Waste Management Phoenix Open Round 3 Buys & Fades: Finding Value Using Strokes Gained Data
Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm.
The story of the morning wave at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was a blast from the past as the triumvirate of Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley, and Jordan Spieth charged out to the lead. It’s been a while since we’ve seen any of these guys on the first page of a leaderboard on any day of any event, but that is part of what makes the PGA Tour so great.
Stricker and Bradley would close out their rounds in a tie for first, but would be passed by Xander Schauffele, who shot one of the rounds of the day with a 7-under 64. He will take a one-shot lead into Saturday’s third round. This final grouping will be chased by 20 players within five shots of the lead, including the aforementioned Spieth, Brooks Koepka, and World No. 3 Justin Thomas.
Schauffele is a great player and it will be tough for anyone to beat him this weekend with the way he is playing, but he also hasn’t won on TOUR since the 2019 Tournament of Champions. He will be feeling the pressure to get it done this weekend and with his name up top, we have plenty of good options to pick from to chase him down.
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
Scottie Scheffler is my first buy into the weekend, as he is showing some good form through two rounds after back-to-back missed cuts. His 6-under 65 on Friday puts him just two shots off the pace set by Schauffele, and he is the player with the most firepower at the top of the leaderboard.
The former Texas Longhorn gained more than two shots on the field tee to green in the second round and was dialed in on approach. He gained 2.27 shots with his irons, ranking seventh in the field on the day.
Vegas has its eye on Scheffler heading to the weekend as he checks in right behind Schauffele at just +900 on DraftKings, but that’s a decent enough number to give a look into Saturday. My biggest angle on Scheffler will be in DFS, where his scoring ability is really valuable this weekend.
While much of the comeback talk, at least on my Twitter feed, has been around Spieth, Brooks Koepka has made a similar run to start the week at TPC Scottsdale. He has also had a rough stretch with three straight missed cuts since he cut ties with his former swing coach, Claude Harmon, following The Masters.
Koepka will play the weekend this time around as he has been solid through 36 holes, and is just four shots back of the lead. His 5-under 66 on Friday put him in position, and he did it by showing some of his best ball-striking in a long time.
Brooks gained 2.67 shots tee to green in the second round, which was carried by 2.82 strokes gained ball striking. It marks the second day in a row where he gained more than a stroke on the field with his irons, a great sign heading into Moving Day.
I’ve found Koepka to be spread out a bit in betting markets before Round 3, with the best-looking number on DraftKings at +1400. He’s a guy who often gets it done when he’s in the hunt, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a statement this weekend in Phoenix.
Both McIlroy and Rahm are lingering further down the leaderboard, and I think you could pick your poison if you wanted to take a shot on either one to make a Moving Day charge. McIlroy has a juicy looking +4000 available on DraftKings, while Rahm’s best number looks to be +3000 on BetMGM.
My pick of the two is going to be with Rahm. He hasn’t played poorly by any means, but it seems as though he’s at the lowest score he could be through two rounds.
The Spaniard has taken penalties and made nothing on the greens, but he’s still at 5-under. While the putter has been off, it’s encouraging to see his irons be so good. Rahm has steadily averaged more than a stroke and a half gained on the field on approach through two rounds after gaining 1.67 shots on Friday. He also has room to improve with the normal strength of his game, off the tee, where he has been right at field average on both days.
We will be looking for a 7-under round or better from him on Saturday and a little help to really get him into a spot to contend come Sunday. He’s got it in the bag and if he does it, this will be a great ticket to be holding in the final round.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 3
All of the pre-tournament talk this week was about making changes to dial back distance in the game, so naturally 53-year-old, short hitting Steve Stricker is one shot off the lead heading to the weekend. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain has put together back-to-back great rounds at TPC Scottsdale, but I’m concerned that may be where the story stops.
Stricker lost strokes to the field tee to green and ball striking on Friday, but his putter kept him in the hunt. He ranked fourth in the field with 3.59 strokes gained on the greens, which is certainly the strength of his game, but it’s an unsustainable way to contend down the stretch.
While I expect to see Stricker fall back this weekend, he can at the very least boast about beating his European Ryder Cup counterpart, Padraig Harrington, by 13 shots in their pairing the first two rounds.
For the second week in a row, I am writing an article for a weekend round fading Sam Burns. Contrary to popular belief, I think he’s a great player and is due to win on TOUR sooner than later, but I just don’t think he’ll be there at the end this week.
Burns jumped out to a great round on Thursday with a 7-under 64 and was able to follow it up on Friday with a 68. My issue is that he completely lost his game tee to green, especially on approach and around the green. Usually losing those two aspects at the same time will spell trouble, but not as much when you’re leading the field with more than eight strokes gained putting through two rounds. He’s also hit just 50% of his fairways on the week, and if the putter loses steam, which it is likely to do, he will tumble down the leaderboard.
I’m rounding out my fades with a third player in the top seven as K.H. Lee has seemingly come out of nowhere to put together consecutive 5-under rounds. The shock is that he has just one top-20 since last February, and all of a sudden he finds himself just two shots off the lead on Saturday at TPC Scottsdale.
Similar to my fades before him, Lee’s putter has been on fire. He gained 3.58 shots on the field on Friday with his flat stick, allowing him to score well despite losing strokes tee to green. As the weekend wears on and the pressure of being near the top of the leaderboard in nearly a year starts to mount, those saving putts will get a little tougher for Lee.