Best bets for PGA Championship

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Kyoung-Hoon Lee (175-1) earned his first PGA Tour victory last weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson with a 25-under score to win by three strokes over Sam Burns, who followed his maiden win at the Valspar Championship with a runner-up. Two of this column’s selections, Daniel Berger and Charl Schwartzel, tied for third. Lee ranked second in the field for strokes gained: approach and strokes gained tee to green, and he took the most advantage of a soft course in Dallas en route to earning the final spot in this week’s PGA Championship field. 
 
The PGA Championship returns to its now-customary mid-May spot after being back in its old August slot last year due to COVID-19. The year’s second major also returns to Kiawah Island for the first time since 2012. The more things change, the more they stay the same as Rory McIlroy, the last player to win a PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, is the tournament favorite. McIlroy earned his first victory in over 18 months at the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago. That triumph cut McIlroy’s price from 16-1 to its current tag of 10-1. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has drifted to 18-1 as he withdrew from the Byron Nelson due to a knee injury and has been nowhere near his form of last fall, having failed to post a top-10 finish since February. World No. 2 Justin Thomas (14-1) already has a big win for 2021 at the Players Championship, and No. 3 Jon Rahm (15-1) has six top-10 finishes despite not looking his best this year. 
 
Kiawah Island might play as the longest course in major history, but Jordan Spieth (14-1), not known for length off the tee, is a shorter price due to returning to form he had not seen in three years. Spieth has a victory at the Valero Texas Open, five top-5s and seven top-10s in his last nine events, and he is arguably the hottest player in the game. No course on the planet is too long for world No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau (18-1), who won the Arnold Palmer this season, tied for third at the Players and is looking to rediscover that March form. World No. 4 Xander Schauffele (20-1) has top-3 finishes in three of the four majors (the PGA being the outlier) and earned another one last month at the Masters. Defending PGA champion Collin Morikawa (28-1), who will attempt to defend his Wanamaker Trophy, has been hit-or-miss in 2021 but does have a victory this season at the WGC Workday at the Concession. Viktor Hovland (22-1) could very well be peaking at the right time, as the Norwegian comes in off back-to-back top-3 finishes at the Valspar and Wells Fargo. Hideki Matsuyama (35-1) is the most recent major champion from the Masters in April, and he returned last week after a five-week hiatus with a T-39 at the Byron Nelson. 
 
 
The Event
 
The 103rd PGA Championship will return to Kiawah Island, S.C., for the first time since 2012. That was the first major held on the Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course. Last year’s PGA was held without spectators. This year it will be held with limited spectators as the PGA of America, the event’s sanctioning body and organizer, announced in February that 10,000 fans would be allowed for each round. 
 
The PGA of America was founded in 1916 by former American department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker, and the PGA Championship trophy bears his name. From 1916-57, the PGA was a match-play event. 
 
In line with the other majors, winning the PGA gains privileges that improve career security. PGA champions are automatically invited to play in the other three majors and the Players Championship for the next five years and are eligible for the PGA Championship for life. They receive membership on the PGA Tour for five seasons and on the European Tour for seven. The PGA Championship is the only major exclusively for professional players, as no amateurs participate. Furthermore, 20 PGA of America licensed teachers and club professionals enter the event. In all, 156 players are in this week’s field, and the low 70 and ties will make the weekend. 
 
Here are the criteria to enter the PGA Championship:
 
1. All previous winners of the PGA Championship.
 
Rich Beem, Keegan Bradley, John Daly, Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Shaun Micheel, Phil Mickelson, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Y.E. Yang
 
2. Recent winners of the Masters (2017–21)
 
Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed
 
3. Recent winners of the U.S. Open (2016–20)
 
Bryson DeChambeau, Gary Woodland
 
4. Recent winners of the British Open (2015–19)
 
Zach Johnson, Shane Lowry, Francesco Molinari, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson
 
5. Recent winners of the Players Championship (2019–21)
 
6. The leading 15 players and ties in the 2020 PGA Championship
 
Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Cameron Champ, Joel Dahmen, Tony Finau, Si-woo Kim, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler
 
