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Value bets and steals at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

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The PGA Tour’s 2015-2016 season continues this week at the 2015 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, except big prize winnings from this week’s DraftKings fantasy contest; those go with you.

In this week’s contest, $200,000 is on the line with $50,000 allotted to the winner. Don’t miss out on the chance to get in the action, especially since I’m here to help with my “value bets and steals” for this week’s event.

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The Course

TPCSummerlin

TPC Summerlin measures 7,233 yards in length, plays to a tournament par of 71, and serves as the permanent home to the PGA Tour stop in Southern Nevada. The golf course was designed by Bobby Weed and opened in 1991. Past champions include Greg Norman, Paul Azinger, Tiger Woods and Davis Love III.

The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is the second event for the 2015-2016 season on the PGA Tour and the scheduled field includes: Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Brooks Koepka among other big names.

Smylie Kaufman ($6,200)

SmylieKaufman

2014-2015 Web.com Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 269 (3rd)
  • Ball-Striking: 136 (T74)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 49.09% (12th)
  • Total Driving: 112 (T37)
  • Putting Average: 1.706 (5th)

Kaufman started his PGA Tour career last week in Napa Valley at the Frys.com Open with a T10 after a final round 68. Having qualified for the 2015-2016 season through his play on last season’s Web.com Tour, Kaufman is a strong all-around player, but particularly capable, at least statistically, on the putting greens.

Similar to many of the younger players now competing week-in and week-out on the PGA Tour, Kaufman appears ready to compete whenever he tees it up at this level. While the field in Las Vegas is certainly capable with the likes of Fowler et al., there is no reason Kaufman cannot walk away with his first PGA Tour victory. And at $6,200, he is worthy of consideration in your lineup this week.

Jim Herman ($6,400)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 653 (67th)
  • Ball-Striking: 11 (3rd)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 43.27% (69th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.301 (T52)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.029 (117th)

Herman finished 74th last season in the FedExCup rankings, earned more than $1 million, and posted eight top-25 finishes in 18 events. Unlikely to be a household name, Herman proved over the course of last season that he is a consistent ball-striker who struggled on PGA Tour greens. He did not play last week in Napa Valley and last teed it up on the PGA Tour at the Deutsche Bank Championship back in September.

If Herman is able to find his putting stroke this week in Las Vegas, then he could not only find himself high on the leaderboard on Sunday, but contending for his first PGA Tour victory. Herman posted a T18 last year. It may be a matter of shaking off the rust, but if you are seemingly strapped for cash and in need of a cheap addition with upside consider Herman.

Roberto Castro ($6,500)

RObertoCastro

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 849 (129th)
  • Ball-Striking: 218 (T110)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 42.67% (84th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.578 (37th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.728 (178th)

Similar to Herman, Castro warrants consideration, given his ability off the tee, though at least in terms of last season, it did not manifest itself into particularly strong ball-striking numbers. Admittedly, the last two seasons on the PGA Tour have been less than stellar for Castro, but in 2013, he posted 13 top-25 finishes and made more than $2 million in earnings finishing 21st in the FedExCup.

Castro started his PGA Tour season last week at the Frys.com Open with a T69 finish and hit 72.22 percent of the greens in regulation, which was almost 5 percent above average amongst the field. Castro’s putting difficulties are documented, but TPC Summerlin has a history of unlikely winners. An uncharacteristically strong week putting for Castro would not only alter his current status on the PGA Tour, but change his career. For $6,500, Castro is worth a look to round-out your lineup.

Patton Kizzire ($7,600)

2014-2015 Web.com Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 264 (2nd)
  • Ball-Striking: 59 (T16)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 51.90% (4th)
  • Total Driving: 121 (T51)
  • Putting Average: 1.694 (1st)

Kizzire skipped the Frys.com Open in favor of getting married and will begin his PGA Tour career this week in Las Vegas. Between his strong all-around golf game, which by all accounts appears PGA Tour ready, to his stellar putting, Kizzire (like his counterpart, Smylie Kaufman) is prepared to compete from day one.

During last season’s Web.com Tour, Kizzire posted two wins, two second-place finishes, one third-place finish, and 14 top-25 finishes in 23 events. He made more than $500,000 in earnings and finished No. 1 in that same category. Be ready to see Kizzire’s name on the leaderboard this week, despite not playing in Napa Valley. With his putting ability, Kizzire is a likely contender where birdies will be aplenty.

