PGA Championship 2014 Final Preview

PGA2014Prize Fund – $10,000,000

FedEx Points – 600

So then, here we are for one last final hurrah. ‘Glory’s last shot’ (or now what they laboriously call ‘The Seasons Final Major’ – typical, boring rubbish!)

The PGA Championship 2014 provides that final opportunity for all the worlds best to grab hold of a major, whilst this year it is the start of that final push for Ryder Cup qualification (obviously for European and American players!)

We did write an original preview last week, which glanced at previous trends and history of PGA Championships and recent tournaments at the host venue, Valhalla Golf Club. It would be foolish not to check it out! 

The course is aptly named Valhalla because of its beauty and majestic prowess baring all sorts of similarities with the Nordic myth of ‘Valhalla’ – the hall in Asgard, where all those who died with honour will take their place amongst their ancestors. The best in the world have their chance to become a lord of golfing legend and conquer the ‘mortals’ battlefields in the 4 days of competition…

The par 71 course will play at 7,458 yards – a remarkable 295 yards longer than Oak Hill last year and a couple of hundred more since Valhalla last hosted a major event – the 2011 Senior PGA Championship.

Jack Nicklaus has renovated the course twice since Tiger Woods lifted the trophy back here in 2000. Mainly lengthening the track, but also adapting all the greens, making them a tough proposition for the field, whilst the rough has been allowed to grow considerably more since the 2008 Ryder Cup. It has a links-type feel and its tree-lined and undulating fairways make it a very difficult course, which will obviously require length, but a tactical mindset and careful approach is going to be just as important.

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

The similarities with Muirfield Village are there for all to see – both Nicklaus designs, both have a Scottish-links feel and both have this clever length perception that makes you think bombers will suit it, but actually plotting will certainly help when attacking greens – especially if the rough is as thick as they are saying it will be.

It is definitely important to look at Memorial Tournament history and even Open Championship results, as you can see by the previous winners:

Tom Watson (2011 Senior PGA Championship)Two-time Muirfield and 5-time Open winner

Hale Irwin (2004 Senior PGA)Two-time winner at Muirfield and 3 top 10s at the Open

Tiger Woods (2000 PGA) – Five-time Muirfield and 3-time Open winner

Mark Brooks (1996 PGA)Three top 7s at Muirfield and 2 top 5s at the Open.

Obviously the game has changed in regards to length over the years – at the end of the day every winner since 2004 has averaged 290+ yards on Tour before their PGA victory (barring Jason Dufner last year!)

But we must re-iterate that there is more to Valhalla than just blasting your way through it – this war will require bravery yes, but a strategic battle-plan will, without doubt, provide us with the winner.

TwitterDon’t forget to follow us throughout the week on Twitter @downthe18th for the latest news, betting + banter. Please get in touch and let us know what you think of our picks and who you fancy as well!

Have a look on the link below to find the best odds and free bets for the week’s golf with our affiliates, Coral.


Sergio Garcia (18/1 various)

Can he finally put a winning smile on that face? - courtesy of usgolftv

Can he finally put a winning smile on that face? – courtesy of usgolftv

Yes that’s right, we are going there! Despite our admiration for McIlroy’s brilliance at Firestone, it was ultimately frustrating seeing our man Garcia succumb to the Northern Irishman. It was not just Rory’s play on the Sunday that went in his favour but it is the aura that surrounds him when he plays to the best of his ability. But even so, Garcia shot a 1 over par 71 which was just not good enough to get the job done! So why are we going to put ourselves through it once again?

As hard as it is to believe, Sergio will not have been affected as much by the defeat as first meets the eye. On a course the Spaniard had not recorded a top 20 on since 2005 and openly admitted he didn’t like, 2nd place will give him huge confidence. Not to mention the fact he shot a course record 61 including that magnificent Friday back 9. His back 9 on Friday and front 9 on Saturday actually totalled to 59 – the magic number. This 2nd place was now his third in the last 4 events and as we mentioned last week, he is well and truly knocking on the door of that winners enclosure.

The 1999 PGA Championship was the scene of Sergio Garcia’s arrival, a much more hot-headed character to the one we see today. It’s a tournament that has also seen him finish 2nd, back in 2008. With his newfound putting ability and love for the ‘claw grip’, Sergio has the perfect armory to attack Valhalla. Last week he averaged 312yards off the tee and ranked 5th GIR and 16th putting. But with Rory averaging 335 off the tee, you can begin to see why he was hard to compete against.

Here’s how his statistics are looking: 12th total driving; 4th GIR; 15th strokes gained-putting; 1st scoring average; 4th scrambling; 5th approaches below 200yards; 2nd GIR 200+yards; 9th proximity to the hole.

You might think we’re crazy but if there’s something we’ve learnt during our time in golf, it’s expect the unexpected. Come on Sergio.

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
T62 (292.9) 3rd 27th T2   (2001) 2nd (2007/09) 2nd 1st (Qatar Masters)

   Matt Kuchar (33/1 Coral) BEST PRICE   

Let's get that smile back please Kuuch. Come on! Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America

Let’s get that smile back please Kuuch. Come on!
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America

Matt Kuchar now has 6 top 10s in majors, but he’s yet to push himself over that final hurdle and actually lift one of golfs biggest prizes.  We know, just like Sergio, that it can’t be far away, at the end of the day they are just too talented.

