The first round of the Shriner’s Open is rapidly approaching, which means it’s time to dust off our darts!
Of course, I’m referring to our handicap of the first-round leader (FRL) market — essentially a golf betting market where bettors are blindfolded and hope to land a dart on the board. But worry not, I’m here to share my three top bets across the entire market derived largely from my statistical modeling.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the picks. All odds come courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook and are reflective at time of writing.
Best FRL bet No. 1
Aaron Wise (+4000)
The Las Vegas local is way too steep for my liking in the outright market, but I’m obsessed with this price for Wise to lead on Thursday.
Last season, Wise ranked fifth on tour in first-round scoring average and ranks out first overall in my first-round statistical model. Over his past 12 opening rounds, Wise sits first overall in SG: Approach, second in birdies or better gained, sixth in Par 4 Efficiency and first in Par 5 Efficiency.
Even if you expand the sample to include Wise’s past 24 opening rounds, he’s still first overall in the field and sits third overall in SG: Approach, birdies or better gained and Par 5 Efficiency.
Finally, over his past 12 opening rounds on courses with “easy” scoring, Wise ranks second overall in birdies or better gained and third overall in bogey avoidance. Just in his past four rounds on those qualifying courses, Wise has a scoring average of 66.5.
For those reasons, I’ll back Wise to be the first-round leader at anything better than 30/1.
Best FRL bet No. 2
Cameron Davis (+5000)
There’s definitely some recency bias associated with this bet, but Davis arrives in Las Vegas in great form when it comes to first rounds.
Over his previous 12 opening rounds, he’s second overall in my statistical modeling, behind only Wise. In that sample, he’s second on approach, third in birdies or better gained and 10th in Par 5 Efficiency.
Davis is also unquestionably at his best on the greens when he’s on bentgrass greens. Historically, the Australian is gaining +0.3 strokes/round on bent greens, whereas he’s losing strokes on Bermuda and Poa.
Plus, in his past 12 rounds on those greens, he’s third overall in birdies or better gained and 27th in bogey avoidance. Add in an “easy” scoring qualifier and Davis still ranks third overall in birdies or better gained and has a 68.4 scoring average over his last five rounds on those tracks.
As a result, I’ll bet the Australian at 45/1 or better to finish Thursday atop the leaderboard.
Best FRL bet No. 3
K.H. Lee (+6500)
Ah, good ol’ Mr. TPC K.H. Lee!
The South Korean international finished last season 11th in first-round scoring average and sits fifth overall in my first-round statistical projection over his past 12 rounds. Over that span, he’s first in the field in birdies or better gained and Par 4 Efficiency while ranking 15th in the field in three-putt avoidance.
Further, just in his previous four opening rounds on TPC courses, Lee has a first-round scoring average of 65.5 and finished within three shots of the first-round lead in two of those efforts.
Lee also ranks third overall in SG: Total over his last 12 opening rounds on courses with Bent greens. In that same sample, he’s fifth and 17th, respectively, in birdies or better gained and bogey avoidance.
Finally, Lee appeared to discover something last year at the Shriner’s. After posting three straight missed cuts, he finished last year tied for 14th after firing an opening-round 68.
Based on those stats, I’ll take a flier with Lee at 60/1 or better.