TOUR Championship Round 3 Buys & Fades Using Strokes Gained Data
Sungjae Im is 33/1 to win the 2020 Houston Open. Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
The TOUR Championship rolled into full swing on Saturday, as we began to forget about the stroke adjustments and focus on golf. East Lake Golf Club played a little more like it does traditionally, with scores ranging from 64 up to 75.
Sungjae Im made the biggest move with the low round of the week thus far, a 6-under 64, vaulting him up the leaderboard and into solo second. He will start Round 3 just one shot behind leader Dustin Johnson. DJ managed to salvage an even par round with a birdie on his 18th hole, but it was a different story for the other co-leader to start Round 2. Instead of matching Johnson, Jon Rahm tumbled down to a tie for fifth with a 74.
The penultimate group featuring Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy found their own struggles today, each posting a 1-over 71. Outside of Im, the next three biggest movers were Xander Schaufele, Collin Morikawa and Sebastian Munoz, who each shot 65. Xander now sits in solo third, one shot ahead of Thomas.
The leaderboard has bunched up. There are just four shots separating the top-seven golfers heading into a rare Sunday moving day ahead of this week’s Monday finish.
Our picks struggled on Saturday, but we will look to bounce back on Sunday as we dive into the strokes gained data from Round 2.
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 3
It’s really difficult to find anything to dislike about what Sungjae Im did on Saturday. He was dialed in across the board but especially with his irons, with which he gained more than four strokes on approach. He led the field in that category and did the same in overall tee-to-green. Im had a good putting day Saturday but didn’t light it on fire, gaining just short of one stroke on the field.
Sungjae is a player who can get streaky and is known to love Bermuda, which is featured around East Lake. He already posted a win this season and won’t shy away from the pressure the rest of this week will bring. I’ll look to ride his hot hand throughout the rest of the TOUR Championship.
For the first time since his victory at the PGA Championship, we saw Collin Morikawa really show his form. He was certainly aided by a great day on the greens, gaining more than two strokes putting. But as we saw at TPC Harding Park, he can run hot on the greens. I am most encouraged by back-to-back days of solid ball striking, with Morikawa gaining more than two and a half strokes in that metric on Saturday. He finished the round third in the field tee-to-green and has positioned himself just four shots behind DJ, tied for fifth.
I love what I’ve seen in consecutive days from Morikawa tee-to-green, and if he can keep the putter rolling like it was Saturday, he will be there in contention on Monday. Morikawa is far enough back with plenty of big-time names around him to find good value in the betting markets for Sunday.
Scottie Scheffler came into this week familiar with East Lake Golf Club despite this being his inaugural trip to the TOUR Championship. As a junior at Texas in 2016, Scheffler won the East Lake Cup hosted on this course. Due in part to that experience, he was a popular pick to perform well this week.
He didn’t disappoint on Saturday, as he shot a 4-under 66 by gaining in all strokes gained categories. Scheffler finished the day second to Im in strokes gained tee-to-green and gained more than a stroke and a half on approach. He bounced back from a poor Round 1 off-the-tee and found his stroke with the putter.
Scheffler finds himself tied for 14th at 5-under on the tournament and seven shots back of the lead. He may be a bit too far back to contend this week, but his form looks strong for DFS and matchups the rest of the weekend.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 3
While we’ve gotten past the format of this week now, it’s important to remember how some of these players reached their position on the leaderboard.
Dustin Johnson has been great for the last five weeks, dating back to his run at the PGA Championship. That form put him in first to start the TOUR Championship with up to a 10-stroke lead over some other players in this field. He managed to maintain that position on Saturday, but the round seemed to be the first sign — at least from a strokes gained perspective— that he may be starting to lose a bit of form.
He lost 1.33 strokes ball-striking, as he lost strokes both off-the-tee and on approach. DJ was really bailed out in Round 2 by his around-the-green game, which was the third-best in the field on Saturday and included a hole out. The overall reality through two rounds is that Johnson would be 11th in this 30-man field based on gross strokes, and it’s going to be really difficult to maintain a lead for two more rounds without his best game.
I’m taking Round 2 as a sign that it’s time to jump off the DJ train and start to target the chasers behind him who are showing better form this week.
Sebastian Munoz has quietly been a great story during the playoffs. He finished 18th at the Northern Trust, then followed that up with an eighth-place finish at the BMW Championship last week. He fired one of the best rounds on Saturday to climb into the top 10 following his 5-under 65. Unfortunately, the stats tell the story of a player who leaned far too much on his putter in Round 2.
Munoz gained more than four and a half strokes on the greens on Saturday, while losing strokes ball-striking and tee-to-green. I haven’t dug in deep enough to confirm, but that has to be close to a career day putting for a player ranked 103rd in strokes gained putting on the season.
His statistical combination of a great putter and poor ball-striking simply isn’t sustainable for the rest of the week. I’ll be looking to target him in matchups on Sunday and hoping the field goes his way in DFS.
We’ve come to know Abraham Ancer as one of the best ball strikers in the game when he is in form. Unfortunately, he hasn’t flashed that form much in recent weeks. It looked like this week could’ve been the week he bounced back after he fired a 6-under 64 in Round 1, but he regressed in Round 2.
Ancer lost strokes ball-striking and tee-to-green on Saturday, hindered by losing more than a stroke on approach. For a player who hasn’t had a Top-15 performance since the end of July, it’s a troubling trend for his ball-striking to continue to fall short.
I’ll look to allow others to chase the ball-striking for the popular Ancer and continue to fade him in all formats.