Golf matchups: In PGA Championship tuneup, don't expect big things from big names

May 10, 2022 09:21 PM
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Since the Masters and the Heritage, the run of tournaments on the PGA Tour has been an interesting one — and one that has been very difficult to handicap. 

Twists in format, watered-down fields and new golf courses have dominated the schedule the last three weeks, and, for the most part, the trend continues this week. TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, hosts the AT&T Byron Nelson for just the second time. Similar to the last two weeks, there’s very little current course history to reference. I have been playing it conservatively during this stretch and will do so again this week. Let's save our bullets for the PGA Championship next week.

Joel Dahmen was one of my horses last week at TPC Potomac, and things looked great after the first round when he was a stroke off of the lead. Then the weather came. Things got cold and rainy for the remainder of the tournament as Dahmen fell drastically off the pace and challenged for dead last. It was my worst tournament of the season, as I failed to cash a single top-20 ticket and went 1-2 on head-to-head matchups. 

After a red-hot start on the West Coast Swing, I'm ready to catch fire again. Fingers crossed, thinking cap on, chronicled tradition welcomed.

What we know about TPC Craig Ranch is it’s a very playable course. The fairways are wide, the greens are big, and with the wind forecast at 10-15 mph, we’re likely to see a winning score of at least 20-under par. Driving Distance and Par 5 Scoring should factor, but more important are likely Strokes Gained: Approach, Strokes Gained: Approach 200 Yards and pouring in a lot of birdies with a hot putter. 

With a winning score of 25-under par in 2021 and the cut line at 6 under, I’ve skirted most of the big names this week. My thought is they are here for a final tuneup for Southern Hills and that’s where their focus will be. Betting some of the marquee players To Miss the Cut could be worth a shot at big plus prices. It’s not far-fetched to think many are of the mindset, "Play 36 holes, work on some things, get out of Dodge and head to Southern Hills."

Here are the full tournament head-to-head matchups I considered and those that I played this week:

Considered (17-21 YTD)

— Joaquin Niemann ( 110) over Will Zalatoris

— Jhonattan Vegas (-110) over Si Woo Kim

Played (15-16 YTD)

— Tommy Fleetwood (-115) over Brooks Koepka. Koepka may be the poster child for the major-tuneup mentality I mentioned. Given that and the fact he has missed four of his last eight cuts, he’s not one I expect to have a great deal of success this week. Fleetwood has been playing well with three top 20s and a top 10 in his last five stroke-play events. It tells you something when the oddsmakers are making him a favorite over the perceived better player. Fleetwood is the far better putter and ranks on par with Kopeka in the other stats I looked at this week. He has his sights set on Southern Hills too, but I feel like he'll be far more engaged than Koepka this week.

— Aaron Wise (-145) over Matt Kuchar. Wise dominates Kuchar in most stats this week. In the one Kuchar holds an advantage, Strokes Gained: Putting, Wise is 74th in the field to Kuchar's 41st — not a huge discrepancy. Both have played well in Texas, and Kuchar has two top-five finishes in his last three starts, but Wise counters with two top 20s and a top 10 in his last five starts. At one respected sportsbook, I’m seeing Wise at 45-1 and Kuchar at 125-1 in the outright market.

— Adam Hadwin (-150) over Davis Riley. Riley is a young up-and-comer who will win on tour — probably sooner rather than later — but Hadwin is the more experienced player and is in excellent form, finishing ninth, seventh, fourth and 26th in his last four stroke-play starts. Hadwin holds a huge advantage in the stats this week, and although Riley beats him in Driving Distance, I’ll ride with the guy who is far better on approach, on the greens and in making birdies.

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