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Performance of Fantasy Golf Projections – The Players Championship

In this article I will grade the performance of my fantasy golf projections for The Players Championship versus both DraftKings pricing and the Las Vegas odds. I will also give a brief analysis of the tournament from my perspective.

Tournament Recap

It was a strange tournament. The first round scoring average, 71.01, was the lowest of any round at TPC going back to 2000. Jason Day tied the course record. The second round scoring average was even lower, 70.88. This time Colt Knost tied the course record. Will Wilcox made a hole-in-one. Then things changed. A foul wind began to pick up. Before the third round, tournament directors brought out a zamboni and added a fresh coat of ice to the greens. Zero-time major champion Sergio Garcia 6-putted the fourth green. Ken Duke shot 65, the best round of the week relative to the field. The third round scoring average of 75.59 was the highest of any round since 2005.

The golfers who teed off before noon on Thursday scored especially low, 70.05 on average, versus 71.97 for the Thursday afternoon golfers. This morning vs. afternoon differential is typical. Greens dry out, become less receptive to approach shots, and tougher to putt. The magnitude of the effect was atypical. Rarely is the difference nearly two full strokes. In round two, again the morning cohort outperformed the afternoon but by a more typical amount, 70.60 to 71.16.

It’s hard to overstate the amount of scoring variability among the rounds this year. The previous six years had seen an average score of 72.14 with a standard deviation of only 0.66 strokes per round. Every single one of those 24 average round scores was between 71.08 and 74.19. This year the scoring average of each of the first three rounds was outside that range, both above and below. Sunday was a relatively tame round with a more standard average of 72.74 strokes.

The biggest story of the week was the Wonder from Down Under. Jason Day dominated the tournament wire-to-wire and won by four strokes – more or less what the projections reflected. His lead was never really in jeopardy. DraftKings pricing has not yet caught up to how much better Day is playing relative to the field. He was the third favorite in Vegas and the third most expensive golfer on DraftKings. Unless his pricing goes up, and it might very soon, I will likely continue start him.

Performance of my Projections as a Whole

There are not a lot of fantasy golf projections available on the web to which I can compare my rankings. I decided to compare my rankings to the two most well-known – DraftKings salaries and the Las Vegas lines. Both are good estimators.

In a previous blog post I showed that using DK pricing to predict average fantasy points results in an R-squared value of 0.80, meaning DraftKings salary explains about 80 percent of the variation in the average fantasy points scored. I don’t think I need to provide much evidence to convince you that Las Vegas odds are good predictors – just look at the giant cathedrals in the Nevada desert. Vegas odds to win a golf tournament are not exactly the same thing as odds to score the most fantasy points, but I think it’s a very close approximation. Given the dearth of relevant data to grade myself against, I’m going to use them. I also gave the Vegas odds a boost to attempt to even out their disadvantage (more on that later).

I used the same algorithm that Fantasy Pros uses to score the experts that provide fantasy advice for the NFL, NBA, etc. Unfortunately, Fantasy Pros does not have a PGA section, so I’m left to do this on my own. I took the three rankings listed in the table below: my rankings, DK salaries and Vegas lines, and I ran them through the scoring system.

