Safeway Open Round 2 Buys & Fades Using Strokes Gained Data
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Knox.
There was a delayed start to Round 1 of the Safeway Open, which has culminated in a delayed finish to the round. A smog delay created early morning lighting issues as the unfortunate fires around Northern California have been much of the story to start the week. The darkness also caught up with the afternoon wave, as this article will be reflective of the data available with about 13 players yet to finish the final couple of holes of their first round.
Once they got to golf, Russell Knox took the headlines with a bogey-free 63 to take the overnight lead at 9 under par. Two-time Safeway Open Champion Brendan Steele shot the second-best morning round on Thursday with a 7-under 65. His round would be topped in the afternoon by Sam Burns, Cameron Percy, and Bo Hoag, who shot matching 64s to tie for second.
In all, 95 players shot under par on a good day for scoring and a course that will be attacked for each of the next three days. Knox made it happen in all facets of his game today, gaining more than 7.5 strokes on the field. Let’s see who else stood out on Thursday in each of the strokes gained categories.
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
Andy Zhang is a relative unknown on TOUR, so much so that he had qualify for this week’s Safeway Open on Monday. Zhang shot a 7-under 64 to snag one of the four spots available this week, then came out to the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa on Thursday and led the field in strokes gained tee-to-green.
He shot a 6-under 66 to tie for seventh on the day, and will start Round 2 just three shots back of the lead. Zhang did most of his work ball-striking as he led the field on approach, gaining more than 4.5 strokes in that category, by hitting all 18 greens in regulation. He was also one of the top 13 players off-the-tee in Round 1.
Despite all of this good work, Zhang ranked 143rd in strokes gained putting on Thursday, as he lost more than two strokes on the greens. There really wasn’t anything fluky about Zhang’s round on Thursday, as he hit greens without any hole-outs and made enough putts to shoot 66. However, he clearly left some out there with his putting and if this ball-striking continues, he’s a play in DFS and betting going forward. It’s scary to think what an average round on the greens today would’ve meant for Zhang.
Austin Cook has been a very streaky player in recent years and unfortunately for most of last season it was a negative streak. He did flash on Thursday at the Safeway Open, firing a bogey-free 4-under 68.
Cook did everything we are looking for in a buy for the next round. He gained more than four strokes tee-to-green, with all but .03 of that being in the ball-striking categories. He had a great round, but it could’ve been so much better with a better putter. Losing 1.49 stokes on the greens really held Cook back from being one of the leading scorers of the day.
I expect Cook to revert to his prior putting form that had him one of the top 80 putters on tour last season, and keep up the hot ball-striking as we move towards the weekend.
I liked Erik van Rooyen coming into this week, and now after a difficult Round 1, he has some value heading into Friday. He shot a 2-under 70, which would leave him just inside of current the cut line in 59th. Put simply, he’s one of the best players in this field and if that isn’t enough for you, his stats show better than his score.
Van Rooyen gained more than 2.5 strokes ball-striking on Thursday, but his round was crushed by losing more than two strokes around the green. This is an area of his game where he gained strokes last season, and it carried him into contention at WGC-Mexico.
EVR has his ball-striking, and when his around-the-green game normalizes on Friday, he will be a player that can make a quick run up the leaderboard.
3 Golfers to Sell in Round 2
This is a Knox that we have not seen for quite some time. His best finish since the restart was a 72nd at the Wyndham, which was his only made cut in seven tournaments.
It’s a positive sign for his game to see him have such a good round, and gain in all strokes gained categories, but you just can’t trust it. Knox gained nearly 3.5 strokes putting, which is simply an anomaly for the 161st putter on tour for the 2020 season. He gained nearly four strokes more on the greens on Thursday than his average round last season.
If people are going to chase this success in Round 2 in DFS, or books are going to give better matchup numbers because of his 63, I’ll be all over the fade of the first-round leader.
On occasion we have seen Hoag’s name flash near the top of the leaderboard on TOUR. He finished 12th at the 3M this summer and ninth at the Sony Open to start last season, but has otherwise middling results.
Hoag is player that typically loses strokes with his ball striking and makes it up with a top 75 putting game. He put it all together for 18 holes on Thursday as he gained more than four strokes tee-to-green, and more than 2.5 strokes putting. It was a great round for Hoag to shoot 8 under and put himself just one shot behind the lead.
I’m choosing to play the odds on this one and bank on his historical output that says the ball-striking is not here to stay. I also know that while he’s an above average putter, he had an abnormally good day on the greens as well. For me, this looks to be another easy fade at the tome of the board.
Adam Schenk had a solid 4-under 66 on Thursday to position himself just outside of the top 20. It’s even more impressive that he did it while losing strokes in both ball-striking categories.
Schenk had to rely on gaining more than three strokes with his short game (SG: Around the Green + SG: Putting) to secure the round. He had a hole out from just off the green on the 12th, and made up for his lackluster approach game with solid lag putting.
I am fading Schenk’s ball-striking for Round 2, as I expect we will seem him around the cut line on Friday.