RBC Heritage Round 2 Buys & Fades: Buying Back in on Sungjae Im
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Sungjae Im.
It’s always a bit of a downer after the Masters, knowing it will be a full year before we get golf back at Augusta National, but we actually get a pretty solid field for the RBC Heritage this week. We also get the benefit of the return of strokes gained data to help us navigate the round by round results.
Early on Thursday, it was clear there were some low scores available as Matt Wallace and Lucas Glover charged out of the gates, making the turn at 4-under. Glover fell back with a double bogey, while Wallace added a couple more to take the solo lead early in the day. He would quickly be passed by Stewart Cink, who continues a run of really solid play and posted a back-nine 30 to take a two shot lead with an 8-under 63.
It didn’t seem like that score would even be in shouting distance for the afternoon wave as the course dried out and winds increased. No one informed Cameron Smith, though, as he went through the turn at 5-under, then came home with four more birdies as well as a couple of great up and downs to post a round leading 9-under 62.
Remarkably, the Australian actually lost strokes on approach for the round, but more than made up for it with an absurd 7.31 strokes gained on and around the greens. He will dodge the fade tag into Round 2 based on his talent level, but his splits between ball striking and short game are something to watch on Friday.
The leaderboard is packed, and I didn’t even get to Collin Morikawa at 6-under, making for a lot of value in the betting markets heading into the second round. We may also be headed for a bit of a weather edge for the afternoon tee times, which will play into my picks as we dig into the strokes gained data from Thursday.
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
The buys for Friday will come out of the afternoon wave since I think there is enough of an advantage that those players can make up some ground on the leader at good odds. I will say I’m intrigued by Webb Simpson, who you can get at +6600 on BetMGM. I expect his putting to turn around on Friday and the 2.5 strokes he gained ball striking could make it a low round for him.
My first official buy is going to come in the form of Billy Horschel. He was more of a punchline at the Masters as he seemed to have his shoes off more than on around the course and creeks of Augusta National. He also had a fiery moment that led him to, in my opinion, unnecessarily apologize. The fact is he came into the first major of the year in great form, and there is no doubt he was disappointed by his 50th place finish. Horschel had just won the WGC Match Play a few weeks earlier and I’m sure he was hoping for a better result at Augusta.
The former Florida Gator seems to have bounced back with his play in the first round at the RBC Heritage. He fired a 5-under 66, during which he gained strokes in all of the tee-to-green metrics, led by 2.13 strokes gained on approach. Overall, he gained more than four strokes on the field tee to green, but left a few out there with the putter.
Hoschel is currently the 60th best putter on TOUR and has shown a preference for the Bermuda grass greens he sees around Harbour Town, which leads me to expect the putter to get better as he goes this week. If he can keep the ball striking dialed in, Horschel will be in the conversation all weekend at a place he already has two top-10 finishes.
I am in on Horschel, and I’ll certainly take what feels like a good number on BetMGM at +2200.
I have been hesitant to jump back in on Sungjae Im in recent weeks as he continues to struggle with his iron play, but you can consider me back now. I’m still not sold that he’s got it all the way back, even with Thursday’s round looking like a clear step in the right direction. The thing I do know is that if he’s back and I don’t get in now, the numbers will be long gone by the time I get on board.
Im gained more than three and a half strokes ball striking on Thursday, with 2.47 of it coming on approach. It is a beautiful thing to see him have such a great round, and am going to latch on with the hopes he can do it a few more times this weekend. We are still getting a solid number on him at +4000 on PointsBet, and we know he loves the Bermuda, which could lead him into contention for the plaid jacket come Sunday.
Harbour Town is a ball striker’s paradise, requiring precise placement off the tee and pure approaches into some of the smallest greens on TOUR. While there are a few guys that would fit this mold in the field this week, one that sticks out is Emiliano Grillo.
The Argentine had a solid opening round with a 3-under 68 to put himself in position to be a name to watch heading into the weekend. He did it with his traditional strong ball striking, gaining 3.58 strokes on the field with better than one and a half strokes in both metrics. He gained more than three strokes on the field tee to green on Thursday, and will go out with the preferred afternoon wave on Friday.
If Grillo can continue to putt around field average as he did in the opening round, he can be there with a chance to win this weekend. I’ll dabble on the +6600 DraftKings is offering and also look to play him in DFS Showdown in Round 2.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 2
There are two fades that stick out like a sore thumb heading into Friday, and I’m sure many of you that have been reading this column along the way may have already identified them. I often like to fade the volatility of a hot putter especially with just an 18 hole sample size, and these guys fall right in line.
The first is the aforementioned Lucas Glover. The Clemson Tiger is generally known for his ball striking, but it was all putter today. He gained more than five shots on the field with his flat stick on Thursday, guiding him to a 4-under round and a tie for 8th heading into Friday.
The biggest concern for Glover is that he lost 1.34 strokes tee to green, including more than a stroke on approach. This kind of putting isn’t sustainable for the best putters on TOUR, and it definitely isn’t for a guy that ranks 164th in the category this season.
Wash, rinse, repeat the above for my next fade on Danny Willett as to my delight I found that he ranks one spot worse than Glover in putting this year, at 165th. He too was carried by a hot putter on Thursday at Harbour Town as he led the field in putting with 5.44 strokes gained.
Willett was all over the map in the first round, carding eight birdies as well as three bogeys and a double. He lost strokes to the field tee to green and in both ball striking metrics to the tune of a combined 3.95 strokes lost off the tee and on approach. Everything leans heavily to a fade for the former Masters Champion heading into Friday, and he is one I will target heavily in matchups.
Michael Thompson was a surprising popular pick at the low end of odds ranks going into Thursday and on the surface, he certainly lived up to the hype. He shot a 3-under 68 to put himself inside the Top 20 going into the second round.
Similar to the fades before him, my concern with Thompson is how he did it. He lost nearly two strokes to the field on approach at what is a second shot golf course, and had to have his short game bail him out. Thompson was certainly able to get it done today, but as the holes wear on, if he continues to hit only half of his greens in regulation, the big numbers will start to pile up.