2018 PGA Tour buy or sell: Invest in Spieth's putter and Rahm as best in the world
With 30 percent of the season finished, it's time to take a look at who to buy low on
There have (thankfully) not been very many "what's wrong with Jordan?" questions following Jordan Spieth's missed cut at the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open on Friday. It was his first missed cut since May 2017. Spieth has now played three events this calendar year and finished in the top 10 once (at the 30-player field at the season-opening Tournament of Champions).
He is currently outside the top 75 in the FedEx Cup race (it's earlier than early, I know), but he's not the only one who's scuffling a little bit right now as the season starts to unfold.
I'm big on trajectories, pedigrees and past performance. If we have 10 years worth of sampling for Player X, but that player's current 2018 sample is way out of line with his history, there is probably going to be a regression (or progression) to the mean. Take Spieth's putting, for example. He's currently No. 195 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting. Jordan Spieth! I'm really supposed to believe that somebody who has finished, on average, 18th over the last four years is going to finish outside the top 190 this season?
Maybe, but that seems extremely improbable. What's more likely is a massive correction at some point over the next seven months where Spieth goes on a flaming-hot streak to bump his putting back to No. 65 or No. 40 or something like that. With that in mind, let's take a look at what I'm buying and selling after a full five weeks on the PGA Tour in 2018.
Jordan Spieth's putting: For the reasons I laid out above, I'm purchasing stock in Spieth's Scotty Cameron. There is not an area Spieth is not struggling with right now when it comes to his putter. He's outside the top 100 from pretty much every distance, although he does have, somewhat ironically, the longest putt made on the PGA Tour this season from 90 feet. He's currently averaging over 31 putts per round despite a career average around 28. The odd thing is that he's not really hitting it any farther from or closer to the hole than normal with his irons. I trust he'll turn this around, and when he does, it could spell trouble for the rest of the Tour on Sundays.
Another Justin Thomas win: Thomas doesn't have anything worse than a T22 finish in five starts this year, and he's not even really hitting the ball that well yet. He's been inside the top 20 in two of the last three years in strokes gained overall on the PGA Tour, and this year, he's just 45th. He already has one win, and I suspect as that strokes gained number goes from 45 to 30 to 20 to eventually in the top 10, he'll likely pick up at least one more.
Jon Rahm as the best player on earth: Please, delude yourself into thinking Rahm's hot-headedness will keep him from becoming the No. 1 player in the world and sell me all your stock.
Here's a dirty little secret right now: Rahm has finishes of second, first and T11 in three of the last four weeks, and he's currently hitting the ball worse than Brice Garnett. Normally a staple of his arsenal (Rahm finished No. 17 in strokes gained on approach shots last season and No. 50 in proximity to the hole), he's No. 131 in strokes gained on approach shots this year and No. 158 in proximity to the hole.
Again, I'm talking about somebody who has a win and a runner up and has played in the last or second-to-last group in three of his last four events. All of his other numbers are in line with what he did last season. So yes, please bring me all of your stock certificates and a rubber stamp, and let's make a deal.
Patrick Reed's driver: We have a lot of data that tells us Reed is an average to above-average driver of the ball. This year? He's outside the top 150. The fascinating part about that is that he's hitting his approach shots better than he has in years. If he straightens out the big stick, he's going to contend for events in February and March (he doesn't have a single top 10 so far on the season).
Chesson Hadley as a scorer: In his last two full seasons on the PGA Tour, Hadley's scoring average was over 71.5. So far this year it's 69.5. Do I think Hadley got better in his stint last year on the Web.com Tour? I do. Do I think he's going to drop a sub-70 number that could contend for the Vardon Trophy (Spieth won it last year at 68.85)? No, I do not.
Dustin Johnson's ball-striking: Before you all lose your minds, D.J. is currently No. 1 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained from tee to green at 3.5 per round. Last year, he led the Tour at 1.8 per round. He has almost doubled his number, and he led the Tour last year. That's untenable. It's also worth pointing out that Johnson only has four measured rounds on the season (all at the Tournament of Champions).
What's not untenable, however, is his putter. He's gone from being downright lousy with the flat stick to being really solid. He's T20 in putting so far in 2018 and has been in the top 80 each of the last three years. If he even stays in the top 40 this time around, he's going to win so many times this year that he and caddie (and brother) Austin are going to have a difficult time keeping track of all the trophies.
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