2021 U.S. Open Final Round Buys & Fades: Rory McIlroy Headlines 3 Buys at Torrey Pines
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images. Pictured: Rory McIlroy.
The course at Torrey Pines played a touch easier for the cut makers on Saturday at the 2021 U.S. Open as the field made it through more than a stroke easier than the first two days. The USGA decided to move a few tees up to make holes more accessible in the third round, leading to lower scores, but I don’t expect that to be the case in Sunday’s final round.
Rory McIlroy was the player that took the most advantage of the easier conditions, as he shot the lowest round of the day with a 4-under 67. He was able to move to just two shots back of the lead and will play from the penultimate pairing on Sunday. Russell Henley, the co-leader through 36 holes, held strong in his round to take the lead into the final round, but he will join McIlroy in the second-to-last tee time as Louis Oosthuizen and MacKenzie Hughes tied the lead late on Saturday. Oosthuizen and Hughes will tee off last on Sunday.
There are still 20 players within five shots of the leaders going into the final round, keeping many golfers in the hunt for the national championship. Let’s take a look at the strokes gained data from Saturday to see who stands out to win the third major of 2021.
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 4
There are plenty of names with a chance to win on Sunday at Torrey Pines, but for me the champion will be Rory McIlroy. He has recently tasted victory at the Wells Fargo Championship and positioned himself on Moving Day to be a factor for his first major since 2014.
McIlroy was the second-best player in the field tee to green on Saturday, gaining more than five strokes on the field in that category. He also ranks third in that metric through three rounds this week and can quickly erase his two-shot deficit on Sunday.
We used to worry about “Sunday Rory” who seemed to struggle under the weight of the final round in recent years, but he will be positioned to close the deal in the final round. McIlroy (+550) my pick to win this week, and he’s a name that will have everyone else looking over their shoulders down the stretch.
One player that is nearly a lock for a strong finish at majors is Xander Schauffele. He is in position to make it five top-six finishes in his first five U.S. Opens with another good round on Sunday.
Schauffele will certainly be disappointed if he can’t hoist the trophy in his hometown, but I expect he still finds his name in the top five after the final round.
Xander ranks in a tie for the best player tee to green this week, but his putter has left him behind. He continued that play on Saturday, gaining more than two strokes on the field tee to green, but he gave nearly all of them back with his putter.
Schauffele (+2700) will likely be in a comfortable position, starting from four shots back of the leaders on Sunday. That may allow him to put his full game together for another top finish.
There can be only one winner on Sunday, so I’ll look down the leaderboard for some players that can put themselves in position for a top finish. Brian Harman is a guy who stands out above some others, having gained more than two strokes tee to green per round this week. He gained 3.46 strokes in the metric on Saturday but gave more than two of those strokes back on the greens. His biggest issue was an ugly four putt from five and a half feet on the sixth hole.
Harman is too far back to be a factor in the championship on Sunday, but he can certainly position himself for a top-10 finish with solid play in the final round. He’s two shots back from that spot going into the day, and if he continues to hit it well, Harmon (+35000) will be primed for another solid major finish after his 12th place at the Masters in April.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 4
The final pairing on Sunday will have one Major Champion alongside a player who has missed all of his last five cuts on TOUR. MacKenzie Hughes has put things together this week out of nowhere as his only Top 20 finish of the year was in January at the Sony Open.
The Canadian gained strokes on approach for the second round of the week on Saturday, marking the first time he’s achieved that since the Genesis Invitational in February. I just simply can’t trust that he will be able to put it together again in the final round of a major championship when it has been such a long stretch since he’s faced any Sunday pressure.
I am going to have to double down on an earlier week fade of Russell Henley. He has surprisingly held things together through three rounds, but I just can’t believe that he will ultimately be there in contention down the stretch on Sunday.
Henley hasn’t finished in the Top 70 of any of his last four events, and really hasn’t been in contention for a win in a number of years. The pressure of the final round on Sunday at the U.S. Open will likely catch up to him, and a pairing with a star like Rory McIlroy will not help. He is going to need some more magic, like the birdie hole out from the bunker he had on Saturday to stay in contention, but I just can’t buy that holding true in the final round.
My final fade is another double down on Sunday, as I just can’t buy into Matthew Wolff being able to sustain his position on the leaderboard. He predictably fell apart tee to green in the third round, losing 2.24 strokes to the field on the day.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy was able to keep things from getting out of hand on Saturday because of a strong putter. Wolff gained 1.65 strokes on the greens to salvage a two over 73, and keep him within three shots of the lead going into the final round. He certainly has the underlying talent to make some noise on Sunday, but his lack of competition has me thinking he’s more likely to move in the other direction over the final 18 holes.