2021 TOUR Championship Round 3 Buys & Fades: Rory McIlroy Has Value for a Top Finish at East Lake

2021 TOUR Championship Round 3 Buys & Fades: Rory McIlroy Has Value for a Top Finish at East Lake article feature image
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images. Pictured: Rory McIlroy.

Friday at the TOUR Championship wasn’t much different than Thursday, as it was once again a two-man battle between Patrick Cantlay and Jon Rahm. They were joined at times by a couple of names, but by the end of the day they stood above the rest.

World No. 1 Rahm cut into Cantlay’s lead by the end of the round, making it just a one-shot deficit going into the weekend. They are five and six shots beyond the next best player, Bryson DeChambeau. The two leaders will tee off together again on Saturday, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make it a three-day pairing on Sunday.

I really don’t want to sink any more money into the rest of the field for an outright win this week, as it just doesn’t seem like the right play. We can, however, take a look at the odds for a player further down the board to work their way into the top five or top 10. Let’s take a look at the data from the second round to see who stands out going into moving day.

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Strokes Gained Explanation

Strokes Gained can give golf bettors, DFS players and fans way more detail on how a golfer is truly played 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 3

We can really take our pick when it comes to the top-five market heading into the weekend, as everyone outside of the top three are listed at plus money to get into that position. The player that jumps out to me is Rory McIlroy.

Rory’s affinity for this course is well documented with two wins in his past four trips, and he showed that form once again on Friday. It was a slow start for McIlroy as he bogeyed two of the first four holes, but he really found his game on the back nine with six birdies on that stretch. He closed the day leading the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and was really solid throughout his bag. I really like him at +320 to finish in the top five.

Another player that has really played well around East Lake is Billy Horschel. He matched Jon Rahm for the low round on Thursday and was headed for another low one before a double bogey derailed him on the opening nine on Friday.

Still, Horschel put together a 2-under round and has climbed up from even par  all the way to 7-under for the weekend. He is tied for 13th, and ranks fifth in the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green through 36 holes. The Florida Gator alum has always been a streaky player, and he is someone I am wanting to buy in on after he has shown great form the first two days. He’s only two shots out of the top five, which is listed at +800 on BetMGM to start the weekend. I’d be more comfortable at the +200 top-10 level, but I’ll also be targeting Billy Ho in DFS and matchups on Saturday.

Jason Kokrak was a player I liked to start the week, and he hasn’t done anything early on to change my thoughts on that end. He has put together back-to-back rounds under par and bounced back from a bogey-bogey start on Friday.

His combination of distance and accuracy off the tee is a perfect combination alongside his solid approach game. Kokrak has gained more than a stroke per round in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, including a full stroke on the field on approach. I expect he will continue to play well, and if he can find some better putting, he could get in the mix for a top-10 type of finish, which is currently +200 on DraftKings.

3 Golfers to Fade in Round 3

If you want me to tell you a player that I don’t think will finish the week near their current position, it’s Harris English. He’s had a nice season and has proven me wrong time and again, but he just hasn’t had that same form the last few weeks.

English was struggling in the opening round before an ace on the 15th hole turned things around for him. It really skewed his Strokes Gained numbers to make it seem like his round was better on the whole than the reality. Those numbers came to a head on Friday as he lost more than a stroke in each metric with his ball-striking and was -1.11 on the day tee to green. He is the player that sticks out to me as most likely to drop down the leaderboard this weekend.

I know he is already down to 15th in a 30-player field, but I have to reiterate my fade of Dustin Johnson. He just doesn’t have it right now, and even with all of the money on the line, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lose interest this weekend.

DJ has been lost for a while now in his game, and through two rounds at East Lake he is losing more than two strokes to the field per round with his ball-striking and overall tee to green. Shockingly, the putter has been a savior for him as he currently has the best flat stick in the field at +2.29 Strokes Gained: Putting. This isn’t sustainable for him, and he’s not in a position where I can assume that he finds anything tee to green, making him an easy fade the rest of the way.

We have all been enthralled with the play of Sam Burns this season. Time after time he has shot up the leaderboard and put his name in the mix in big tournaments. This week though, it seems he may be running out of gas.

Burns has not been himself through 36 holes, losing 2.13 strokes to the field tee to green per round. He hasn’t been able to find his irons in either round, and even as he found his game around the green on Friday, he lost it off the tee. This is a course that punishes you for not being sharp in any aspect, and it’s set to be a long weekend for Burns who is missing multiple facets of his normally sharp play.

Strokes Gained Data for All Players in Round 2

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