By: Edward Egros

Tiger's Best Chance

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With the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the horizon, it is easy to forget: it is still golf.

At the Valspar Championship, Tiger Woods had his best finish in five years and was one stroke away from forcing a playoff. Clearly, he is on an uptick, and seemingly it's only a matter of time before he ends his five-year drought and captures a victory. His last win was the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational.

Two victories before that? The Arnold Palmer Invitational.

One of the more significant factors for winning at Bay Hill is past success. When charting Top 5 finishes the last several years, names like Henrik Stenson and Zach Johnson come up multiple times. But as for Tiger, he has won there eight times in his career, including four times in the past decade. Even years when Tiger was slumping by his abnormal standards, he could often count on a win during the Florida portion of the schedule.

These reasons are enough for me to include him in my Daily Fantasy Lineups for this week. When including the significance of Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green:

Tiger Woods
Henrik Stenson
Adam Scott
Scott Piercy
Kevin Chappell
Kevin Streelman

Tommy Fleetwood
Alex Noren
Keegan Bradley
Charles Howell III
Luke List
Jason Kokrak

P.S.: A reality check.

As I posited
in an earlier post, the field is tougher now than it was when Tiger was dominating. In fact, last week's Valspar Championship could be proof of this idea: Paul Casey shot a final-round 65 to win by one stroke. As explained in that post, if you assume a stellar golfer gives up a full stroke when Tiger is in the field, Casey would have found himself in a playoff with Tiger, and the probability there gives a massive edge to Woods. Casey had not captured a victory in nine years, so to surge to the top of the leaderboard with one round suggests the sizable number of golfers capable of winning any given weekend.

Just because Tiger is on an uptick does not necessarily mean it is a straight line and he is guaranteed to win at Bay Hill. A lot is working in his favor, but every elite golfer stumbles at some point. It is still golf.

A Lesson in Mexico

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Even though golf did not give me anything in return after not cashing with either of my fantasy teams last week, golf gave a lot to Phil Mickelson. He won at the WGC: Mexico Championship, in a playoff, against arguably the hottest golfer at that moment, Justin Thomas.

What's more important is Lefty had not won an event in almost five years (his last victory was the 2013 Open Championship). Because of that drought, it might make sense for several daily fantasy players not to pick Mickelson. This game is more than just picking successful players and stellar lineups, it is about picking golfers who others do not think will play well. Sometimes prices will reflect these trends, but many times they will not, and those are the moments DFS players should try and seize when putting together lineups. It is something I hope I can refine as I move forward.

This week is the Valspar Championship. It is more of a shotmaker's course, so heavy-hitters may not be favored. However, looking at top performers over the last ten years, there did not seem to be discernible trends when it came to the perfect Strokes Gained statistic, though Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green did seem to have some predictive value. More specifically, a player largely could not rank poorly in either metric.

These teams are designed to have a mix of those who perform at least adequately well in the aforementioned statistics, those who have performed well at the Valspar Championship before and who may not be chosen frequently by others:

Jordan Spieth
Chez Reavie
Keegan Bradley
Adam Hadwin
Chesson Hadley
Chris Kirk

Sergio Garcia
Nick Watney
Adam Scott
Charles Howell III
Kevin Streelman
Webb Simpson

Entering the Daily Fantasy Zone

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This adventurous soul of a webmaster is embarking on a new quest: Daily Fantasy Golf. Over at least the next few weeks, I will submit two teams of six players to a Daily Fantasy Golf website in the hopes of determining if my models have enough predictive power to finish "in the money" with enough frequency to make a profit. Though I am not spending any money of significance, I am keeping track of where each team finishes and what prizes come about.

If you are not familiar with Daily Fantasy Golf, each user has $50,000 to spend on six golfers competing in that week's tournament. Each golfer has a price and it is up to the user to find the best combination of golfers with the best finishing order at the end of the final round, all while not exceeding that $50,000 limit.

I began with the Genesis Open, and though one of my teams had all six players make the cut, no money was earned. Then I assembled teams for the Honda Classic, focusing primarily on Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. One team of Justin Thomas, Alex Noren and others did finish "in the green". Winners of this event in the past have excelled in those statistics.

This week, the scene is the WGC-Mexico Championship. This tournament proves to be particularly tricky to predict if only because this is just the second time the World Golf Championships have been to Club de Golf Chapultepec. The elevation is high, the air is thin, the length is only 7,330 yards but heavy hitters like Dustin Johnson were successful last year. With a combination of players with high finishes the last few weeks, those excelling with their iron shots (proximity to the hole) and those who are dominant in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, here are my teams:

Justin Thomas
Kevin Chappell
Francesco Molinari
Brendan Steele
Xander Schauffele
Webb Simpson

Tommy Fleetwood
Chez Reavie
Paul Casey
Alex Noren
Patton Kizzire
Charley Hoffman

One Major Challenge for Tiger

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(Courtesy: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Call it a comeback. At last weekend's Honda Classic, Tiger Woods finished 12th at even par and seven strokes off the pace. In his last five events on Tour, he has three Top-25 finishes, coming within eight shots of the lead at tournament's end each time. More specifically, last weekend his proximity to the hole
led the field at 29 feet, 3 inches (with greens hit in regulation), and while it is not Tiger of old, there is an upward trajectory where it is safe to conclude he can be competitive again.

