This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $15M
Course: East Lake Golf Club
2018 champion: Tiger Woods
Well, here we go into uncharted waters. And we're not talking about East Lake. The 2018-19 PGA Tour season comes to a close this week with a drastic change to how golf is played – and scored. We won't get into all the details, because if you are already here you surely have a pretty good idea what we're talking about. It's best to spend our time discussing how to attack your DraftKings lineups this week.
The prices – with Justin Thomas at the top at a whopping $15,500 and Charles Howell III at the very bottom at a paltry $5,000 – make complete sense. But they were no less jarring when we saw them for the first time Sunday night. The No. 2 guy on the DK board, Patrick Cantlay, is priced at $12,400. Thomas will start at 10-under and Cantlay at 8-under. Is the two-stroke advantage Thomas will take onto the first tee on Thursday morning worth more than $3,100? Off the top of our heads, that seems like an awful lot to pay for two shots. And then you have to factor in what the rest of your lineup will look like.
Let's try a little math. Picking Thomas would leave you with $34,500 for five guys, an average of only $6,900 per guy. On the surface, that seems horrible, to have to pick five sub-$7,000 guys. Of course, you don't have to pick five scrubs, you just have to average $6,900. And $6,900 this week is not what $6,900 is most weeks. This week, $6,900 is ... Justin Rose. Well, he's the No. 4-ranked golfer in the world, so this is getting wackier and wackier by the minute. Just by comparison, Thomas is $8,600 more than Rose, but there's also an eight-stroke bulge. Rose, in 17th place in the FedExCup standings, is one of five guys starting at 2-under. You could take Howell and then also a guy worth almost $9,000 – specifically, $8,800. Who is $8,800? The No. 10 guy on the DK board, Tony Finau, who will open at at 3-under. Not to get off on a tangent, but Finau coming in $2,000 more than Rose for one shot just seems crazy.
Now, let's take a look at guys whose starting position on the leaderboard doesn't jibe with their DK prices. After Cantlay, we see Brooks Koepka at $12,200, Rory McIlroy at $10,600 and Patrick Reed at $10,200. McIlroy is priced $400 more than Reed but will open one shot behind him, 6-under to 5-under. That seems like a small price if you like McIlroy more, and he has a much better East Lake track record. Golfers in sixth through 10th place in the point standings will all begin at 4-under, but there is a vast gap in their prices, from Jon Rahm at $9,900 all the way to Abraham Ancer at $7,100. Here, comparing apples to apples – Rahm and Ancer begin the tournament tied – we can use a regular approach. And it seems the way Rahm has been playing, he's a good buy even at $2.800 more than Ancer, who is making his East Lake debut.
As we talk this out, and write this out, the groupings seem like a good way to go about setting your lineup: Look at the groups of five guys who will all begin with the same score and find value in their disparate prices. We noted the biggest gap in the 4-under group, guys tied for sixth place (Rahm/Ancer). Among the guys starting tied for 11th at 3-under, it ranges from Hideki Matsuyama is at $9,300 to Gary Woodland is at $8,000 – not a large gap. Guys tied for 16th at 2-under: Rickie Fowler at $8,600 to Kevin Kisner at $6,600 (Kisner seems like a real steal there, no?). Guys tied for 21st at 1-under: Tommy Fleetwood at $7,700 to Chez Reavie at $5,100, which is another big gap. And lastly, guys tied for 26th at even par: Louis Oosthuizen at $5,700 to Howell at $5,000 – the smallest gap.
Remember, there's no cut, so all these guys play all four rounds. What we don't know, and can't know, is how each golfer will approach the tournament, being two strokes ahead at the start or eight strokes behind or wherever. As we said, it's uncharted territory. But we will make our picks looking for bargains, not only in the usual places but in those five-man groups.
Before we move on, a quick look at the course. We get it that there's a historical connection to Bobby Jones, and that romanticizes things, and blah, blah, blah. But East Lake is far from thrilling, and it's not a very tough course. The past three years it played in the middle of the difficulty pack on the PGA Tour. Granted, that's with the best players on Tour, but still. The closing stretch is ho-hum; in fact, Nos. 17 and 18 were among the four easiest holes last year. The 18th, one of only two par-5s, was the second easiest on the track, which doesn't seem the proper way to cap a sport's season and to crown a champion. The three hardest holes were on the front. That's a big yawn. What we like about East Lake is that accuracy off the tee counts here more than in most places because the fairways are among the handful of narrowest all season. We'll tackle that in the key stats and Champion's Profile below.
Weather-wise, there is a chance of rain every day from Tuesday through Sunday, so there could be some stopping and starting. With only 30 golfers, the tee times will be very close to each other regardless. Temperatures are forecast to be close to or over 90 every day before dipping into the lower 80s on Sunday, with minimal wind throughout.
