the shorter hitters who excel in other areas and who have played well of late and have played well here.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Rory McIlroy - $11,300 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 10-1)
We had to take a bit of gulp bypassing Dustin Johnson. He's a past winner at Firestone and won last week in Canada. But you can't win every week, and McIlroy comes in on form and with a great history at the Bridgestone. He's also a former champ, in 2014, and has four other top-10s, including a T5 last year. McIlroy took a week off to rest after tying for second at The Open, and we like that, too. McIlroy is ranked 10th on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and fifth in par-4 450-500.
Justin Rose - $10,700 (12-1)
Rose can ascend to the top ranking with a win combined with Johnson finishing solo 17th or worse (or some higher finishes as long as not solo; it's complicated). Think about that for a minute. As well as Johnson has been playing, Rose is right there. In 13 worldwide starts in 2018, Rose has a win, a runner-up (at The Open two weeks ago) and eight top-10s. His worst major was T12 at the Masters. Rose is 12th in strokes gained: tee to green, 15th around the green, seventh in putting and 12th in par-4 450-500.
Tier 2 Values
Francesco Molinari - $9,400 (20-1)
As we said earlier, let's not try to outthink ourselves. Until we see evidence to the contrary, this is the hottest guy on the planet. Three wins and two runners-up in his last six starts. Second in strokes gained: tee to green, fourth off the tee, 16th in greens in regulation and sneaky long with his driver. Molinari has never come close to contending in seven visits to Firestone (T24 last year), but two weeks ago you could've said the same thing about the Open.
Tommy Fleetwood - $9,200 (25-1)
Fleetwood is a tee-to-green maestro who also happens to be putting a lot better lately. He's not a bad putter, really, and it's actually the shorter ones that have tended to give him the most trouble. Maybe that's why his price seems a bit low. In the big tourneys this year – majors, WGCs, Players – Fleetwood's finished as high as second in the U.S. Open and no worse than T17. He's ranked 12th on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and 13th around the green. And, for the record, he's in the top third in SG putting, at 66th.
Paul Casey - $9,000 (30-1)
We're not crazy about Casey having played last week in Hamburg, even though he tied for seventh. There aren't too many chances left to take a week off, and last week was one of them. That may hurt Casey more down the road than right now. Going back 10 events to his win at the Valspar, Casey has eight top-20s. He's eighth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: tee to green, 17th in around the green and 31st in putting. He's also sixth in par-4 450-500. Casey tied for fifth last year at Firestone, his third straight top-20 in the event.
Patrick Cantlay - $8,200 (40-1)
Cantlay is coming off a tie for 12th at Carnoustie, and he's had some success in the other big events this season. He's ranked ninth in strokes gained: tee to green, 25th in approach and 26th in around. His putting his been dreadful – he's 152nd. This will be Cantlay's Firestone debut.
Tier 3 Values
Xander Schauffele - $7,900 (40-1)
Have you noticed that Schauffele, virtually unknown about 14 months ago, has a knack for being in the mix in big tournaments? He's been in six majors and finished top-6 in three of them. He's been in four WGCs and finished in the top-20 in three of them. Schauffele, still just 24, tied for 13th last year at Firestone.
Thorbjorn Olesen - $7,500 (80-1)
Olesen has come alive the past couple of months, holding off Francesco Molinari to win the Italian Open, then adding a T2 and T6 in two more Euro events before tying for 12th at Carnoustie. The Dane tied for 10th at Firestone last year, when his game was nowhere where it is now.
Kevin Chappell - $7,300 (60-1)
Chappell awoke from a springtime slumber to tie for sixth at The Open. It was his first top-25 since Bay Hill in March, when he tied for seventh. Granted, this is a bit of reach based on only four good days. But with the strengths of Chappell's game, his success at Firestone – T13 last year, T3 the year before – and sub-$7,500 price, that is well worth a shot. Tremendous upside. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. Despite that long dry spell, Chappell is still ranked 31st in strokes gained: tee to green and seventh in par-4 450-500.
Kevin Na - $7,200 (100-1)
Na played pretty well at Firestone the past few years. He wasn't in the field in 2017, but strung together top-30s the three previous years. And of course, Na has been going gangbusters of late, winning at the Greenbrier to give him four top-6s in his past seven starts. Na is 44th in strokes gained: tee to green, but 32nd in approach and fifth in around the green. He's even a decent 54th in putting.
Haotong Li - $7,000 (125-1)
Li has had a pretty productive past couple of months. He ripped off four top-25s in a five-start span, including a tie for 16th at the U.S. Open. That stretch was interrupted with a T39 at Carnoustie, but even there Li was among the small group of players under par through three rounds. A Sunday 76 sent him down the leaderboard. If there was a weakness in the 22-year-old Chinese sensation's game, it would probably be putting.
Brendan Steele - $6,900 (200-1)
We mentioned above how bad the bottom of the DK board looks. But we actually like Steele here, and we also liked/picked him last year here when he wound up in the top-25. By no means has Steele had a good past few months, but he did cash top-20 in both WGCs earlier this season. He remains strong off the tee (ranked sixth in strokes gained) and tee to green (26th).