Sony Open Round 4 Buys & Fades: Finding Value Using Strokes Gained Data
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Na.
This is always one of the great weekends in sports with a full slate of basketball both college and pro, NFL Playoffs, and even the NHL alongside the Sony Open. We get much of it again on Sunday, and the golf will come earlier than expected as tee times were moved up to try to avoid incoming bad weather.
Saturday certainly did not disappoint on the golf course as scoring was near a record low, with the field averaging nearly 4-under. Brendan Steele and Kevin Na led the way with matching 9-under rounds of 61, with the former grabbing a two-stroke lead heading into the final round. First round co-leader Joaquin Niemann is tied with Na in second after his 7-under 63 on Saturday. They are followed closely by Peter Malnati and our shot at investing in a green glove, Charley Hoffman.
While Steele separated himself a bit from the field and things thinned out up top, there are still plenty of players on the leaderboard that could be in the hunt on Sunday. Na’s low score in Round 3 highlighted that fact as he jumped 17 spots up the leaderboard and was a couple of short putts away from being tied for the lead into Sunday. It’s a longshot, but this type of scoring could put everyone back to the 13-unders in play and there is probably a round in the 50s out there if someone were to really catch fire.
Let’s take a look at the strokes gained data from Saturday’s round and see if we can find the winner.
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
My pick to win will come from the final group, but it’s not the 54 hole leader in Steele or last week’s runner-up Niemann. I am instead hitching my wagon to Na and his reliable flat stick.
I point out the putter, which ranked fifth on TOUR last season, but it’s actually the ball striking that has me believing he will come out on top on Sunday. He gained 4.84 strokes tee-to-green in the third round, with 2.66 of them coming on approach.
The round really didn’t come out of nowhere for him since he has been consistently good with his irons this week, gaining strokes in each round and improving each day. If anything, Na has the most room to improve on the greens as he’s only gained about a half stroke putting on the week, and the fact he didn’t even gain a full stroke on the field in a 61 tells us he left some shots out there.
My favorite chaser near the top is going to be Russell Henley. He’s had a really solid and consistent tournament this week to put himself within just three shots of the lead through 54 holes. Henley gained strokes across the board tee-to-green on Saturday, but he lost .54 strokes to the field once he got on the greens. It was the first round all week that the former Georgia Bulldog lost strokes putting, which may have him poised for a bounce-back performance in the final round.
I was hoping for a bit better than the +1100 on BetMGM, so while I’m happy to take a piece, I will mostly focus on Henley in DFS and matchups.
The lowest I’m going to dip down is to the group in a tie for ninth, where Marc Leishman looks the most attractive from an odds and strokes gained perspective. He will have to chase down Steele from three shots back, but he certainly has a 9- or even 10-under round in his bag.
It’s been a better start to the new year for Leishman, who ended 2020 with an ugly run of golf. He’s come out this week after a tie for 24th and improved in all aspects of his game, as he’s gained strokes tee-to-green and ball striking in all three rounds.
The +2200 on FanDuel looks pretty attractive for the Australian, who is really putting his game together and could position himself to steal this tournament with a really low Sunday round.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 4
Steele is positioned to avenge his playoff loss from the 2020 Sony Open as he tees it up in the final group on Sunday. Unfortunately, I think he is set for the same disappointing fate.
The biggest difference in the 61 he shot Saturday compared to the one by Na was that it took Steele gaining 3.38 strokes putting to get there. He still had a good day tee-to-green, but it was really a hot putter that allowed him to take it to the next level. When people say “it’s hard to follow a low round with another one,” they’re right, and especially when it was so reliant on putting.
The putts will have a different feel from the final group on Sunday and if he sees Na walking in putts, it could bring back the negative thoughts of last year. Well, that’s the story I’m going with for tomorrow.
My next two fades are pretty easy and one is simply a double down from yesterday. I just refuse to believe that Stewart Cink will gain more than three strokes putting again on Sunday.
He followed up his 3.08 strokes gained on the greens from Friday, with “just” 3.06 strokes gained on the greens in Round 3. Cink is certain to make up a lot of spots on his 102nd-ranked putting ranking for the season after this week, as he leads the field in the metric by quite a bit. He may well do it again on Sunday, but the odds say he won’t and with the way his tee-to-green game fell off on Saturday, he is set to drop down the board.
Lastly, I will fade what to me was one of the surprises of the week in Keith Mitchell. The new season has not been kind to Mitchell, as he hasn’t finished better than a tie for 44th and missed the cut in nearly half of his appearances.
This week has clearly been a better performance, as he heads into Sunday in a tie for ninth after making the unlikely swing from worst putter in the field on Thursday to the best on Friday with an absurd 4.57 strokes gained on the greens. He added 3.10 strokes putting on Saturday, but lost strokes ball striking, which has me fading him on Sunday.