It was a very frustrating week for us both at the WGC and at the Barracuda.
The frustration started with Rose’s withdrawal on Wednesday before even a ball was struck and continued as DJ laboured with the putter for the first two days before catching fire just too late over the weekend.
Meanwhile over in Reno, Swafford, Laird & Mahan all played well but threw in just enough mistakes to stop them from making the frame. Still, inevitably you get weeks like this and fortunately we can move on swiftly to the last Major of the 2018 golfing calendar, The PGA Championship.
This year’s edition of the event is a landmark one in several ways. Firstly it is the 100th playing of the Championship. The first edition was played in 1916 at Siwanoy CC in Bronxville, New York.
Secondly it is the final time the event will be played as the last Major of the year in August as from 2019 the tournament will be played in May as the year’s second Major.
Basically the tournament that has always been known as Glory’s Last Shot will now become Glory’s Second Shot!
Finally it is also all change from a viewers point of view in the UK as after last years last minute shenanigans which lead to the event being broadcast by the BBC, the PGA of America have struck a deal with Eleven Sports to stream the event online.
Whilst for those of us in the UK this will be free view it remains to be seen how much this will help the PGA achieve their stated desired result of gaining a more widespread audience for their product.
After all other than the most ardent golf fan how many armchair sports fans who might have tuned in to Sky/BBC Red Button Coverage because they happen to have heard on the radio that Tiger/Justin/Tommy are in the hunt over the weekend are going to make the effort to track down online coverage on Eleven Sports?
Bearing in mind it is free to view It will be interesting to see how the end of week viewing figures stack up compared to previous years PGA Championship viewing numbers on Sky, or even say compared to last weeks WGC Bridgestone viewing figures.
The field as you would naturally expect for a Major is a stellar one with all of the game’s leading lights set to tee it up.
The market is currently headed up by world No 1 Dustin Johnson. He is then followed in the betting by Rory McIlroy and last weekend’s winner Justin Thomas.
As is tradition for the PGA Championship in amongst the 150 or so who will start the event on Thursday will be 20 PGA of America club professionals.
Literally one or two of these names such as Omar Uresti and Bob Sowards will be familiar to longstanding followers of the PGA tour however most of them will be completely unfamiliar to us viewers and whilst of course they are all hugely competent players with all due respect to them making the cut will be the height of their ambitions.
One name amongst them will be a bit more familiar to us as Zach Johnson has qualified, however the Zach Johnson I am referring to here is not the two time major champion who is also in the field but a club pro from Utah!
Bellerive CC is a par 70 measuring just over 7300yds.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course is a traditional tree lined track.
The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and opened 58yrs ago on Memorial Day in 1960.
The course then underwent renovations in 2006 & 2013 under the guidance of Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones’ son.
Other courses used over recent years on tour designed by Robert Trent Jones include;
Hazeltine - 2009 USPGA
Firestone South - WGC Bridgestone Invitational
Robert Trent Jones GC - 2015 Quicken Loans National
Atlanta Athletic Club - 2011 PGA Championship
Valderrama 2002 – 08 Volvo Masters, 2010, 11 & 17 Andalucia Masters, 2016 Open De Espana.
Trent Jones was also responsible for a redesign of the Lake Course at The Olympic Club, [which hosted the 2012 US Open] prior to it hosting its first US Open in 1955.
Meanwhile Rees Jones has been responsible for redesigns at Hazeltine and Atlanta Athletic Club from the above list as well as at other well known courses including The Golf Club of Houston [Houston Open], Torrey Pines South [Farmers Ins Open], Bethpage Black, East Lake CC [Tour Championship] & Cog Hill home of the 2009, 10 & 11 BMW Championship.
Bellerive itself has been seen once on the PGA Tour in relatively recent times when it hosted the 2008 BMW Championship, which was won by Camillo Villegas.
Looking at the final leaderboard from that event it was an interesting mix of players.
As well as Villegas other renowned ball strikers like Ames, DJ Trahan, Mahan & Glover all finished in the top 15.
Anthony Kim finished 2nd however shorter hitters Furyk, Clark & Gay all performed well.
It is interesting to note that as well as Gay other flat stick wizards Baddeley, Jacobsen and Stricker all finished in the top 15.
Obviously this was ten years ago so it would be dangerous to put too much emphasis on this, however I can’t help but think that the prominence of either really solid ball strikers or great putters on this leaderboard tie in to the fact that the course has been likened to Augusta from a greens point of view.
In effect the course has ‘greens within greens’ meaning that although the greens are relatively large you need to find the right parts/tiers of them otherwise you are in trouble.
