THE PLAYERS Championship Round 4 Buys & Fades: Buy Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm Chasing Lee Westwood
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Thomas.
Moving Day at THE PLAYERS Championship lived up to the billing, as several players made leaps up the leaderboard, including two of the top-three players in the world.
Similarly to Friday, there were plenty of low scores available at TPC Sawgrass and the players took advantage, including 36-hole leader Lee Westwood.
Westwood fired another bogey-free round on his way to a 4-under 68 that increased his lead to two shots heading into the final round. For the second consecutive week he will be in the final pairing on Sunday with Bryson DeChambeau, who climbed into second with a 5-under 67.
The round of the day was shot by Justin Thomas, who came out firing with four consecutive birdies to start his round on his way to a tournament-low 64. He moved 19 spots up the leaderboard on Saturday and at one point held a solo lead before being passed by Bryson and Westwood down the stretch of their rounds.
Thomas will be joined in the penultimate pairing by Doug Ghim, who has put together a second straight strong week of his own. The former top amateur in the world will look to make a splash with his first TOUR victory on Sunday.
There are 12 players within six shots of Westwood’s lead going into Sunday and winning from that far back has been accomplished just once in tournament history. Twice have players have made up five shots en route to victory in the final round including Henrik Stenson in 2009.
Obviously, it’s a stretch to expect that to happen, but that puts a pretty clear bubble around the potential winners of the 2021 PLAYERS. I’ll look to stay in that group as I break down the strokes-gained data from Round 3 at TPC Sawgrass in pursuit of Sunday’s champion.
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
In order to pass Westwood on Sunday, someone is going to have to beat him. He showed last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that he won’t crumble under the pressure or beat himself. The Englishman leads the field in greens in regulation this week, hitting more than 85% of them through three rounds.
Last week on Sunday, Westwood gained 3.8 strokes tee to green, with 2.5 of those coming on the ball striking end, but he couldn’t put the ball in the cup early enough to win. He was the same player under the final-round pressure that he was in the first three rounds, and I expect much of the same tomorrow.
I won’t reverse course and buy him after fading him yesterday, but I certainly won’t be surprised to see him pull it off. Since I believe he will have to be beaten by a low final round, that realistically narrows my list of potential winners to four names.
The first is the player I picked to win in my buy section yesterday is DeChambeau. I still see him as the most likely champion, but I’ll focus on the other three for this article.
My first buy will be doubling down on what Justin Thomas did on Saturday. I knew going into the round that he was going to be aggressive and look to go low in order to get back into contention, and that is exactly what he did.
The key for Thomas, however, wasn’t just his top-level iron play, it was the fact that he was second in the field off the tee.
Thomas gained 1.79 strokes on the field from the tee box on Moving Day, hitting 10 of 14 fairways. Coming into the round, he had only hit 12 fairways in his first 28 holes, which really highlights how much he improved in that category. We know that JT will dial it in on approach, but he can only do that when he puts himself in contention off the tee.
I expect to see him continue to play aggressively on Sunday since he is one of the most competitive people on TOUR and has no interest in anything but winning. He’s +500 on DraftKings going into the final round, which makes me happy we got the extra 0 on that number yesterday.
One of my favorite picks to win before the start of the week was Jon Rahm. I thought he would bounce back from his issues with his irons at the WGC Workday, and he certainly has done that. Rahm has improved every day on approach, gaining 3.05 strokes on the field in that category in Round 3.
While Rahm shot a solid 5-under 67 in the third round, he had to be disappointed with the way he played the back nine at even par with just one birdie at the 12th. He made par on both par 5s, including the 16th hole that played as the easiest hole on the course at .42 strokes under par.
The Spaniard will start the final round four shots back of the lead and may need a little help to get the win on Sunday, but he definitely has the ability to go really low and win it. I love what I’ve seen from Rahm this week and you could even argue we still haven’t seen his best.
You can bet on Rahm +800 over at FanDuel.
I tweeted on Thursday that Paul Casey appeared to be on withdraw watch early in his opening round because he was being visibly bothered by a wrist injury. He obviously shook that off pretty quickly and has put himself in contention to make a run at the championship on Sunday.
Casey will start four shots back, as well, and will pair with Rahm in a dangerous group that could feed off of each other if either gets it going.
Casey is tied for the most birdies through 54 holes with 17 and has a similar ability to go low when he needs it. Casey ranks sixth tee to green this week and really just needs the putter to get hot for 18 holes to give himself a shot at the win. You can get the Englishman at +1600 at BetMGM.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 4
As I alluded to above, I’m not fading Westwood on Sunday, though I’m not buying him either. I do expect he will play well enough, but I am hopeful (from a betting perspective) that one of our buys will go low and beat him.
I think there are a few players that will weed themselves out on Sunday, and for me it starts with Doug Ghim. This is the second straight week he has put together a solid 54 holes, with a nice Saturday round moving him up the leaderboard.
Last week, Ghim fell off in difficult conditions at Bay Hill and finished 36th. This week, the stage is even bigger, and I just don’t think he’s quite ready for this spot yet.
You won’t find anything in the strokes gained numbers that leads you to this fade because Ghim leads the field both on approach and tee to green. I just feel this is a spot where someone will have to go out and win it, and that may cause Ghim to play a way he’s not comfortable with under this pressure.
Ghim still has tremendous upside and has shown over the past several months that he is turning a corner in his career, and this will still be a step in that direction.
I’ve got to double down on the Brian Harman fade here as he continues to score above his play. It started on Saturday on the first fairway, where he holed out for eagle from 109 yards to get his day going.
Harman hit just 12 greens in regulation in Round 3, an improvement from nine on Friday, but he just doesn’t have the ball striking he started with on Thursday. As he is forced to try to score and make some moves to get into contention on Sunday, I think we could see some mistakes pile up that will leave Harman further down the board as the tournament closes out tomorrow evening.
If you’re looking for a player to climb into the top 10 on Sunday for DFS or finishing position, I wouldn’t look to Abraham Ancer. He hit just 11 greens on Saturday as he struggled on approach, losing 1.39 strokes to the field with his irons. That’s a pretty shocking number for a player who is known for his ball striking, and someone who still fired a 4-under 68 despite those issues.
It was the putter that carried Ancer through in the third round as he gained more than four strokes on the field. He ranks 119th on TOUR with his putter this season, so we certainly can’t expect that to continue. I’m putting the fade in on one of my pre-tournament buys as I don’t see how he holds his position unless he finds something overnight with his ball striking.