DraftKings PGA: Farmers Insurance Open Picks and Strategy

DraftKings PGA: Farmers Insurance Open Picks and Strategy

This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.


Purse: $8.7M
Winner's Share: $1.566M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: La Jolla, Calif.
Course: Torrey Pines GC (South and North courses)
Yardage: 7,765 (South)
Par: 72
2022 champion: Luke List

Tournament Preview

In the first three PGA Tour events of 2023, the fields were great. So much for the haves and have-nots of the new designated-tournament era on the PGA tour, right? The Farmers appears to make it four in a row to start the new year. But upon closer inspection, that's not the case.

Five of the top 10 in the world will descend upon the tony seaside town of La Jolla for what annually has been the first full-field event of the year in which a majority of the top guys show up. But this year, after Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa -- and, extending out of the top 10, Tony Finau, Max Homa, Sungjae Im and Hideki Matsuyama -- the strength of the field falls very hard and very fast. In all, only 10 of the top 25 and 13 of the top 50 on hand. Last year, the field boasted six top-10s, 14 top-25s and half of the top-50. The strength-of-field rating on the OWGR website was 486 last year, 282 this year. Even accounting for a recent overhaul in the OWGR points system, that's a precipitous drop.

With that comparison, it is clear that the Farmers Insurance Open -- a non-designated event this year -- is the first big casualty of the Tour's new scheduling landscape.

The 156-man contingent does also include fan favorites Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Sahith Theegala, plus Justin Rose and top rookie Taylor Montgomery, and we'll even stretch the boundaries of noteworthiness to include Keegan Bradley, Si Woo Kim and last week's Amex runner-up, Davis Thompson. But at the opposite end, almost half the field is comprised of Korn Ferry grads, last year's 126-150 guys, the dreaded "Reorder Category" guys, sponsors exemptions, medical extensions and older guys using career-earnings exemptions. Yikes.

At this point, we'll stop piling on to remind all of you that the tournament starts on Wednesday. As was the case last year, there will be a Saturday night prime-time finish on the East Coast as the Tour wisely avoids the NFL conference championship games on Sunday.

The first three tournaments of 2022 were big-time birdie-fests. That all changes this week. Last year, Luke List won at 15-under in a playoff over Zalatoris. The year before, Patrick Reed won at 14-under and everyone else was in single digits. The South Course, which will be in play for three of the four rounds, is a mere 235 yards shy of 8,000. The back-nine comes within 38 yards of 4,000. The track was actually a little shorter for the 2021 U.S. Open at 7,685 yards, but it played as a par-71 when Rahm won at a minuscule 6-under. This week, we should expect a winning score in the mid-teens.

Seven of the 10 par-4s are at least 450 yards. The shortest par-5 is 564 and two exceed 615. Three of the par-3s are 200-plus and two are 225-plus. Really, you could make a case that there's only one short hole on the entire course -- the 389-yard second. Traditionally, the 505-yard 12th and 480-yard 15th are the biggest brutes. Last year, the 225-yard 11th joined them, accenting that the back-nine is harder than the front. The sheer length of the course is not the only challenge; while the golfers will be standing far back in the fairway for their approach shots -- and they are narrow fairways, at that -- they will be aiming at some of the smallest greens on Tour. The tricky poa annua surfaces average only 5,000 square feet. If they miss the greens, they are then faced with chipping from the gnarly kikuyu grass, which we'll also see in the rough at Riviera. Water is in play on just one hole, but it can be a game-changer on the 570-yard 18th. The North course is some 500 yards shorter at 7,258/par-72 and is far easier, though a bit harder since a Tom Weiskopf redesign a few years back. Still, anyone hoping to contend must crush the North course and hope to survive the South. The 486-yard 18th on the North is often among the hardest holes on the entire PGA Tour. The greens are a bit larger than at the South at an average of 6,000 square feet, and they are bentgrass.

With the golfers playing the North either Wednesday or Thursday, many gamers will turn to Showdown games and load up all six spots with guys playing the North. It's a good plan to consider.

Needless to say, there's a premium on distance this week. Maybe not as much as with driver but long irons. The golfers won't see the rainy conditions they endured two years ago, but it's always hard to imagine a short hitter emerging on one of the longest courses in the world. That said, Reed won in those difficult conditions, Marc Leishman won three years ago and Brandt Snedeker is a two-time Torrey Pines winner.

As for this year's weather, it will be a bit chilly in San Diego all week with highs in the 60s but lows in the low 40s -- that won't be fun for early morning tee times. But there's no rain in the forecast and the wind is expected to be light to moderate.

Key Stats to Winning at Torrey Pines South

The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.

• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee/Driving Distance
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation/Approaches from 175-200 yards
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Par-4 Efficiency 450-500 yards

Past Champions

2022 – Luke List
2021 – Patrick Reed
2020 – Marc Leishman
2019 – Justin Rose
2018 – Jason Day
2017 – Jon Rahm
2016 - Brandt Snedeker
2015 – Jason Day
2014 – Scott Stallings
2013 – Tiger Woods

Champion's Profile

In the past eight years, the winning score has ranged from 6-under (Snedeker) to 21-under (Rose). Four times in the past decade, the winner has been 10-under or less. Even though the course is so long, driving distance did not correlate to success the past three years. Last year, the long-hitting List ranked 12th in the field and the longer-hitting runner-up Will Zalatoris was uncharacteristically 30th. Rahm, who finished third and ranked third in driving distance, was among only two guys in the top-10 on the leaderboard who were also top-10 in distance. Most of the leaders were strong in their approach and tee-to-green play; List separated himself by ranking eighth in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting. Reed and Leishman both won with their short games, though Reed did it primarily with his wedges, ranking first in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Greens, and Leishman with his putter, ranking first in SG: Putting. So, as we always say, there certainly is more than one way to win a golf tournament, even on a long course. Now, distance is still important; what's happened here could be a case of long hitters trying to take a little bit off the gas in an effort to find the narrow fairways. And there will be long iron shots. Driving accuracy and GIR numbers are annually among the lowest on Tour, which brings deftness around the greens into play. Six of the past 10 winners were top-10 in scrambling, including the past three. Four years ago when Rose won, it was more of what we expect from Torrey Pines: The top seven finishers were top-25 in both driving distance and Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. The over/under on the winning score on golfodds.com was 273.5 - 14.5 under par. 


Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap

Tier 1 Values

Jon Rahm - $11,600 ((Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +450) 
There's not much to discuss here. Rahm has won four of his past five worldwide starts, has won at Torrey Pines twice, including the 2021 U.S. Open, and was third last year. Yes, he will cost a lot and be highly owned, but if you think he will win and you don't have a piece of him, how will you feel come Saturday night?

Tony Finau - $10,500 (+1200)
Finau hasn't won at Torrey Pines because, well, until semi-recently he didn't win anywhere. But he has played this tournament as well as anyone not named Rahm. Finau has four top-six results since 2017, and he also has three other top-25s through the years. Remember, until Rahm went on his recent surge, Finau was the hottest player going with three wins in seven starts culminating with November's Houston Open. So far in 2023 for Finau: T7 at the Tournament of Champions, T16 at the Amex.

Will Zalatoris - $9,700 (+1600)
We have only three guys in Tier 1 this week because there are so few guys in Tier 1 -- just five at $9,500 or higher. This is a perfect track for Zalatoris, who has gotten in eight pain-free rounds in 2023 after cutting last year short with two herniated disks in his back. The South is long and hard, allowing Zalatoris to take advantage of his length. The greens are small, allowing him to use his accuracy as an advantage and mask his sometimes-suspect putting. Zalatoris finished seventh here in 2021 and was a playoff loser to List last year.

Tier 2 Values

Taylor Montgomery - $9,200 (+2500)
Montgomery registered another top-15 last week at the Amex, his eighth in nine starts this season. It actually was much better than a top-15, it was a tie for fifth. This stretch is unsustainable for Montgomery (or anyone), but he is showing he can play on all different kinds of courses and stronger fields. We're gonna ride this one out.

Si Woo Kim - $8,900 (+3500)
As we've been saying, something seems different about Kim since the end of last season: new wife, new caddie, new mindset. He won the Sony two weeks ago, then came back last week at didn't fade or disappear -- he tied for 22nd. He is ranked fifth on Tour this season in greens in regulation from 175 to 200 yards, and that is playing some big boy golf. Kim has had his ups and downs at this tournament through the years -- a perfect definition of his golf career -- but had his best finish a year ago with a tie for 11th.

Jason Day - $8,800 (+2500)
Day is coming off a top-20 at the Amex, and that is not an outlier for him this season. He had four top-25s in the fall. This stretch seems different for Day than any he's had in recent years -- for one thing, there has been no inkling of his back woes flaring. He's on the edge of returning to the top-100 in the world at No. 104. And now Day comes to a tournament where he has excelled through the years: two-time winner, runner-up, third (last year), fifth and ninth in the past decade.

