When all else is uncertain, default to talent and form. Such is the lesson we learned last week at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Dustin Johnson, the top-ranked player in the world, battled a volatile putter on poa annua greens and pulled away to a strong Sunday lead, only to nearly cough it up on the back nine. DJ’s clinching par on 18 included a beautiful shot from the fairway bunker, setting up a two-putt for the crown. The champ finished one shot better than young British upstart Tommy Fleetwood and two shots ahead of Ross Fisher and Jon Rahm.
What do those four players have in common? None of them played the week prior in Florida at The Honda Classic. In fact, only two of the top-nine WGC finishers teed it up at PGA National, and they (Justin Thomas and Thomas Pieters) both missed the cut at the Honda. Lends a bit of credence to the theory that traveling from Florida to Mexico hurt even the most finely-tuned of the professionals, doesn’t it? This is a solid principle to be attentive to this week as the tour swings back to the Sunshine State for the Valspar.
So how did my fake golf team and predictions fare?
2017 WGC-Mexico Championship recap
Yahoo! Tournament Points – 216; Yahoo! Season Points – 1,643; Yahoo! Ranking – 21st Overall (99th Percentile)
It cost me starts from a few studs – DJ, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Rose – but I was able to climb into first place in all three of my leagues and hike my way up to No. 21 overall. Technically, I’m T20, but my home page lists me at No. 21, so I won’t get gluttonous. I love that word.
At this point in the season, I’m ecstatic with my position, though I’ve fired off quite a few star bullets already. I’ve never been one to save many starts in this format, as you have to play the hot hands and course horses. Jumping out to a lead in any fantasy golf game is solid strategy, as you always want to be the target and not the chaser.
There are two weeks left in the Yahoo! segment, so if your league pays segment winners, this is the time to solidify your position or move toward the top. If you are pushing toward an overall season goal, burning big names in the next two weeks might not pay dividends later in the season. There are plenty of low-risk gambles (oxymoron?) to get you through to the Shell Houston Open, which marks the start of the second Yahoo! segment.
Planners, please note that Yahoo! doesn’t use the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in their game, nor the Puerto Rico Open, which is the alternate event that week; hence, the one-week layoff following the conclusion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 26.
As for last week’s players, what worked and what didn’t?
Fairway – Starting DJ from Thursday onward proved to be fruitful, as he outperformed Adam Scott in Yahoo! points 80-32. Brandt Snedeker earned me some needed points on Sunday after Justin Rose failed to fire. I nailed the mild endorsements of Rahm, but last week was about fading the right players. Pushing aside the likes of Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Russell Knox and Bubba Watson was tough, but smarts and research prevailed.
Rough – Lots of rough last week, though I expected it. I completely misfired on Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, who both finished T7. I was high on Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Rose, and neither showed up, but I was able to keep Matsuyama on the bench all weekend, saving a start. I was even higher relative to expectations on Branden Grace and Emiliano Grillo, and they both tripped out of the gate and never got up.
Out Of Bounds – I added a new category this week to describe my utter failures regarding Justin Thomas and Alex Noren. I went so far as to deem Noren a “dark horse for a top-five finish” and named him my top gut play. His round of 69 on Sunday moved him into a tie for 55th. Fail. I was deeply bothered by Thomas’ inconsistency coming into last week and advised readers to fade him with glory. JT was in position to win and came up short with a 72 on Sunday, but he would have been a much better play than Rose in the ‘B’ Group. Fail Fail.
Some of the boys jump a six-hour plane to the Tampa Bay-area for this week’s Battle at Innisbrook! Onward!
2017 Valspar Championship Yahoo! fantasy golf picks
What used to be a three-week stretch of golf in Florida now includes a boatload (or planeload) of quick travel for those who played in Mexico last week. As I noted above, the flights to Mexico weren’t kind to the pros, as none of the top nine finishers at the WGC event played four rounds in Florida the previous week. I’m a bit nervous about filling my roster with guys living out of a suitcase recently, especially if this is their third tournament in as many weeks. Unfortunately, many of this week’s chalk plays fall into this group.
I received a message from a reader asking about the order in which the players appear below. Since there was no uniformity, I will present them in alphabetical order going forward.
- Luke Donald – He’s 6-6 here with a win (2012) and three other top-10 finishes. The last two years have brought results of 53-22, but he’s in better form now than he was. The former world No. 1 didn’t make the trip to Mexico and has finished 23-17-27 in his last three tournaments. He’s been solid around and on the greens this season, so if he can get there, he’ll compete. Plus, I owe him some nice words and a roster spot for being so mean to him a few weeks ago. Yep, I’m that fickle.