This of course would reward guys who excel in good accurate iron play and/or the best putters who can handle the larger undulating greens.
It’s also worth noting that early reports from the players who have visited the course such as last years winner Justin Thomas have given the indication that driving your ball well and keeping it in the fairway this week will be the key ingredient to success, as this will give players the maximum chance of finding the correct spots on the greens with their second shots.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners since 2008.
The winners have been as follows;
2017 J Thomas
2016 J Walker
2015 J Day
2014 R McIlroy
2013 J Dufner
2012 R McIlroy
2011 K Bradley
2010 M Kaymer
2009 Y E Yang
2008 P Harrington
So lets see if we can connect some dots between those players.
Well the first and obvious starting point is the event which has just concluded, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
This is because all of these past ten winners of the PGA had played in the WGC Bridgestone and the worst finish recorded by any of them was last year by Thomas who finished 28th in Akron.
The next worse finish was Kaymer’s 22nd place back in 2010.
Below is a table noting each of the last ten winners Bridgestone result along with their previous two results on the PGA Tour.
In addition I have made a note with either a Y or an N as to whether that player had won on tour that calendar year.
2017 J Thomas Y 28 MC MC
2016 J Walker N 16* 14 MC
2015 J Day Y 12 1 4
2014 R McIlroy Y 1 1 23
2013 J Dufner N 4 26 MC
2012 R McIlroy Y 5 60 MC
2011 K Bradley Y 15 43 22
2010 M Kaymer Y 22 7 8
2009 Y E Yang Y 19 5 8
2008 P Harrington Y 20 1 36
*In 2016 due to the PGA calendar being tweaked to accommodate the Olympics the WGC Bridgestone was played earlier than normal in the first week of July.
As you can see from this list as well as having a good week at Firestone seeming to be a requisite 8 of the past 10 winners had already notched a win on tour that calendar year.
At the time of writing, touch wood, the four tournament days appear to be free of rain and storms with a mixture of sunshine and showers.
Temperatures look set to peak in the high 80s.
There is however a 60% chance of some rain and storms on Tuesday leading in, whilst there is also a 30% to 40% chance of some rain and an isolated storm on Wednesday.
It is therefore likely that the players will be faced with a soft golf course on Thursday, which will gradually dry out and firm up as the week progresses.
Wind does not look to be an issue at all with nothing more than 5-7mph in the forecast all week as I type.
As seems to be the case with pretty much every Major these days we are faced with the choice of either trying to solve the puzzle of separating those at the top of the market, or largely ignoring them in the hope of finding some bigger e/w value based on the attractive place terms the bookmakers now offer.
If you look at those at the head of the market you can naturally make good cases for most of them but equally you can find concerns with most of them.
For example, no one would be surprised if Rory won but on Sunday he again showed frailties when in the thick of things, similarly Jason Day struggled with his long game on Sunday.
Undoubtedly in hindsight JT was great value at 33s last week but is he value now at 14s with all the pressure that comes with defending his first Major? Will Rose’s back be OK? Can Rickie finally produce when it really matters in a Major?, and so we go on.
So having weighed things up I have decided on a combination of players from both ends of the market and have gone with seven players this week as follows;
AARON WISE – 150 -1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
My idea as the best e/w value on offer this week is the odds available on young superstar in the making Aaron Wise.
After landing his first PGA title at the Byron Nelson in May Aaron struggled, missing five consecutive cuts.
After a couple of weeks of to recharge the batteries though Aaron bounced back with a vengeance at Firestone to finish 6th.
When he won at Trinity Forest Wise was imperious with his long game finishing the week 6th for DA and 1st for GIR.
He also negotiated the large undulating greens superbly, which should hold him in good stead this week.
After his mini slump we saw that sort of long game performance from Aaron again last week at Firestone as he finished 2nd for DA and 16th for GIR, with his DA numbers improving steadily every day.
I have explained earlier in the write up the importance of Firestone form over the years coming in to the PGA Championship and allowing for the connections between Bellerive and Firestone through Robert Trent Jones I can see that being just as relevant, if not even more so this year.
In his previous start prior to winning the Byron Nelson Aaron had produced what was his best finish on tour at the time, a 2nd place at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo.
It was therefore interesting to hear last year’s PGA Champion from Quail Hollow Justin Thomas state that he saw similarities between Quail Hollow and Bellerive, with them both being tree lined classical tests.
The other significant point to me about that finish at Quail Hollow is that having been in no sort of form prior to that week he then followed up the big finish with the win next time out. It would therefore seem that Aaron is the sort of player to follow when he gets ‘hot’, which obviously bodes well for this week after last.
