FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Thursday's exhibition by Brooks Koepka at Bethpage Black might go down as one of the best rounds of 2019. And we're only one round into the year's second major.
Koepka's course-record and tournament-low 63 bettered the field scoring average by more than 10 strokes (the first-round stroke average was 73.064). Sure, there are 20 club professionals in this field, bringing down that average a bit. Koepka's round is still one of the best major rounds in recent memory.
Does that first-round performance put Koepka out of reach for all pursuers? Oddsmakers say the three-time major champion is far and away the favorite, at almost even-odds. So there must be value at some of these longer shots. We polled our expert panel, including the best collection of golf-handicapping expertise, thanks to a partnership with the Action Network, a leader in premium handicapping data; a PGA Tour caddie, offering insight from the range and putting green at Bethpage, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; a group of golf's most well-respected fantasy experts, Pat Mayo and Reid Fowler of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf. Here's the value they found after Round 1:
Outright winner: Dustin Johnson (+1100, FanDuel) (Bet $10 to win $100) — It’ll take something special to run down Brooks Koepka, but DJ is someone who can do it. He had a few burnt edges in the opening round and—after a bogey on the first—rode pars and two birdies to finish the day -1. Tee-to-green, Johnson has gained +4.30 strokes, to rank him fifth in the field, according to datagolf.ca. —Brandon Gdula, NumbersFire
Outright winner: Tommy Fleetwood (+1200, MyBookie.ag) — Sure, Fleetwood's odds were better before the tournament, around 35-1 or so. But Fleetwood seemed to be really at home at Bethpage. If Koepka's putter gets cold this weekend, I'd expect the winner to be Fleetwood. Get in while you can. --PGA Tour caddie
Second-round matchup: Jason Day (+130) over Rory McIlroy (DraftKings) — Rory McIlroy may have led the field in strokes gained/off-the-tee on Thursday, but 36 putts later, and Rory McIlroy is 2-over and nine off Brooks Koepka's lead. Jason Day looked more sharp around the game, where he usually flourishes, and made a number of birdies coming in. My model gives Day the slight edge for Round 2, so you're getting value at plus money here. --Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia statistical modeling professor
Second-round matchup: Russell Knox (-105) over Haotong Li — Knox hit the ball pretty well on Thursday, particularly on his approach shots, where he ranked sixth in the field on Thursday. Li, on the other hand, was 106th from tee to green in the opening round and only gained ground with the putter. Entering the week, he’d lost strokes on Poa greens, so it’s more likely that putting advantage fades before the out-of-form Li’s ball-striking returns. --Joshua Perry, The Action Network. For TAN's full expert picks breakdown for Round 2, click here.
Outright winner: Rory McIlroy (+2800, DraftKings) — How much of Rory’s odds are a direct correlation of who’s at the top rather than how he played today? In Koepka’s three major wins (2017-'18 US Open, 2018 PGA Championship), his scoring average for the final three rounds is elite (67.3); we’re going to need someone who can rattle off a plethora of birdies at a tough course. Rory is currently nine off the lead and did not play as well as his 2019 season shows, but this number is long enough to give us a nice hedge throughout the weekend. McIlroy ranks number one in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained ball striking, and third in driving distance over the last 24 rounds. Looking closer, Rory ranks fifth in the field in birdies or better gained on difficult scoring rounds relative to par on courses with similar distance as Bethpage over the last nine tournaments. The optimist in me says Rory will rely on his ball striking tomorrow where he ranked 14th today and improve his putting where he ranked 115th in field, but the pessimist in me says Brooks is going full ‘Hulk smash’ in another major and could run away with it. Let’s hope for the former. --Reid Fowler, DraftKings expert
Second-round low score: Rickie Fowler (33-1, DraftKings) — If it wasn't for an opening double bogey, Rickie would officially be in contention. Instead, he's beyond the periphery of most for the most part. That is, until he goes low tomorrow. Rickie ranked seventh in strokes gained/putting on Thursday, and he was pretty abysmal in ball-striking stats. If he can improve the ball-striking just a little, he has the firepower to go low. It's worth just a little on this—Rickie's good for a Friday surge. --Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest
Outright winner: Si-Woo Kim (125-1, DraftKings) — If there’s anyone who can take down a big tournament and handle the big stage, it’s Tiger Woods. But, I’m not taking him at +4000 even though it’s an enticing number. I may reconsider after seeing a few putts go in, but this isn’t about Tiger, it’s about the other “big game hunter,” named Si Woo Kim at +12500. This is a major tournament, if you’re not seizing the opportunity, as a bettor or as a professional golfer, you have little chance of winning on the biggest stage. Kim epitomizes the extreme variance we see in golf: if he’s not first and winning a tough tournament like The Players, there’s a good chance he’s in last place. This is what I want at this juncture in the tournament, someone who’s going to make birdies to keep up with Brooks and Kim ranked fifth today in birdies gained making five birdies leading to a Thursday score of 69 and six off the lead. Kim finished his round ranking 7th in strokes gained approach and just in the top 40 in strokes gained putting. If Kim can keep up his “average” putting splits (which has been his achilles heel) and keep up the elite ball striking, he’ll be a nice ticket coming into the weekend and can hopefully flirt with the top of the leaderboard come Sunday. --RF
Second-round three-way matchup: Max Homa (+160, FanDuel) over Brandt Snedeker and Kiradech Aphibarnrat: Like Kokrak and EVR before him, Max Homa was another guy who just striped it pure at Bethpage and couldn’t make a putt. Losing an ungodly -2.6 strokes to the field, he did +5.7 T2G, though. For comparison sake, Aphibarnrat lost -2.3 T2G while Snedeker was about neural at +0.2 SG: T2G. The problematic part about Snedeker, was where he gained his T2G strokes; all around the green. If we merely glance at his ball striking (OTT + APP), he’s worse than Aphibarnrat at -1.9 SG:BS. Essentially, with in-play H2H or 3-Ball matchups, you want to pick on the players who gained most of their strokes on the greens and failed getting to the green. It’s not automatic, but over the long haul you’ll win more than you lose with the strategy, and as it pertains to 3-Ball matchups, you can derive odds so good on some wagers, like EVR to beat Fleetwood/Lowry in round two at +280, that you only need to be correct around 40% of the time be pretty profitable. Get all this live info at www.fantasynational.com btw). Along with Homa, EVR, and Kokrak, other players who were tremendous T2G but sucked on the greens in round one that are “play on” guys in round two: Corey Conners, Keegan Bradley, Byeong-Hun An, and Zach Johnson.