- Bill Haas – Billy dinked and dunked his way to a T32 last week, which was his first finish outside the top-17 this year. With an unpredictable tournament, Haas delivered a mid-pack finish as expected. Following the late-2015 course renovation at Copperhead, he lost in a playoff here last year to Charl Schwartzel and had a fantastic ball-striking week. He murders par-3s and he is tops on tour this year in bogey avoidance. He’s also jumping off a plane to play, so I’m not overcome with joy here, but I’ll use Haas this week in the absence of anything else solid.
- Graeme McDowell – I know he’s a Florida guy, but he missed the cut here last year and his approach game has been miserable this season. Pass.
- Patrick Reed – Reed was predictably a mess in Mexico, with no round under 71 en route to a T61 finish. This week could tell a different story, as he was seventh here last year and lost in a 2015 playoff to Jordan Spieth. The renovations seem to fit his eye, so the only question is form -- and it has been brutal: 68-23-59-61 in his last four starts. If you don’t trust Donald or Woodland, then Reed is your only other legitimate option. Yuck.
- Gary Woodland – I can see the wheels falling off here. Woody is making the Florida-Mexico-Florida tour, and he didn’t impress last week; 73-67-74-70 was good for T38. He was in great form when he left the States but I wasn’t wild on him last week either. His six runs at the Valspar have produced a win and another top-10, but uninspiring results the other four years. I’m fading Woodland, even in a thin field.
Don’t roster anyone else in the ‘A’ group. Just don’t do it.
- Harris English – Total wild card, and if you need to save starts on the big boys, English isn’t an awful option. He won the 2011 Southern Amateur here, and has two top-10 finishes at the Valspar in the last four years. His form is nothing to get pumped over, but his iron play has been noble in 2017 and he could surprise this weekend. Top-30 not out of the question.
- Jim Furyk – Hasn’t fared well here since the course starting chewing players up again in 2013. Furyk looked out of sorts last week en route to a T58 in Mexico. Add a flight back to Florida, a south-facing trend here, and old bones, and you have a perfect fade. Let someone else in your league chase his past victories and top-10s.
- Lucas Glover – My mind is telling me to run away screaming, but my gut says Glover and I could be friends. He tees it up at Copperhead every year and only has a T4 in 2007 in the ‘good’ column. Total record is 8-12 since 2005 with no other finishes better than 20th. Why is my belly growling? I like his approach game and his form, and I’m hungry. 41-33-36-21 in his last four tournaments. I’ll list him as a deep gut play and hope for a top-30 sprint.
- Charles Howell III – CH3 was in great form before an apathetic T52 at the Honda. He stayed home last week and looks to repeat great history at Innisbrook – 14-10-5 finishes the last three years have me firing the Howell engines. His approach game has been firm and he keeps high numbers off the card. He’ll begin his annual fade into oblivion soon, but you can undoubtedly burn a start at the Valspar.
- Russell Knox – As I often do, I’ll cut and paste from last week, when I wrote, ‘I can’t trust him anymore. If the course is as tight as it appears, Knox could compete, but I can’t trust him anymore. When he’s on, very few hit more fairways than the Brit. I can’t trust him anymore. Right?’ Right. Trending the wrong way with 25-33-56 the last three Valspar tours. Pass.
- Matt Kuchar – What’s the story of Kuchar’s life? (One Direction fans, there’s your reference for this year.) Solid, not spectacular. How about course history? 10-14-38-33-11 in his last five trips here. Last week in Mexico? T20. Do I think he’ll win? No way. Will he finish T23 this week? Probably. You can decide if that’s good enough for you. I’ll spend my starts until I’m broke inside. Look it up. It’s actually a good song.
- Ryan Moore – I love this play across the board except that he teed it up last week. Seems like a strong statistical fit and his form hasn’t been great lately. Wait, what? I like rostering classy guys who are beaten down a bit but who come to play in specific spots. He was on the Ryder Cup team, remember? Moore has hit the top-5 each of the last two years here, and added a T8 in 2007, which is probably meaningless. The plane fatigue scares me, but he should be in the mix Sunday.
- Kevin Na – See Moore, Ryan. Same idea. Except for a T4 at the Genesis, his form has been a bit off, but he shows up with 2-10-22 finishes the last three editions of the Valspar. He’s as good on the approach as anyone in the game, and though he’s not in the same division as Moore, Na isn’t far off. Don’t be surprised to see a top-25 this week.
- Steve Stricker – You certainly won’t use him 10 times this season, and this appears to be a course where he’s comfortable. Finished T7 last year after not playing the tournament since 2010. Finishes of 42-23 are his only starts this calendar year. He’s the winner of the ‘better DFS play than Yahoo! play’ this week, so I won’t roster Strick, but you could do worse as a punt play.
- Justin Thomas – Copperhead is another course that doesn’t seem to fit JT’s skill set, but he’s punched up results of 10-18 in his two attempts here. I doubted him last week and he had the 54-hole lead before fading Sunday. His four week stretch included tourneys in California, Florida, Mexico and now Florida again. Is he getting tired? Do 23-year-olds get tired? I can’t remember that far back. This whole tournament is as thin as JT, so I’ll hold my nose and jump in the gator-infested water with him.