There is no doubting Wise’s potential as a player and many people believe that it is only a matter of time before he is joining the JT’s and Brooks’ of the game as one of the leading ‘young guns’.
The big question of course is can he win a major at this stage of his career having only tee’d it up in two before and having missed the cut in both.
Well in principal it is a massive ask, however we have seen time and again with young players over the recent years that if ‘you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ and Wise, if not yet the finished article certainly is potentially good enough.
It’s also worth noting that when he won at Trinity Forest Aaron was hugely impressive on Sunday closing with a bogey free round of 65.
In addition of course, as well as giving us juicy e/w value, the price on offer of 150s [or 200s if you were lucky enough to get on earlier today following my tweet] more than reflects these concerns.
It wouldn’t surprise me if this time next year Aaron is going off at 40-1 or less in these big events and I am therefore happy to take a chance based on the huge prices on offer that this young phenom can make a big breakthrough this week.
BROOKS KOEPKA – 20-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 1st!!!
Of those at the top end of the market the player from an E/W point of view I like the look of the most is the double US Open champion Brooks Koepka.
Over the past couple of years Brooks has firmly shown himself to be a man for the Majors.
Consider this, dating back to 2014 Koepka’s Major championship results are [with the oldest at start of list] as follows;
4 67 15 33 18 10 5 21 13 4 11 1 6 13 1 39.
When you consider that the 67th and recent 39th place finished came in the Open Championship that means Brooks has not finished outside of the top 33 in a Major he has played in on US soil for over 4yrs.
That’s incredible stuff and not even something that DJ or Mr Major himself Jordan Spieth can claim to have done.
After winning his second US Open Brooks understandably went a little quiet finishing 39th at Carnoustie and missing the cut in Canada.
However the weekend off in Toronto obviously did him good as he was back to his best at Firestone to finish 5th.
Over the week in Akron Brooks finished 1st in GIR and 1st in SGTTG.
As I’ve said already Brooks seems to produce his best golf in Major’s and after a perfect warm up I see him as primed and ready to go again at a course which should suit his tee to green strengths
SI WOO KIM 160-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
Continuing the theme of players who performed well at Firestone the next man I am happy to chance at the big prices this week is Si Woo Kim.
It’s been a big few weeks for Korean golf with both Kevin Na and Michael Kim getting over the line on the PGA Tour and it is only a matter of time before last years Players Champion rejoins them in the winners enclosure.
Si Woo’s problems this year have been with the putter and regular readers of this column will know that one of our biggest heartbreakers this year was watching Si Woo miss putt after putt from inside 10ft thus failing to close out the title at Hilton Head.
You could have therefore scraped my jaw of the floor with disbelief last night when I saw that Si Woo had finished the week 2nd in SGP at Firestone.
Bearing in mind Si Woo currently sits 162nd on SGP for the season on the PGA Tour this is a massive up turn and obviously it remains to be seen if it is just a one off week or if he has ‘found something’ with the flat stick.
If it does transpire to be the latter then Si Woo could be a big threat this week at a massive price.
We also saw when Si Woo won the players that when on song he can actually be a magician scrambling and putting on and around the greens so he does have a great short game in him.
As a golfer Kim is very much a punters friend for a few reasons.
Firstly he has proven he has what it takes to perform under pressure when he won The Players and I am sure he has many big wins in him including potentially a Major.
Secondly he tends to telegraph a big performance by preceding it with a top 25 finish, this as you may remember was one of the main reasons we were on him at Hilton Head.
Finally though because he tends to go awol, when he does rediscover his form he is still going of at a big three figure price based on his previous bad trot.
So with Si Woo having finished the week in 10th place at Firestone I am willing to take a chance at a big e/w price that he can build on this performance and produce a big week in St Louis.
THORBJORN OLESEN 85-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 56th
I found myself in a bit of a dilemma here as to whether to include my next selection, the Dane Olesen, in my team and in the end I decided to do so.
The reason for this dilemma is that I will own up to having backed Thorbjorn on Sunday evening at 175-1 with e/w 7 places on offer.
The question therefore is if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to get that price would I have seen circa 80-1 today still as decent value and would I have been backing him/recommending him at that price.
The answer I’ve decided is just yes.
Once again the case for Thorbjorn is based on recent form along with his Firestone form last week.
Prior to finishing 3rd at Firestone the Dane had posted four top 12 finishes including a victory in his previous 6 starts. Basically he is as they say ‘on a tear’ at the moment.
One big incentive no doubt for Olesen is that with fellow Dane Thomas Bjorn the captain for this years Ryder Cup team he will know that if he can get himself right on the edge of the qualifying places he will be very much in Thomas’ thoughts.