Some players who are the opposite, outrageously good putting/horrible ball striking, that you may want pick on if you find the proper match ups (each site has different H2H match ups posted, it’s impossible to know them all) — Richy Werenski, Micheal Lorenzo-Vera, Lucas Glover, Andrew Putnam, Lee Westwood, Patton Kizzire, and Justin Harding. --Pat Mayo, DraftKings expert (And this is also one of Brandon Gdula's best bets of the night!)
Outright winner: Hideki Matsuyama (+7500, FanDuel) — Strangely, Matsuyama's usual elite-level ball-striking didn't translate to success at Bethpage in round one. We have a feeling that'll change. Matsuyama entered the week in the top-5 in strokes gained/approach and strokes gained/ball-striking out the entire field. The fact he's 50th through one round in strokes gained/ball-striking, according to FantasyNational.com, is extremely surprising. And yet, the Japanese star is still even-par and within striking distance of the lead. If Koepka doesn't run away with this, Matsuyama is someone who could get hot and make a run into contention. --SH
Outright winner: Danny Lee (+3300, FanDuel) - We’ve seen Lee’s irons carry him to strong finishes in the past, and he was dialed in during round one, gaining +5.08 strokes with his approach play. Only six total golfers recorded at least +3.00. Lee also has been a plus putter on poa in his career and has started out well on the greens for the PGA Championship. It’s tough to back someone other than Koepka or a stud, but Lee’s odds are too long for the position he put himself in after Thursday. --BG
Second-round three-way matchup: Joost Luiten (+155, FanDuel) over Matt Wallace and Brian Mackey — Wallace looks hot for sure, but he’s gained +3.47 strokes with his putter, third-most in the first round. Tee-to-green, he’s been just fine (+0.49). Luiten has been close (+0.47) tee to green yet is priced at a big discount. Mackey has lost strokes in all three tee-to-green facets, so the door is wide open for Luiten, at +2, to piece together a strong round two to make the cut and win the three-ball. --BG
DraftKings Daily Showdown picks: It is rare when we see Jason Day ($9,100) have average putting splits on Poa as he ranks number one in strokes gained putting on this surface over the last 36 rounds, but it happened. Day finished with a solid round of 69 (-1) on Thursday, but ranked 56th in putting and really saved his round with some key birdies and elite ball striking ranking 12th in the field in strokes gained ball striking. He’s a prime candidate to have a solid second round and the player I want when their putting can improve. Daniel Berger ($6,700) is a nice value play where the story reads much like Day’s; elite ball striking, but just couldn’t roll any putts in for birdie ranking 88th on Thursday in strokes gained putting. The same putts he missed today could easily fall on Friday (and vice versa), but I’ll roster a golfer who ranked seventh in the field in strokes gained approach and just outside the top-25 in birdies gained after the first round. --RF
Outright Winner: None — Final piece of advice: It’s a tough situation for American bettors. You can either bet Brooks at almost even money, or throw down on one of the well known names way behind him at not-close-to-what-they-should-be odds. Now, if you play in worldwide markets, or have access to in-play Top 5 wagers, there are some super long shot options. I don’t think Erik van Rooyen is going to stage a thrilling comeback and knock off Brooks, however, as a part of his 250-1 in-play price, some books offer a Top 5 each wager along with that which would equal 62-1 for a Top 5. That, I’ll take. EVR’s been a Top 10 machine on Euro Tour lately and, after round one, trails only Brooks and Jason Kokrak in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, a www.fantasynational.com stat from the in-play stats leaderboard, at +4.0. How is he only even par? He lost over a stroke on the greens. He’s currently T17 at even par, two strokes out of the Top 5, seems like a worth while wager. The other is Kokrak, you can get him 400-1 to win, but a far more valuable 100-1 to come Top 10. He’s at +3 after Round 1, so he’s farther back in the pack, but no player had a wide gap between their ball striking and putting on Thursday. Kokrak gained +5.7 strokes ball striking, which was almost identical to Brooks’ +5.9, but bleed an ungodly -4.4 strokes putting. Even for a terrible putter like Kokrak, that should regress, in a good way, back to the mean on Friday. While the elite ball striking may not hold either, that is less an outlier based on his profile this season than that bad of a putting stroke. --Mayo