- Cameron Tringale – Sweet course history, with posts of 46-3-25-17 in the last four years, but his form is awful and there are many other plays. Pass.
- Byeong-Hun An – Nobody can deny that his talent will lead to wins. Will it happen this week? Probably not, though in a soft field and having made his last five worldwide cuts, he could compete. Played both of the last two weeks, and five of the last six, so energy might not be his friend.
- Daniel Berger – Every expert will tell you that if the tournament is in Florida, Berger has to be considered. He finished 11th here last year and comes off a decent showing in Mexico with a T16. He’s from Florida, so he knows how to play in wind. Blah blah blah. Until he can consistently hit a green with a long iron in his hands, he’ll struggle on courses like Copperhead. Ok, I considered him. Now, I’m fading him.
- Wesley Bryan – Why not? Finished 4-4 in his last two starts before taking last week off. He perfectly falls into the start-saver category. If you like playing the hot hand, there is none better. This is Bryan’s first time at the Valspar, so expect a solid weekend but no podium trip.
- Graham DeLaet – This is his week; I’m calling it now. That’s not much of a stretch, seeing his course history includes 17-8-5 in his last three trips. His form is excellent, coming in off a 9-17-10 stretch this year. He didn’t fly to Mexico to contract a virus or perform poorly. He’s always been a premier ball-striker, and he has never won on the PGA Tour… until this week. Fire it up! GDL for the win! O Canada! ::exit stage left::
- Jason Dufner – In his last eight attempts here, Duf has finished… wait for it… 17-28-28-10-21-14-24-22. How about his last three starts this year? 25-14-23. He’s clearly been playing too much with Matt Kuchar. Everything here screams T23 with Kuchar this week, but after flying back from Mexico, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fade.
- Billy Horschel – Not sure what to make of him. He should compete here, but hasn’t teed it up at Innisbrook since 2013 and the course is a bit different since then. His form is decent, and he comes in rested following a T4 at the Honda two weeks ago. His tee-to-green game is solid, as is his long iron play. I don’t have room for him this week, but if he finishes top-20, don’t say I didn’t mention him.
- Martin Laird – The group’s see-saw. His finishes this year are 9-74-7-66-8. Skill set lines up enormously well this week, but you just never know. If you don’t trust Stenson and don’t love DeLaet as much as I do, Laird seems to be a good wager to at least see the weekend. He’s 4-6 at this event with a top-five and nothing else.
- Sean O’Hair – Here’s a mildly intriguing longshot. He finished second here in 2015 before WD last year, and he’s made the cut in all six tries since the calendar turned. O’Hair has a bit of a checkered long history; the 2008 champion missed the cut in his next four visits. Could win or MC, and I’m not willing to take that chance in Yahoo!
- Ollie Schneiderjans – He’s been a cut-making machine, seeing the weekend in all six of his starts this year with two top-10 finishes. Ollie missed the cut here two years ago, but that was the Backside Ollie, and this monster-in-the-making is a solid 720 Frontside Ollie. I’m fully expecting him to break through with a win soon, and in a weak field, this could be the place. Gut play. Bring it.
- Charl Schwartzel – Hard to completely ignore the defending champ, but his game is a hot mess right now. Finished T38 last week and hasn’t made an actual cut this year. If he’s getting to the green and crushing par-3s like he did last year, he could sneak up the leaderboard again. He’s classy, but he won’t be on my team this week.
- Henrik Stenson – Following his WD from the WGC event last week in Mexico, Stenson disclosed a stomach virus was the culprit. He’s the class of the field this week and has finished 4-11 in his last two years here, but I’m not thrilled that he hasn’t played four rounds in several weeks. There are other decent ‘C’ options if you don’t want to gamble again.
My Yahoo! fantasy golf lineup
(* - denotes first round starter)
- A – Bill Haas* and Luke Donald
- B – Charles Howell III*, Matt Kuchar*, Justin Thomas, Ryan Moore
- C – Henrik Stenson* and Graham DeLaet
Getting back to the states on a long-time host course makes my analytical brain happy. That said, I’m taking Graham DeLaet for the win and the subsequent month-long celebration in his native Canada. I love Ollie Schneiderjans’ game, and I could see someone like Billy Horschel throwing a scare at the leaderboard. I’ve taken a bold stance on a few players I don’t get a good vibe from, like Woodland and Berger, but there is plenty of firepower to help me toward #1 overall!
Hit me up at @commishjoe on Twitter with questions, comments or emotional outbursts. Follow along for last-minute changes. If you aren’t a GNN Plus member, sign up today! $10 for the year! You spend that at Starbucks in two days! Good luck!