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PGA Tour Simulator: Projecting the Winners and Surprises at St. Jude and the Barracuda

By: Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads

We’re back with a double-dip of more golf picks. We will note that our course pick for Muirfield was John Rahm, and while we didn’t come through with a win for the Workday Charity Open, he did win The Memorial at Muirfield the following week.

This week, we’ll start with the WGC St. Jude, played at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a par 70 course playing a little over 7,200 yards and featuring skinny fairways, forgiving rough, but a lot of water. It’s a course where par 4 scoring reigns supreme.

The two par 5s play the easiest on the course, but with only two of them, there isn’t a lot of room to pick up strokes on the field. The 12th hole is one of the most dangerous holes on the course and could be where the tournament is won or lost. Players have to tee off over water, it’s a slight dogleg right, and the entire right side of the course is water. Holes 3, 9, 11, 14, and 18 also feature prominent water hazards, and it shows in the variance for those holes.

WGC St. Jude an invitational tournament, with a smaller field, the best players in the world, and no cut. Typically, giving all of the golfers four rounds leads to a higher likelihood of the best players finishing at the top of the leaderboard. But the loaded field depresses some of the odds for some pretty good golfers.

During our brief absence, we’ve also developed a simulator. For a given tournament, it simulates 50,000 rounds and predicts cutlines, winning scores, and top 5/10/20 scores.

Favorites to Back

Gary Woodland 

The simulator gives Woodland a 3.30% chance of winning this weekend. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s the eighth-highest chance of the weekend and translates to about 30/1 odds. Par 4s aren’t actually his strong suit; he’s 18th in the field in strokes gained on par 4s. But among those top 18, he has the fifth-highest variance on par 4s (0.414 strokes). This means he’s inconsistent, but also has some really good shots in him. That is what makes him appealing this week.

Rickie Fowler hits during the Workday Charity Open golf tournament on July 12, 2020, in Dublin, Ohio.

Rickie Fowler 

Right behind Woodland in projected win percentage is Rickie Fowler at 3.07%, or about 33/1 odds. Unlike Woodland, Fowler excels on par 4s, with the ninth-highest strokes gained on par 4s in the field, and he’s consistently good at them with a variance of only 0.375 strokes. Where Fowler will probably win or lose the tournament is on the two par 5s, where he’s 35th in the field in strokes gained. He doesn’t need to eagle them all, but if he can play the par 5s average or better this week he should be in the running on Sunday.

Matt Kuchar 

The data gives Kuchar a 2.38% chance of winning this weekend, or about 42/1. He’s a consistently good golfer, which means he should see most of his scores in the 66-70 range, but it also means he’s unlikely to shoot those extremely low rounds to make up for an off day. If Kuchar wins, it will probably be because he has four consecutive rounds at three to five under par.

Sungjae Im lines his putt during the RBC Heritage golf tournament June 18, 2020, in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Sungjae Im 

Im is a slightly worse version of Kuchar, with a little more variability. Their strokes gained on different holes are practically in line (0.032/0.069/0.077 for Kuchar and 0.028/0.058/0.094 for Im on pars 3/4/5). The model has Im at a 2.17% chance to win, or 51/1 odds.

Longshots to Like

Ryan Palmer

The simulator loved Palmer at The Memorial when we were still in the testing phase, and he came up just short of a long-odds win. Variance is big for Palmer, and nowhere was it more evident that at Muirfield Village. After missing the cut with an abysmal +14 at the Workday Charity Open, Palmer came back with a second-place finish in a much more difficult environment the following week. Par 3 scoring is where Palmer will win or lose this week. He gains 0.017 strokes per par 3, but his variance is an incredible 0.680 strokes. All eyes will be on when he tees it up on 14, where he’ll likely birdie or put it in the drink and make double or worse. We like his odds as a longshot winner, as well as his odds to finish inside the top 5. In fact, we like his chance to win better than Sungjae Im’s.

J.T. Poston hits during the RBC Heritage golf tournament on June 21, 2020, in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

J.T. Poston 

Poston came back from the break with a pair of top 10 finishes, but he’s missed the cut in his last three tournaments. However, the data indicates that the TPC Southwind course fits him well. Poston is one of the worst in the field on Par 5s, actually losing strokes on average; but he’s sixth in par 3 scoring (+0.077 strokes per hole) and middle of the pack in par 4 scoring. The model gives him just a 1.89% chance to win, but we love his odds to make top 5/10/20 and we really like him as a first-round leader.

Joel Dahmen

Another golfer who returned to play with three quality showings before getting kicked in the teeth by Muirfield Village, Dahmen is well-suited to TPC Southwind. Dahmen is dead last in the field in par 5 scoring, losing 0.097 strokes per hole, and is consistently bad, with a variance of just 0.339 strokes. However, TPC Southwind has just two par 5s, and he’s 23rd in the field in par 4 scoring at 0.049 with an average variance of 0.380. The simulator gives him just a 0.92% chance to win (109/1), but we have him at 9/1 to finish in the top 10.

Cameron Smith hits during the Memorial golf tournament on July 16, 2020, in Dublin, Ohio.

Cameron Smith

Smith is one of our variance darlings this week, with the sixth-highest variance in the field at 0.446 strokes per hole. His chances of winning hinge almost entirely on being on the good side of that variance for three or four rounds, but as a longshot, we find that his variance makes him more appealing – especially as a top 20 target.

Nick Taylor

Almost the opposite of Smith, we’re hoping Taylor can use the Kuchar method of scoring and water aversion to surprise on the leaderboard. His 250/1 odds are incredibly high for a player who’s 28th in the field in strokes gained per hole at 0.040, and the model loves him as top 5/10/20 pick.

Barracuda Picks

The Barracuda Tournament uses the Stableford scoring format – high scores are good, rather than stroke play where high scores are bad. It’s a scoring system that preaches “going for it” since the value of a birdie is greater than the cost of a bogey.

The format suits players who can rack up lots of birdies and eagles, without penalizing them as harshly for errant shots. If a player gets to stroke seven on a par 4, they can simply pick their ball up and walk to the next hole.

Here are some players who we think fit the course and scoring system.

Cameron Davis (50/1)

Nick Watney (75/1)

Hank Lebioda (125/1)

Josh Teater (125/1)

Brian Gay (150/1)

M.J. Daffue (150/1)

Robert Streb (150/1)

Dominic Bozzelli (175/1)

Rhein Gibson (200/1)

Matt Every (300/1)

Hunter Mahan (350/1)