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Author: Chris Murphy
It’s always fun to come back to a course like Bay Hill and see the best players in the world put to the test on a tough track. Today was no different as the field average was about a shot over par, and only a third of the field was able to break par on the round.
In these types of events, the cream seems to rise to the top, which certainly happened as Rory McIlroy set the early pace with a 6-under 66. Bryson DeChambeau stayed on his heels during the morning wave but ultimately fell one shot short of his lead. Instead, it was Corey Conners who would catch, pass, and then fall back into a tie with Rory on his final hole of the opening round.
Several other big names litter the leaderboard with under-par rounds on Thursday, allowing for a lot of movement to happen before the weekend. Bay Hill is a place where the winners typically come from just a few behind the leader after Day 1. Let’s see who stands out on the strokes gained side from that group going into Friday’s 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.
3 Golfers to Buy in Round 2
If history holds true at Bay Hill again this year, then we need to look no further than those that snuck in under par on Thursday. None of the last five champions have been more than five shots back to start the second round, highlighting just how difficult it can be to make a move up the leaderboard on this track. Since we rely on the numbers to make our picks, I won’t try to go against them on that history either.
I can’t really advise that you run and jump on the number available, in fact I’d probably wait until the morning wave posts some scores, but if I’m staking an early claim to a winner of this tournament, it’s Bryson DeChambeau. He was someone I had my eye on last week, and he flashed some form at times, but he just couldn’t get any consistency.
He now comes into the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he has performed well, and goes out with a great 5-under round where he led the field in strokes gained tee to green. Bryson was well ahead of the field off the tee as expected, but more importantly to me he gained more than two strokes with his irons. Bay Hill is a place he can take advantage of with his added distance, but only if his irons and wedges are on point.
Bryson also has one of the more underrated short games on TOUR, he did well in those aspects today as has been the case for him on this course. He has never gained less than 1.1 strokes putting at this event and has twice exceeded four strokes gained on the greens. I love the position he is in to bring back the hype and get a win this week, but I only wish the oddsmakers could give us a bit more.
The first player that stands out to me inside that Top 20 is Jordan Spieth. He still has some value available in the betting markets at +3300 on FanDuel and really just made one big mistake off the tee . He cost himself one of the few scoring holes at Bay Hill when he hit his tee shot in the water on Hole 6. That one tee shot was a big reason he lost nearly a stroke off the tee to the field.
His approach and around the green play was good but not great like it has been in recent events. Spieth gained just over a stroke on the field with his irons, and was just about field average around the greens. I expect to see Jordan improve in all areas into Round 2, and if that happens, this will likely be the last chance for good betting value on the three-time major winner.
If I am dipping down to the bottom group at 1-under for someone to make a charge and be in contention this weekend, it starts with Justin Rose. He came out to a shaky start on Thursday, and even shanked a bunker shot on his third hole. His two-over front nine was pretty much ugly all around, but he really seemed to find something on his inward nine.
Rose’s strokes gained stats are skewed by that opening nine where he put the ball in the water on his approach from the fairway bunker on his second hole and had the aforementioned shank on the next. In total, he hit just two greens going out but turned it around and hit eight of his final nine greens in regulation. Even with his early round struggles he was able to manage an under par round and put himself just above field average in strokes gained tee to green.
I will jump on board with Rose into Friday’s second round especially at the attractive +9000 available on DraftKings. He certainly seemed to find his stride after some early struggles on Thursday, and this is a course he’s played well in his career with four Top-10 finishes, including three inside the Top 3.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 2
Corey Conners put on a fantastic display of golf on Thursday as he surged out of the gates with four birdies and an eagle in his first seven holes, before dropping a shot on the last hole of his outward nine. He recovered before falling back on his final hole to tie Rory for the first-round lead.
I don’t mean to rain on his parade with a fade after such a great round, but my concern for Conners is the same every week: his short game. He was able to gain more than two shots on the field with his putter on Thursday, which is a fantastic round for a player that currently ranks 118th on TOUR putting. That ranking is a nice improvement from the 181st ranking he had during last season.
His around the green game isn’t any better, which will require the extremely high-standard iron play he displayed today throughout the rest of the weekend. In two prior trips to Bay Hill, Conners lost 7.5 strokes on and around the greens in two missed cuts. Those types of issues don’t change overnight, and I’ll put my cards in early on them showing up sooner than later.
There are a lot of ways to get into trouble around Bay Hill, and many times the strokes gained data can be drastically skewed by one bad mistake in an otherwise solid round. Unfortunately for Matt Wallace, that wasn’t the case. Instead, he just happened to make five birdies in the eight greens he hit in regulation.
Wallace carved out a solid 2-under round to open his tournament, but as noted above, he did it without having much on-the-ball striking side. The lack of greens hit resulted in more than a stroke lost to the field on approach, and he was just below average off the tee as well. Wallace ultimately lost strokes to the field tee to green but made up for it with more than three strokes gained with his putter. He certainly has the talent to turn his ball striking around, and have his notably strong short game continue to help, but he’s a fade for me until I see it.
I have always enjoyed the commentary and interaction from Max Homa on Twitter and in his podcast during his young career. It’s not often you get such open conversation from an active professional athlete, much less on a daily basis. He converted a great victory at the Genesis two weeks ago and turned right around for a 22nd-place finish at the WGC. I was honestly shocked to see him stay in the field for this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational as it makes seven straight weeks of action for Homa.
Despite the crazy stretch of tournament play, he continues to show up and perform well. Homa posted a 2-under 70 on Thursday at Bay Hill, and will tee it up in a tie for 15th to start the round on Friday. My concern for Max going into the second round is that he lost strokes to the field tee to green today and really struggled with his irons. I don’t know if it was the start of fatigue or just an off day, but Homa lost 1.44 strokes to the field with his irons on the day.
He was able to salvage the round by having the best putter in the field today, gaining 4.11 strokes with the flat stick. Obviously, that level of hot putter isn’t sustainable, and unless he finds the rest of his game quickly, he’ll be dropping down the leaderboard.
Strokes Gained Data for All Players in Round 1
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Author: Chris Murphy