Fantasy golf: British Open preview

Royal Troon will host the 145th British Open and the field vying for the Claret Jug will contend with a classic links course. Wind, rain, thick gorse and rolling fairways await. Here’s a guide to help you find the players that have a good chance to contend for the title, or at least, make the cut. Plus, some fantasy strategies, stats to consider and some picks to help you place high in fantasy leagues.

Fantasy strategies

Know the course: Royal Troon has hosted eight British Opens and the club hopes to show off the Old Course’s traditional links-style layout. The club and a team of professional greenskeepers have tuned up Royal Troon to be ready for The Open Championship. What have they done? They made the fairways and greens faster by removing organic matter out of the soil and adding more sand to reduce water retention. Despite their efforts, a wet spring has softened the course and rain is expected throughout the weekend, which could lead to lower scores. Pay close attention to how a player performs on the front and back nine holes. The wind will generally be behind a player on the front nine, then the course turns back into the wind on the back nine. Expect players to score low on the wind-friendly front nine and play conservative down the stretch. The back nine features tight fairways, long par 4s, windy conditions, thick gorse and is considered one of the toughest finishing stretches in championship golf.

Look for golfers who play well at links courses: Pretty obvious here: It’s a classic links course and those who are accustomed to links courses will have a significant advantage over those who are less experienced playing a traditional links course. Don’t choose every player that owns a European Tour card, but keep it in mind. Interesting fact: American golfers  have won the last six Open Championships at Royal Troon. So don’t go too heavy on European players, but use them liberally.

Check the weather and wind: Wind and rain can have a dramatic effect on how a player performs at Royal Troon. Rain is expected and wind is a constant factor at the Old Course. Take a look at the forecast and check when your player is teeing off to gauge his chances that day. Don’t let weather discourage you from choosing someone, but if you have a risk/reward player that is facing tough conditions early in the tournament, be wary.

Look for “value picks”: What is fantasy value? Basically it means getting the most out of your money or the best return on your investment. You don’t always get what you pay for in fantasy golf. Usually, the top players in the world will perform relatively well. Your top couple picks may falter but, hey, it’s golf. Picking the right players at a cheap price will lead to big points over the weekend.

Make the cut: If every player on your team makes the cut, you have a good chance to place high in most tournaments. If a player misses the cut, your team is not entirely doomed, but hampered. Having players continue to score points throughout the weekend is crucial to winning big leagues and placing high in the money. Finding “value picks” that make the cut and that can potentially score a bunch of points will give you a significant advantage.

Vegas odds: Always check the odds in Vegas. The players with the best odds at the top of the list won’t surprise you, but pay attention a little bit farther down.

Who’s hot, who’s not: Pay close attention to how a player has fared the last couple tournaments and how he has performed all season. Especially when the stakes are high.

Key stats

Driving accuracy: Keeping the ball in the fairways and out of the gorse and hazards at Royal Troon will be critical to carding low rounds. Look for players that consistently hit fairways and stay out of the hazards. Stats to consider: driving accuracy percentage, hit fairway percentage, strokes gained-off-the-tee.

Strokes gained: Strokes gained stats are a great indicator of a player’s performance compared to the rest of the field. The PGA introduced three new strokes gained stats in 2016: off-the-tee, approach-the-green and around-the-green. Check out all three along with these important strokes gained stats: strokes gained-putting and strokes gained-total.

Ball striking: Total driving + greens in regulation= ball striking. Long and accurate drives plus consistently hitting greens will be crucial for players looking to shoot low. Great ball strikers perform well at the British Open because they can shape creative lines and are less likely to hit errant shots that lead to bogeys, or even worse.

Greens in regulation percentage: Getting on the green in the least amount of strokes will be key to scoring low at Royal Troon. GIR will give you a good idea of who has a good chance of making birdies and eagles.

Scrambling percentage/sand save percentage:  Royal Troon features strategically placed bunkers and tough gorse and broom. Look for players that can scramble well and play well out of the sand.

Putting stats: The field will not have to contend with greens as glassy as the greens at last month’s U.S. Open at Oakmont, but a solid putting game will be critical to scoring low at Royal Troon. Here are some stats to consider: Strokes gained-putting, putts within 20 feet, putts per round, average first putt distance, 3-putt avoidance, average distance of putts made.

Bogey avoidance, par 4 scoring/efficiency: Players who play well on par 4s and avoid bogeys will have a good shot at making the cut at Royal Troon. There are five par 4s on the front nine that fall in the 350-420 yard range. Players will be looking to birdie these holes so find players that are efficient around this range. Stats to consider: par 4 efficiency from 350-500, par 4 scoring average, bogey avoidance.

Talent pool

TOP TALENT- $9,000+

Jason Day ($12,300): The world’s #1 ranked golfer has made five straight cuts at the British Open, including a fourth place showing last year at St. Andrew’s, and opened in Vegas as the favorite to win it. Day has placed in the top-10 in both majors this season and boasts three wins and eight top-10s in 13 events. His high ball flight is a bit concerning considering the winds at Troon, but his incredible season and past performances at Open Championships should reassure you that he will play well at Royal Troon. So should theses stats: first in strokes gained-putting, second in strokes gained-total and second in scoring average. Don’t be surprised if Day is lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday.