Chris Stroud ($8,400)

ChrisStroudDraftKings

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 766 (T-98)
  • Ball-Striking: 234 (122nd)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 37.82% (155th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.118 (89th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.174 (140th) 

Stroud single-handedly earned his way on to this list based on recent play. As his numbers suggest, Stroud struggled in many aspects of the game last season on the PGA Tour. Despite little to build upon, Stroud teed it up earlier this October at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour and finished second upon posting a 16-under-par 272. Last week, Stroud competed at the Frys.com Open and posted a T10 to start the PGA Tour season.

Over the course of his career on the PGA Tour, Stroud has posted 59 top-25s in a total of 246 events and earned just more than $9 million in nine years. Expect Stroud to continue with the hot hand and threaten this week to win his first PGA Tour event. Again, Las Vegas has a history, especially in recent years, of rewarding players seeking to rejuvenate their games.

Nick Watney ($8,600)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 621 (57th)
  • Ball-Striking: 119 (51st)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 44.14% (56th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.618 (32nd)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: -0.395 (T156)

Watney’s numbers reveal just how difficult it can be to compete against the best players in the world, without a putting game that is consistent. Nevertheless, Watney finished 58th in the FedExCup rankings last season buttressed by eight top-25 finishes. One of those finishes was in Las Vegas, where Watney finished T16.

While he did not play as strong as some of his counterparts on this list, Watney made the cut last week at the Frys.com Open, and brings a game to Las Vegas seemingly ready to click. Watney has earned almost $24 million in 298 starts on the PGA Tour and won five times. With a game that travels, though currently subject to the whims of his putter, Watney is a strong contender for any roster this week in Las Vegas.

Charley Hoffman ($9,300)

CharleyHoffman

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 559 (39th)
  • Ball-Striking: 168 (85th)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 46.00% (35th)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.212 (71st)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.070 (89th)

Coming off an outstanding season on the PGA Tour in 2014-2015, which was highlighted by a win at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, a T2 at both the Humana Challenge and AT&T Byron Nelson, third place finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and T9 at the Masters, Hoffman is ready to challenge this week in Las Vegas. Hoffman has in the past, however, been hit or miss at TPC Summerlin missing the cut three times in the last five years, but also finishing fourth in 2013, T5 in 2006, and sixth in 2009.

It’s no secret that Hoffman would love to win in Las Vegas. Do not let his price tag be a deterrent because if there was ever a year to put your money on Hoffman, this is it. At a golf course where birdies will be the norm, Hoffman’s ability to go low at any moment may very well be the difference this year for the former UNLV Rebel.

Scott Piercy ($9,700)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 638 (63rd)
  • Ball-Striking: 149 (75th)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 42.81% (81st)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.266 (60th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.120 (103rd)

Piercy is a three-time PGA Tour winner, native of Las Vegas, and 1997 graduate of Bonanza High School. While the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open will never be mistaken for the Masters, it is an important hometown event to Piercy. He finished T7 last year and will be starting his 2015-2016 PGA Tour campaign in Las Vegas. Piercy’s ascent to the PGA Tour was truly resuscitated back in 2007 when he won the $2 million Ultimate Game played at the Wynn Las Vegas defeating fellow current PGA Tour player, Tony Finau and others.

The overall point being the city of Las Vegas is replete with history and importance in the life of Piercy and apart from a major championship, there is no event he would rather win. Healthy and ready to compete, Piercy will be primed for a run at the title. Even at $9,700, he is a worthwhile investment under the circumstances for practically any lineup.

Ryan Moore ($10,000)

RyanMooreDraftKings

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 522 (33rd)
  • Ball-Striking: 176 (90th)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 42.26% (93rd)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.414 (43rd)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.164 (64th) 

A former winner of this same event in 2012, Moore is likely to be a popular pick this week. While Moore missed the cut last year, he started the 2015-2016 PGA Tour season off at the Frys.com Open by finishing T10, having posted 135 over the weekend. As a four-time PGA Tour winner, Moore has demonstrated the ability to win with three of those four wins coming in the last four seasons.

When Moore’s success at TPC Summerlin is coupled with a strong 2014-2015 PGA Tour campaign that yielded one win, 10 top-25 finishes, and over $2.6 million in total earnings, the stars seems aligned for yet another run at the Shriners title. Notably, Moore is seeking to defend at the CIMB Classic for a second time next week in Kuala Lumpur. One should not be surprised and might even expect to see Moore trying to peak just in time for both Las Vegas and Malaysia.

