It was decent week for us at the AT&T Byron Nelson with Matt Jones our 100-1 headline pick coming home in a tie for 5th to get a decent share of the place money.
Things could have been even better for us if Justin Harding had managed to better his score by one more shot as he would also have made the frame but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
The trophy itself was landed by Sung Kang who stole a march on the field with a second round of 61 and although Matt Every did then reel him in the Korean was able to steady himself to grab a deserved first PGA tour title.
Moving on and it is time for the second Major Championship of the year, the USPGA in its new May slot.
This year’s edition will be the 101st playing of the Championship and rather neatly, bearing in mind the first edition was played in 1916 at Siwanoy CC in Bronxville, New York, we find ourselves back in New York for the 101st edition at Bethpage Black.
From a UK viewers perspective it is also a return to the status quo this year as following a two year hiatus from Sky Sports, which saw the event covered firstly by BBC and then last year by Eleven Sports [remember them…] this years coverage returns to Sky.
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 marginally by Tiger Woods who won the US Open here in 2002, with world No 1 Dustin Johnson. Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka all vying for second favourite.
In addition as is tradition for the PGA Championship in amongst the 150 or so who will start the event on Thursday will be around 20 PGA of America club professionals.
Bethpage Black is a par 70 measuring 7432yds.
The greens are Poa Annua with Bentgrass.
The course is a tree lined parkland track.
The course was originally designed by AW Tillinghast in 1936 and has subsequently undergone redesigns in 1997 & 2018 under the guidance of Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones’ son.
Other courses used over recent years on tour designed by Tillinghast include;
Ridgewood CC 2010 & 14 Barclays & 2018 Northern Trust.
Baltusrol 2016 PGA
Pinehurst No 2 2014 US Open
Rees Jones has been responsible for redesigns at Bellerive the host of last years PGA, The Golf Club of Houston [Houston Open], Torrey Pines South [Farmers Ins Open], East Lake CC [Tour Championship] & Cog Hill home of the 2009, 10 & 11 BMW Championship.
Bethpage Black itself has been seen three times on PGA Tour over the past decade. Firstly in 2009 it played host to the US Open, which was won by Lucas Glover, and more recently when it has been the venue for the Barclays in 2012 and 2016, which were won by Nick Watney & Patrick Reed respectively.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners since 2009 alongside some of the key areas that may be significant this week based on the recent history we have to go on of events held at Bethpage Black.
The winners have been as follows;
2018 B Koepka
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
*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.
With the event moving from its traditional August slot to May we are moving somewhat in to the unknown, however historically the key to unlocking the PGA could be found in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational held just prior.
In August last year I wrote that the 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, well last years winner Brooks Koepka, who we were on, kept this record going by finishing 5th at Firestone before grabbing his third Major title the following week at Bellerive.
With the change in the schedule the question we now have to ask ourselves is, is there another event that we can draw on in the same way? If the answer to this is ‘yes’ the obvious candidate is the Wells Fargo Championship played just a fortnight ago at Quail Hollow as the three winners here over recent times Reed, Watney & Glover all have great track records at the Charlotte course.
On the flip side though, and the reason why I am not going to get too hung up on the form from this year’s Wells Fargo in relation to this week, is that many leading names skipped this years trip to N Carolina based on its slot in the schedule, whereas this was never historically the case with the WGC Bridgestone.
Looking at the type of player who will prosper this week and you do not have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that players who hit the ball a long way will have a distinct advantage.
Already known as a big hitters track Bethpage in May will be a new experience for the games leading lights and the cooler spring temperatures particularly earlier in the morning, coupled with the deluge of rain the course has seen [and will continue to see over the next 48hrs], will accentuate this even further.
Having said that the tactic of bombing it as far as possible ‘down there’ without focusing on accuracy is not one that historically works at Bethpage as finding the fairways to avoid the rough is also key.
On that basis my mind is drawn back to an interview I heard with [I believe from memory] Padraig Harrington leading in to the 2009 US Open where when asked who would win his response was “the player who hits it the longest and straightest”. Well the winner that week was Lucas Glover who entered the week first in the PGA Tour’s Total Driving stats…
It is clear therefore to me that this week a big hitting, accurate long game is the key, and to back this up further we only need to look at the fact that the past two winners of the Barclays here, Reed & Watney both finished the week in the top three of the Strokes Gained Tee To Green stats.
The lead in to the tournament has seen a deluge of rain in the New York area and this is set to continue over Monday and Tuesday. Fortunately the rain looks finally set to abate from Wednesday onwards with, at the time of writing, only the possibility of some showers on Friday for the tournament days.
