ZOZO Championship Round 4 Buys & Fades: Finding Value Using Strokes Gained Data

ZOZO Championship Round 4 Buys & Fades: Finding Value Using Strokes Gained Data article feature image
Credit:

Christian Petersen/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm.

We knew coming into the week for the ZOZO Championship that we had an elite field playing on a short course that can be scored well upon at Sherwood Country Club. The event hasn’t disappointed in either aspect as we head into Sunday with the World’s No. 3 Player, Justin Thomas, leading world No. 2 Jon Rahm by just a single stroke. The two are at 19- and 18-under par, respectively, and will be joined in the final threesome by Lanto Griffin, who is two shots back of Thomas. A group of three players, led by Patrick Cantlay, sit three shots back at 16-under par.

It will be a fantastic Sunday afternoon in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as we see if the leaders can hold on or whether they will be chased down with such low rounds available. Let’s take a look at the strokes gained data see if we can find some players to peg to compete down the stretch of the final round.

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.

Read more about Strokes Gained here.

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3 Golfers to Buy in Round 4

Following Thursday’s opening round, I wrote up Rahm as a buy going into Friday. He played decently well in Round 2 but slipped further down the leaderboard. I wish I would’ve stuck with him there because his odds got up to +4000 overnight and looking back, that was obviously an attractive number.

Rahm has been the second-best player tee-to-green all week, supported by an elite off-the-tee game that has been consistent for him through three rounds. The irons slipped a bit on Friday but have otherwise been top notch, gaining more than a stroke in the other two rounds on approach. The world’s second ranked golfer is experienced playing in final groups and getting it done on Sundays. He’s my pick to come through as the winner of the 2020 ZOZO Championship.

Cantlay has played his way into being an elite TOUR player, which made the way he finished out the 2020 season very odd. He only had one Top 20 in his last six events of the year, a 12th at the BMW Championship and finished 43rd at the U.S. Open. This week, he finds himself back in contention going into Sunday, which should be no surprise as the California native always seems to play well on the West Coast.

Cantlay goes into the final round ranking fifth in strokes gained tee-to-green on the week, and he has done that by being solid in all three categories for the majority of the tournament. He’s also a player that has a heavy preference for the bentgrass greens he is seeing at Sherwood Country Club. As I put these things together, I see Cantlay not only hanging around throughout Sunday afternoon, but I think he will truly challenge for the victory down the stretch. I’ll be firing him up with confidence in all betting markets.

I usually like to drop down the board in these shootouts to find a winner from behind on Sunday evening. It’s too difficult for me to do that this week with two of the top-three players in the world leading the pack and a number of top players in the world right behind them.

I’m going to stay in the same scoring range as Cantlay and double down on Scottie Scheffler. We saw a number of the game’s top players break through in a big way last season, and Scheffler is certainly positioned to be next. He was arguably one of the hottest players in the world going into the U.S. Open when he tested positive for COVID-19 and has taken a few events to find that form again.

I really like Scheffler’s ability to go low in any round. With his top-flight ball striking, leading the field tee-to-green this week, he may be able to put up a number that the leaders will have to chase down.

3 Golfers to Fade in Round 4

I know I picked Rahm to win above, so you’d think this area would start with a fade of Thomas, but I don’t have the guts for that. The scary part of what he has done this week is that he hasn’t had the best part of his game, his irons, since Thursday. J.T. is leading the event despite losing strokes to the field on approach the last two days and if he puts that together on Sunday, he could run away from everyone, including Rahm.

My first fade up top will be Griffin. I know he was in the final group on Sunday last week and all the credit to him for getting himself back in this position for a second consecutive week. My gut is that he won’t be able to hold his game together, to stay in contention as he has a front-row seat to what Rahm and Thomas will be doing all afternoon.

The numbers also show concerns for Lanto, as he has lost strokes on approach in two of three rounds this week. That includes losing nearly a full stroke with his irons today, and ball striking is the most important aspect, for me, when the nerves come into play down the stretch. I’d love to see Griffin come through in a big spot, but I just don’t think it happens this week.

The last fade for me going into Sunday is Brian Harman and as has been the consistent theme with my two other fades, his ball striking became shaky on Saturday. Harman was able to grind out a 5-under 67 in Round 3, to climb into a tie for seventh.

He didn’t hit the ball well on Saturday, but he was the best player in the field around the green and gained more than a stroke and a half on the field putting. It’s not a fade I’m overly comfortable with going into Sunday as he has played well in final rounds but by the strokes gained numbers, he is the player that sticks out.

It’s been an interesting few weeks for Tony Finau as word came out about a lawsuit against him, and then he tested positive for COVID-19 going into the Shriners. He returned this week for the first time since the U.S. Open, and I was intrigued to see how he played. Through three rounds, he finds himself just outside of the Top 10 and only a handful of shots behind the leader.

The issue I have with Tony going into Sunday is that he has shown a lot of rust through three rounds, losing strokes on approach on two of the first three days and losing in all tee-to-green categories on Saturday. In total, he lost more than two and a half strokes tee-to-green in Round 3, but was able to salvage a 3-under round by gaining more than three strokes with his putter.

My fade is based on Finau’s game being built around power and ball striking, but he doesn’t seem to have that this week, and he won’t be able to lean on the putter to stay near the top on Sunday.

Strokes Gained Data for All Players in Round 3