Kevin Na ($10,400)

2014-2015 PGA Tour season

  • All-Around Ranking: 573 (42nd)
  • Ball-Striking: 302 (T158)
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders: 43.29% (T67)
  • Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 0.694 (28th)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting: 0.232 (T49)

Having been much maligned for a decision to hit driver off the deck in last week’s playoff at the Frys.com Open, which ultimately cost him a chance at winning, Na will assuredly be vying for the Shriners title come Sunday afternoon. Na is presently ranked 24th in the Official World Golf Rankings, earned almost $20 million over his PGA Tour career, and finished 25th in the FedExCup last season without a win. In 2011, Na won this tournament for his lone PGA Tour victory.

Na’s price tag of $10,400 is inevitably a product of his play last week in Napa Valley and history at this event. Given the field this week, and Na’s success against a similar demographic in Napa Valley all signs to point to continued low scores and a chance to win. When determining which high price PGA Tour players are worthy of a spot in your lineup, Na has earned a place in that conversation.

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The Gear Dive: Aaron Dill is back!!!

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny has a dear friend and master wedge human Aaron Dill to chat about Cantlay, The Masters, and his new TSi3.

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TG2: Testing the NEW Cobra King Tour irons and the Ben Hogan GS53 MAX driver

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Cobra’s new King Tour irons with MIM technology are built for better players looking to hit precision shots. The feel is very soft and responsive while the smaller profile lets you easily hit any shot in the book. Ben Hogan has released their most forgiving driver, the GS53 MAX and it is easy to hit. Designed with a ton of tech, this driver is long and helps reduce that slice!

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The Wedge Guy: Equipment tidbits for you to think about

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One of the most fun things about being a golfer is that we all want to get better–hit drives longer and straighter, iron shots that find greens more often, pitches and chips that get closer, and putts that go in more often. And we all seem to take great pleasure in finding that next “missing link” in our bags that will help us achieve one of those goals.

Today I want to share some thoughts about how little things can often mean a lot when it comes to tweaking your equipment. On the surface, a golf club seems to be a pretty simple thing—a piece of metal, at the end of a tubular piece of metal or graphite, with a rubber-like handle at the end. But when that golf club is put into motion at 100 mph or so, a lot of dynamics begin to happen.

As we ponder the dynamics of the complex action of swinging a golf club and the broad set of mechanics that come into play on every shot, I thought I’d share some random observations I’ve made over the years about equipment cause and effect:

Increasing your driving distance: The industry has taken us on this dramatic quest for distance and power, and the average driver sold today is over 45” long. That’s two inches longer than the standard of 25 years ago. And while the humongous driver heads brag about “forgiveness”, the fact is that your longest drives (and straightest) will always come from dead center hits. It’s still a fact that a sweet spot miss of just ½” will cost you 7-9% distance loss, and a miss of 3/4” will increase that to 12-15%. I suggest you try gripping down on your driver an inch or more the next time you play and see if you don’t hit the ball closer to the sweet spot and see it consistently going longer and straighter. It’s been proven over and over again.

Examining iron specs: The “standard” way a set of irons was engineered for decades was that the irons vary in length by ½”, and in loft by 4 degrees. But the past few years – driven by the relentless quest for distance – we have seen the loft gaps increased to 5° at the short end of the set and as small as 2.5° at the long end. The harsh reality of this geometry is that almost every golfer will have much smaller distance gaps at the long end of the set than at the short end, where distance precision is critical. I have tweaked my irons for years so that I have smaller length and lie differences at the short end than the long, and that allows my distance gaps to be more consistent. Most golfers could benefit from examining their TRUE carry distances from club to club and then tweaking lofts and lengths to fix their gapping.

Fit your putter. It amazes me to watch how many golfers–even some of the pros on TV–and see the toe of the putter up in the air at address. Simple fact is that this makes the face point left because of the loft. I’ve become a true believer in putter fitting. A good fit will ensure that your putter really is aimed at the target, and that the lie angle allows the ball to come off the putter straight. Yes, the style of putter is a matter of personal preference, but a putter that is accurately fit to you makes this maddening part of the game much less so.

Watch your grips. We spend hundreds of dollars on a driver or set of irons, and we get disposable “handles”. It’s a fact that grips wear out. They get dirty. And they need replacing regularly. Take a close look at yours. Worn, dirty grips cause you to grip the club tighter to have control. And bad shots are much more frequent because of that.

Experiment. The toys are a big part of the fun of golf, so don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve long suggested all golfers should try the blade style short irons of one of your better player friends or pros, but experiment with other clubs, too. Hit your buddies’ hybrids, fairways, irons, drivers. Try different golf balls. [But I just can’t buy that tees can make a difference, sorry.] It’s fun.

So, there you have some random thoughts of the hundreds that swirl around in my head. Let me know your other questions about equipment, and I’ll try to address them in future columns.

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