7. The leading 20 players in the 2021 PGA Professional Championship
 
Danny Balin, Peter Ballo, Alex Beach, Frank Bensel Jr., Tyler Collet, Ben Cook, Mark Geddes, Larkin Gross, Derek Holmes, Greg Koch, Rob Labritz, Brad Marek, Tim Pearce, Ben Polland, Patrick Rada, Sonny Skinner, Stuart Smith, Joe Summerhays, Omar Uresti, Brett Walker
 
8. The 70 leading PGA Championship point earners from the 2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and Barracuda Championship through the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship
 
Abraham Ancer, Sam Burns, Patrick Cantlay, Stewart Cink, Corey Conners, Harris English, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Talor Gooch, Lanto Griffin, Emiliano Grillo, Brian Harman, Tyrrell Hatton, Russell Henley, Jim Herman, Charley Hoffman, Max Homa, Billy Horschel, Viktor Hovland, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Matt Jones, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Jason Kokrak, Matt Kuchar, Martin Laird, Marc Leishman, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Maverick McNealy, Sebastian Munoz, Kevin Na, Joaquin Niemann, Louis Oosthuizen, Carlos Ortiz, Ryan Palmer, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele, Robert Streb, Brendon Todd, Cameron Tringale, Harold Varner III, Bubba Watson, Richy Werenski, Lee Westwood, Aaron Wise, Will Zalatoris
 
9. Playing members of the 2018 Ryder Cup teams who are ranked within the top 100 on the Official World Golf Ranking as of May 9
 
Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter
 
10. Winners of official tournaments on the PGA Tour from the 2020 Wyndham Championship until the start of the championship
 
Brian Gay, Branden Grace, Kyoung-hoon Lee, Hudson Swafford
 
11. PGA of America invitees
 
Byeong-Hun An, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dean Burmester, John Catlin, George Coetzee, Thomas Detry, Rickie Fowler, Dylan Frittelli, Adam Hadwin, Lucas Herbert, Garrick Higgo, Rasmus Hojgaard, Sam Horsfield, Rikuya Hoshino, Jazz Janewattananond, Takumi Kanaya, Chan Kim, Kurt Kitayama, Tom Lewis, Robert MacIntyre, Victor Perez, Thomas Pieters, J.T. Poston, Aaron Rai, Chez Reavie, Antoine Rozner, Kalle Samooja, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Jason Scrivener, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker, Brandon Stone, Andy Sullivan, Sami Valimaki, Erik van Rooyen, Daniel van Tonder, Matt Wallace, Bernd Wiesberger, Danny Willett
 
12. If necessary, the field is completed by players in order of PGA Championship points earned 
 
Cameron Davis, Harry Higgs, Denny McCarthy, Alex Noren
 
Alternates (per category 12):
 
Tom Hoge (replaced Matthew Wolff); Wyndham Clark (replaced Vijay Singh) 
 
The Course
 
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is the most famous of the five courses at the resort. Kiawah Island is 25 miles southwest of Charleston, S.C. The course was designed by Pete and Alice Dye and opened in 1991 to host what turned out to be one of the most memorable Ryder Cups in the event’s history. The layout was designed to provide a view of the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, with 10 holes on the ocean. The track is also set up to ensure that the wind plays a factor. All the holes run east-west, so the players will have to contend with tailwinds or headwinds. 
 
In 2019, tees were leveled and resodded with platinum paspalum. Several holes gained tournament tees to increase length, and a few tournament tees were slightly shifted for improved views. A few sandy blowouts were recreated in some dunes. These blowouts are like what we see at Whistling Straits, which has hosted the PGA Championship three times and is another Dye design. The predominantly elevated greens with tightly mown runoffs were also resurfaced with Sea Island supreme paspalum.
 
From the tips, the Ocean Course has the potential to play as the longest course in major-championship history at a par-72 of 7,876 yards. 
 