Maverick McNealy - $8,600 (+3500)
McNealy really should be better by now, right? He's never won, never been in the top-50 in the world. He's ranked 61st now. There are indications that is changing, however. In his past six starts, McNealy has had three top-10s, including T7 last time out at the Sony, and two more top-20s. What's really driving his ascension is his putting -- he's ranked third on Tour. You don't really want to hang your hat on a great putter this week when so many other things matter more. But McNealy was 30th last year and 15th in 2020, when the fields were far stronger than now.

Justin Rose - $8,000 (+5000)
Rose is now 42, far from being a top-10 golfer. In fact, he was close to not being a top-100 golfer, dipping into the 80s earlier this month. But he has had some decent results of late -- ninth at Houston and 29th at the RSM to close the fall, then T26 last week at the Amex. He hasn't played as much this season as many others, but he's ranked sixth in GIR from 175-200. And Rose has finished top-8 here in four of the past six years, including his win in 2019 and a tie for sixth last year.

Tier 3 Values

Alex Smalley - $7,700 (+7500)
Smalley is a well-rounded golfer who is now inside the top 100 of the OWGR and should stay there. He's ranked top-70 in every strokes gained category but one (83rd, Around-the-Green). Smalley tied for 22nd last week at the Amex, his fifth top-25 in his past seven starts. Two of them were top-5s at the end of the fall season. In his Torrey Pines debut last year, Smalley tied for 56th.

Rickie Fowler - $7,600 (+9000)
We dipped our toe into the Fowler pool with much trepidation last week. It could've been a much better week than it was. Fowler tied for 54th thanks in large part to two doubles and a triple costing him seven strokes over the final three rounds. That said, now we will dip a toe on our other foot, for some reason, even though Fowler has made the cut here only three times in the past nine years. The thing is, he's ranked seventh on Tour in GIR and T6 in GIR from 175-200. His putting is still abysmal, but you can get by with mediocre putting this week. Mediocre, not abysmal.

Will Gordon - $7,400 (+9000)
Gordon hits the ball pretty far and pretty straight. He'll need to do that this week, because if he has to rely too much on his wedge play, he won't see the weekend. He's ranked top-20 in SG: Off-the-Tee and 25th in SG: Tee-to-Green. Those are excellent numbers. Gordon has played Torrey Pines twice before, finishing 42nd in 2021 and 21st in 2020.

Aaron Rai - $7,200 (+18000)
Rai missed three of his past five cuts, including last week at the Amex. So what is he doing here? Well, he made the cut at the Sony (T61), where it's important to hit fairways, and had a great week at Houston (T7), one of the longer/harder tracks of the fall season. In other words, his game is better suited for courses such as Torrey Pines, where he happened to tie for sixth in his debut last year. Rai is not a long hitter, but he's ranked fifth in driving accuracy, 37th in GIR and 46th in GIR from 175-200. That should be enough to reach the weekend.

Long-Shot Values

Michael Thompson - $6,800 (+30000)
We can't really tell you why Thompson finished in the top-15 in four of his past eight visits to Torrey Pines. He's a short hitter, and even a cursory look at the stats doesn't offer much encouragement. Sometimes, a course just fits someone's eye. Thompson is a pretty accurate driver, and that's important this week. He missed the Amex cut last week but was T32 at the Sony, where driving accuracy counts more than most weeks.

Andrew Novak - $6,700 (+35000)
The 27-year-old North Carolinian doesn't drive the ball far, or straight, yet somehow has managed to rank 32nd on Tour in greens in regulation, ninth in GIR from 175-200 and a stellar 15th in SG: Tee-to-Green. A big part of the T2G ranking is an elite sixth in SG: Around-the-Green. Novak is in the 126-150 category from a year ago, which means he wasn't very good and doesn't get many Tour starts. He's made only four this season, but two of them were top-20s, including 12th at the Sony two weeks ago.

Kevin Tway - $6,600 (+60000)
Tway missed seven of his last eight cuts to close 2022. He's made both so far in 2023. Sometimes, guys just gotta get away for a few weeks. Tway now arrives at Torrey Pines, where he's made six of seven cuts through the years. He's never had a high finish, always in the 30s or 40s. If you're looking for a sixth to get through to the weekend, he's not a bad option for a dart throw.

Adam Schenk - $6,500 (+40000)
Schenk was an accurate iron player for a number of seasons before falling on a couple of lean years. He is showing signs he might be making his way back. He's now ranked 80th in GIR, and even better from the 175-200 yard range at No. 36. Last summer, Schenk tied for 31st at the FedEx St. Jude playoff event with an elite field on a long, hard track, showing he still has it in him. He's made two of four cuts at Torrey Pines, including last year.

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The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Len Hochberg plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DK: Bunker Mentality.
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Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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