“Glory’s Last Shot” becomes “Tiger’s Next Shot.” Moving from its traditional spot on the calendar in August where it had been the final major of the year, the PGA Championship now takes place in May. It will mark the first time that Tiger Woods hits a golf shot in a competitive round since his stunning victory at the Masters almost exactly one month ago. The PGA Championship becomes the second major of the season with the U.S. Open taking place in June and the British Open Championship in July.
Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., will host the 101st edition of the PGA Championship, a course that Tiger won the U.S. Open at in 2002 and that Lucas Glover did so in 2009. It is a difficult course, one of the tougher tests players will face all year. The fairways are relatively narrow with slight doglegs in both directions. The greens are a Poa Annua surface like we see primarily on the West Coast courses, but they are relatively flat, without much undulation to judge. They are smaller greens in size than most Tour courses and many are elevated, largely protected by sand bunkers. The designer is A.W. Tillinghast, who also did Baltusrol, the site of the 2017 PGA Championship. Bethpage Black has also hosted a couple of recent FedEx Cup Playoff events, the Barclays in 2012, won by Nick Watney, and in 2016, won by Patrick Reed.
The course is a long Par 70 at over 7,400 yards. With the wet spring they have had in the area, the rough will be thick and the fairways soft. If we look at the four events hosted by Bethpage Black, we find that it is a ball strikers course. Scrambling will be key as the smaller greens will definitely be missed, but I don’t believe that a hot putter and/or wicked short game will necessarily separate one from the field. It will come down to getting off of the tee with length and accuracy and hitting greens in regulation. One other area of note will be scoring on the Par-4 holes. With a Par 70, 12 of the 18 holes will be Par 4s. Making an occasional birdie and avoiding bogeys on these holes will be key in gaining strokes on the field. Finally, the forecast called for rain on Tuesday and temperatures in the mid-60s with cloudy skies and winds in the neighborhood of 10 mph the rest of the week.
FULL TOURNAMENT HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUP Scott Piercy (-160) over Graeme McDowell
Yes, this is a big price and one I don’t often fancy in a head-tohead matchup. But in this case, I actually feel it may be a bargain. Piercy has had a great season, not missing a cut since October 2018, and is coming off of a second-place finish last week at the Byron Nelson. He hits it long and straight, ranking 43rd on Tour in Total Driving. He is 8th in Greens in Regulation and 3rd in Par 4 Scoring. McDowell has had a good season too, winning at Corales Puntacana back in March, but I don’t feel he has the length or the ball-striking ability here at this particular golf course. At the Barclays in 2012 and 2016, he missed the cut. The strength of McDowell’s game is putting. As I said above, I don’t feel putting will lead to an advantage this week. Piercy matches up here with the flat stick, too, ranking 26th on Tour in Putting Average. I believe Piercy has a good shot to win the whole championship, let alone this head-to-head matchup.
TO WIN THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Jason Day (20/1)
A former PGA Champion and also one who has a prowess for performing well on Tillinghast courses. Day took 2nd at the 2017 PGA Championship and 4th at the 2016 Barclays. He ranks 19th on Tour in Ball Striking and 15th in Par 4 Scoring. Jason Day also has a tremendous track record on Poa Annua greens, including a 5th- and 4th-place finish at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, respectively, earlier this season. He was 5th at the Masters in April and took 24th at the Wells Fargo two weeks ago as the defending champion.
Jon Rahm (20/1)
Rahm could be the player to continue the trend of first-time major champions as we have seen 14 of the last 23 majors go to a player who hadn’t won a major. Like Day, Rahm is an excellent Poa Annua player, winning at Torrey Pines in 2017 and making it to the final pairing on Sunday. He took 9th at Augusta and was incredibly efficient, making only six bogies all week. He is exceptionally long off of the tee and also very accurate. He’s 16th on Tour in Ball Striking.
Louis Oosthuizen (60/1)
The sweet-swinging South African has famously finished 2nd in every major and does also have a British Open win in 2010. He was 2nd at the PGA at Baltusrol in 2017 and also took 18th and 5th at the Barclays in 2016 and 2012, respectively. He’s 28th on Tour in Driving Accuracy, 13th in Scrambling and 3rd in Par 4 Scoring.
Scott Piercy (100/1)
Not only did Piercy finish 2nd at the Byron Nelson last week, but he took 3rd two weeks before that at the RBC Heritage. He was 10th on the small Poa Annua greens at Pebble Beach in February. Piercy ranks 20th on Tour in Ball Striking, 49th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 14th in Scrambling.