By James Dalthorp
BEAST DOME NATION.
This week is a rare one on the PGA Tour – we’re following an epic Tiger Woods win at a new event in Japan to a dual event week internationally with yet ANOTHER new event. We’ll focus on the WGC – HSBC Champions because that’s where the top field is – but at the end, I’ll add some thoughts on the Bermuda Championship (especially since that’s what MKF has picks for) as well. With the HSBC and Bermuda events going on simultaneously, it will be a fun week to see who can capitalize on a slightly weaker field in Bermuda at a new event – and who can make their final bids for a Presidents Cup pick for mid-December. Let’s quickly recap USA Captain Tiger’s win last week and then assess who to add to your roster this week.
We got a very unexpected treat last week during one of the most electric weeks in sports we’ve had for a while – and Tiger basically had a vintage wire to wire win (he co-led) after the first round). Opening impressively with 64-64, Tiger’s refinished Scotty Cameron putter (missing the red dot by intention) was hot,. Very hot. He was making bombs throughout the week – and his ball striking was exceptional as well.
Considering the time off, it’s a great sign to see Tiger in such great form during the beginning of this 2020 PGA Tour season which started just four weeks ago. As a Presidents Cup captain and maybe a few years left of competition on the PGA Tour, our imaginations are primed for Sunday red once again. It will be a great few years of golf watching him try to set some all-time records.
Most athletes can appreciate the level of effort it takes for a competitor to return to true form and right now I’m convinced – as I was even during his struggles – that Woods can set the all-time record for major championships. Every reason suggested this particular Japan event might not be his week – a layoff, tons of press functions (or so it seemed), a weak start in the Skins game suggesting rust, lots going on with his personal life, and just some question marks – did not seem to have any effect. Wow. I wasn’t sure we would see TW at this level again. He had a full day in-between rounds one and two with heavy rains – and played a full day of rounds 2 and most of 3 with no gallery. Surreal. And then finishing the win in style with a birdie on the final hole after blasting out of a difficult mid-length bunker shot. Spectacular.
For the fantasy fans, I think last week was an absolute shot in the dark – but normally I’m the first guy to suggest Tiger is a good option when it seems less likely. That one will really encourage me to pick him in the coming months as we get closer to major time. One note one my picks last week – Kiradesh Aphibarnrat did not make the final field, so that didn’t work out. I think the course DID suit Bubba Watson’s lefty eye – but ultimately he did not have a great finish. He was a few under par through 36 holes. Rory, my pick to win, did rebound nicely with a top 3 finish. Also as I expressed on Twitter, Jason Day’s skins win was not noteworthy. Stroke play is a completely different animal.
Let’s take a look at another week in Asia on Tour this week as we head to TPC Kuala Lumpur. This is a unique test which offers plenty of scoring opportunities for journeyman and young pros alike – which should make for another great finish this week on what would normally be a European Tour event. With the mixed field here for a couple years in a row, we’ll get to see some really interesting play on what seems like the most exotic looking track on the Asia swing. This is a course that favors shotmaking, but it’s also just a bit more skewed off the tee which demands accuracy. Scores are usually low.
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1. Gary Woodland
With his little brother Brooks Koepka down for the count and a Presidents Cup pick surely in hand, Gary has to feel like twice the guy he did two weeks ago. After a very strong closing weekend at the CJ Cup and playing toe to toe with Tiger last week on a totally different course, Gary has the hottest hand in the field in my humble opinion. I think he’s going to ride this wave to a victory. I think the confidence of knowing he made that team (unofficially) and how well he’s playing, it will be hard to stop him. Even though he was T28 last year here, he’s a combined 37 under par in 12 recent rounds (most of them in Asia). I think not putting Gary in your lineup is a diss. He went from a cold US Open champ to finished tied for 3rd and 5th in his last two events. Really impressive stuff, if you consider that he was a questionable pick a few weeks ago. Huge upside.
2. Justin Thomas
He finished 12 shots back of Tiger Woods for the week last week in a tie for 17th, but I’m still keen on the Fed Ex Cup’s leading money winner in Asia. He didn’t get off to a great start last week but he was able to position himself back in the event with a -5 finish. I think last week was a real test for the less experienced pros. So a player of Justin’s caliber finishing in a T25 should not be a setback, especially considering his rough start. Like Rory, Justin can get really hot out of nowhere. His long game will serve him well again and no doubt, he will have a ton of opportunities for birdies and more.
3. Rafa Cabrera Bello
Quietly steady results lately for Bello, and he’s a great ball striker with his irons. T26 and T30 in his last two starts at the CJ and Zozo (both relatively close), and I think he’s got more good stuff on tap here. This course rewards someone who plays his style of golf – and the overhanging trees might give him a similar vibe to a Spanish course like Valderrama, a native beast in his home country. He also has top ten finishes at this event in both of the last two years. I think he’ll be in one of those final groups on Sunday.
4. Hideki Matsuyama
I underestimated Matsuyama’s ability to deliver last week and I won’t underestimate him again. He truly established himself as the major local threat in Asia with such strong performances with Tiger last week (runner-up, three shots back), and another top 5 the previous week at the CJ. Great ball striker, level head. I don’t see why he can’t contend yet again this week – he’s playing some of the best golf of his young career.
