Safeway Open Round 4 Buys & Fades Using Strokes Gained Data
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images. Pictured: Emiliano Grillo.
The scoring continued to be easy to come by for the majority of the field at the Safeway Open on Saturday, but it was a little tougher for the final groups. Sam Burns’ streak of good play stalled with an even par round, leading to his two stroke advantage disappearing as he fell back into a tie for second. Harry Higgs, D.J. Trahan and Russell Knox escaped with 2-under par 70s, but it was the chasers from further back that were the story of moving day.
Brian Stuard shot a bogey-free 66 to jump into a share of the lead with James Hahn after he had a 5-under round of his own. Cameron Percy joins them at 16-under, one shot ahead of Higgs and Burns. Former Oklahoma State star Kristoffer Ventura also shot 6 under to join the group at 15-under par. The round of the day came from TOUR rookie Sahith Theegala, who had a clean card on his way to an 8-under 64 to vault into a tie for 12th, just three shots back.
It’s a jammed leaderboard heading into Sunday’s final round, as 17 players are within three shots of the lead, which will undoubtedly lead to some great drama down the stretch. Let’s take a look at how they did it from a strokes gained perspective on Saturday and see if we can identify who might come out on top.
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’s a lot to untangle at the top of the leaderboard in Napa going into Sunday, as there is a mix of prior TOUR winners, experienced golfers and rookies. I will generally tend to lean towards players who have been here before, as the pressure of being in contention down the stretch of a PGA tournament will be too much to handle for some.
I don’t feel comfortable with this pick, but at this point it is impossible to ignore what Emiliano Grillo is doing this week. He is the top player in strokes gained tee-to-green, gaining more than 2.5 strokes on the field. Grillo boosted that number by gaining 3.58 strokes on Saturday, and found a good putting stroke on his way to a 7-under 65.
Grillo is known as one of the best ball-strikers in the game when he is on, but he is also known as one of the worst putters on TOUR. He was ranked 192nd in strokes gained putting last season, losing nearly a stroke per round on the greens. Understanding that makes me feel pretty good about his putting form that was field average through the first two days, then popped to gain over a stroke on Saturday. These are greens he is familiar with, having been a former winner of the Safeway Open, and his results this week show he is pretty comfortable putting on them.
I’m buying Grillo with the hopes that the good putting can continue and he can channel the magic from his 2015 victory at this tournament.
Kevin Streelman fits the mold of the type of player I want to back as he chases on Sunday. He’s just three shots behind, and outside of two double bogeys in his first four holes of Round 1, he has been great this week. Streelman has had just three bogeys in the 50 holes since that big stumble and made 19 birdies. In fact, his 20 birdies on the week are tied for the best in the field.
Moving day was good to Streelman as he shot a 7-under 65 to jump into a tie for 12th at 13 under. He did it by gaining more than two strokes on approach and on the greens. Streelman always seems to play well on Sunday and I think he will find himself in contention throughout the round tomorrow. I’ll look to back him in all formats as he looks to chase down the leaders.
Xinjun Zhang is a player that has shown he can compete in any field when he is in form. He finished 10th at the Memorial this summer and followed it up with a 12th at the 3M Open. He is quite clearly in form this week as he’s fourth in the field tee-to-green on the week, second in strokes gained approach, and fourth off-the-tee. He led the field by gaining 3.22 strokes on approach on Saturday, and was second tee-to-green.
The difference for him versus seemingly everyone else near the top of the board is that he has yet to have a single hot putting round. He’s been right at field average each round, and if he can just roll it a bit better on Sunday, he can be there down the stretch.
I’ll buy into what he has done with his ball-striking and hope he can make enough putts to truly contend.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 4
Cameron Percy has been a good story this week, as the 46-year-old finds himself in contention for his first TOUR win. He does have five international victories in his 22-year career, but he has yet to get it done in a PGA event. This is the type of story that makes golf so much different than every other sport where in any given week a player can come from off-the-radar to contend for a life-changing victory.
Unfortunately, that is where the story stops for me. I think Percy will be the co-leader most likely to fall out of contention on Sunday. His Saturday strokes gained numbers show a player that lost strokes tee-to-green, as he was right around average in each metric. He was able to hold onto the round by gaining more than two strokes putting, but I don’t expect that to continue for a guy that ranked 111th in putting last season. I think with scoring as low as it has been, the loss of his ball-striking will leave Percy behind in the final round.
There isn’t much to get excited about when you look at the tournament history for Ventura since he turned pro in 2018. He’s had just one top 20 during that time, but it’s clear the talent is there. He is also in the unfortunate position of being compared to the group of young studs that have been taking the TOUR by storm over the past 12 months.
It’s great to see Ventura get himself into contention and get the experience of being in this position in a TOUR event. I think he will win on TOUR, but I don’t think it will be this week.
As I look at the strokes gained data for Round 3, and for the week, Ventura is the guy that sticks out. He’s lost strokes on approach in all three rounds, including losing .80 strokes with his irons today. His putter has carried him to back to back 66s, and could certainly stay hot tomorrow, but the pressure of being in contention on Sunday will also be a factor.
I’ll be fading Ventura Sunday based on his approach game issues and lack of experience down the stretch on Sunday.
It pains me to write up my next fade as I absolutely love everything about this guy, but Harry Higgs just isn’t quite there this week. He had a fantastic moment to close his round on Friday as he holed out for an albatross to put himself in the final group on Saturday.
He undoubtedly had a great Round 2, but digging deeper, especially today, there are underlying approach issues. Higgs lost more than a stroke on approach on Saturday and ranks 67th in greens-in-regulation. It also appeared clear at times in Round 3, that there were some nerves behind those shades as he struggled to find his game. He hit just five fairways Saturday, but held things together and bailed out his round on the greens.
Similar to Ventura, the putter could continue to carry him on Sunday, but I like my odds when I see the ball striking numbers off like they were today.
Strokes Gained Data for Round 3