Dustin Johnson ($12,000): Johnson won his first major at one of the most difficult courses on the planet, then he went on to win at WGC-Bridgestone. Johnson is riding a superb hot streak. How hot? Four straight top-five finishes and has placed in the top-five in eight of his last 11 tournaments. His drive will give him a significant advantage at Royal Troon but he must be accurate. He has made the cut at six straight British Opens, including a tie for second in 2011 and a tie for ninth in 2012. He held the 36-hole lead last year at St. Andrews then shot back-to-back 75s to finish tied for 49th place at 4 under. He has proven he can perform well on links-style courses and is the hottest player on tour. Buy frequently.

Rory McIlroy ($11,900): The 2014 British Open champ missed the cut at the U.S. Open at 8 over par, but don’t be discouraged from placing McIlroy in some leagues. He has made the cut in six of seven appearances at the Open and finished third at the French Open in early July. McIlroy has been tinkering with his swing ever since his disappointing showing at Oakmont and skipped the Scottish Open to prepare for Royal Troon. He has five top-five finishes and has finished in the top-25 in eighth of 12 events on the PGA Tour and won his first Irish Open in late May. His stats this season: 24th in GIR, fifth in strokes gained-total and is tied for 10th in ball striking.

Jordan Spieth ($11,700): Spieth and Day tied for fourth last year at St. Andrew’s after missing a three-man playoff by one stroke. Spieth has competed in three Open championships and has made the cut each time. Each year he has placed higher than the year before. He tied for 44th in 2013, tied for 36th in 2014 and his play last year was almost good enough to give him three straight major titles. He has won twice this season, tied for second at the Masters, has finished in the top-25 in 11 of 13 tournaments and tied for third place last week at the WGC Bridgestone. His stats are just as impressive: Fifth in strokes gained-putting, sixth in strokes gained-total, tied for second in par 4 scoring average and third in scoring average. Expect him to be in contention on Sunday.

Sergio Garcia ($10,000): Sergio’s track record at the Open is impressive. In his past 15 attempts he has placed in the top-10 nine times. He lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington in 2007 at Carnoustie and tied for second place in 2014. On top of his past performance at Open championships, Sergio is having a great season. He won the Byron Nelson in a playoff, tied for fifth at the U.S. Open and has finished in the top-25 in seven of 11 tournaments this season. Garcia ranks second in GIR, 13th in stokes gained-total and fifth in ball striking. Sergio is in top form and is chasing his first major championship. He might win that elusive title, or, just come close. Either way, he’s a good pick at 10,000.

Branden Grace ($9,700): South African golfers have traditionally fared well at the British Open and Grace is no exception. Grace hasn’t missed a cut at the Open in five tries and tied for 20th last season at St. Andrews. He tied for fifth place at the U.S. Open and has placed in the top-ten in four of his last five PGA events, including a victory at RBC Heritage in April. Grace is in the middle of the pack in most important stats categories, which isn’t a negative. Balanced play should lead to good results at Royal Troon. Plus, his low trajectory should help in the wind. Key stats: 17th strokes gained-total and 39th in GIR.

Other top choices: Justin Rose ($9,400), Henrik Stenson ($9,500).

TOP VALUE- $7,000-$9,000

Shane Lowry ($8,800): Lowry had a four-stroke lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Open and ended up finishing second after a final-round 76. He has performed well at U.S. Opens and has a solid record at the Open. The Irishman is accustomed to links courses and his previous performances show he should be ready for Royal Troon. He barley missed the cut line at St. Andrews last year at 1 over, but tied for ninth the previous year and has placed in the top-40 three times. Also, his odds to win it are 40-1, only 12 other players have better odds. Key stats: 16th in strokes gained-off-the-tee, ninth in total driving, 42nd strokes gained-total.

Hideki Matsuyama ($8,300): Matsuyama’s price dropped due to him missing the cut at the U.S. Open. Matsuyama hasn’t missed the cut in consecutive majors his entire career, so don’t be too concerned with him possibly bowing out on Friday. He has placed in the top-25 in nine of twelve tournaments and has placed in the top-10 five times. Last week he tied for 42nd at the WGC Bridgestone, mostly because of a 79 in the second round. He made the cut and shot a 67 in the final round. He isn’t in top form, but plays well at the Open. His three-year history at the British Open: tied for sixth in 2013, tied for 39th in 2014 and tied for 18th last year at St. Andrew’s. Stats to consider: third in strokes gained-approach the-green, eighth in strokes gained-tee-to-green, 14th in strokes-gained-total.