5. Rory Mcilroy
Don’t think Rory’s going to win this week, but if he’s available for your team, he’s still a good pick. His comeback in the final three rounds last week was super impressive. Despite having his worst overall to par performance here last year (remember it is a no cut event, so that could’ve happened somewhere else easily), I think the fact that Rory drives the ball so well and so far just means he might have needed to curate a few strategic errors around this place. The fact he wanted to come back here suggests it might have just been a weird event for him last year – and judging by the state of his game, this will be a walk in the park for him.
6. Justin Harding
Here’s a great dark horse that nobody will be talking about! Not many know Justin’s game in the U.S., and I’m shocked to see him even make some fantasy “no go” lists this week as a player who is declining. Not true one bit! I’m a little biased because we played some together in college. Yes, he finished T46 at this event last year. Yes, he’s coming off a less than great performance. However – consider the mindset: he’s coming off a year where he went from relatively unknown to making the cut in 3 out of 4 majors (missing only at the US Open with 73-73, which is nothing to feel sorry about) with a T12 at the Masters. Justin should have more confidence here – knowing he can work the ball around some low hanging trees. I think Justin is a great driver of the ball – and I think he should be on your radar as a sleeper pick. He’s ranked 64th in the world. Might want to keep your eye on him. There’s a lot of talent there. He won a few times internationally in 2018 and the South African is a great ball striker – especially with his short irons.
Notables: Kevin Na has just withdrew in the past few hours. So make sure not to consider him!
Make sure to consider anyone who drives the ball well this week. It will be a deciding factor on Sunday when it matters the most! When players have more nerves on the final day, it will show who can position themselves in play off the tee the best here. Those trees at Kuala Lumpur’s TPC course will wreak havoc on a guy who can’t hit the fairway. Don’t want to leave that to chance. A mid-range hitter with lots of strategic prowess is your best bet.
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We’ve got a nice one here – but the picks are focused on the PGA Tour’s OTHER event going on this week – the Bermuda Championship (the HSBC Champions is a WGC event, so in rare form we have two similar strength fields internationally on the PGA Tour this week)
The Bermuda Championship is a new event, but there have been a few competitive pro events here including the PGA Grand Slam of golf in 2009. The worst score out of those four players in that event was -1 for two days. That should be encouraging as far as the scoring in some ways.
– Bermuda Ch. Rapid Fire: 2/3
1. Denny McCarthy 15.5 Par or better UNDER
This guy is a decent young player but if you look at all of his recent scorecards, he makes at least 2 mistakes a round. Since we’re on a new course where it can get windy – I’m not confident that McCarthy will escape round one without at least a couple mistakes. The 28 year old has some poor play overseas in his short career – looking at some past results, he looks very inconsistent with his game. Last season, he missed 12 cuts in 28 starts. The previous year, he shot scores you would typically see from a 6 handicap. He’s improving, but I’m guessing there are some kinks in his game. I’ll have to look out for those. But on paper, he is surely no Tiger! Take the under.
2. Scottie Scheffler : 4.5 Birdie or Better OVER
Very rarely do I see the finish of a tournament and see a player differently. Sometimes, the adrenaline just takes over. But Sheffler, when he won the US Amateur at Riviera while in college, completely got my attention. He pulled that win out in miraculous fashion and so far as a pro, he is proving that the win was no fluke at all. Doug Ghim, the guy he took that trophy from, is also in the field this week. Sheffler’s scores are unbelievable so far. He’s averaging 67.06 right now. That’s not something to scoff at. You have to make at least 6 or 7 birdies per round to shoot those kind of scores. It’s only a matter of time before he wins out there and I could see it happening very soon. 4.5 birdie or better? No problem. I think this course will suit him well. He’s got similar upside to Lucas Glover, who won the only event here in 2009 for the Grand Slam of Golf PGA of America event. Their games are both cut from a mold of homegrown consistency with the irons and a lot of effort into the putting and chipping. It’s a great system for scoring. This is another guy, like Viktor Hovland, to watch for as a breakout champ in the coming years.
3. Lanto Griffin – 68.5 Total Strokes UNDER
Lanto is coming off a great win in Houston and I see him putting together a great first round this week. His worst finish in 5 events in the new season is 18th. He’s coming off a couple weeks of rest but should still be on a big upward swing since his win. In his first event of this season, he shot a first round 64 at the Greenbriar. I think Lanto’s a solid lock for a good week – and that starts with a good first round here. It will help him set the pace for another good finish – and I would expect him to come out firing. I think betting that he will go 3 under or better is a fairly safe bet.
PLAYDRAFT Bermuda Picks
This is a brand new event as well. This is a new event but judging by the layout, it won’t be anything too difficult to handle. Since it’s a brand new venue, I think most of the young rookies will be hungry to take a bite out of this Fed Ex season (this event could be a make or break event based on it’s weaker field, drawn out by the HSBC going on at the same time).
For my 4 or 5 guys at the Bermuda, I’ll take:
-Lanto Griffin: Coming off a win, he’s a must have. Solid ball striker and won’t steer you wrong tee to green.
-Russel Knox: Taking a surprise start when he has played 3 straight years in the HSBC event, I’d look for him to have a good week. Trending up quietly.
-Boo Weekley: I’ve just got a feeling on Boo this week. A T25 in his last event in Houston. A great ball striker. He’s 46. This might be his last hurrah.
-Maverick Mcnealy: Solid young players who just got his PGA Tour card. There will be many like him making their first starts this week, he’s the best.
-Scottie Scheffler: Proven contender with a scoring average that is almost below 67 in just 3 events on Tour so far. Look out.