The final major of the 2016 PGA Tour Season (“Glory’s Last Shot”) is upon us this week, which means we get to burn another pile of money in the Millionaire Maker GPP on DraftKings. I’m still surprised that they’ve kept the entry fee and payout structure where they are considering the backlash and lack of entries the last time around. The PGA Championship is always a fun major to watch, because even with a “difficult” course set-up, we usually see a ton of birdies and low scores.
This year, the PGA returns to Baltusrol, where Phil Mickelson won his lone PGA Championship back in 2005. If you take a look at the leaderboard, you’ll see an interesting mix of distance, accuracy, youth, and age. The top-10 was basically half bombers (Phil, Tiger Woods, Davis Love, and Geoff Ogilvy) and half short hitters (David Toms, Dudley Hart, Ted Purdy, and Steve Flesch). Tiger shot an opening 75 (+5), and still only finished a couple shots behind Phil. Lefty won that week with an accuracy-driven game plan (irons and woods off the tee), and elite scrambling.
The course layout is a par-70 (only two par 5s) measuring over 7,400 yards. It is a beast. The only two par-5s on the course are holes #17 and #18, which sets up for a very dramatic finish. Three of the par-3s measure over 200 yards, which is why I’m looking at that proximity yardage, and since there are twelve par-4s on the course, I’m heavily targeting birdie or better performance on those holes. The course tends to play “similar” to a U.S. Open style golf course, with strategic bunkers, thick, long rough, and slippery greens. As such, I think accuracy and strokes gained off-the-tee are going to be some of my main targets. Just like at the U.S. Open, you’ll see a lot of the top bombers hitting 2-irons, and even some 1-irons, off the tees. Because the fairways and the greens will be more difficult to hit, I’ll also be favoring scramblers.
- Driving Distance
- Scrambling / SG: Around-The-Green
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- Birdie or Better % (weighed higher for Par-4s)
- SG: Tee-to-Green (weighed higher on shots > 200 yards)
- Bogey Avoidance
- Recent winners of the PGA Championship have been elite in driving distance.
- 15 of the past 17 PGA Champions won earlier in that season.
- There seems to be a high correlation between players who have done well at the WGC-Bridgestone earlier in the year and the PGA Championship.
There are two names that come to mind when looking at those three trends… Jason Day and Dustin Johnson. No surprise there – I highly suggest rostering Day and DJ.
- South African angle: At the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol, there were three South Africans who finished inside the top-20: Goosen (6th), Tim Clark (17th), and Trevor Immelman (17th). If you’re surprised that Ernie Els isn’t listed, it’s because he missed that week with a knee injury.
- A comparable course that has emerged in Doha Golf Club, where the Qatar Masters is hosted. Sure enough, the two-time defending champion is Branden Grace, and South Africans have been strong there (Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Darren Fichart are other South Africans who’ve won the Qatar Masters). George Coetzee, a sneaky sleeper this week, has three top-10s at Doha and his worst finish was a 37th. Other winners in Qatar that might do well this week are Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Chris Wood.
- Baltusrol’s course designer A.W. Tillinghast’s other works include: Ridgewood Country Club, Bethpage Black, and Winged Foot. Recent players who have won on those golf courses include Hunter Mahan (“Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks”), Matt Kuchar, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover, Davis Love III, and Geoff Ogilvy (although Phil had this one locked up until he blasted a driver into the hospitality tents on the 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open).
Now onto the picks…
Rory McIlroy ($11,400) – I still don’t believe Rory is going to go another season without winning a major, so I’m back on board this week. Baltusrol is brutal, and although Rory usually likes birdie fests at soft golf courses, he showed his ability to grind last week at Royal Troon. He’s won this event twice, and has two other top-3 finishes. Rory is bound to contend, could easily win, and I think he has a higher floor than most people give him credit for. Looking at his stats, Rory is a lock: 13th in driving distance, 16th in par-4 scoring, 1st in SG:off-the-tee, 23rd in SG:around-the-green, and 2nd in birdie or better percentage.
Henrik Stenson ($10,500) – There’s two ways to look at Stenson’s dominant performance / getting the major monkey off his back at Royal Troon. But because he’s such a gifted and consistent ball-striker, I think he will be brimming with confidence and back in the mix. Like Mickelson and Padraig Harrington did after finally winning their respective 1st majors, Stenson could pile on a couple more over the next year or two. At the PGA Championship, Stenson has four top-6 finishes in his last six starts. He’s had some success at Tillinghast’s courses, including a 9th place finish at the 2009 U.S. Open (Bethpage Black). Stats: 2nd in SG:approach, 4th in birdie percentage, 16th in par-4 scoring, and 21st in SG:off-the-tee.
