The American Express Round 2 Buys & Fades: Finding Value Using Strokes Gained Data
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Doug Ghim.
There were a lot of unknowns heading into Thursday as speculation swirled about the courses playing more difficult without amateurs, and redesigned and resurfaced greens at the Nicklaus Course. Once the balls were flying, it quickly became clear that this would be just about the same event from a scoring perspective that it has always been.
Both courses averaged under par rounds with the Nicklaus playing about a half stroke easier than the Stadium. Much of the top of the leaderboard started on the Nicklaus, including first-round leader Brandon Hagy, who paced the field with an 8-under 64. Benny An would finish just behind him on the same track at 7-under. Si Woo Kim would shoot the low round on the Stadium Course on Thursday with a bogey-free 6-under 66.
Unfortunately, with the dual courses, we only get strokes gained data for the main course. I will focus on that half of the field in my analysis below, and they should have the advantage heading into Friday as they head to play the easier course in Round 2.
The leaderboard is packed with 60 players at 3 under or better, making for a lot of betting value going into Round 2 where we like to target the chasers.
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
My first buy at the top is going to be with Doug Ghim. I’ve been on him a lot over the past several events to no avail, so I backed away this week and of course, he’s at the top of the leaderboard.
Ghim started the week showing great ball striking and the tee-to-green game we expected when he left Texas as a highly touted young player. He finished Thursday’s first round ranking second with 4.81 strokes gained tee-to-green, and a hot putter short of an even better round.
His 5-under 67 puts him three shots back of the lead as he heads to the easier course on Friday, with a chance to move even further into contention. DraftKings has the best number I’ve seen at +6000, and Ghim has the talent to get it done on a course like this.
Abraham Ancer is my next buy on the board, and while he is at 3 under, one shot behind Ghim, he is about half the odds to win. The +2800 for Ancer to win on DraftKings is reflective of the talent of the young Mexican and the fit of these courses to his game.
He had a solid first round, with mainly just one very costly shot on the signature 17th. Ancer’s tee shot to the island green splashed down short and right of the hole location, for his worst shot of the day, resulting in a double bogey. He still managed to gain 1.72 strokes ball striking, a solid improvement from the struggles he had last week at the Sony Open. I’m jumping on board now, as I think he is being overlooked at five shots back.
I believe that just about anyone at or under par is still in this tournament to make a run for the win over the final 54 holes. If I’m taking a longshot further down the board, it would be with Charley Hoffman. Now, he was my longshot pick to start the tournament, so maybe I’m just chasing that, but the numbers show a better round than just the 2-under 70 he finished with on Thursday.
Hoffman had five birdies in the first round, but coupled that with one horrendous hole on the Par 5 5th. He hit his tee shot in the water, then compounded the issue by hitting his third into the greenside pond, walking off with a snowman. It was his only over par hole on the day and the main culprit of depressing his .64 strokes gained on approach, and causing him to lose 1.84 shots off the tee.
Charley has been in good form to start the year, and outside of that one hole, he was solid today. He’s dug himself a six-shot hole heading into Friday, but that is baked into his +12500 win odds on BetMGM. I’ll dabble there, but my focus will be buying him in DFS and matchups for Round 2.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 2
The fades into Friday are a bit of a scary proposition as while their struggles in Round 1, won’t be as magnified on the easier course in Round 2. I’ll still give you some players I have concerns with, but it’s really a spot to tread lightly unless you can find a matchup that really stands out.
Charl Schwartzel started well on Thursday at The American Express. His 5-under round has him just three shots back of the lead with a chance to improve on that at the easier Nicklaus course in Round 2.
My fade for him is based around his struggles on approach in the first round. The South African lost strokes to the field with his irons, but gained 1.38 strokes putting to help him finish strong. He has just one Top 25 since July, and with the ball-striking wavering, there are a number of things pointing to this fade on Friday.
My next fade is fairly straight forward, as Josh Teater just doesn’t have staying power in the Top 15 heading into the second round. He lost strokes in both ball striking metrics on Thursday, but made up for it with the fifth best putter in the field.
Teater has missed the cut in three of his last five tournaments and has just one Top-30 finish since June. Everything checks out for this round to be an outlier the rest of the way.
It’s concerning to see that Patrick Reed had another bad round with his irons on Thursday. He has never been one to light up the strokes gained data metrics, but adding 1.52 strokes lost to the field on approach in Round 1 to the 4.2 he lost in Kapalua is a bad trend. Sure, he still managed to get around in 4 under, but you’re paying a premium in betting markets and DFS for the former Masters Champion and the game just doesn’t back that up right now.
Reed gained a field-best 4.3 strokes on the greens on Thursday, and that number simply isn’t sustainable the rest of the way. Couple that inevitable variance with a consistently poor approach game, and you’ve got a full fade for me.
Strokes Gained Data for All Players in Round 1