PGA Core Plays
The PGA Championship
By Derek Hill
The PGA Championship
First of all, I hope everyone did well with their lineups last week. Our Top-end and Mid-Tier favorite picks finished 1-2. We also had some other great finishes with Fitzpatrick and Todd. Hopefully they were in your lineups and made you some money.
Alright, here we go!
After 13 long months without a major championship, we are finally back this week with the PGA Championship! If it feels to you like it has been an eternity…..that’s exactly how it feels to all of us. TPC Harding Park in San Francisco will host this year’s contest for the Wannamaker Trophy. Harding Park has hosted two WGC events and a President’s Cup, but will be hosting a major for the first time. It joins other great courses like Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines as municipal courses that have risen to a level to host a major event.
The two most recent winners at Harding Park are Tiger Woods (2005) and Rory McIlroy (2015) in WGC events. Brooks Koepka is the 2-time defending champion who is hoping for a 3-peat. This looked next to impossible just 2 weeks ago when Koepka was in a significant slump, but his play in Memphis last weekend looked like the Brooks we are used to seeing. This return to form comes right on schedule as we are back at a major event. The guy just knows how to turn it on.
The location of the course will present some very unique challenges this week. The course sits a few miles from the coast, but the effect of the coast is very much apparent. The winds and sometimes dense fog can be in full effect on the course. First of all, forget about the listed yardage of 7,251 on this par 70 course. Cool (mid 60’s for a high), dense, breezy conditions will make it play more like 7,600+. There have already been reports of this effect in guys playing their practice rounds. Word is that Gary Woodland hit a fairway wood off of a par 3 (251 yards) yesterday. I expect the longer hitters to have an advantage this week, assuming they can correctly calculate their distances on approach shots. The rough is reportedly already brutally long and may not be cut before play starts on Thursday. Fairways have been narrowed and there isn’t much roll out on the fairways. Players will be forced to decide on whether they want to hit driver to leave a shorter distance, but bring rough into play; or if they want to shorten up off the tee to find the short grass and leave a long iron into the green. Some important metrics to look at will be SG: Off the Tee and SG:Approach (you could simplify this and just look at SG:Tee-to-green.) The many curved fairways will also allow players to be aggressive, if they choose, in trying to cut corners. This can be risky, as there are cypress trees that can result in a lost ball. Lake Merced comes into play on the 14th hole where it will be on the players’ left side for the rest of the round. The wind usually picks up here and makes for a tough finish.
The water doesn’t really come into play, so the courses main threat comes from bunkers and long rough.
As was mentioned, the shorter yardage here is deceiving due to the cool dense conditions. It is deceiving for several other reasons. The presence of just 2 par 5s means that the length comes elsewhere. There are 7 par 4s that are >460 yards which makes long par 4 scoring one of the most important stats this week. Both par 5s are over 560 yards. There is also the aforementioned 251-yard par 3. So, the course does play quite long.
For the players who choose fairways over distance, you may want to consider stats on approach from ~175 yards. And for players who hit driver, approach stats from the rough are definitely relevant.
Justin Thomas: Let’s just start off with last week. A winner once again (3rd time this season.) 4 top 10s and a T18 in 6 events since the restart. Regained the #1 world ranking. His number 1 ranking on tour in SG:Tee-to-green is crucial this week since SG:Off-the-tee and SG:Approach will both be important. He also ranks 7th in Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards which will be a very common yardage this week.
Brooks Koepka: Kind of crazy seeing Brooks back on here after the way he had been playing of late. Like clockwork, he has himself primed for another major run. The PGA/US Open setups suit his game so well. He has the distance, he has the power to play from the brutal rough. The 3-peat very possible.
Bryson DeChambeau: So-so T30 finish last week in Memphis. Before the Memorial, he had that insane run of top-10 finishes. 9th in SG:Tee-to-Green, 5th in par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards, 11th in Approach 175-200 yards. His obsession in calculating distances based on elevation, air density, etc. is well known. He could have an advantage in that category this week over players who are going by “feel.” Obviously has the distance to shorten the course. No doubt, he will take some chances, if he can limit the mistakes he could find himself at the top.