Key Stats to Winning at East Lake
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Driving accuracy/strokes gained: off the tee
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Putting average/strokes: gained putting
Guys who keep the ball in the fairway do well at East Lake. But the thing is, you can't just look at driving accuracy stats. East Lake forces just about everybody to keep the driver in the bag more than usual, so finding the fairway should be easier just by clubbing down. But it's still a hard course to keep it in the short stuff, with trees and rough and even some water lurking. Last year, Woods ranked third in driving accuracy, but was only 14th in greens in regulation. In a 30-man field, that's pretty bad. But Woods made up for it by ranking first in scrambling and second in strokes gained: putting. By comparison, Schauffele ranked sixth in greens in regulation, McIlroy was second and Horschel and Stenson were both first. Schauffele was fifth in distance off the tee, and of course McIlroy is long, but from Spieth in 2015 going back to Furyk in 2010, there wasn't a long hitter in the bunch.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Brooks Koepka - $12,200 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 9-2)
Wouldn't it be just like Koepka to swoop in at the last possible minute and win the FedEx Cup, after largely cruising through the first two playoff events? Actually, it would be fitting, because he's been the most dominant player all year. Koepka tied for 30th at the Northern Trust and 24th at the BMW Championship to slip to third in the standings, and will be begin at 7-under, three strokes behind Justin Thomas. This will be his third trip to East Lake, where his best finish was a T6 two years ago.
Rory McIlroy - $10,600 (8-1)
If anyone can light up a leaderboard and get on a birdie roll, it's McIlroy. He'll begin at 5-under, five strokes behind Thomas.That's pretty much insurmountable over 18 holes, but 72? McIlroy put Royal Portrush in the past very quickly, tying for fourth at the WGC in Memphis and sixth at the Northern Trust before a T19 at Medinah. He of course is a former East Lake winner, in 2016, and also was runner-up in 2014. He was T7 last year.
Jon Rahm - $9,900 (16-1)
There's no hotter golfer in the world than Rahm, who has a win, a runner-up, two thirds, a fifth and a seventh in his last seven starts. The fact that his win came at the Irish Open probably masks how well he's going right now. He was T5 last week at the BMW. Rahm has played East Lake twice before, tying for 11th last year and seventh in 2017. He'll begin the tournament at 4-under in a tie for sixth place.
Adam Scott - $8,200 (40-1)
Scott has played East Lake only once in the past four years, tying for eighth in 2016. It was his third top-10 there this decade, and he won the tournament way back in 2006, the year before the playoffs were implemented. Right now, he's playing his best golf in years, and is coming off top-10s in each of the first two playoff events, tying for ninth at the BMW and fifth at the Northern Trust. Scott will begin play on Thursday in a tie for 11th at 3-under.
Tommy Fleetwood - $7,700 (100-1)
Fleetwood was having what had to be considered a disappointing season when he arrived at Royal Portrush. Since then, he's been back on his game. He was runner-up at the Open, top-5 at the WGC event in Memphis and T11 last week at the BMW. Fleetwood will begin the week with a high price in relation to his standing on the leaderboard, which is at 1-under, tied for 21st. He's played East Lake just once before, tying for 11th last year.
Brandt Snedeker - $7,300 (125-1)
Snedeker was outside the top 30 when the playoffs began, but forced his way in a pair of top-6s at the Northern Trust and BMW. He's surely still trying to gain consideration for a long-shot Presidents Cup captain's pick. Snedeker won the Tour Championship back in 2012. He's been back only three times since, with nothing better than a T17. Snedeker will start at 2-under in a tie for 16th.
Justin Rose - $6,900 (40-1)
Even though Rose is starting far back, we like him a lot. Why he is priced so low in comparison to the other guys who will also start at 2-under and tied for 11th place, we have no idea. But he's finished top-10 in his past six visits to East Lake, and four of those have been top-5s, including last year's T4.
Kevin Kisner - $6,600 (125-1)
As we noted above, Kisner will begin tied with with Rickie Fowler at 2-under/11th place, but he comes in $2,000 cheaper. Kisner has turned it on in the playoffs, tying for 12th at the Northern Trust and ninth at the BMW Championship. Clearly, he is still in the running for a Presidents Cup captain's pick – he showed his match play skills by winning the WGC match play event earlier this year. This will be Kisner's fourth straight start at the Tour Championship; he finished third last year.
Louis Oosthuizen - $5,700 (200-1)
Yes, Oosthuizen will begin as far back as possible, at even par and in a tie for 26th place. But he has been quietly good all year. He's never had much success at East Lake, but he also hasn't played there much, not since withdrawing in 2015. Oosthuizen is riding four straight top-20s and they've all come in big-time tournaments: the Open, the WGC in Memphis and the two playoff events.
Lucas Glover - $5,200 (300-1)
Glover battled over the final two months of the season to land at East Lake for the first time in a decade. After two top-10s and another top-20 since July, he tied for seventh last week at Medinah to finally crack the top 30. After beginning the year 136th in the Official World Golf Ranking, Glover is now up to 63rd. Yes, he starts way, way back at even par and in a tie for 26th place. But Glover's accuracy should help him climb the leaderboard a bit, and at a very lineup-friendly price tag.