The damage will have been done by then though with regards to how the course will play with softer conditions the order of the day.
Temperatures don’t look set to get much above the mid 60s all week and early morning temperatures look more likely to be in the mid 50s.
Winds could be a bit of an issue with gusts showing in the region of 15mph for Thursday, Friday and Sunday, although Saturday looks to be a bit calmer.
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.
So having weighed things up I have decided on a combination of players from both ends of the market and have gone with six players this week as follows;
BROOKS KOEPKA – 11 -1 – 4pts Win. - FINISHED Won!!!
You can obviously make a decent case for pretty much all of the big names who form the top of the market however I am slightly put of Tiger by his lack of golf since Augusta, whilst Rory & DJ’s occasional frailties when in contention, coupled by their somewhat wayward driving accuracy stats [133rd & 185th in DA respectively at the time of writing], is enough to put me off these two.
We are obviously splitting hairs here and anyone of these three could make a mockery of my views if the mood takes them, however I much prefer the chances of the fourth market leader Brooks Koepka and make no apologies for leading with him this week.
Whilst Rory & DJ have been labouring in their attempts to add further majors to their tally Brooks has nonchalantly collected three.
A master of peaking for the big event I was hugely impressed by his interview on Sky last week where, straight out of the Jack Nicklaus playbook [who IMO will remain the GOAT until if/when Tiger catches him on the Major tally] he stated that he finds majors easier to win than regular tour events as half the field aren’t good enough to win while the vast majority of the other half get in their own way. In other words as Jack would say, hang around on the leaderboard while everyone else implodes, and then pick off whoever is left.
Basically winning Major’s takes the right temperament/attitude and Koepka has this in spades.
In addition to the attitude needed this week Koepka also of course has the game needed.
Currently ranking 14th in Driving Distance Brooks has the necessary length of the tee for this weeks challenge. In addition at 88th in DA he does not have as big a question mark over him in that department as say DJ or Rory and he sits ninth in Total Driving.
If we then take a look at Brooks’ iron play we find him sitting 15th in GIR, whilst in the key stat of Strokes Gained Approach To The Green he sits 30th.
Unlike pretty much all of the other big names Brooks chose to tune up his game at the Byron Nelson last weekend and whilst a few sloppy mistakes over the weekend cost him the potential chance of victory his long game looked in tip top shape and he struck me as gearing up to peak this week.
The Floridian has shown he has what it takes to defend a major when retaining his US Open title at Shinnecock Hills last summer, a title lets not forget that he initially won on a rain sodden long hitters paradise Erin Hills, and I can see him repeating that feat at Bethpage Black this week.
GARY WOODLAND – 66-1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED T8th
The next man up on my who’s who of big hitters this week is Gary Woodland.
I mentioned earlier that the winner of the 2009 US Open at Bethpage Black, Lucas Glover, lead the PGA Tours total driving stats heading in to that week and the man who leads that category coming in to this week of those competing is Gary Woodland.
As many will remember Woodland featured prominently at Bellerive last August before finishing sixth and whilst his early season form has cooled of ever so slightly of late there is still an awful lot to like about his chances this week of making another big run.
Eighth in Driving Distance and 68th in Driving Accuracy all adds up to second place on Tour this season in Total Driving [behind the absent Brendan Steele], In addition Gary ranks 17th in GIR and 43rd in SGATTG, basically he has the perfect long game for this week.
The negative with Woodland as always is the flat stick, however he showed when finishing fourth here at the Barclays in 2016 that he can handle the putting surfaces [and indeed the course as whole] so I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt in that department this week.
Last time out at Quail Hollow Gary withdrew after three rounds citing illness however I am hopeful that what ever afflicted him that week will now be fully cleared up and he will be raring to go.
A player who has long been touted as a potential Major Champion the 34yr old will be fully aware that Bethpage by far represents his best chance of making a serious assault on a Major this year and I can see a big week for him ahead.
BRYSON DECHAMBEAU - 35-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
At the turn of 2019 Bryson’s name was on everyone’s lips as a player who would go on to lift a Major Championship this year. Roll the clock forward four and a bit months however and with his four win 2018 firmly in the rear view mirror and replaced by some recent scrappier form Dechambeau has drifted out to 40-1 in the market [or 35-1 for ten places] and is most definitely coming in under the radar.
Interestingly though this relative mini slump [let’s not get too carried away with it as he has only missed one cut at the RBC Heritage] is no too dissimilar to the lull in form Bryson experienced last summer before snapping out of it in emphatic fashion with the victory at the Tillinghast designed Ridgewood CC in neighbouring New Jersey, and I am sure this wont be far from his mind coming in to the week.
