PGA Championship Round 2 Buys and Fades: Jordan Spieth Remains Good Value at Kiawah Island
Patrick Smith/Getty Images. Pictured: Jordan Spieth.
It’s rare that we see anything live up to the hype these days, but The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island certainly did just that in the opening round of the PGA Championship on Thursday. The course looked spectacular and even more importantly, it was a great challenge for an elite field of golfers.
As the morning wave went off and got through the first nine of their opening round, it was pretty clear that there would be some pretty defined holes to attack and others to just simply hold on. Each nine had a par 5 playing under par, but those holes proved the only true reprieve throughout the round.
The closing stretch of the back nine turned into the star of the show as three of the final four holes averaged right at one-half stroke over par on the day. Those final holes were playing directly into the wind, and we can expect that again, maybe worse, on Friday.
The star of the day turned out to be Canadian Corey Conners, who was the best player of the day, especially when you consider he was in the more difficult afternoon wave. He shot a 5-under 67 to beat the rest of the field by two shots, and most notably played that final stretch at 2-under. He beat out the 3-under rounds posted by Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka and Aaron Wise from the morning groupings.
While those big names played well, many others struggled mightily. Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson combined to shoot 10-over on the day. Johnson was the worst of the bunch at 4-over, and he will have to go right back out to start the morning on Friday needing to put a good round together to have any hope of making the cut.
There were 30 under-par rounds on Thursday, which highlights just how compact the leaderboard is outside of Conners. This will leave us with a lot of value available in the betting markets going into Friday, especially with winds expected to be impactful again. I will go into the second round targeting golfers teeing off in the morning, given the stroke advantage of that wave could be even greater tomorrow than it was in Round 1.
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 already mentioned it, but all of my buys for Round 2 will come from the morning wave. I think they have a distinct advantage on Friday, and I’m going to leverage that as best I can. My first two buys will actually come from the same threesome, as Gary Woodland and Cameron Smith both looked solid in the opening round.
Woodland has had a lot of chatter lately about getting his work in to find the game he had that won him the U.S. Open on another coastal course at Pebble Beach in 2019. He seems to be trending in the right direction, and his stats were fantastic on Thursday.
He shot a 2-under 70 in his opening round through nearly four strokes gained tee to green. The best part of his stats is what he did with his ball striking. Woodland ranked sixth on approach on Thursday, gaining more than three strokes on the field with his irons. He also gained more than a stroke off the tee, and that combination will help him have staying power in any weather throughout the weekend.
I’m buying in early, especially at a solid +3300 at DraftKings for a player that has proven he can handle the moment if he’s in contention down the stretch.
Smith was on a similar path to Woodland before slipping up with two bogeys in his final four holes knocked him back to even par for his opening round. He missed a short six-footer for par on 15 and hit a poor drive that left him in trouble on the last to drop those shots.
Still, even with those struggles to close the round, he proved to be one of the best players in the field on Thursday both tee to green and ball striking. The biggest problem for Smith was a cold putter that lost 2.4 strokes on the day. He ranks 14th on TOUR in putting this season, which gives us all the reason to expect him to bounce back tomorrow. I wish we were getting a better number than +4500 on DraftKings, but if he keeps the ball striking going on Friday, he’ll be in the mix into the weekend.
My pick to win this week was Jordan Spieth, and nothing on Thursday changed my perspective. He was dialed in tee to green as he has been for a couple of months now, but he surprisingly simply couldn’t put the ball in the hole.
Similar to Smith, Spieth’s normally reliable flat stick lost him 1.86 strokes to the field on the greens Thursday. He was able to escape the round with just a 1-over 73 despite simply making nothing on the day. He’ll go off early on Friday and if he gains another 3.64 strokes tee to green, I fully expect his putter to start to heat up. If you aren’t in yet, I expect +2500 at PointsBet to be the best number you’ll see on Spieth the rest of the way.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 2
I’d like to fade the afternoon guys as much as possible but with wind present all day, anyone with poor ball striking will get exposed on Friday. The first player that sticks out in that realm is Branden Grace.
The South African started hot in the opening round, but he seemed to start to lose his ball striking as the round went. He posted a 2-under 70 and will start the second round from a tie for eighth.
My issue with Grace is that he was simply field average with his ball striking on Thursday and really had to scramble with his short game to score. He gained more than four strokes on the field on and around the greens in the opening round.
I like Grace and his ability to play in this type of weather, but his play in Round 1 doesn’t appear sustainable heading to the second round.
It was a similar story for European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington. He shot an impressive 1-under 71 on Thursday, but he did so with more than three strokes gained around the greens. Harrington actually lost strokes to the field ball striking, as he was below average on approach.
A fade here is not a big surprise for a player that hasn’t done much in tournament action this year, but he could make an interesting target in matchups.
As I mentioned wanting to fade the afternoon guys, I now realize all of my fades will play in the morning. They just seemed to be the ones that stuck out, and none more so than Christiaan Buzeidenhout.
Buzeidenhout also shot a 1-under 71 in the opening round, carried almost entirely by a white-hot putter. The South African gained a ridiculous 6.12 strokes with the flat stick on Thursday, besting the rest of the field in that category by more than a stroke and a half. Bezeidenhout was so good with his putter that he was able to make up for 2.33 strokes lost to the field tee to green. He was also one of the worst players in the field off the tee, losing more than two strokes in that metric.
This sets up for a perfect target in matchups for Friday since there appears to be only one direction for this player to go in the second round.