Zach Johnson ($8,100): Johnson’s odds of winning last year at St. Andrew’s: 100 to 1. He ended up winning a playoff and walked away with the Claret Jug. He shot 15 under at the old course, so he can handle himself around the links. Because of that victory his price is a tad inflated but he’s worth the risk. He tied for eighth place at the U.S. Open and has finished in the top-20 in his past three tournaments. His odds this year: 50 to 1.

Charl Schwartzel ($7,800): Charl has notched nine top-25 finishes in 13 tournaments this season. His only missed cut came at the Masters, which is surprising for a former champion. We’ll count that as an anomaly. He has made the cut in five of six tries at the Open including a tie for seventh in 2014. He tied for seventh at the Bridgestone and has recorded four straight top-25 finishes. Plus, his numbers this season are quite impressive: Ninth in strokes gained-total, fourth in strokes gained-approach-the-green, ninth in strokes gained tee-to-green, ninth in scoring average and 21st in GIR percentage.

Matt Kuchar ($7,800): Kuchar is having one of the most consistent seasons on the PGA Tour. He has finished in the top-six or better in five of his past six tournaments. Kooch did not fare well early in his career at the British Open, but has made five straight cuts, including a tie for 9th in 2012 and a tie for 15th in 2013. Kuchar’s balanced game and conservative approach should help him avoid the hazards and keep him out of trouble. Kuchar is tied for 10th in bogey avoidance, tied for sixth in par 4 scoring average, sixth in scoring average, 24th in strokes gained-putting and eighth in strokes gained-total.

Chris Wood ($7,600): Wood finished fifth in his first Open Championship in 2008 and immediately turned pro. He followed that performance with a tie for third at Turnberry. He missed the Open last year, despite a win on the European Tour, but tied for 23rd place in 2014 and made the cut in 2013. On top of that, he has made every cut in six tries on the PGA Tour this season and picked up a victory at the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.

Marc Leishman($7,400): Leishman lost the 2015 Open championship in a playoff to Johnson and tied for fifth place in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. Leishman shot a 64 in the third round last year at St. Andrews, so he knows his way around a links course. He tied for 18th at the U.S. Open this season and has four top-20 finishes in his last five tournaments. At 7,400, you can get a player that can finish in the top-10 or win it all.

Ernie Els ($7,300): Ernie has won the British Open twice and lost a playoff against Todd Hamilton at the 2004 Open Championship at Royal Troon, so he has performed well at the Old Course and his experience should give him an edge over the competition. He has missed four of his last five cuts, but did place fifth at the Quicken Loans National in late June. His price is as high as you will see all season, but he’s worth a gamble in a couple leagues.

Jason Dufner ($7,100): Dufner’s ball striking abilities should aid him at Royal Troon. He has made the cut the last four Open Championships and is having a great season on the PGA Tour. He has placed in the top-eight in three of his past five tournaments, including a tie for eighth at the U.S. Open. The Dufman is 15th in GIR percentage, tied for 13th in ball striking and 19th in strokes gained-approach-the-green.

VALUE PICKS-SLEEPERS $7,000-$5,200

Rafa Cabrera-Bello ($6,900): Cabrera-Bello has had very consistent year on the European Tour and has missed just one cut in seven tries on the PGA Tour. Also, he placed placed fourth at the Masters and tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open. His GIR percentage on the European Tour is 75.08% and he is know for his accurate drives. His best finish at the British Open was a tie for 21st place in 2013 and he has made the cut three times in four attempts.

David Lingmerth ($6,700): Lingmerth’s game is in good form after placing 12th at the U.S. Open and tying for seventh at the WGC-Bridgestone. He also shot 9 under to tie for 27th at the Memorial, a tournament he won in 2015. He placed 15th at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was a links-style test for the PGA title. Lingmerth is 15th in driving accuracy percentage, 55th in strokes gained-total and 54th in strokes gained-tee-to-green. Not bad for $6,700.

Kevin Na ($6,500): Na’s seventh place finish at last month’s U.S. Open was his best showing at a major championship. He has six top-10 finishes this season and has placed in the top-25 nine times in 18 tournaments. Will that translate into success on a links style course? He has made the cut the last two Opens and his conservative style of play should keep him in the fairways and on the greens. He is 11th in strokes gained approach-the-green, 30th in strokes gained around-the-green and 35th in driving accuracy percentage.

Harris English ($6,300): English has made the cut three times in his four appearances at the British Open and tied for 15th place in 2013 at Muirfield. English has six top-25 finishes in 19 tournament this season and has finished in the top 10 three times. He ranks sixth in strokes gained-putting and 34th in strokes gained-total. English is a bargain at $6,300.

Danny Lee ($6,300): Lee was unable to defend his title at the Greenbrier so he prepped for Royal Troon by playing the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. Lee shot a 66 in the first round at the classic links course and placed third. Lee is tied for 30th in driving accuracy percentage, tied for 17th in hit fairway percentage and is 50th in strokes gained-putting.

Other value picks: John Rahm ($6,600), Emiliano Grillo ($6,300).

Notes: Prices based on DraftKings player salaries, odds based on Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.