The Northern Trust Round 2 Buys & Fades: Buy Chasers Finau, Schauffele, and McIlroy With Caution
Sarah Stier/Getty Images. Pictured: Tony Finau.
The morning wave at Liberty National got off to a bit of a slow start as only Harold Varner III was able to get beyond 3-under on his round, but he was quickly overtaken by a couple of stars during the afternoon. Two of the Top 5 players in the world put on an absolute show in front of Lady Liberty on Thursday, and they have set an impressive pace for the rest of the week.
Justin Thomas has had some issues finding his game this season, especially the flat stick. Neither was an issue in the opening round of the playoffs as he shot an 8-under 63, while ranking second in the field in strokes gained tee to green, and eighth in putting. He would be matched by a player in the group behind him as the top player in the world, Jon Rahm, went bogey free in his 8-under opening round.
These two elites are three clear of the HV3, and will get the early morning conditions on Friday to stretch that even further. It’s a tough scenario for someone like me who likes to buy the chasers going into the second round, as this isn’t your run of the mill first-round leaderboard.
Let’s get into the strokes gained data to see if we need to buy now on those leaders or if a chaser might be able to get in the mix.
Strokes Gained Explanation
Strokes Gained can give golf bettors, DFS players and fans way more detail on how a golfer is truly played 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
I would love to tell you about how great the plays are down the board and how there is a clear avenue for someone to get in the mix, but that’s not my reality. I will not tell you to take Jon Rahm to win at +150 on DraftKings, but if you decide to do it, I certainly get it. This feels like a runaway spot for Rahm, similar to Memorial before he tested positive after the third round, and this coule be the last time you see plus money on him.
Instead, I will look for value, mostly in matchups and finishing position. The first player that jumps out to me is Tony Finau who posted a 4-under round to start his week. He has been a notoriously slow starter this season, so it is really encouraging to see him get off to a hot start.
Finau ranks 148th in opening round scoring average, and has done most of his damage starting on Friday in tournament weeks. He gained 2.89 strokes on the field tee to green, boosted by 2.04 shots gained on approach. Finau was solid both on and around the greens on Thursday, and will be in position to try to give Rahm and Thomas a scare with a solid Round 2. I’m buying in on this form in all markets on Friday, with a heavy focus on DFS and matchups.
My next two buys will require some climbing back to even get into the rear view mirror of Rahm and Thomas. Still, they are elite players that could go really low, or just simply play solidly enough to find a way toward a Top-10 type of finish.
Xander Schauffele is the first player that stands out to me. He ranked second in the field in the all important strokes gained approach on Thursday, as he was more than three shots better than the field. He managed to be just above field average on the day off the tee, despite taking an unplayable penalty on his sixth hole of the day at 15. The form and play from the recent gold medal winner was better than his 1-under score indicates, and I expect he will make a move up the board heading to the weekend.
The final buy after Round 1 is someone I always wait to pull the trigger on due to his consistent slow starts. Rory McIlroy just simply can’t put together an opening round, and even when it looks like he may post a number under par, he three putts from 37 feet on the last hole like he did today.
Rory was able to post an even par round, which frankly is a win for him as he has just one opening round in the 60s in his last 11 events. He certainly didn’t play his way out of the tournament on Thursday, but with how his elite counterparts scored in the afternoon, he has a long climb back.
I was planning to buy into Rory as a winner going into Friday, and ended up doing so at shorter odds during the round. I can’t advise anyone to make that plunge right now, but I do think he is ready for a strong second round. I’ll be really heavy on McIlroy in DFS Showdown, and matchups on Friday, while also buying in at +700 for him to Top 5 on BetMGM where he is only four shots back.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 2
Harold Varner III is one of the really good guys on TOUR — he gives back to the community, and seems to be well liked across the game. I say that to soften the blow a bit as I get ready to fade his play the rest of the way. I love that he put together such a strong round in a big spot to start the week, but I just can’t trust it to continue.
HV3 has just one Top 20 finish since May, and that was in an extremely weak field at the John Deere Classic. He has put together some single rounds like we saw on Thursday at Liberty National, but hasn’t been able to sustain it across an entire event. I am fading the 2.95 strokes he gained on the greens today, — based on the inconsistency he has shown over the last several months — as I expect him to fall down the leaderboard going into the weekend.
Georgia Bulldog Keith Mitchell is the player that stands out as a fade from a strokes gained perspective. He managed to have a Top-10 type of round on Thursday, but he did it while losing 1.17 strokes to the field on approach.
This course has shown to be extremely reliant on iron play for success, and that’s the opposite of what we saw from Mitchell in the opening round. He was able to grind out the 3-under round by gaining more than three and a half shots on and around the greens. I don’t see that play as sustainable for a player that ranks 195th in strokes gained around the green on the season, and 139th in putting.
My final fade into the second round is one I don’t want to make because I love Harry Higgs. How can you not?
Higgs is a superstar not because of his winning, but rather his loveable attitude and demeanor. Unfortunately, the data says I have no choice but to fade the big man as he gained an absurd 5.92 strokes around the green on Thursday.
Harry made multiple putts from off the green of over 50 and 60 feet, which ballooned his strokes gained number in that metric. He actually lost 1.84 strokes putting on the day as those strokes are only calculated from on the green, and also lost 1.90 on approach. Obviously, these numbers aren’t sustainable for him the rest of the way, and without the combination of irons and a flat stick, he could be in trouble to even play the weekend.