The first three holes are where players can take advantage, with two sub-400-yard par-4s that sandwich a medium-length par-5. From there, the course features a set of long-iron par-3s, the shortest of which is 197 yards. The other three measure 207, 238 and 223 yards. Players who hit their longer irons well should be able to succeed here. 
 
Most of the par-4s come later in the round. Six are over 450 yards, with two others measuring 514 yards and 505 yards to end each nine. With two par-5s, the 11th and 16th, playing at almost 600 yards into a likely prevailing wind, the easier stretch to start will not last, and the players will have many challenges for the duration of their rounds. 
 
Numerous Pete Dye designs are featured on the PGA Tour, including: 
 
Austin Country Club: WGC Dell Match Play since 2016
Crooked Stick: 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship
Harbour Town: RBC Heritage
TPC River Highlands: Travelers
TPC Louisiana: Zurich Classic of New Orleans
TPC Sawgrass: The Players Championship
TPC Stadium, PGA West: The American Express since 2016
Whistling Straits: 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship
 
PGA Championship Recent History/Winners
 
2020: Collin Morikawa (-13/267) TPC Harding Park, 35-1
2019: Brooks Koepka (-8/272) Bethpage Black, 10-1
2018: Brooks Koepka (-16/264) Bellerive, 20-1*
2017: Justin Thomas (-8/276) Quail Hollow, 45-1
2016: Jimmy Walker (-14/266) Baltusrol, 125-1
2015: Jason Day (-20/268) Whistling Straits, 14-1**
2014: Rory McIlroy (-16/268) Valhalla, 5-1***
2013: Jason Dufner (-10/270) Oak Hill, 40-1
2012: Rory McIlroy (-13/275) Kiawah Island, 20-1
2011: Keegan Bradley (-8/272) Atlanta Athletic, 175-1****
2010: Martin Kaymer (-11/277) Whistling Straits, 50-1*****
 
* - All-time PGA Championship 72-hole scoring record
** - Most strokes under par ever for a major
*** - Largest margin of victory at PGA Championship
**** - Playoff win over Jason Dufner
***** - Playoff win over Bubba Watson
 
Trends and Angles
 
The Week Before
In 13 of the last 15 years, the PGA champion has finished in the top 20 the week before. 
In five of the last nine years, the PGA champion has finished top 5 or better.
Year PGA Champion Week Before Finish
2020
Collin Morikawa 20th
2019 Brooks Koepka 4th
2018 Brooks Koepka 5th
2017 Justin Thomas 28th
2016 Jimmy Walker 11th
2015 Jason Day 12th
2014 Rory McIlroy 1st
2013 Jason Dufner 4th
2012 Rory McIlroy 5th
2011 Keegan Bradley 15th
2010 Martin Kaymer 22nd
2009 Y.E. Yang 18th
2008 Padraig Harrington 20th
2007 Tiger Woods 1st
2006 Tiger Woods 1st
 
Youth Gone Wild
In nine of the last 11 years, the PGA champion has been in his 20s.
 
Year PGA Champion Age
2020 Collin Morikawa 23
2019 Brooks Koepka 29
2018 Brooks Koepka 28
2017 Justin Thomas 24
2016 Jimmy Walker 37
2015 Jason Day 27
2014 Rory McIlroy 25
2013 Jason Dufner 36
2012 Rory McIlroy 23
2011 Keegan Bradley 25
2010 Martin Kaymer 25
 
Recent Form
Eight of the last 10 PGA winners had won previously that season
Nine of the last 10 PGA winners had posted a top-20 in one of their two previous starts
Class In Session
The last nine PGA winners ranked in the OWGR top 50 or higher, and eight of the last nine were in the OWGR top 25. 
Statistical Breakdown
 
The 2012 PGA Championship was won by a big hitter in McIlroy, but the leaderboard was not exactly littered with bombers. However, that course played at 7,562 yards, and this track will be just under 7,900 yards from the tips. The fairways are wide, and distance is not a complete requirement for victory. Nevertheless, gaining off the tee with distance and some accuracy will prove to be an advantage.
 
