Rory McIlroy in Position for Moving Day

Friday at the Memorial was much more of what Jack likes to see as the course tested the best players in the world throughout their round. The field averaged 1.22 shots over par on the day and 4-under was the best score posted. Leader Cameron Smith wasn’t one of those 68s, but his 3-under 69 was enough to push him out front by a single shot over Denny McCarthy and KH Lee.

McCarthy fired a 3-under 69 of his own and is in second place at 7-under. He and Smith have done things in similar ways as both players are averaging more than four shots gained with the short game and marginal play on approach. It’s really the opposite of what typically happens at Muirfield Village, which will be something to watch as play goes into the weekend. Lee has done it the more traditional way as he has been elite on approach to start the week. I expect these guys will need to pick things up with their ball striking to stay ahead of some of the names looking to chase them down over the next 36 holes.

There are plenty of players within striking distance of the lead and with the course expected to continue to get tougher as the week goes on, it is still a wide open tournament. Let’s take a look to see who stands out heading into the weekend in Ohio.

Strokes Gained Explanation

Gained strokes can give golf bettors, DFS players and fans way more detail on how a golfer has truly played 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, SG: Ball-Striking and SG: 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 are just not getting putts to drop. Likewise, players with high SG: Putting numbers may regress moving forward.

3 Golfers to Buy in Round 3

Rory McIlroy is unquestionably the player lurking that the top of the leaderboard will be keeping his eyes on in the third round. He is just three shots back of the lead after putting together two rounds where he grinded through some tough stretches and then took advantage of opportunities.

McIlroy bogeyed two of his first five holes on Friday, but each time he bounced back with birdies to keep the round from getting away from him. He would then turn to the back nine with a birdie and an eagle in two of those first five holes – that is what put him near the top. An unfortunate bogey from the bunker at the par-3 8th dropped him back to 5-under for the week. However, everything is certainly in line for him to make a run for the win. He has always been a player who has thrived when conditions get firm and fast, which is exactly how Jack will set it up this weekend. If I have to pick a player now to challenge Smith for the win, my list starts with the four-time major winner.

The best player on approach going into the weekend is Aaron Wise. That may come as a surprise to some, but he has certainly been trending with his ball striking over the past several events. Wise has gained at least two and a half strokes with his irons in each of his past three tournaments and has racked up better than six SG: Approach through two rounds this week. I’m not sure I’m there on the former Oregon Duck to pull out the win at +2600 on FanDuel, but I do like him to hang around the top 10 as his ball striking will certainly keep him in the hunt.

If I’m going to take a chance lower down the leaderboard with longer odds, I would first look to Will Zalatoris. He had what seemed to be a brain lapse on his third hole today that could very well be the swing he looks back on with the most regret at the end of the tournament. He dumped a ball from the middle of the fairway into the middle of the pond leading to double bogey and it likely led to another bogey at the 4th. Zalatoris dropped from near the top of the leaderboard and spent the rest of the day trying to make up those lost shots. He would ultimately finish the day at 3-under and six back, but he is another player who has thrived in firm conditions in his young career and could be worth a dart for a low round to get him back in the mix on Saturday.

3 Golfers to Fade in Round 3

Call me crazy, but I’m doubling down on my fade of Denny McCarthy. He really is the guy who sticks out at the top as I expect the irons to come around for Cameron Smith and I just can’t say the same for McCarthy.

He has gained nearly eight and a half shots on the field with his short game through two rounds this week. He got by on Friday hitting just 10 greens in regulation and turned four of those into birdies. McCarthy also holed a shot from off the green at the par-3 4th. He ranks 62nd in the field in greens hit through two rounds and I just don’t think he can sustain this type of play at Muirfield, especially as the pressure rises this weekend.

Recently, we haven’t seen the short game from MacKenzie Hughes that often carries him through the lows of his ball striking. The lack of that short game has led to him missing seven of 11 cuts this year and he has just one top 10 in the times he has made the weekend. The good news is that he will tee it up on Saturday, but after a promising opening round it was back to more of the same with his ball striking in Round 2.

Hughes lost strokes to the field in both ball striking metrics Friday, but made up for it with some magic around the greens. He added 100 ′ of putts made on top of the 1.54 strokes gained with his short game. Similar to McCarthy, I just don’t see Hughes being able to rely on this for success over the weekend.

Another player who has become a bit of a staple in this column lately is Abraham Ancer. It’s been a pretty shocking fall from grace on approach for the Mexican as his formerly elite ball striking has disappeared. He’s been able to keep his name around the top 20 in several fields recently through some really good putting performances and some occasional good play around the greens. He continues to get it done that same way this week as he had a great day around the greens Thursday and the putter picked up the slack Friday. Still, I’ll fade his ability to stay in the mix and even in the top 20 until he starts to show his game is returning on approach.

Strokes Gained Data for All Players in Round 2

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