Last week saw another one of those performances where he played well, without really threatening.  He finished T15 and shot 2 superb rounds in the mid 60s, but they were either side of a couple of average scores.  BUT -5 on the Sunday will surely give him plenty of confidence going into this final major – also proving that he is very adept at longer tracks, even though his length off the tee is not as long as others.   Although to be fair, he was 40th for distance at Firestone, averaging 298 yards, so that is more than long enough for Valhalla.

Interestingly, 3 of his last 4 major top 10s all came after one of these ‘plodding’ outings the week before. To us, it shows he is just getting his game in the right place without over exerting himself.

He has had a season of close calls – arguably he could have won 6 other tournaments on top of his RBC Heritage victory, but for varying reasons, he didn’t hang on.

His love for Muirfield Village definitely excited us – 5 top 10s in his last 6 outings there, including a win in 2013.  He is a traditional ball striker, whose tee to green prowess is up there with anyone and if he can keep everything in tact between his ears then we are sure he will be challenging come Sunday.

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
146th (281.9) T43 11th 1st(2013) T9 (2012) T12 1st (Hyundai)


   Hideki Matsuyama (66/1 Coral) BEST PRICE   

What a future this guy has

What a future this guy has

After asserting himself on everyone’s radar in 2013 with a T10 at the US Open and T6 at the Open, the question was whether he could back that up with something more in 2014. Well he did. Hideki went onto win the Memorial Tournament at the beginning of June and that victory bodes well in so many ways for this week! As we mentioned in our trends preview (here), there are very close links between the PGA Championship and Muirfield Village, home of the Memorial Tournament. The track offers a really similar test and weighs in at around the same yardage. Of course, we were only looking for people who have done well there but the fact the 22 year old won there means he gets our full attention.

Since his victory, the man from Japan has mellowed out somewhat without contending at the top but equally not missing cuts either. But last week at Firestone, where he finished T12, we saw the same Matsuyama that won his first PGA title a couple of months back. Finishing with rounds of 65 and 68, he ranked 1st in putting and 12th in driving distance. If he can tighten up on his shorter irons going into Valhalla, he could genuinely have a real chance.

He isn’t as dominant in the stats department but he is top in a few key yardages pivotal to Valhalla: 6th approaches below 200yards; 3rd GIR 100-125 yards; 1st approaches 150-175yards; 1st approaches 50-125yards. This year he ranks 108 in strokes gained-putting but as we said, last week he was first around Firestone…

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
58th (293.4) T72 T100 1st   (2014) T6 (2013) T12 1st (Memorial)

Marc Leishman (50/1 various)

Marc Leishman is a true warrior, fit for battle at Valhalla. Andrew Redington/Getty Images North America

Marc Leishman is a true warrior, fit for battle at Valhalla.
Andrew Redington/Getty Images North America

First question.  Would we have plumped for Marc Leishman at 50s? Undeniably there would have been a lengthier discussion, but probably yes.  Second Question.  What did we get him at yesterday morning? 100/1.  We had talked about the Australian as someone who interested us before his exploits last week and when we saw he was still at 100s we jumped on him, thinking that was a cracking price.

Do not be put off by the fact he has been slashed in half, it is frustrating but you cannot deny he probably warrants it now with his recent form.  6 top 10s this year show his class, but it has not been in just regular PGA Tour events – 3rd last week at the WGC, T5 at The Open, T8 at the Quicken Loans National (a major track in Congressional) and T2 at Farmers Insurance Open (another major track in Torrey Pines.)  That means that 4 out his 6 top 10s have been on really difficult courses and it proves he has got all the ability to challenge the best in the world.

His performance last week was a joy to watch.  Huge credit to his determination to keep plugging away and attack the leaders – he did shoot a 67 in the penultimate group on a final day at a WGC event… He still attacked those pins, even when he found the rough, which gives us great confidence going into next week when we expect the longer stuff to be of similar length.

But what is most encouraging is how he putted – 2nd in putting average for the week, which combined with his extraordinary length and solid iron game, means he could really upset the lords at Valhalla.

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
T40 (295.8) T69 90th T37 (2014) T5 (2014) 3rd T3 (Byron Nelson/WGC)

OUTSIDERS

   Hunter Mahan (80/1 Coral) BEST PRICE   

Perfect for this course

Perfect for this course

Despite not winning last year in 2013, we really felt that Mahan had proven himself once again as one of the best American golfers on tour. But since his famous withdrawal at the Canadian Open, where he was leading, it’s all been a bit sour. He withdrew to be at the birth of his child if you didn’t know – hats off to him!

It’s only been within the past month that we have started to see glimpses of the magnificent ball striker that is Hunter Mahan. Last week, his T15 finish marked his first finish inside the top 20 since the WGC Cadillac all the way back in early March. Admittedly, whether this is enough to go and compete in a major remains to be seen.

