THE PLAYERS Championship Round 2 Buys & Fades: Buy Jason Day, Gary Woodland to Surpass Sergio Garcia
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Gary Woodland.
All of the talk coming into this week was about how unpredictable the results were at THE PLAYERS Championship as it doesn’t seem to suit any particular player type.
Even with that discussion, I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted what we saw on Thursday as defending (2019) champion Rory McIlroy, and typically steady stars like Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele, struggled mightily in the morning wave. It continued into the afternoon as Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm struggled out of the gates but climbed back a bit down the back nine.
Overall, the field shot 1.75 over par on average, with 41 players getting into red figures during the first round. The pace was set by Sergio Garcia who went 4-under on his final three holes to post a 7-under 65, which closed the day two shots better than Brian Harman. Matt Fitzpatrick, Corey Conners and Shane Lowry round out the all-international top five at 4-under par. A host of others, including last week’s winner, Bryson DeChambeau posted 3-under 69 and will start Friday just three shots back.
TPC Sawgrass is a course that can cause any player to put up a big number at any time as we saw today, especially at the iconic 17th. There was one 11 by Byeong Hun An, and a no-putt quintuple-bogey 8 by Kevin Na on the short par 3. It would ultimately pair with the par-4 18th as the two toughest holes of Round 1, and it will serve as a reminder of what’s to come for every player, especially as we head into the weekend.
I always like to find the players further down the leaderboard after the first round, and that will certainly be the case on a course with such volatile scoring like TPC Sawgrass. Let’s take a look at the strokes gained data from Day 1 at THE PLAYERS to see who stands out heading into Friday.
Strokes Gained Explanation
Strokes Gained can give golf bettors, DFS players and fans way more detail on how a golfer is truly playing by measuring each shot in relation to the rest of the field.
Using the millions of data points it collects, the TOUR calculates how many shots on average it takes a player to get the ball in the hole from every distance and situation. If a player beats those averages, he’s gaining strokes on the field.
Every situation in golf is different — Strokes Gained measures how players perform relative to the situation.
In this piece, we’ll touch on a variety of Strokes Gained metrics…
- Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
- Strokes Gained: Approach
- Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green
- Strokes Gained: Putting
- Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking (which is Off-the-Tee + Approach)
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (which is Ball-Striking + Around-the-Green)
In general, ball-striking and tee-to-green are the most stable long term, while putting is more prone to volatility.
You can often find live-betting advantages by identifying golfers who are hitting the ball well, but just not getting putts to drop. Likewise, players with high SG: Putting numbers may regress moving forward.
3 Golfers to Buy in Round 2
I am starting to wonder if Jason Day just simply isn’t the putter he used to be. He has shown up in this article for three consecutive weeks because of the numbers he has put together tee to green, and each time he’s been just short of big rounds because of the flat stick.
Day ranked third in the field in strokes gained tee to green on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass as he gained more than a stroke on the field in each metric. He gained just short of four strokes on the field with his ball striking, led by 2.48 strokes gained on approach.
We know he loves this course, as he’s won this event before, and if he continues to strike the ball like he did Thursday, he can contend throughout the week. I’m ready to jump in on Day now at +2900 on FanDuel, and I’m hoping he can post another good round on Friday morning to put himself in position for a late-afternoon tee time heading to the weekend.
I’ve been skeptical of the return of Gary Woodland despite him showing some flashes of good play to start the year and him saying that he finally feels fully healthy again. He’s been inconsistent which is to be expected, but he came out and played well on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.
Woodland shot a 2-under 70 in the opening round, as he gained 2.75 strokes tee to green. He was actually positive in every strokes gained category during his first 18 holes, and perhaps most encouraging was the 1.57 strokes he gained on the field off the tee. Woodland has had some issues with his driver, and it looks like having the option to pull less than driver this week may be to his benefit.
The former U.S. Open winner is listed at +8000 on DraftKings, and I’m buying in at that juicy number as much on the name and talent as what he did on Thursday.
Another player that has the name value and posted a strong round from a strokes gained perspective is Marc Leishman. The Australian was the second best player on approach on Thursday as he gained 3.39 strokes on the field with his irons. This is a really positive turnaround for a player that came out of the winter break playing well, but seemed to have lost his ball striking over the last two events.
Leishman gained more than four strokes on the field, tee to green in Round 1, and while his 1-under 71 was strong, it could’ve been better if he could’ve gotten the putter going. He lost 1.24 strokes to the field on the greens, as he missed seven putts within 16 feet of the hole, including several inside of 10 feet. It’s great to see Leishman starting to put the game together, and similar to Woodland, he’s a name we wouldn’t be shocked to see get a win at any event. I am happy to add Leishman to the card early at +12000 on FanDuel and hope he can keep his play going through the weekend.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 2
It’s hard to find fades at this event, especially in the early rounds because as many have said you just can’t fake it around TPC Sawgrass. The course simply punishes mistakes with big numbers, so the early leaderboard has really earned their spot across their game.
Open Champion Shane Lowry showed up out of nowhere to make a run on Thursday afternoon for the first-round lead. He fell short of Garcia’s mark, but still finished with a 4-under 68.
Lowry’s round seemed to come out of nowhere as he doesn’t have a top-25 finish on any tour this season and had back-to-back ugly outings at WGC Workday and the API. He was able to go low in his first round at Sawgrass by gaining more than four shots on the field with his short game. He was able to dial it in both on and around the greens on Thursday, as he chipped in on the 6th and made several lengthy putts to get the most out of his round.
I’ll fade Lowry early as he really hasn’t shown anything in this event in the past or since the start of the year to think he can hold onto this effort throughout the weekend.
Keegan Bradley stands out in the fade category. He is normally a player that relies on good ball striking, and just hopes to get by with field average putting. He was the exact opposite on Thursday as he lost strokes to the field on approach, and only .67 strokes on the field tee to green in his 2-under 70. It was Bradley’s putter that carried him through the round, gaining more than three strokes on the greens.
Keegan is 218th on TOUR in putting this season, which is teetering near dead-last. The strokes he gained in the first round on the greens certainly aren’t sustainable, and if he doesn’t find the ball striking, things could get ugly in a hurry.
I may regret this one, because it seems that Christiaan Bezuidenhoudt’s game is just inherently skewed towards his short game. I’m doing it anyway because I just don’t see how anyone will continue to post good rounds at Sawgrass losing 1.52 strokes on approach.
The South African shot a 2-under 70 while losing more than a shot and a half with his irons on Thursday, and made up for it with more than four strokes gained on and around the greens. Bezuidenhoudt gained 2.52 strokes putting in his opening round, which allowed him to score well despite his approach play issues. I’ll fade that game going into Friday, but I’m beginning to see it as a trend even in his good play of the last few weeks.