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US PGA preview

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Major week is upon us again and due to the Olympics in Rio, the US PGA is here early. The US PGA is the fourth and final major of the 2016 season and we should be in for another fun week. So far we have seen three first-time major winners crowned this season, will it be four after this week?

Danny Willett won the Masters, nearly-man – Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open and Henrik Stenson hoisted the Claret Jug two weeks ago.

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There is a whole host of players waiting in the wings to join this list of newly crowned major winners and will take hope from what they have seen thus far.

Of course the likes of Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will be favourites to take home the Wanamaker trophy. Spieth by his own ridiculous standards is having a down season, having not won since January. McIlroy and Day have both been in great form of late, bettered only by Johnson.

What will it take to win this week?

The Course:

(Baltusrol Golf Club, Par 70, 7,428 yards)

Baltusrol hosted the 2005 US PGA Championship where Phil Mickelson was triumphant. Mickelson bested the rest of the field with a -4 winning total, one better than Steve Elkington.

Only nine players finished under par that week, highlighting the difficulty of this course. On the front-9 there are no par-5’s as the 1st and 7th are converted to par 4’s this week, as they were in 05’.

The course was originally designed by A.W Tillinghast who designed several top courses. Since 2005, Rees Jones has made changes to the course. Tillinghast’s most notables designs were Bethpage State Park (Black), Ridgewood Country Club and Winged Foot Club.

Winged Foot hosted the 1997 US PGA Championship and the 2006 U.S Open.

As well as Baltusrol, Rees Jones has been responsible for remodelling two more of Tillinhast’s designs (Bethpage Black and Ridgewood Country Club)

Bethpage Black hosted the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009 as well as The Barclays in 2012. This is also going to be the host venue this year. Ridgewood hosted The Barclays in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

These courses tend to play fairly tough on major weeks so I am expecting more of the same here. I am not sure it will hold up as well as it did in 05’ but I still expect the winning score to be in single digits.

Key statistics:

Hitting greens will be as imperative as ever and if the course plays as it did in 05’, the ability to grind out a score will be important to. Of those that finished in the top-5 here in 05’ only Thomas Bjorn finished outside the top-17 for Greens in Regulation (T46) for the week. Mickelson ranked 8th whilst Elkington ranked T17, Davis Love III 1st and Tiger Woods T11.

Elkington drove the ball well (T14 in Driving Accuracy) and putted well (T10 in Total Putting), however still finished one shot shy of Mickelson. Statistically Mickelson didn’t jump off the page but finishing T37 in Driving Accuracy as well as 8th in GIR suggests he put much more emphasis on accuracy that week.

Mickelson ranked 75th in Driving Distance that week in 05’ and still managed to win. Elkington was 64th, Bjorn 50th, Love III 6th and Woods 2nd. So whilst Woods and Love III ranked highly the others did not get it out a long way off the tee.

This will give the shorter, more accurate hitters more hope than in previous majors so far this year.

Distance has become a lot more important over the last decade though and I can still see the top of the leaderboard being littered with those that hit it a long way.

Last five PGA Championship winners:

Keegan Bradley (-8)

Rory McIlroy (-13)

Jason Dufner (-10)

Rory McIlroy (-16)

Jason Day (-20)

Looking back over the last five years, the winning score has been low. It is unlikely to be as low as it has been generally but Dufner’s -10 score in 2013 looks a realistic benchmark.

I took a look at who won at the aforementioned courses designed by Tillinghast and these results are below.

Major winners and runner(s) up:

1997 PGA Championship (Winged Foot)

Winner: Davis Love III

Runner up: Justin Leonard

2002 U.S. Open (Bethpage Black)

Winner: Tiger Woods

Runner up: Phil Mickelson

2006 U.S. Open (Winged Foot)

Winner: Geoff Ogilvy

Runner(s) up: Colin Montgomerie, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson

2009 U.S. Open (Bethpage Black)

Winner: Lucas Glover

Runner(s) up: David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Ricky Barnes

The Barclays winners and runner(s) up:

2008 (Ridgewood):

Winner: Vijay Singh

Runner(s) up: Sergio Garcia and Kevin Sutherland

2010 (Ridgewood):

Winner: Matt Kuchar

Runner-up: Martin Laird

2012 (Bethpage Black):

Winner: Nick Watney

Runner up – Brandt Snedeker

2014 (Ridgewood):

Winner: Hunter Mahan

Runner(s) up: Stuart Appleby, Jason Day and Cameron Tringale

Betting Selections:
Phil Mickelson 25/1 (BetVictor)

PGA Championship appearances: 23

PGA Championship Top-10’s: 9 (Best finish Win)

To me, there is hardly a more obvious pick this week than Mickelson. I may have backed him at 45/1 at the Open but given him performance his odds have rightly tumbled.

