Among our guests last week on “Hitting the Green,” the SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio show that I co-host along with Michael Collins, was longtime pro Brendan Steele, whom I’ve become friends with, even caddying for him at the BMW Championship a few years ago.
During the interview, Steele and I commiserated over some lost NFL bets this season, with him concluding, “We need football season to just end.”
We laughed about this and compared some fantasy football notes, then I threw out, “You think [betting] football is hard, you should try golf.”
I didn’t really expect him to start offering golf betting advice from a player’s perspective, especially considering he obviously doesn’t (and can’t bet golf himself, but that’s exactly what he did – and it was enlightening.
“You don’t know what’s going on with players,” Steele began. “You don’t know who’s making changes, you don’t know whose wife is yelling at them, you don’t know who’s got an injury. Sometimes guys’ stats look terrible, but they’ve been missing one little piece and they find it on Wednesday night, right before they go out and they win the tournament. There’s no way to handicap that.”
He continued with a very logical recommendation.
“The best advice that I can give for people who are doing fantasy golf or betting on golf is to pick guys whose games you like and think are really solid – and then just stick with them.
“You always make fun of me, because you’ll be like, ‘Who do you like this week?’ And I’ll say, ‘Xander [Schauffele] and [Patrick] Cantlay.’ I’ve played a lot of golf with them and they always blow me away with how good they are. I think they’re both going to win a major. I think they’re both going to do great things. They can both get to No. 1 in the world at some point. So, just stick with them.
“If you zig-zag and say, ‘I’m not taking Xander, because he didn’t play well last week,’ he could probably win this week just as easily. I think you’ve got to stick with those guys, the guy who are consistent, that are always really good.”
If you’re a regular golf bettor, you’re likely nodding your head right now. There’s definitely a player whose game you really like, a guy you play all the time, who at some point wasn’t hitting it great or wasn’t a good course fit. And so, you faded the player that week, only to have that decision burn you in the end.
Or conversely, there’s been a player you never bet, one whose game you don’t like or whose odds are traditionally way too low, and so he’s usually a non-starter, until that one week when it looked like the stars were aligned and you played him, only to – once again – get burned in the end.
So, there’s your advice: Be consistent. If you like a player, stay on him, because your instincts are likely going to pay off at some point.
I think that recommendation is even more appropriate during the fall part of the schedule, when there are so many more variables for players. From top-heavy fields to inner motivation to perhaps less course history in these events, it’s tougher to put all of those puzzle pieces together each week. One thing you can rely on, though, is consistency. Pick the guys you really like, the ones who have value because they haven’t quite popped yet.
This week’s event has a new name, the World Wide Technology Championship, but it’s the same tourney in the same place at Mayakoba that’s been on the schedule since 2007. It’s not exactly the same field, however, as Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka, Abraham Ancer, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed and Scottie Scheffler are among the OWGR top-25 who are competing. While some of those players have also played here in the past, this one should have a little more luster than in previous years.
Much like last week’s venue, El Camaleon is a coastal, short track (just over 7,000 yards) where accuracy and ball-striking should take precedence over power and distance. Each of the previous eight editions of this event on the par-71 have been won by a score of at least 17-under, with five at 20-under or better.
We should expect something in that same range this week, as well, which means it should take four rounds in the mid-60s to come out on top.
Let’s get to the picks, starting with an outright selection who seems ready for another win.
Click here for the full list of odds
|Harold Varner III||+6000|
|Charles Howell III||+12500|
|Andrew D. Putnam||+20000|
|J. J. Spaun||+20000|
|Juan Diego Fernandez||+50000|
|Samuel Del Val||+50000|
|Juan Carlos Benitez||+50000|
Odds via PointsBet, as of Monday morning.
One player to win the tournament.
Shane Lowry (+4000)
One thing I’m looking for this time of year – besides recent form and course correlations and all of the usual metrics we use to try and prognosticate leaderboards – is what the analytics community refers to with the oxymoronic phrase “positive regression.”
In layman’s terms, I’m looking for those who have played well this year and haven’t quite gotten enough out of their results. In more layman’s terms, I’m seeking players who have played well enough to win, but haven’t yet, for whatever reason. In the most layman’s terms possible, I’m trying to identify guys who have maybe gotten a little screwed.
I don’t know that this last one necessarily describes Lowry, who this year hasn’t posted a top-three result in an OWGR-sanctioned event for the first time in over a decade. That might sound like he simply hasn’t performed well enough, but that isn’t exactly true, either. The reality is that Lowry’s ball-striking has been as good as just about anyone’s since early-summer and his results have just seemed to fallen a bit short of any lofty expectations.
In his last 18 starts, dating back to March, the former Open Championship winner owns a dozen top-25s and five top-10s, including a bevy of solid results at the big ones – T-21 at the Masters; T-4 at the PGA; T-12 at The Open — but nothing better than that finish at Kiawah. It’s funny: Most elite players will insist that they’re striving for consistency over everything else, but I find it hard to believe that Lowry wouldn’t gladly give up some of this consistency for another trophy on the shelf – not that he has that choice, of course.
At some point, I do believe that high-level consistency often yields greater success, as the player eventually chases down that carrot he’s been going after for so long. There might be better reasons to pick a player to win a tournament, but armed with excellent ball-striking and short game numbers, plus solid trends, I like Lowry to follow his Ryder Cup teammate Hovland into this event’s winner’s circle, based partially on that idea of positive regression.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Joaquin Niemann (+4000)
Speaking of Hovland, the young Niemann owns some very similar parallels to the Norwegian last year – essentially, a very talented up-and-comer who could use another win to perhaps give him the confidence to make that leap into the next echelon of players, a leap which seems inevitable at some point.
