2021 Memorial Round 2 Buys & Fades: Back Justin Thomas to Find His Putting Stroke
Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Thomas.
The opening round at Muirfield Village got cut short on Thursday as thunderstorms rolled through periodically throughout the day. They were able to finally get the afternoon wave mostly teed off before another delay shut things down again.
It will turn into a long Friday at the 2021 Memorial Tournament for everyone. Players scheduled to go off in the afternoon on Thursday will now continue their round to start the morning, then go straight into their second round. The morning players will have an extended delay and likely will finish their rounds on Saturday morning. The hope would be that they can catch things up at that point on Saturday and get the entire third round in to head into the final round mostly on schedule.
We have a lack of data with so many players yet to play, so I will only focus on the players that finished their round on Thursday morning. The top of that heap is Collin Morikawa, who shot a 6-under 66 to set the pace. Adam Long trails the 2020 PGA Champion by one shot, while a group of four players, including Xander Schauffele, shot 4-under 68.
Overall, the morning groups shot just short of 1-over par on average, which is amplified by a few rounds over 80. Nineteen players shot under par to start their week, but those rounds may be tough to come by with dry weather expected the rest of the way.
Let’s take a look at who stood out on Thursday morning and may provide some overnight value as we evaluate the rest of the first round on Friday morning.
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’m going to make a few buys here, but the caveat is that we could see some line movement and in this case some drift on numbers if the players finishing their first round go low. It can especially be the case if someone gets past Morikawa or some big names get in the mix up top. I say all of that to tell you there could be some merit in waiting and betting live as numbers improve.
One good example of that potential is with Justin Thomas. He will eventually start his round on Friday at least three shots back of the lead. Thomas was the best player in the field both tee to green and on approach on Thursday, but once again his putter let him down.
Thomas lost 1.77 strokes on the greens compared to his peers in the morning wave. He didn’t get off on the right foot, missing makable birdie putts from inside 20 feet on the first two holes, before capping it off with a missed birdie putt inside of six feet on his third. This three-hole start ended up serving as a microcosm of his day. The World No. 2 missed three putts from inside six feet on the day.
It’s a big ask for Thomas to turn things around on the greens at this point, but he did hole some putts down the stretch of his back nine, including a seven-footer for birdie on his final hole. If he can put it together, he could vault all the way up the board to contend this weekend.
Thomas is just short of his pre-tournament odds at +1600 at PointsBet currently, which is a marginal price at this stage. I’ll likely opt to wait to see if he drifts some tomorrow, but I will target him in matchups and the 3-balls.
A longshot I have my eye on heading into the second round is Brendan Steele. He always seems to find his game at Muirfield Village, and Thursday morning was no exception. Steele shot a bogey-free 3-under 69, during which he gained strokes in all metrics.
Steele was best on approach, which is the key to this course, gaining more than 1.5 strokes on the limited field. He missed just two greens on the round, showing just how dialed in he was with his irons. If he can continue that solid play on approach and roll in a few more putts than the three birdie looks he had on Thursday, he certainly has a game that can contend.
It’s a longshot to expect Steele to win in this high class field, but he’s priced as such at +12500 on PointsBet. He is only three shots back currently, and has a history on this course that will give him confidence throughout the weekend.
I had my eye on Patrick Reed coming into the week and despite him posting just 1-under, I am just as interested as I was before he teed off. The biggest unknown with Captain America is usually his ball striking, which seems to be hit or miss on a weekly basis. It was on for Reed on Thursday, as he gained more than 1.5 strokes in the category and added another full stroke around the greens.
Unfortunately, the round wasn’t any better for Reed because he simply couldn’t roll in many putts. He lost a full stroke to the field as Thomas’ putting woes seemed to rub off on him. The difference between those two is that the proposition for a bounce back on Friday isn’t nearly as risky with Reed, who ranks third on TOUR in putting this season.
If Reed continues to keep the ball in good position with his tee-to-green game, his short game can quickly get him in the mix. This combination makes Reed an attractive buy at +6000 on PointsBet, but this is one I expect to drift a bit before he tees off on Friday afternoon.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 2
My first two fades going into the second round are painful for me since they are a couple of my shining stars for DFS this week. Both posted strong rounds but were heavily reliant on their putters.
Part of the concern with fading Rafa Cabrera Bello and Christiaan Bezuidenhout is that they are both good putters. RCB ranks 59th on TOUR this season, but he was really strong on Thursday, gaining nearly two and a half strokes with the flat stick. He also gained strokes across the board tee to green, and if he can keep that up, he’d be a contender this week.
I just don’t see it for the Spaniard this week on a course that he has historically struggled on, and he has no top-20 finishes since February 2020. I’ll take my chances that this round was a flash in the pan rather than a sign of a sharp game for RCB.
Bezuidenhout is a bigger concern for me, because he seems to do this sort of thing every week. The South African gained more than four strokes on the greens on Thursday, while losing nearly a full stroke off the tee. He was merely field average tee to green on the day but was able to knock home enough putts to post a 3-under 69.
Bezuidenhout may continue to have the magic beans with his short game the rest of the way, but I’ll bet against that sustaining this week.
The final fade of the morning wave is with Jason Dufner. He’s a former winner at this course and somehow seems to play well around here no matter what form he has coming into the week. I didn’t see that form on Thursday, though, since he didn’t have his ball striking despite his 2-under 70.
Dufner is known as a traditional ball-striker with an atrocious short game. You wouldn’t know it by the stats on Thursday, as he gained more than 2.5 strokes on and around the greens. He lost a little to the field on approach and was just over average off the tee, which combines to be a tough situation for the Auburn grad when his short game falls off.
I’m out on Dufner the rest of the way and if he doesn’t sharpen his ball striking, he will quickly drop down the leaderboard.