Jason Day76.56411100+1100133126
Bubba Watson70.1539300+35002111160
Rory McIlroy68.86811700+80031182
Rickie Fowler68.2710600+180044434
Henrik Stenson67.6779500+2800510819
Jordan Spieth67.26511400+90062236
Phil Mickelson64.0649100+40007121336
Dustin Johnson63.59910200+300086971
Justin Rose63.23710300+250095586
Hideki Matsuyama59.4959700+2500109591
Branden Grace59.4528600+350011151160
J.B. Holmes58.977400+750012332737
Jimmy Walker57.8998000+660013211920
Paul Casey57.2927900+660014231970
Brandt Snedeker56.6578100+660015191919
Jamie Lovemark56.17000+1000016413752
Charles Howell III55.4456700+1250017534326
Adam Scott55.20410000+2500187587
Danny Willett54.7018900+400019131330
Louis Oosthuizen54.478400+600020161877
Bill Haas54.3117500+900021313359
Kevin Na53.6687800+660022251932
Patrick Reed53.6518700+400023141332
Sergio Garcia53.0939900+3000248977
Kevin Chappell52.4627600+8000252932118
Rafael Cabrera Bello52.3487100+1250026394326
Freddie Jacobson51.7226100+2250027847865
Brooks Koepka51.1497700+750028272766
Chez Reavie51.1296400+2250029677827
Daniel Berger50.9848000+660030211988
Jim Furyk50.8186900+1250031454359
Jason Dufner50.4056700+1250032534366
Danny Lee50.2247500+1000033313772
Russell Knox49.9877600+750034292782
Smylie Kaufman49.9046800+1500035495333
Billy Horschel49.5868200+500036181678
Kevin Kisner49.2497700+750037272726
Shane Lowry48.9516400+1750038675986
Patton Kizzire48.9297300+1000039353745
Matt Kuchar48.6098100+660040191991
Ryan Palmer48.5966900+1250041454380
Charley Hoffman48.5247900+660042231928
Sean O'Hair48.2626200+2000043797070
Gary Woodland48.2297000+1000044413768
Zach Johnson48.0588300+500045171659
Marc Leishman48.0577300+1000046353764
Tony Finau47.8696800+1500047495327
John Huh47.6546000+2500048938314
Matthew Fitzpatrick47.616600+1500049575134
Jason Gore47.5765800+500005010912629
Brendan Steele47.4867000+1250051414361
William McGirt46.8896400+2000052677069
Kevin Streelman46.8716300+1500053735360
Colt Knost46.7286100+30000548498103
Justin Thomas46.6697200+900055373397
Graham DeLaet46.5766900+2750056459427
Luke Donald46.4566900+1000057453736
Harris English46.3576500+1750058615932
Vaughn Taylor46.3515600+350005912311129
Jonas Blixt45.995900+30000601019889
David Lingmerth45.6397000+900061413334
Scott Piercy45.5836300+1750062735965
Fabian Gomez45.5726000+2500063938366
Adam Hadwin44.8695700+350006411611171
Russell Henley44.7217100+1250065394331
Scott Brown44.6155700+30000661169825
Retief Goosen44.3375900+30000671019889
Patrick Rodgers44.2686300+1750068735921
Ryan Moore44.126600+1250069574328
Jhonattan Vegas44.1036300+2000070737065
Jason Kokrak43.9646500+1750071615917
Si Woo Kim43.7945800+350007210911167
Alex Cejka43.7435900+400007310112081
Emiliano Grillo43.5656700+1250074535225
Daniel Summerhays43.2966600+1750075575973
Cameron Tringale43.1036100+2500076848380
K.J. Choi43.0326200+2250077797874
Ricky Barnes43.0045700+350007811611124
Bernd Wiesberger42.886500+1750080615962
Martin Laird42.676400+2250081677830
Jason Bohn42.6165700+30000821169820
Ben Martin42.4666300+2000083737016
Andy Sullivan42.216800+1500084495333
Martin Kaymer42.137200+900085373367
Harold Varner42.0886400+2000086677061
Graeme McDowell42.0076500+1750087615981
Will Wilcox41.9666200+2500088798371
Chris Kirk41.9437800+660089251923
John Senden41.5456800+1500090495337
Bryce Molder41.4996200+2500091798386
Jim Herman41.4835500+500009213112615
Soren Kjeldsen41.0656600+1750093575955
Bernhard Langer40.8795800+30000941099827
Keegan Bradley40.7286200+2000095797076
Brian Harman40.6376100+2750096849456
Kyle Reifers40.5296100+2750097849458
Jeff Overton40.3815400+500009813812622
Johnson Wagner40.3445900+30000991019858
James Hahn40.2776400+22500100677863
Nick Taylor40.1945900+3500010110111132
Hudson Swafford39.825600+5000010212312662
Spencer Levin39.7736000+30000103939825
Francesco Molinari39.5216700+15000104535389
Kiradech Aphibarnrat39.3616500+20000105617031
David Hearn39.1056100+27500106849476
Robert Streb38.7616100+17500107845924
Camilo Villegas38.7475800+3500010810911155
Matt Jones38.1875700+250001091168323
Jon Curran37.915600+6000011012313569
Chesson Hadley37.6596100+25000111848329
Chad Campbell37.5665600+4000011212312068
Brian Stuard37.3425700+300001131169831
Troy Merritt37.0325900+300001141019830
Zac Blair36.9666000+30000115939868
Boo Weekley36.8046100+25000116848386
Jerry Kelly36.4875700+250001171168376
Padraig Harrington36.4336000+30000118939829
Byeong-Hun An36.3867400+7500119332730
Hunter Mahan36.2715900+3500012010111136
Greg Owen36.1315800+7500012110914029
Scott Pinckney36.0485400+5000012213812623
Morgan Hoffmann35.9145900+3500012310111160
Ernie Els35.7956000+350001249311160
George McNeill35.5566000+25000125938333
Chris Stroud35.1455800+250001261098319
Vijay Singh35.1095500+5000012713112662
Peter Malnati34.8745400+5000012813812617
Ian Poulter34.7526500+17500129615962
Davis Love III34.3755400+5000013013812630
Carlos Ortiz34.2495600+7500013112314028
Steve Wheatcroft33.5945500+4000013213112056
Ken Duke32.7235600+60000133123135100
Erik Compton32.0915600+4000013412312023
Carl Pettersson32.0415400+7000013513813737
Chad Collins31.3536000+30000136939823
Mark Wilson31.3125800+5000013710912635
Shawn Stefani30.5915600+4000013812312054
J.J. Henry30.5495500+10000013913114365
Brendon de Jonge30.2525500+4000014013112065
Brendon Todd28.7125400+7000014113813726
Steven Bowditch28.5165300+7500014214414019
Andres Gonzales27.585500+10000014313114332
Matt Every25.025500+7000014413113717