If Thorbjorn can keep this run of form going though it is most likely he will not even have to rely on a pick as after his 3rd place finish at Akron he is less than 4pts behind Paul Casey who currently sits in the final place standings of the World Points list.
He will therefore know that another big week in St Louis would go a hugely long way to securing him a spot on the team.
We have seen very much of course over the years that the pressure of making the Ryder Cup team can work in two ways and it is possible that now this is within Olesen’s reach the pressure may get to him.
However there was no sign of this in Akron and when interviewed on Sky after his big finish he seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing.
One other thing I like about Olesen this week is that he has always been renowned as a strong putter and as I mentioned earlier in the preview the final leaderboard from the 2008 BMW Championship was littered with flat stick wizards.
Not yet 30 Olesen has quietly amassed five wins on the European Tour so he certainly knows how to get the job done and I believe he has a great chance of keeping his current momentum going and getting right in the mix this week.
ROSS FISHER – 200-1 - 1/2pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 65th
For my next two picks I am going to go with a couple of smaller speculative e/w selections.
The first of these is Englishman Ross Fisher.
Now 37yrs old it doesn’t seem like too long ago that Ross was seen as the future of English golf. Indeed back in 2009 Ross memorably had a chance to win the Open Championship whilst stating that he would walk of the course if his then heavily pregnant wife went in to labour.
In the end whilst he didn’t have to depart the event Ross was unable to bring home the Claret Jug.
Over the years since Ross’ career has gone in peaks and troughs and while he has a very creditable 5 European Tour titles to his name he has not quite reached the heights expected of him.
This season has been another typical one for Ross with a couple of top 10s to his name but no wins.
At Firestone though Ross played very solidly for the week to finish in 17th place, his best ever return at the venue.
He should therefore head to Bellerive, another course which should suit his solid long game, in good heart.
My main reason however for having a hunch Ross will perform well this week is that he is coached by Dennis Pugh who is also the long term coach of recent Open winner Francesco Molinari.
At a not too dissimilar age to Francesco Ross must have taken some inspiration from the recent success of his fellow ‘stable mate’ and I am sure Dennis is working closely with him to help harness this.
Firestone was Ross’ first start since Francesco’s win at Carnoustie so it was really interesting to see him perform well at a venue he has never had much success on in the past and I am hopeful he can build on that ‘feel good’ factor in the camp further this week.
BRIAN GAY 300-1 – 1/2pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 FINISHED 79th
For my next big outsider I am going with my one player this week who did not tee it up at Firestone.
On this front it is worth saying that whilst of course there will no doubt be someone from outside of those who tee’d it up at Akron who gets in the hunt this week, over the recent years over 80% of those who have finished in the top 8 and ties at the PGA Championship have played in the WGC Bridgestone.
It has therefore made sense to focus on these players.
One player I am keen on though to crash the party at a huge price is veteran Brian Gay.
Ever since Gay salvaged his tour card when on a major medical extension last year he has been quietly putting together an Indian Summer to his career notching eight top ten finishes.
The most recent of these top 10s came in his last outing at the Barbasol so Brian should arrive at Bellerive in good heart.
One other reason Brian should be looking forward to the trip to Bellerive is that, as I mentioned right at the beginning of the preview, he finished 13th here when the BMW Championship was played at the venue back in 2008.
This finish could actually have been much better but for a faltering final round of 72.
Whilst the length of the course nowadays is a concern compared to when Brian played here back in 08, Gay has shown on tracks like the Oaks Course, home to the Valero Texas Open, that he can be competitive on a longer track if it fits his eye.
In addition of course what Brian lacks in distance he makes up for in accuracy of the tee, which, based on initial course reports could be an advantage this week.
Finally of course Gay hasn’t lost any of his flat stick magic and this should also stand him in good stead.
I am therefore hopeful that Brian can plot his way around Bellerive to a top 10 finish and a nice return for us.
DUSTIN JOHNSON 10-1 – 2pts win. FINISHED 27th
Finally, and in a break from convention, I have left a ‘saver’ on the world No 1 Dustin Johnson as the last member of the team to put forward.
The reason I have left DJ to the end is to be honest it is all a bit boring and I don’t suppose any of you need me to tell you that the worlds current best player is the most likely winner of the event.
I made my case for DJ at Akron last week and his slow start unfortunately cost us.
Basically with Dustin if he holes the putts he is going to be very hard to beat and his weekend play at Firestone will have him raring to go this week.
There is really little more to add and whilst I feel there is great e/w value to be had elsewhere I am keen to keep DJ on side.