Rory McIlroy: I would actually put Rory higher if not for his heavy price tag this week. He is the most expensive option for the PGA Championship. However, it is worth considering because his ownership may be down with his high price and sub-par play as of late. But you have to know his game projects well at Harding Park. He is the most recent winner on this course (2015 Match Play,) 5th in SG:Tee-to-green, 13th in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards, 6th in approach 175-200 yards. Not to mention the pressure is not on him so he can go out and play relaxed.
Top-End Maybe: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson
Webb Simpson: I’m not sure how Simpson is priced as a Mid-Tier play this week, but don’t miss out on that steal of a deal. He won the 2012 US Open at Olympic just a stone’s throw away from Harding Park. Solid all-round play and a fantastic season to this point. 12th in SG:Tee-to-green, 1st in par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards, 17th in rough proximity.
Sergio Garcia: Another guy I’m not leaving out of lineups this week is Sergio. To be honest, he is being slept on. I haven’t seen anyone who is picking him. This would normally make me hesitant, but after doing my homework, I think he is going to have a great week. Recent play is good, but not stellar (T5, T32, T32, T35.) He is the only player in the field that ranks inside the top 20 in my most important categories this week: SG:Tee-to-green (3rd), Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards (16th), rough proximity (18th), and approach 175-200 yards (15th.) I suspect ownership will be low which will give you a chance to gain on the other competitors this week.
Gary Woodland: Familiar and successful with courses like the one he will see this week. Winner of last year’s 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach which had conditions similar to what we will see this week. Runner-up to Rory at the 2015 WGC Match play at Harding Park. I like Woodland’s low ball flight and ability to find fairways with stingers off the tee.
Daniel Berger: 6 top 10 finishes in his last 7 starts including his runner-up finish last week. 13th in SG:Tee-to-green, 10th in par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards, and 18th in rough proximity.
Matthew Fitzpatrick: T27 at Workday, 3rd in difficult conditions at the Memorial, T6 in Memphis last week. He is one of those guys who loves it when conditions go south. The cool weather and dense air will feel like home to him. Add in the fact that he is 2nd in SG:Putting. I think he continues his hot run this week.
Bubba Watson: For a course that demands length, ability to play from rough, and shape shots around curving fairways, you look for a player exactly like Bubba. He ranks high in important categories this week: Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards (2nd), rough proximity (5th), and Approach 175-200 (9th.)
Mid-Tier Maybe: Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa, Shane Lowry, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Tony Finau
Value Play Love
Joaquin Niemann: So-so play the last month or so, but his game projects really well this week based on important stats: SG:Tee-to-green (19th), Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards (20th), Approach 175-200 yards (3rd.) He also hits a low ball which can help in windy conditions.
Brenden Todd: Picking Todd last week was one of my better picks, even though he stumbled on Sunday. Even though he is stronger in categories that suited the course last week, a guy who is accurate off the tee and can scramble and putt the lights out should do well this week too.
Value Play Like:
Kevin Na: Two top 10s in his last 4 starts. 3rd in SG:Putting. I like his chances as long has he doesn’t W/D with injury, which is always a concern.
Matt Wallace: T4 at Memorial 3 weeks ago. T19 and T3 in his last 2 PGA Championship starts. His game doesn’t project really well for this course statistically, but I think performance in similar situations is a better predictor. Not only is his PGA history strong, but he also placed 12th last year in the US Open at Pebble Beach in similar conditions. He also comes in to this week playing well.
Tom Lewis: If you’re not familiar with the name Tom Lewis yet, now might be the time to do so. He has gone T12, T32, and T2 in his last 3 starts. Stats say he will have another good week. 23rd in par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards, 24th in driving distance, 42nd in SG:Off-the-tee. No slouch on the greens either.
Value Play Maybe: Max Homa, Carlos Ortiz