But with Tiger Woods, it is not about being competitive, it's about winning. At 42 years old with
a number of injuries throughout his career, will Tiger ever win another PGA Tour event? A major? Multiple majors? The aforementioned uptick suggests he's given himself an opportunity, but there's one factor that's perhaps more important than Tiger's performance:

The rest of the field has improved.

Let's say the Tiger era lasted from 1997-2009 and the post-dominant-Tiger era is from 2010 to now. This divide makes the most sense based upon his career. In the modern era of golf, Tiger owns the four lowest average scores per season; and, if you adjust for stroke average by tournaments,
Tiger owns the six lowest. Those seasons happened between 1999 and 2009. Since then, though no one has posted any one season of that caliber, from an article I wrote last year, the median golf score has gone down since 2006. And if you update 2017's median average score from the time that article was published, it's 70.94, a low score compared with the Tiger era.

Also, Tiger owns the largest margin of victory at an event during the modern era:
15 strokes at the 2000 U.S. Open. Since 2010, the largest margin of victory at a major is eight strokes, happening twice (2011 U.S. Open by Rory McIlroy and 2012 PGA Championship, also by McIlroy). Yes, Tiger's run is superior than what any golfer has mustered since, but the smaller margins of victory and greater dispersement of tournaments wins is because of more golfers able to challenge for golf's top prizes.

There's something else explaining stiffer competition. In 2007, Jennifer Brown of the University of California, Berkeley released a paper explaining how, on average,
highly skilled golfers' scores are 0.8 strokes worse when Tiger Woods is playing in the same tournament, compared with if he is not there. This disparity does not exist now for a few reasons. First, Tiger has not won a tournament since 2013 and hasn't won a major since 2008. Second, health continues to be a talking point about Tiger, given he has three withdrawals since 2013, played in far fewer tournaments and missed the cut with greater frequency. Finally, if opponents know Tiger will play well, they are likelier to play riskier golf because otherwise they know they will lose if they play their usual game. This idea is part of a paper I have frequently cited from Brian Skinner about knowing competition and recognizing when having a riskier gameplay is the only way to win.

The field knows Tiger is not what he was and the field itself has improved. Jordan Spieth, for instance,
tied Tiger's course record at the Masters. Dustin Johnson is consistently at the top of the leaderboard in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. And Justin Thomas just earned his 8th victory before the age of 25, just the third golfer ever to accomplish that feat. An improved field is just one of many challenges for Tiger Woods, but if he does return to winning, it would make the comeback all the more impressive.

The Patriots...and Now the Tide

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Anyone looking to tease the Atlanta Falcons mercilessly might write that 28-3 score somewhere prominently or even wear that scoreboard on a t-shirt.

Expect Alabama fans to do the same whenever they need to remind Georgia fans about their team's collapse.

Alabama's Nick Saban once worked for Bill Belichick, so knowingly or not, Saban reflected his former boss in terms of how he engineered coming back from a two-possession deficit in the second half of the National Championship Game. He switched quarterbacks at halftime (opting with a true freshman quarterback with little experience up to that game), he wanted more throws down the field (Alabama completed four passes of 15+ yards in the second half, compared with completed none in the first half) and he demanded his defense take more gambles getting to the backfield (nine tackles for loss in the second half versus only three in the first half).

Belichick also took more risks in Super Bowl LI, knowing that these gambles were the only ways he could possibly win the game. If they failed and the Patriots fell into a deeper hole, it didn't matter; they were going to lose anyway, the size of the deficit does not matter.

In a previous post, I talked about a paper from Brian Skinner: "
Scoring Strategies for the Underdog: A General, Quantitative Method for Determining Optimal Sports Strategies". Skinner explained how underdogs must call riskier plays to have a chance at success. It might mean getting shellacked, but by finding specifically how much riskier a team should get, it might be the only way for those trailing to win.

Nick Saban had to make the change at quarterback because there was almost no chance he was going to win with Jalen Hurts. He had to take more throws down the field because he did not have the time to grind it out with the rushing attack. Lastly, he had to take more chances defensively because if Georgia mounted lengthy drives, there wouldn't be any time left for Alabama to have a chance to complete the comeback.

Some fans still seem surprised by these comebacks, calling them "improbable" or "unbelievable". While they are fantastic for football, it is not a coincidence that the coaches mounting these comebacks not only have won championships, they have been with their respective employer for years, with job security that seems undeniably stable. It is possible coaches who do not have this kind of job security are nervous to be blown out in any game, must less a contest for a championship. Any boss insinuating that the margin of defeat matters can have devastating consequences to the likelihood of a comeback.

Hopefully coaches will be more confidence in a deficit, take more risks, and football fans can watch even more competitive games.