Winner’s Share – $1,800,000
Course – Whistling Straits (7,514 yards par 72)
Our 2014 Picks – Sergio Garcia – T36, Hideki Matsuyama – T36, Marc Leishman – MC, Hunter Mahan – T7, Louis Oosthuizen – T15
So here we go, one last push, one final hurdle. The golfing Major season will come to a head at a Pete Dye classic, as arguably the best field of the four big ones battle it out to win the PGA Championship.
It often gets moved aside for the traditional majors and is only considered slightly bigger than The Players in some circles, but do not be fooled – The top 100 players automatically qualify whilst tournament winners in the past 12 months also get a spot (as well as some of the PGA Pro’s that got through their own qualification process) so this is a huge event with an unbelievable history and the very best players at this moment.
A history that includes some memorable moments as well. Y.E Yang defeating Tiger in 09’, the new boy Keegan Bradley toppling the world in 2010, Rich Beem and his heroics in 2002, Shaun Micheel in 2003. We really could go on, but there are so many magnificent sporting stories that come to the fore with this 4th Major.
So, before we get talking about Mr. Dye’s beautifully set up track, let’s have a look at some of the trends and recent history of the PGA Championship.
For starters, there are three points that consistently crop up with PGA winners –
- 13 of the last 15 champions recorded a victory in the same year.
This is no surprise in a lot of ways because the field is made up of winners, but it may help narrow down your search slightly. It does show that you have a recent knack of knowing how to get the job done and some sort of form.
- Since the WGC Bridgestone became the unwritten warm-up to the PGA in 2006, the winner has always been in the field and remarkably, always finished inside the top 22. (A big argument can be made to stretch that to those who finished T25 this year)
The lengthy nature of Firestone makes this little surprise as well – PGA tournaments are always on long tracks, so the comparison is obvious. Plus, another indicator that the winners’ game is in decent knick.
- Barring Jason Dufner in 2013, every winner going back to Vijay Singh in 2004 has averaged over 291 yards before the win
Again, hardly surprising considering the length of traditional PGA tracks – barring Oak Hill (2013, 2003), Southern Hills (07’) and Medinah (06’) every course measures in at 7,400 yards minimum.
So, if we are judging everything by that, we can actually narrow down the field to a select few names who fit the categories and they’re as follows (world ranking in brackets) –
- Jordan Spieth (2nd)
- Bubba Watson (3rd)
- Jason Day (5th)
- Justin Rose (6th)
- Rickie Fowler (7th)
- Patrick Reed (18th)
- Shane Lowry (19th)
- Brooks Koepka (20th)
- Danny Willett (25th)
- Bernd Wiesberger (26th)
- Branden Grace (28th)
- Robert Streb (40th)
- Steven Bowditch (60th)
- Camilo Villegas (156th)
So, those few names make for very interesting reading. We are now going to be able to whittle the list down even further by looking at Whistling Straits itself.
The Pete Dye layout will play as a 7,512 yard par 72 and is chiselled alongside the shores of Lake Michigan. There is absolutely no doubting there is a resemblance to classic Links tracks often found in Ireland – and even Chambers Bay in some regards, but at it’s core you have an American track that can be over-powered in good conditions and bite in tough, windy weather.
Eights of the holes are completely exposed to the lake and there are elevation changes of a staggering 80ft throughout the course. But the undulating, rolling landscapes have a cracking defence in the ridiculous 900+ bunkers littered all over.
On the surface you would think that driving accuracy will be key, but Singh and Kaymer were nowhere near the top end in that stats category and looking back at their performances, it seems far more important to have your irons in full flow.
Hitting the small, tough greens is no easy feet, especially trying to the ball to stop. Therefore the usual Links skill of scrambling will be vital for our 2015 winner.
If you look at it – Kaymer and Singh were both inside the top 10 for GIR stats throughout the week as well as the top 20 in scrambling. So, let’s now scrap those names above who are outside the top 40 in both those categories.
Here’s the five left –
- Bubba Watson (3rd)
- Jason Day (5th)
- Danny Willett (25th)
- Bernd Wiesberger (26th)
- Branden Grace (28th)
Now you cannot deny those are some very fascinating names. Before we get into the nitty gritty of our own picks, we must mention that for us, Bubba and Day are too short to consider below 20’s – there’s much better value out there, but they should still be contemplated seriously before finalising your staking plans.
For the fourth and final time in 2015 – enjoy this week’s major!
Rickie Fowler (22/1 various)
Yes, we’re going there again. We are just so adamant Rickie is going to win a major very soon that when a course sort of suits him, we feel our hands are tied.
He does fit the original trends, but didn’t make the last 5 because he lies in 93rd for scrambling, however we’ve seen how well he can play from tough positions when it matters most.
At the end of the day he won in typical Links conditions in Scotland and got himself into the mix at The Open, so he knows how to play these sorts of layouts. It clearly didn’t work for him at Chambers Bay, but some of that must be to do with the group he was playing in – they were all awful…
And in his last two outings, he finished 2nd at the Quicken Loans and T10 last week at the WGC. He’s in great knick and should be incredibly confident in his abilities.