Given he won this event at this course last time it was here is already enough. Add to that his form on Tillinghast designs and he just looks the best bet this week.

He has one more major left in him in my opinion and if he didn’t run into the steam train that was Henrik Stenson on Open Sunday he may well have already nabbed his 6th major.

Mickelson’s advancing age is always going to be a worry but he put those doubts behind him last time out at the Open. 2016 has been a good year for Mickelson, despite not winning, so I do think he may well get a win before the season is out. This and The Barclays look his best two chances to pick one up.

Statistically a promising sign for Mickelson is that he ranks 4th in Bogey Avoidance.

Sergio Garcia 28/1 (Bet365, Betfair & PaddyPower)

PGA Championship appearances: 17

PGA Championship Top-10’s: 4 (Best finish, twice runner-up)

With the likes of Johnson and Stenson bagging their first and arguably overdue majors already this year, the stage is set for Garcia to follow suit.

Given he is twice a runner-up in this event, firstly in 1999 on debut so he must enjoy this event.

He famously battled it out with Tiger Woods that year and whilst he won’t be chasing down Tiger this time around he will no doubt be up for the challenge again.

Garcia has had an exceptional season, with a win at the Byron Nelson in May capping it off. Before that he had come T11 at the WGC HSBC Championship, won at the Ho Tram Championship on the Asia Tour and also finished 2nd to an in-form Adam Scott at the Honda Classic.

At the majors this year, Garcia has finished T34 at the Masters and then T5 at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

Garcia plays Tillinghast designs well, highlighted by his 2nd place finish at The Barclays in 2008 and his 4th placed finish at the U.S. Open in 2002 (Bethpage Black). He did also finish 23rd at the PGA here in 05′.

Now of course these results were a long time ago but such is his form that I believe he can contend anywhere at the moment. As a result any sort of form that can relate to this course is an added bonus.

Another positive is the fact Garcia ranks 3rd on Tour in Greens in Regulation.

The Spaniard is hard to look past and although he has a record of somewhat flattering to deceive at majors, the 28/1 looks quite generous given the majors so far this year.

It doesn’t happen often but it looks written in the stars for a whole season of first-time major winners.

Brandt Snedeker 60/1 (BoyleSports)

PGA Championship appearances: 9

PGA Championship Top-10’s: 0 (Best finish, 12th)

Snedeker finished 5th at the Canadian Open last week, failing to capitalise on his 54-hole lead.

This 5th came a week after his 22nd placed finish at the Open Championship two weeks ago.

He has a lot of major pedigree with T12 or better finishes in all four majors, with the T12 coming at this event last season.

The PGA is the only major where Snedeker has not finished inside the top-10 but he does have three top-20’s.

Add to his major pedigree his runner-up finish at the 2012 The Barclays and he looks very well suited to this test.

Despite his lack of length he can play long holes and long courses as a whole very well, so his distance off the tee doesn’t bother me. He did also say at the start of the year that his new driver had added distance to his game.

Whilst he is struggling hitting greens (99th in GIR), he is T2 in par 4 scoring and 36th in Bogey Avoidance, two stats I like this week.

Snedeker won at Torrey Pines earlier this year with his final round being one of the best of all time, given the conditions.

I always think he’s in with a shout to win a major and as he comes in slightly under the radar this week, it may well be his time.

Zach Johnson 66/1 (General)

PGA Championship appearances: 12

PGA Championship Top-10’s: 3 (Best finish, T3)

Zach Johnson is the player this week where I have put statistics aside and to a certain extent suitability of the course.

His stats are all over the place this year and whether it be a down year or the change the PXG equipment, there was a drop in his performance. He has however shown a new lease of life in recent weeks and now looks good value.

He has not missed a cut since The Masters and in his last four events he has finished T17 or better including a T8 and a T12 at the U.S. Open and Open Championship respectively.

Johnson came 17th here in 05′ which is a positive despite it being over 10 years ago.

In the two U.S. Open’s he’s played (2006, 2009) at the aforementioned correlating courses, Johnson has missed both cuts, but that’s not his favourite major.

At The Barclays he has gone MC-T21-T38-T22 at the courses above, so mediocre but not off putting by any means.

Johnson is now a two-time major winner and must be considered at 66/1 especially when in form.

He has a fairly good record in the year’s final major and a think he can go well again this week.