Strokes Gained Off The Tee (last 36 rounds)
1. Bryson DeChambeau 40.5
2. Viktor Hovland 30.3
3. Sergio Garcia 29.6
4. Jon Rahm 27.8
5. Rory McIlroy 26.3
6. Corey Conners 25.9
7. Cameron Champ 24.5
8. Sungjae Im 22.9
9. Bubba Watson 22.7
10. Joaquin Niemann 20.7
11. Daniel Berger 19.7
12. Cameron Davis 19
 
Approach shots are important every week but could carry even extra importance with potentially windy conditions and elevated greens. 
 
Strokes Gained: Approach (last 36 rounds)
1. Collin Morikawa 47.2
2. Justin Thomas 39.9
3. Corey Conners 38.7
4. Will Zalatoris 35.6
5. Charley Hoffman 35.2
6. Jordan Spieth 33.4
7. Sam Burns 28.1
8. Brooks Koepka 27.3
9. Keegan Bradley 26.7
10. Abraham Ancer 25.5
11. Tyrrell Hatton 25.1
12. Tony Finau 24.1
 
With four par-5s measuring over 550 yards and two par-4s at 500+  yards, several approach shots per round will be 200 yards or longer.
 
Proximity Gained 200+  Yards (last 36 rounds, feet per shot)
1. Paul Casey 35.2
2. Bryson DeChambeau 34.1
3. Tyrrell Hatton 26.5
4. Cameron Davis 25.9
5. Ryan Palmer 24.2
6. Charley Hoffman 22.7
7. Justin Thomas 21.9
8. Marc Leishman 20.5
9. Viktor Hovland 20.1
10. Sergio Garcia 19.9
11. Cameron Champ 19.7
12. Keegan Bradley 18.9
Six Pete Dye designs are played on the PGA Tour annually, including TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town, Austin CC, TPC Louisiana, TPC River Highlands and the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West. Other Dye designs like Whistling Straits and Crooked Stick have hosted the PGA Championship and FedEx Cup playoff events. 
 
Strokes Gained Total: Pete Dye Designs (last 24 rounds)
1. Abraham Ancer 51.2
2. Bryson DeChambeau 47.9
3. Webb Simpson 46.2
4. Adam Scott 45.2
5. Dustin Johnson 44.4
6. Brian Harman 40.6
7. Patrick Cantlay 37.5
8. Tommy Fleetwood 36.5
9. Paul Casey 35.6
10. Jon Rahm 34.6
11. Jason Day 34.6
12. Justin Thomas 32.5
 
Early forecasts indicate that winds will be in the 10- to 15-mph range throughout the championship. 
 
Strokes Gained Total: Moderate Winds (last 24 rounds)
1. Jon Rahm 60.1
2. Dustin Johnson 53.5
3. Matthew Fitzpatrick 50.6
4. Charley Hoffman 49.9
5. Chris Kirk 47.5
6. Collin Morikawa 47.3
7. Daniel Berger 44.4
8. Corey Conners 43.5
9. Cameron Tringale 43.3
10. Sungjae Im 42.7
11. Webb Simpson 41
12. Bryson DeChambeau 39.6
 
One-third of the holes are par-4s that will play between 450 and 500 yards.
 
Strokes Gained: Par 4s 450-500 Yards (last 24 rounds)
1. Bryson DeChambeau 16.8
2. Matthew Fitzpatrick 14.6
3. Collin Morikawa 14.4
4. Jason Day 12.8
5. Talor Gooch 12.1
6. Viktor Hovland 11.9
7. Sungjae Im 11.6
8. Russell Henley 11.3
9. Lanto Griffin 11.2
10. Carlos Ortiz 11
11. Adam Scott 10.6
12. Cameron Tringale 10.5
 
 
Selections
 
Jon Rahm 15-1
 
Rahm has started slowly this season by his standards, considering he has garnered 12 worldwide tournament wins in four full seasons as a professional. Recently ending a 22-event made-cut streak at the Wells Fargo followed by a 34th at the Byron Nelson certainly generates questions. But even off the boil, Rahm has three top-5s and seven top-10s already this season.
 