After some struggled in his first two starts at this one, he posted four under-par rounds for a T-23 finish last year and could be ready to seriously contend this time around.
Gary Woodland (+6600)
Here’s a lesson in how numbers don’t have to lie in order to still distort the truth a bit. We can easily say, “Woodland has struggled recently, missing the cut in five of his last 10 starts,” and not be wrong about that statement. But we can similarly insist, “Woodland is really coming around recently, posting three top-11 finishes in his last six starts,” and not be wrong, either.
The reality is that the former U.S. Open champion hasn’t been great, but is rounding into some sort of form, though he remains a high-ceiling/low-floor play due to those ups and downs.
That said, I like the big hitter on shorter courses, where he’s tended to thrive over the years.
Brian Harman (+8000)
There aren’t too many players I believe are wholly undervalued on a consistent basis, but I do think Harman is one of ‘em – and certainly this week. Initial odds show him twice as long as a player like Rickie Fowler, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially on a shorter course which has surprisingly never yielded a top-25 result for him in eight previous starts.
There’s got to be a reason he keeps coming back, though, and I think at the very least, he’ll post his best result this week.
One player to finish top-five.
Abraham Ancer (+350)
There are no floodgates. Remember this the next time a specific player wins and the entire golf community is discussing whether the “floodgates” will subsequently open for that player. It doesn’t really happen that way – not anymore, at least.
That said, I do think that the lid is off for Ancer now, which alleviates the massive monkey from his back that had been lingering in the form of zero career PGA TOUR wins. Since his WGC victory in Memphis, he’s posted three finishes of 14th or better in five starts.
That should continue on a course where he’s been 21st or better in each of the previous four years.
One player to finish top-10.
Matthew Wolff (+350)
Despite his noted struggles both on and off the golf course this year, Wolff remains at 31st on the OWGR and is fresh off a runner-up finish in Las Vegas in his most recent start – his best result in a full year.
There’s reason to believe he’s not just back on track to play stellar golf once again, but happy and motivated and hungry to make up for some lost time.
One player to finish top-20.
Russell Henley (+180)
Much like Lowry, Henley is a guy who just hasn’t gotten “lucky” so to speak, with a bunch of really consistent performances, but no wins to show for it. The former UGA standout has been a top-25 machine, posting nine of ‘em in 21 starts this year, but remains winless over the past four-and-a-half years.
That long-awaited title might not be imminent, but I do think it’ll happen at some point – and his consistent play will continue, as he’s sort of a poor man’s version of Finau or Ancer before their recent wins.
One player to finish top-30.
For months, I’ve been writing up Maverick McNealy as my favorite no-brainer top-20 play – and I don’t dislike him at all this week, either – but Vegas is creeping into similar territory now, too. He’s now posted seven top-20s in his last dozen starts, perhaps finally realizing the potential that he’s had for so long.
I still believe Vegas can be a top-25 player in the world – he has all the tools – and this type of consistency will continue to be rewarded. I’ve listed him for a top-30 here, but I don’t mind a top-20 or even top-10 ticket.
One player to finish top-40.
Brian Stuard (+200 for top-40)
I listed Stuard in my preview last week, as well, and he made a valiant effort to make the cut, only to post a bogey on his final hole Friday afternoon to miss the weekend. A two-time runner-up finisher at Mayakoba, his results haven’t been quite as strong lately, but I still think a conservative play here makes some sense.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
The masses might flock to tourney favorite JT in the DFS space, which is never a poor plan. I’d prefer to save a little salary, though, and load up on Finau, whom I believe is on the verge of taking a next major step in the progression of his career. He’s posted results of T-7, T-8 and T-16 in his five previous starts at this one and he’s a more well-rounded player now than ever before.
Like Woodland, Finau is another big hitter who tends to play some of his best golf on shorter tracks where he can dial it back a bit, so this one should be right up his alley.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
A winner here four years ago, Perez owns four other finishes of 16th or better at this event in nine career starts. His volatility makes him a tough guy to pin down on a weekly basis, but his low floor remains offset by an atypically high potential ceiling, especially on courses he likes, and this one certainly fits.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Talor Gooch (+4000 for FRL)
Dammit. You know that whole thing from the intro about habitually continuing to bet the same players, because you like their games and think they’ll win at some point? Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel about Gooch – except apparently so do a lot of people, which has forced the oddsmakers to lower his outright number to an almost unplayable price.
Instead, I’ll grab him for FRL, as he’s opened with totals of 67-64-69-69-73-68-69-64 in his last eight Thursday rounds.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Aaron Wise (+3300)
Last year’s runner-up finisher at this one, Wise is a lot of bettors’ favorite pick for a breakthrough campaign – and I’m fully aboard that bandwagon, as well. Like Gooch, his outright odds have gotten a little too short for me to chase right now – especially in a field that’s loaded with some pretty solid talent – but I like him in matchup bets and other formats, whether it’s as an OAD play or in DFS.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Will Zalatoris (+3300)
Don’t look now, but the can’t-miss kid has been missing a bit lately, with just a single top-10 in his last 11 starts and two in 15 starts since his runner-up finish at the Masters.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be bullish on Willy Z. long-term – he’s got the ball-striking skills to be a top-10 player and tends to show up at the biggest events – but something hasn’t been quite right with his game lately and I’m not so sure that this is the place where he’ll find it.
At this number, I’d much rather have a ticket on a guy like Wolff instead.