The FantasyPros scoring system focuses only on meaningful recommendations. It starts with all possible combinations of players, 10153 this week (143 players total– Aaron Baddeley substituted for Webb Simpson and neither player was included in the projections), then creates a start-or-sit recommendation, i.e. which one of these players should I start or sit, for each combination. If all three rankings agree on the start-or-sit recommendation, that combination is removed from the data set. For example, all three rankings agreed that you should start Henrik Stenson over Ken Duke. Therefore, this combination was removed because it doesn’t tell us anything about which ranking system was better and the recommendation is obvious. After all of the unanimous recommendations were removed there were 6292 combinations left.

The system then takes each of those remaining recommendations and calculates the number of points you would have gained if you made every correct recommendation. For instance, my projections recommended Bubba Watson over Henrik Stenson, DK and Vegas both recommended the opposite. Watson scored 60 points and Stenson scored 19, therefore I earned 41 points for the correct recommendation and the others earned zero. DK and Vegas rankings have numerous ties in their rankings. For instance, Jimmy Walker and Daniel Berger are both $8000 and +6600. When ties mattered, I credited them as a correct recommendation. It resulted in a 1.5 and 3.8 percent boost in performance, respectively.

To calculate a final score, the algorithm takes the number of points that you earned and divides it by the total number of possible points you could have earned if you made every correct call. An explanation of the algorithm can be found here. A score of 100 percent would mean that you made every correct call.

My final score was 65.24 percent. DraftKings Salary score was 34.66 percent and the Vegas odds scored 43.26 percent. The best NFL experts on Fantasy Pros typically score in the high fifties. For two weeks out of two, my projections significantly outperformed DraftKings Salary and Vegas odds.

My Specific Player Recommendations

The performance of the specific players I mentioned this week was not as good as the projections as a whole. A few did really well: Freddie Jacobson and Jason Day. A few missed the cut on the number: J.B. Holmes, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. A few blew it completely: Henrik Stenson and Jimmy Walker.

I chalk this up in part to the variability of golf performance and in part to choosing poorly from a solid starting point. It’s only one week. I am working on a few upgrades to the projection model as a whole and to my recommendations specifically. Starting from an objectively strong projection system should work out in the long term. Look for new projections and a new write up this Tuesday.

If you had Ken Duke in your lineup, I want to talk to you:

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