EXTRA VALUE FOR THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP!
Unlike the Masters, the changing venues leave event form much less of an indicator, especially at a course that is a relatively unknown quantity on tour.
Back in Kiawah Island, the same venue that Rory McIlroy won this competition by eight clear strokes in 2012, the strongest field on tour to date will have to do battle with the elements in order to go well here.
That said, there are a few consistencies across the Majors and the main one is that the cream tends to rise to the top at these big events, with every single Major winner over the last decade (36 renewals) being ranked in the world’s top-50, while 15 of the last 21 have been first time winners and on the PGA Tour alone, that’s 22 of the last 35 winning their maiden Major.
Pete Dye designed this course with his wife Alice, though alterations were made when Alice noted that an ocean-side course without views of the ocean is redundant, and so the conditions are now even more of a factor with greens and fairways raised to give unparalleled views of the Atlantic.
It’s widely regarded among professionals and pundits as one of the hardest courses in golf, and the scene of 1991’s ‘War on the Shore’ will once again play host to the world’s best gunning for the Wanamaker Trophy.
There are very few Dye designs like this one though, with Whistling Straits probably the most similar and the one most likely to lend itself to pedigree here, so it’s worth looking at the 2015 leaderboard where Jason Day hung on to win. Unsurprisingly this plays remarkably similar to links courses, and it’s therefore no surprise that those with a good links pedigree tend to find this course easier than most, and that goes hand in hand with a less American dominated leader board than usual, with seven of the top-10 in 2012 hailing from Europe.
USPGA Championship Favourites
At the longest course in Major history and with McIlroy romping home in 2012, it seems a simple link to make that bombers will go well here.
However, only one of the next nine home ranked in the top-15 for driving distance, and it was actually McIlroy’s field leading scrambling that brought it home for him, so work around these rare paspalum greens is going to be key keeping in touch with the top this week and it’s on that basis that we come to our first pick.
Viktor Hovland 25/1
Viktor Hovland (25/1) arrives here in incredibly good nick with consecutive third placed finishes at Copperhead and Quail Hollow, and if it weren’t for a misplaced marker at TPC Sawgrass he would have now made 28 consecutive cuts, so consistency is very much there. He’s finished sixth or better in eight of his last 12 Strokeplay events, though the most promising aspect of Hovland’s game is the fact that both of his PGA Tour wins to date have come putting on paspalum greens in Mexico and Puerto Rico, ranking in the top-10 for putting average on both occasions so he certainly feels comfortable on them.
As mentioned, European’s have gone well here in the past, and Northern Europeans in particular with two swedes finishing seventh or better here in the 2012 edition, so the Norwegian certainly fits that mould, while he’s also won on tour already this year and is seeking his first Major, so he almost fits every trend of a winner here.
Jon Rahm 15/1
The next pick also goes in the way of a European and another who is seeking his first major win. Despite not winning on tour this year, he’s been the most consistent player and his the most top 10 finishes of anyone on the tour this season, so it’s only a matter of time before Jon Rahm (15/1) picks up another tour victory.
He’s the best ball striker in the game at the moment off the tee, and he’s proven consistently from tee-to-green that there are very few that can do what he can.
He missed the cut at Quail Hollow, but we’re inclined to forget that on a course that doesn’t suit his game as much as this, as well as the fact that it was his first missed cut since June last year.
Tough tracks are his forte, and they don’t come much tougher than this, so he’ll be determined to stand out from the crowd like he did when winning at Muirfield and Wentworth last season.
He also has a strong links record and although Kiawah Island isn’t technically a links course, links players should go well considering the nature and undulations of the course.
Wins at Portstewart and Lahinch cement Rahm’s place as one of the best coastal players on tour, and if there’s any course that’s set up for him to win his first Major (aside from some of the Open courses), then this is it.
Marc Leishman 66/1
Turning away from the Europeans for a third bet, and it’s going a little further adrift to the Pacific where we’ll get behind the capabilities of Marc Leishman (66/1).
The Australian is a regular contender in majors, and most notably in Open Championships, highlighting his coastal pedigree with three top six finishes in his last five Opens. It’s not only his historical record on these kind of course though, and a big factor in getting behind him is that he’s simply playing some really good golf again at the moment.
While a win earlier in the season isn’t necessarily a prerequisite, he teamed up with Cameron Smith to win the Zurich Classic recently, which was sandwiched by a strong Masters performance (fifth) and a top-20 in Texas last week for the Byron Nelson.
He’s often mentioned that most USPGA courses aren’t at all tailored to his game, and that has been notable in his finishes over the last decade or so, though he’s recently spoken about how much he’s looking forward to playing here again after a respectable 27th placed finish here in 2012, and he’s keen to get out on a course that he believes is set up really well for him.
He’s poor at chipping out of thicker rough, as he has to do quite often on tour, though this is one of the exceptions and that could certainly play into his hands as it did at Augusta just last month, while his putting has improved dramatically recently and that certainly bodes well for him here as he looks to get his first major on board.
Jordan Speith 18/1
The final pick is the only one with a major in his locker. Three, to be exact, though this is the one eluding him and it’s certainly a challenge for Jordan Spieth (18/1) to complete the Grand Slam here.
However, it couldn’t be more perfect for him and after a season of poor form, he’s now looking close to his best again and this course should suit his game down to a tee.
As mentioned, Whistling Straits could lend itself here and while Jason Day came up trumps there in 2015, it was Spieth who followed him home and that should translate well to Kiawah Island.
He seems to have timed his run well, as we said prior to his trip to Augusta last month where he finished in a tie for third, which has formed part of his current run of top-nine finishes in all but two of his last nine starts.
His game gets better the closer you get to the greens, and this course accounts for just that with large, open landing areas off the tee, allowing some scope for waywardness off the tee and allowing the better iron players in the game to come to the fore.
His win in Houston should give him that confidence of closing out a tournament, and even his return from the Masters at the Byron Nelson last week saw him finish ninth, despite returning from a coronavirus infection.
That Texas competition should have rid any rust that his isolation period would have built up, and he looks incredibly fresh heading into a course where his mental resolve could hold him high aloft of the field.