Gdula's Golf Simulations: Safeway Open

In a top-heavy field, which golfers offer betting value based on event simulations?

Volatility is the name of the game in golf, and picking winners isn't easy. With fields of 150-plus golfers sometimes being separated by how a putt or two falls each week, predicting golf can be absurdly tough.

We'll never be able to capture everything that goes into a golfer's expectations for a week, but we can try to account for that by simulating out the weekend and seeing what happens.

The Process

I'll keep it simple: I track weekly results from the PGA Tour, the European Tour, and the Korn Ferry Tour.

Using a combination of the OWGR's field strength numbers and datagolf's field strength numbers, I adjust each golfer's score relative to the field. The ultimate goal is to place a score from the Waste Management Open, the BMW International Open, and the Knoxville Open on level playing fields. This adjusted strokes metric lets me see how golfers are performing across all tours.

Their adjusted stroke data is combined with their round-to-round variance to see how the field is likely to perform when playing the event out thousands of times.

Here are the results for this week's Safeway Open.

Top Win Odds

Golfer Wins Golfer Wins
Justin Thomas 9.8% Adam Scott 9.0%
Patrick Cantlay 8.6% Hideki Matsuyama 6.0%
Bryson DeChambeau 2.8% Chez Reavie 2.4%
Sungjae Im 2.3% Byeong Hun An 2.3%
Jim Furyk 1.9% Marc Leishman 1.8%
Brandt Snedeker 1.8% Francesco Molinari 1.8%
Collin Morikawa 1.7% Ryan Moore 1.6%
Kevin Streelman 1.4% Jhonattan Vegas 1.4%
Abraham Ancer 1.4% Charles Howell III 1.4%
Scott Piercy 1.4% Kevin Na 1.2%
Emiliano Grillo 1.2% Phil Mickelson 1.2%
Kevin Chappell 1.1% Max Homa 1.1%
Vaughn Taylor 1.0% Lucas Glover 1.0%
Joel Dahmen 1.0% Harold Varner III 1.0%
Nate Lashley 0.9% Adam Hadwin 0.9%

My simulations are pretty high on the top three this week: Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, and Patrick Cantlay. In 2019, Cantlay leads the field in adjusted stroke average (2.13). Thomas (2.01) and Scott (1.93) are close behind but show a higher range of variance in their scores compared to Cantlay, the reason for reaching the peak spot more frequently.

It's not common to have roughly 30% of the win equity split between just three golfers, but they're the class of the field by quite a large margin.

Aside from Hideki Matsuyama (1.68), no other golfer has averaged more than 1.31 strokes over the field after adjusting for field strength (Bryson DeChambeau). The next five up are Collin Morikawa (1.24), Jim Furyk (1.10), Chez Reavie (1.08), Byeong-Hun An (1.02), and Sungjae Im (1.02).

The strong win odds here actually give us value for Adam Scott (+1400 on Golf odds) and Patrick Cantlay (+1100), primarily Scott. Justin Thomas (+650) grades out as a tough play to back in terms of expected value, but his win odds are at the top. Perhaps an in-play bet if his number drops is the correct call.

Backing favorites isn't a strategy I typically advocate, but this is a top-heavy field. Matsuyama is +1600 on FanDuel Sportsbook, a fair price. We're maxed out there, but hitching ourselves to an elite ball-striker in this field isn't a bad strategy.

Recent Form Standouts

I like to build out the projections based on a large sample, but that doesn't always capture recent upticks. The problem is that recent upticks don't always stick around, according to the research. Still, these are the top players in the field over smaller samples.

Adjusted Stroke Average Since
U.S. Open
Adjusted Stroke Average Since FedEx
St. Jude
Justin Thomas 2.07 Justin Thomas 2.85
Adam Scott 1.75 Adam Scott 2.16
Patrick Cantlay 1.68 Patrick Cantlay 1.91
Hideki Matsuyama 1.53 Sungjae Im 1.73
Chez Reavie 1.34 Hideki Matsuyama 1.60
Byeong Hun An 1.34 Byeong Hun An 1.59
Sungjae Im 1.29 Juan Sebastian Munoz 1.53
Abraham Ancer 1.24 Brandt Snedeker 1.26
Collin Morikawa 1.23 Corey Conners 1.23
Bryson DeChambeau 1.18 Bronson Burgoon 1.02
Brandt Snedeker 0.92 Vaughn Taylor 0.97
Wyndham Clark 0.89 Chez Reavie 0.94
Cameron Tringale 0.86 Tom Hoge 0.89

When simulating the field based on these smaller samples, Chez Reavie (+4100) and Vaughn Taylor (+9000) pop. Again, I don't suggest it, but if trying to jump on a hot streak, those two value plays stand out.

Punt Plays

Cutting off the top 15 gives us a large portion of the field at +5000 or longer on FanDuel Sportsbook. The best leverage plays in my simulations include Jim Furyk (+9000), Jhonattan Vegas (+12000), and Max Homa (+11000).

As for super deep darts, Mackenzie Hughes (+18000), and Anirban Lahiri (+26000) stand out. However, at such low win odds (0.6% and 0.5%, respectively), they're better top-30 types of plays.