The only thing missing from the first round of Men’s Golf at the Olympics was the fans; everything else lived up to the hype.
The course in Tokyo is immaculate, and the athletes’ opening day performance was similarly spectacular: The field averaged 1.42 strokes under par during Wednesday’s opening round.
Sepp Straka of Austria posted an 8-under 63 in the opening tee time, which subsequently held up through the rest of the round. Straka enters play on Thursday as the leader through 18 holes.
Thomas Peters — Straka’s playing partner from Belgium — also excelled during the opening round of play with a 6-under round of his own.
Jazz Janewattananond was the only player besides Straka to achieve 7-under or better on Wednesday. Impressively, Janewattananond did so from one of the later tee times, which required navigating a mid-round weather delay.
The bigger names teeing it up in Tokyo this week had mixed results. Paul Casey performed the best among the world’s top-ranked golfers with an opening-round 67. Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed and Viktor Hovland each achieved 3-under. Justin Thomas delivered one of the more lackluster performances among top-ranked players, making 18 pars to finish at even.
Even with some big numbers near the top, it is still a jammed-up leaderboard and wide open tournament entering the second round. We have limited access to statistics and Strokes Gained data provided via the Olympics site, but the format won’t allow for my standard charts between rounds this week. Instead, I’ll reference some of those numbers in my Round 2 best bets below.
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.
Best Bets for Round 2
MacKenzie Hughes 3Ball over Jazz Jannewattananond /Alex Noren +185
Tee Time · 6:52 p.m. ET
MacKenzie Hughes (+185) is the player that stood out to me the most from a Strokes Gained perspective after the first round. He usually relies on his short game to carry his inconsistent ball-striking. However, uncharacteristically his putter held him back in the opening round at the Olympics.
The Canadian was sharp with his ball-striking — especially on approach. He gained more than two strokes on approach with his irons, which ranks sixth in the field for the round.
It’s always a good sign to see Hughes’ ball-striking in form. Furthermore, I remain confident that Hughes’ putter will come around and help him contend throughout the weekend. He ranks 24th in putting on TOUR but ranked 47th of the 60 players in the Men’s Golf Olympics field during the opening round.
I am buying in on Hughes in all formats going into Friday: He will be a favorite play for me in DFS, matchups and this 3-ball bet. Hughes is listed as the underdog of the three, but he could easily be regarded as the deserving favorite. Instead, his underdog status is largely due to opening-round results bias in the wake of Janewattananond’s and Noren’s early performances.
Two final bets intrigue me: Hughes +2000 to earn a medal (FanDuel); and Hughes +1100 for a top-five finish (BetMGM). Both price points offer value on a player that just finished tied for sixth at The Open two weeks ago.
Rory McIlroy to Win Gold +2000 (DraftKings)
Tee Time · 7:25 p.m. ET
The first round of play featured several low scores from longshots like Sepp Straka. As a result, odds have ballooned for nearly all of the presumed favorites before the tournament began.
Rory McIlroy is one such player. He is listed at +2000 to win gold on DraftKings despite a decent 2-under opening round.
McIlroy is notorious for getting off to slow starts. In fact, he ranks 170th on TOUR in opening-round scoring average. So, by comparison McIlroy actually got out of the gates pretty well in Tokyo.
However, one issue in particular held McIlroy back: His inability to take advantage of the Par 5s. He only made par on each of the course’s three par-5 holes on Wednesday. Looking closer at the stats, McIlroy ranked 22nd in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and ranked 17th on SG: Approach. Those metrics affirm that his ball-striking game was in form.
I expect to see a low second round score from the Irishman on Thursday. Furthermore, the course in Tokyo fits his game very well, which inspires confidence in McIlroy’s ability to contend through the rest of the weekend.
Ryan Fox Top-10 Finish +900 (BetMGM)
Tee Time · 9:47 p.m. ET
There aren’t many reasons for this to be the case — because I rarely get the chance to play him — but I have a soft spot for Ryan Fox. He’s a name that catches my eye any time he’s in the field, but this week his game really should be a great fit.
The New Zealander showed up on Wednesday with his ball-striking game in sharp form. He ranked sixth in the field in SG: Tee to Green, he ranked third off the tee and ranked 10th on approach.
Unfortunately for Fox, however, his putter completely failed him in the the opening round. He lost more than three and a half strokes on the greens, which ranked second-to-last in the field.
Fox makes for a great bounce-back second-round play in matchups and DFS, but I’ll take it a step further by betting on a top-10 finish. He salvaged a 1-under round despite his putting issues. If he keeps the ball striking form, he is capable of making a move heading into the weekend.
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