He is an outstanding bunker player as well, which will without doubt come into play at times this week – his sand saves last week were 88.88%…
Overall, he’s a big hitter, 41st for driving distance – and can get in a real flow with his irons when everything is working well. You’d be a fool not to at least consider him…
Henrik Stenson (28/1 various)
We’ve heard a few whispers about Stenson recently that everything wasn’t quite going right, but he proved his form by a very solid T6 last week.
He never propelled forward massively, but was consistent in his scoring and should take confidence moving forward to a major that should suit his game.
So he hasn’t won this year, therefore didn’t make the trends, but blimey has he had some good outings – Five top 4 finishes this season say everything, so he isn’t in the worst knick
Looking at his stats, you have to be impressed as well. 38th for driving distance, 1st for GIR and 62nd for scrambling. With his prodigious tee to green game he could overpower this track and use his expertise on Links tracks to perfection.
A really good shout for the ‘top bracket’ of players…
Brooks Koepka (45/1 PaddyPower)
Brooks Koepka has slowly been producing the sort of form that warrants him being a very interesting mid-ranger at 45’s. He is consistently playing well on both sides of the Atlantic – he hasn’t missed a cut since The Players and has recorded 6 top 20’s, 3 of which were inside the top 10.
Last week he looked in good rhythm once again, finishing in a tie for 6th and he didn’t shoot over 70 again, taking his record to 9 rounds of 69 or better in his last 10. That’s some going.
So, as well as being in good touch, he suits this sort of track down to the ground. He hits the ball a mile and has the ability to get his irons working ridiculously smoothly – 6th for distance and 19th for GIR, whilst he is actually 49th for scrambling from the rough which bodes well here.
His overall scrambling isn’t great stats wise (155th) but we’ve seen enough of him to know that he can handle the pressures of an up and down in linksy conditions – 3 of his 4 Challenge Tour wins were on coastal tracks… Plus he finished T10 at St. Andrews a few weeks back…
Plus he’s 58th for sand save which basically makes him the complete player.
And don’t forget he’s a two-time winner in the past year, so he knows very much how to get the job done… Intriguing to say the least.
Branden Grace (80/1 various)
It’s probably quite easy to forget that Branden Grace is actually a 3-time European Tour winner in the past year. Whilst that is simply ludicrous, you’d have to think he would be around 30’s if that form was on the PGA Tour…
In fact his form across just 2015 is just breathtakingly good – 18 tournaments, 2 wins, 5 top 10’s, 11 top 20’s and only 2 missed cuts. Unreal.
The South African therefore has to be considered, especially when you think how close he came at Chambers Bay. There was no bottle there at all, he genuinely had a chance going down 16 and a T4 finish is still no mean feat.
He really is coming into his own now and this could be a perfect fit for someone who is used to these sorts of tracks. His stats on his predominant Tour in Europe match everything perfectly – 301 yards off the tee, 8th GIR and 18th scrambling. Not bad. Plus, he fits the trends and history, so there really is little to not like…
Danny Willett (100/1 various)
Danny Willett has had a pretty stellar year and is consistently recording top finishes. With two wins already this season and a further 4 top 6 performances, you cannot doubt the Englishman is an intriguing shout at 3-figure odds.
As we stated in our preview, he fits all the trends and stats for recent winners – a comfortable, if not exciting T17 at the WGC will definitely stand him in good stead – in fact his recent form line is so impressive – T17, 1st in Switzerland and T6 at The Open.
It was at St. Andrews where we saw the potential big tournament winning Willett really shine – a mini breakthrough if you will. He had every chance of capturing the claret jug going into that weekend but all the adverse conditions definitely didn’t do him any favours.
Overall, you’ve got someone that hits it over 292 yards, lies 23rd for GIR and 4th in scrambling on the European Tour and has the all-round tee-to-green game perfectly suited for this test.
Robert Streb (90/1 various)
Our final pick comes in the form of another non-major champion, making it a 6-man team who would all be debutants into the winner’s circle.
Robert Streb has performed above and beyond this year, pretty much continuing his early season form where he won his maiden title at the McGladrey Classic in October.
He almost won again a few weeks back at the Greenbrier but lost out to Danny Lee in a playoff, but that still shows how far he has come to nearly win 2 in the same season.He is actually 5th in the current FedEx standings, which says a lot for consistency – a stunning 8 top 10’s and 13 top 25 finishes prove how well he’s been playing on a very regular basis.
That playoff defeat was followed by a T14 at the John Deere, a T18 at The Open and a solo 5th at last weeks WGC. He was leading at St. Andrews for a while on that first day, which shows he doesn’t mind the adverse Links conditions or the pressures of the biggest tournament in the game.
Stats wise he is perfect as well – 40th for distance, 11th for GIR, 78th fro scrambling, 84th sand save and even 25th for strokes gained putting for a bit of good measure.
The real deal here.