Sergio Garcia ($9,400) – This year, we’ve had three first-time major winners. Sergio has been consistently in contention in majors this year (back to back 5th place finishes). Sergio has won an event on the PGA Tour. Tie those all together and (maybe?) Sergio can get it done at Baltusrol. I loved him at Royal Troon, but he just couldn’t get enough firepower going to catch Phil and Henrik. Sergio finished 4th and 10th at Bethpage Black, and has a 3rd place finish at Ridgewood, so something about Tillinghast’s course designs fit his eye. Garcia’s stats for the course are also great: 30th in driving distance, 11th in SG:off-thee-tee, 6th in SG:approach, and 8th in birdie or better percentage.
Others to consider: Justin Rose.
The Value Mid-Tier:
Danny Willett ($8,200) – Willett has definitely fallen off-form recently, probably due to an illness and the demands of being Masters Champion. He did make the cut at Royal Troon, but was never a factor in the event. Willett has made three of four cuts at the PGA Championship, and I think he can be a factor on a tough course that demands accuracy and great putting.
Branden Grace ($8,000) – Well, considering I was basically all-in on Grace at Royal Troon where he was $9,700, you can bet I’m going back to the well here. What a discount for a player very capable of winning a major championship. He’s been in the top-5 in three of his past four majors played in the U.S., and beyond his poor performances in Scotland, Grace makes for a great play this week. He usually excels on tough tracks where scrambling is key, and his recent success at tough U.S. Open venues gives him a slight boost over most in this price range. Stats: 27th in par-4 scoring, 34th in SG:off-the-tee, and 20th in SG:approach.
Lee Westwood ($7,900) – Westwood is one of the few players in the field who played Baltusrol in 2005, finishing in 17th place (where he faded on Sunday). He’s been on one of his most consistent runs of golf recently, including six straight top-35 finishes and strong showings in the majors. Like Sergio, Westwood is running out of time for that elusive major championship, and he could be a contender this week.
Russell Knox ($7,500) – It’s hard to look back at Knox’s PGA record (or record in majors in general) because he’s a different player this year than he’s ever been before. Knox is coming off a 10th at the Scottish Open and a 30th at the Open Championship on his home soil, and I think he cracks the top-25 this week at Baltusrol. He’s a deadly accurate ball-striker who keeps himself in play, so if Knox is able to make some putts this week he could definitely be a factor. Knox has some stats that check out for Baltusrol: 13th in driving accuracy, 47th in par-4 scoring, and 12th in bogey avoidance.
Charl Schwartzel ($7,300) – Apart from winning The Masters, Schwartzel doesn’t have a great record in majors. But right now, he’s in one of the most consistent stretches of golf: six straight top-25 finishes including the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. Although he’s not likely to win, I think Charl is an extremely safe cash game play, with some upside. Stats: 27th in par-4 scoring, 5th in SG:approach, 18th in birdie or better percentage.
Others to consider: Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry, Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
Bernd Wiesberger ($6,900) – Wiesberger is always a guy I target in events where par is a good score, as he’s not the best in birdie-making shootouts. He’s more consistent than you would think, making 15/19 cuts with several top-10 finishes this year. Although he hasn’t closed out a win, he recently has four top-15 finishes in Europe, and on U.S. soil, he had strong showings at Doral, the Shell Houston Open, and The Masters. If he can make a few more birdies than normal, I really think a top-15 finish is possible.
Soren Kjeldsen ($6,700) – King Soren just keeps popping up in majors, but I’m a little worried that Baltusrol will be too long of a track. With that being said, I think his confidence is very high (7th at The Masters, 9th at the Open), and I’ll never pick against somebody with great accuracy and a great short game. He’s made 15/18 cuts this year, but always elevates his game in strong fields. His best finishes this year were at The Open Championship, The Masters, and The Spanish Open (The European Tour’s toughest event this season).
Chris Wood ($6,400) – Ownership is going to be extremely low because of his past two tournaments in Scotland (WD and WD), where he battled a neck injury. Also, I think Beef Johnston will be the chalk here after the exposure he’s gotten on Twitter and at the Open Championship. However, I think taking a shot on an elite talent like Wood at this price is worthwhile, as long as he plays. Prior to his injury, his results were 1st, 6th, 23rd, and 11th, and he’s made the cut in both the Masters and the U.S. Open this season.
Andy Sullivan ($6,100) – Speaking of consistency, Sullivan’s finishes in his last six events (including two majors) are 22nd, 23rd, 21st, 5th, 6th, and 12th. For $6,100, Andy is an absolute steal. Like Wiesberger, Sullivan is typically a player to target in tough major championship conditions, although he’s been making a lot more birdies the past month or two. The length of Baltusrol worries me a bit, but I’ll take his consistency and scrambling at an extremely low price. Sullivan is one of the few players under $6,500 who I think could crack the top-10 this week.
Others to consider: Emiliano Grillo, George Coetzee.
Good luck this week!