Arnold Palmer Invitational Round 3 Buys & Fades: Finding Value Using Strokes Gained
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Paul Casey.
We saw another ball striking display put on by Corey Conners, as he came back out Friday morning wave and moved the target score out to 9 under par.
His second-round 69 would prove to be one of the better rounds of the day, allowing for him to take a solo lead into the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
First-round co-leader Rory McIlroy played a solid second round, but just couldn’t string anything together as he got stymied a couple of times on tee shots. He would still finish under par, and position himself in a tie for third alongside Viktor Hovland.
In addition to Conners, those two will be chasing a surprise contender in Martin Laird, who posted the second-best round with a 5-under 67. He will join Conners in Saturday’s final pairing, as he seeks his second win of the season.
Bay Hill played about a half stroke easier on the field in Round 2, but it was still a challenge for players who were missing their spots. As we head into the weekend, it will become an even more difficult test as rain and more importantly, the wind will be a factor.
I expect the weather to shake up the leaderboard throughout the weekend, putting the best ball strikers in position to succeed, but also testing players throughout their bag. This could create a lot of opportunity further down the leaderboard than normal, as some players will be able to handle the elements better than others.
Let’s take a look at the strokes gained data from Friday to see who stands out for our buys and fades heading into the weekend.
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 3
I’ll start this by saying that I still like where my three buys from Thursday are currently, especially Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth. They played just like I hoped they would in the second round and have positioned themselves to be in contention all weekend. The numbers a shorter now, but they’re still pretty good if you haven’t jumped on board yet.
Instead of going back to them, I’ll focus on a few others. There are so many big names up top it’s really difficult to narrow in on just a couple of buys, as they are all playing similarly well tee to green. I think with that being the case, I’d still extend out for the value.
The first player that sticks out to me is Paul Casey at +1600 on DraftKings. Casey has always been known for his ball striking, and he showed it off Friday. He ranked third is strokes gained approach in the second round, picking up more than three strokes on the field. He did everything else just about at field average, but was able to lean on his irons to allow him to climb into a tie for seventh place.
I’ve usually been one to think of Casey as a nice play to finish in the top 5, but in recent years he has shown a bit more winning upside, and he’s already won on the European Tour this year. I’ll be happy to jump in at a nice number for a guy with solid ball striking that I know can hold up in any conditions.
I’ll take a shot at another Englishman that I liked coming into this week in Tommy Fleetwood. He came in a bit under the radar after a 44th-place finish in a short field at The Concession last week for the WGC Workday.
The aspect I liked for him from those four rounds is he still showed the ball striking we expect from his game. He gained 1.8 strokes on the field, but lost more than six on the greens.
This week, Fleetwood seems to have brought the ball striking with him again, but also has cleaned things up a bit with his short game. He gained strokes in all metrics Friday, including 1.13 strokes on approach, as he shot a 2-under 70 to move into a tie for 11th place.
Fleetwood has now gained three-and-a-half strokes on the field in two rounds with his irons, which will bode well for him.
I expect the weather to really shake things up this weekend, which I think can still keep the players like Fleetwood at 4 under in play. You can still grab him on DraftKings at the +4000 he was posted at pre-tournament, along with some decent finishing position odds for top 5 and top 10, which could prove to be great value.
Another player at 4 under I’m going to take a shot on is Christiaan Buzeidenhout, who closed last season on the European Tour with two victories. He now has himself positioned for his best career finish on the PGA Tour, as he seeks his first result inside the Top 20.
Bezuidenhout is known for his short game prowess, and he really flashed it Thursday in a 2-under round where he lost strokes tee to green, including 1.56 strokes lost to the field with his irons. He would turn that around Friday, as he gained more than a stroke on the field ball striking on his was to another 2-under 70 round.
I love the fact that I have a shot at a proven winner still at long odds despite being in position to make a move on the weekend. He’s +5500 to win on DraftKings, and even if that is a stretch, +700 to top 5 or +275 to hold a top 10, both hold some really good value.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 3
I thought it was tough to pick the buys at the top of the leaderboard, but finding the fades has proven even more difficult. I’m not going to cop out, so I’ll go big and put an uncomfortable fade in on Hovland.
It might just be that I know Hovland’s game a little too well, and with that in mind, I have trouble trusting that he can continue to gain nearly three strokes per round on and around the greens.
Ever since the Norwegian came on TOUR his short game has been his biggest weakness, highlighted by ranking 168th in strokes gained around the green and 115th putting. He’s improved this season to 92nd and 110th respectively, but it is still far and away his biggest areas of weakness.
The thing with Hovland is he doesn’t have to be elite in those areas to win at this level because his ball striking is so phenomenal. However, the fact he has been merely field average on approach through two rounds this week, and he’s leaning so heavily on the short game, puts him in the fade category for me into Saturday. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Sungjae Im fits my next fade and I’ll be honest, I’ve been fading him from the start. I have concerns as to why Sungjae can’t seem to find his irons, and he hasn’t shown much improvement there to start the week.
The South Korean has gained strokes on the field on approach in each of his rounds this week, but it has just been marginal. He has leaned on his game off the tee, and on Friday his putter to get him into a position in the Top 10. The big issue for Im is that with the wind picking up, and his inconsistencies on approach, I think there are too many other players around him that will be ready to capitalize.
My final fade into the weekend is a bit more comfortable, which probably means he will go low in the third round. Richy Werenski is another surprise name in that tie for 11th place, as he hasn’t had a Top-20 finish since July. He put himself in position to buck that trend with Friday’s strong 3-under round.
The biggest concern for Werenski outside of being in a position he hasn’t put himself in for quite some time, is that he lost nearly a full stroke on approach in the second round. He was completely off his game with his irons, but managed to make up for it by gaining more than four strokes on and around the greens.
The putter is certainly the strength of his overall game, but it’s not something that can carry him all the way through in this field at Bay Hill. I’ve got my fade in on the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket as I think his ball striking issues will have him tumbling down the leaderboard this weekend.