His strokes-gained stats remain among the world’s best off the tee (top five in all three seasons), and he is performing better this year in approach. But his around-the-green and putting work has gone from solid (top 40) to poor (outside the top 80 this year for both). This week’s paspalum is relatively new to most of the field, so perhaps Rahm will embrace the change. Furthermore, if the wind blows steadily, Rahm is one of the world’s best wind players.
 
He has been playing with new equipment and became a first-time father a little over a month ago. Despite being near the top of the odds board, few seem to be picking him. Rory McIlroy showed two weeks ago that even out-of-form elite players are never too far from winning, and Rahm certainly qualifies in that category. 
 
Bryson DeChambeau 18-1
 
Setting the obviously disappointing Masters appearances aside, DeChambeau has finished fourth at last summer’s PGA (66-66 on the weekend) and won the U.S. Open. Granted, he was not particularly good in the home-game tune-up with a T-55th in Dallas. 
 
It seems too obvious to take the world’s longest hitter on the longest course in major history, but his long-iron approach game is as good as anyone’s in this field. 
 
DeChambeau already has won this season at Bay Hill and has a very good recent record on Pete Dye designs, having never been outside the top 10 in his last three starts at River Highlands, posting three top-10s at Harbour Town and a third this year at TPC Sawgrass.
 
Viktor Hovland 24-1
 
I bet Hovland two weeks ago at 33-1, and his price has been cut off two consecutive third-place finishes at the Valspar and the Wells Fargo, gaining 8.7 and 8.8 strokes on the field from tee to green. Hovland also has two runner-up finishes in 2020 at Torrey Pines and at the Concession. 
 
The Norwegian has yet to post a top-10 in a major for his young career, but neither had Collin Morikawa before he won last year’s PGA. He looks like he is peaking at the right time and would continue the recent trend of PGA champions in their 20s. 
 
Hovland, who can be shaky with the putter like many young players, had both PGA Tour victories (Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Golf Classic) on paspalum greens and on seaside, blustery courses. Those wins were against weaker fields, but the incoming form cannot be dismissed.
 
Scottie Scheffler 50-1
 
Like DeChambeau, Scheffler had a disappointing home game last week in Dallas with a 47th. 
 
He tied fourth in the PGA at Harding Park last August, then was T-19th on his Masters debut and T-18th on his return there last month. In addition, he finished fifth in the WGC Workday Championship and was runner-up in the WGC Dell Match Play, which was held on a Dye design at Austin Country Club. 
 
Tyrrell Hatton 55-1
 
Hatton has looked a bit out of form in 2021 despite having won already this year by holding off McIlroy in Abu Dhabi. 
 
He was T-6th this year in Saudi Arabia on paspalum greens. In addition, Hatton finished third last year at the RBC Heritage on another Pete Dye design at Harbour Town. 
 
Will Zalatoris 65-1
 
Zalatoris led the field last week in Dallas for strokes gained: approach (+ 2.37) and was third for strokes gained tee to green (+ 2.67). However, he finished T-17th due to losing over a stroke per round on the greens. 
 
He has taken a liking to coastal courses with a seventh this year at Torrey Pines. Zalatoris has also shown well on paspalum courses with a fourth in the Bahamas last year on the Korn Ferry Tour and an eighth in the Dominican Republic on the PGA Tour, which was just one week after his sixth at the U.S. Open. 
 
Joaquin Niemann 70-1
 
Niemann rates fifth on the PGA Tour for driving distance and 10th for strokes gained off the tee in the last 24 rounds. He is also a very good wind player who can use his low ball flight to his advantage at Kiawah Island. 
 
He had back-to-back second-place finishes this year off the coast in Hawaii. He also has top-5 finishes on Dye designs at Harbour Town and TPC River Highlands. 
 
Jason Kokrak 130-1
 
Kokrak ranks 10th in the field for strokes gained off the tee and 15th for strokes gained putting over the last 24 rounds. He also ranks in the top 25 for total strokes gained and strokes gained ball striking (off the tee +  approach). 
 
He is just a few weeks removed from three consecutive top-10 finishes on the Florida swing. 
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