What always impresses us with Mahan is his consistency off the tee. Not only did he average nearly 300 yards around Firestone, but he finished 5th in driving accuracy too. And if he starts rolling in the putts, he goes low.

He ranks 4th in total driving and 18th in ball striking despite a mediocre 2014. Two of his best performances this year have come on similar type tracks, at Pebble Beach and the Cadillac.

Not that the Ryder Cup in ’08 has much of a bearing on this tournament, but Hunter was one of Paul Azinger’s captain’s picks around Valhalla. He duly responded with a 2-0-3 undefeated record. After the American antics of Holmes, Weekley and co, Valhalla will bring back many happy memories for the 32 year old.

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
T40 (295.8) 37th T49 T13 (2008) T6 (2007) T15 6th (Pebble Beach)

Louis Oosthuizen (90/1 PaddyPower)

He is a major champions don't forget... Photo Courtesy of Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

He is a major champions don’t forget…
Photo Courtesy of Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Oh, Louis, Louis, Oh Honey, Honey.  What a tough time the South African has been having this year.  Injuries have completely halted his progress after what was a highly promising start to the season.

He won the Volvo Golf Champions in the first week of 2014, but has had to deal with all sorts of problems since, not truly finding consistent form.  He started to look good last week after a 3rd round 67, but he never got going on Sunday, eventually finishing 61st.  Similar to his performance at the Open where he was looking decent before a pretty poor weekend.

There is no denying his capabilities as a player and if he is anywhere near his best, this sort of course is perfect for him.  Hence why we just felt obliged to chuck some money on him as an outsider – he hits the ball a long way (17th driving distance), he is a cracking ball striker (T26 ball striking) and his all-round mentality from tee to green is outstanding.  If he can get it working again with the putter, do not be surprised to see him up there again.

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
17th (301.7) T26 162nd MC   (2012) 1st (2010) 61st 1st Volvo Golf

   Bill Haas (125/1 Coral) BEST PRICE   

Yes Bill, yes Bill.

Yes Bill, yes Bill.

Bill Haas has completely gone under the radar in recent months.  We have hardly heard a mutter about him and that is fair enough in some ways because he hasn’t really been attacking the top of leaderboards, but what he has been doing is plugging away consistently.

No missed cuts all year and most weeks he will find a good round or 2, but rarely has he put all that together for 4 days straight.  So why go there for a major?

He ticks many of the boxes when it comes to Valhalla and this championship: he averages over 290 yards; he is in the top bracket of ball strikers; he is solid with the putter; he has finished inside the top 10 twice in a row at Muirfield Village; he was certainly in and around the top 25 at the WGC before a disappointing Sunday and above all, he is a class player on his day.

Valhalla suits someone like Haas, so do not be surprised if that plodding turns into something more than just a made cut…

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
T85 (290.0) 31st 66th T4   (2013) T19 (2012) T41 T6 (WGC Cadillac + Humana)

Graham DeLaet (125/1 BoyleSports)

Fear the beard!! Courtesy of thestar.com

Fear the beard!!
Courtesy of thestar.com

We’re sure a few of you will raise eyebrows at this one but at these odds and the ability he has, it’s worth a bit of money. Now before you worry, his withdrawal last week was because of a bout of ‘man flu’. He should be fine this week to resume full preparation for the last major.

All the positive stuff we are about to mention are dependent on one thing, the putter. He is quite comfortably the best golfer around without a PGA Tour title to his name and it is his ability on the greens that has stopped him from doing so.

His stats this year are: 15th driving distance; 4th total driving; 3rd GIR; 19th scoring average; 1st ball striking; 1st approaches below 200yards; 1st GIR 200+; 5th proximity to the hole. Just take all of those in. To say he hasn’t yet won a PGA title let alone a WGC or major is crazy. But… 119th strokes gained-putting might tell you why.

Before the Canadian’s withdrawal this weekend, he was ranked inside the top 20 in putting and top 30 for driving distance. He also notched up rounds of 67 and 69 on the first two days, which is vital considering the link between the WGC and PGA down the years. This is all after his T7 and top home national award at the Canadian Open 2 weeks ago – where he also ranked T16 in both putting and GIR. So the signs are good.

Look at it like this, if he keeps striking the ball the way he has been around Valhalla and only holes a few putts, he’ll still be in the mixer. Whether he can convert it into a victory, we’ll leave that in the hands of the putting gods.

Driving Distance Ball Striking Strokes Gained Putting Best Muirfield Village Finish Best Open Finish WGC Bridgestone Finish 2014 Best Finish this season
12th (302.9) 1st 117th T21 (2013) 83rd W/D – due to flu… T2 (Phoenix + Farmers)

Let us know your thoughts on our selections and who you fancy this week! @DownThe18th

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2 thoughts on “PGA Championship 2014 Final Preview

  1. Pingback: PGA Championship 2014 Trends | DownThe18th

  2. Bowditch top 20. Finished 26th at the masters when his form was up and down. Missed the cut in the memorial but he was -2 for the 2nd round. 32nd in driving distance. 8th for eagles. I think most of the regular scoring will be on the 5’s. He will have to tighten up a few areas but would be feeling pretty good about his game atm. What you think?

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