Furthermore in keeping with the common theme of our team this week Bryson’s season long numbers off the tee are exactly what we are looking for with 44th in DD and 34th in DA adding up to third in total driving.
With five worldwide wins in less than twelve months Bryson has proven to us that he is a born winner and I can see him going very close to adding another trophy to that tally and grabbing his first major this week
SERGIO GARCIA - 40-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Next up for us this week is another player who is no slouch of the tee Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
While distance is not an issue with Sergio the concern for him in principle this year would be both his accuracy of the tee and his iron play, which have not been up to his usual standards so far this season.
Importantly though Sergio’s long game was much improved at Quail Hollow last time out where he finished fourth, particularly over the weekend where he really caught the eye with rounds of 65 and 68.
In addition to Sergio’s upturn in form in Charlotte the key driver to siding with him this week is historical form at Bethpage Black, which is arguably better than anyone in the field. In three visits here Sergio has finished third at the 2012 Barclays, 10th at the 2009 US Open and fourth way back in the 2002 US Open, clearly therefore Bethpage fits his eye.
There is one other somewhat more bizarre stat that leads me to Sergio this week and that is when he has won his PGA Tour titles…
Sergio has ten PGA Tour titles to his name and amazingly four of them have been won on Sunday’s between the 11th and the 22nd of May inclusive! Furthermore Sergio has won twice in June, once in April [at Augusta of course] and once in January. In fact Sergio has only won one of his ten PGA Tour titles in the second half of the year.
Now of course this could mean absolutely nothing and baring in mind Sergio has been on tour for nearly twenty years that means there are plenty of years he has not won in May, however I am sure he is fully aware of this and clearly for whatever reason he plays his peak golf for the season around this time of year.
On a course Garcia obviously loves there is a lot to like about his chances this week and I am very keen to have him on side.
JHONATTAN VEGAS – 150-1 - 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
There were plenty of players in the three figure plus mark that I was pretty keen on this week, however with the vast majority of them I struggled to actually picture them winning. With regards to the 34yr old Venezuelan Jonny Vegas though he is the sort of talent that I could see popping up and grabbing a major title and based on his recent surge of form I can see him giving it a big go this week.
As you have probably guessed by now in keeping with the rest of our team Vegas sits right up there in the seasons driving distance numbers, 18th to be precise, so Bethpage’s length will be of no concern to him.
Accuracy has been more of an issue to Jonny this season, however he was steadier off the tee last time out at Quail Hollow where he finished 8th.
Vegas has made one previous start at Bethpage for the 2016 Barclays where he finished 22nd so he has a positive experience of the track, couple this with his recent form which has seen him finish in the top 30 in each of his past six individual stroke play starts and I can see a big week ahead for Jonny this time around.
KYLE STANLEY 200-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
For my final selection this week I can’t get away from the huge odds floating around for another tee to green specialist, Kyle Stanley.
It’s between a slow start to 2019 from Kyle however a 21st place showing at the Masters was followed up by an eighth place finish last time out at The Wells Fargo, so things appear to be getting back on track.
At his best we know exactly what we are going to get from Stanley, fairways and greens found with monotony and a bunch of missed putts. Basically a protype of the 2009 winner here Lucas Glover!
In 2017/18 Kyle ranked seventh in DA and sixth in GIR, however the problem this season is those numbers have fallen off the charts to 65th and 129th respectively.
At Quail Hollow though Kyle reverted to type and ranked 6th for the week in DA and 22nd in GIR and if this improvement is here to stay he can flourish on a course that should play to his strengths this week and is capable of giving us a big run at a very big price.
UPDATED 15th MAY
FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS
JOEL DAHMEN - 1/2pt e/w - 100-1 1/5 odds 1st 8 & KEEGAN BRADLEY 100-1 1/2pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED - NO RETURN
Looking at the recent history of the starting times of players who have lead after Day 1 of the PGA Championship and on only one occasion since 2010 have we seen an outright leader come from the PM starter wave and this was Gary Woodland at Bellerive last year.
Otherwise we have either seen an outright leader come from the AM , or a joint leader come from the AM and PM starters.
This year however with cooler May temperatures predicted early in the mornings, coupled with the possibility of the early starters having to deal with some lingering rain on Thursday, it could well be that we see another PM starter take the day one lead.
On this basis I have chosen to run with two picks from the afternoon wave in this market, the first of which is Joel Dahmen.
Joel has been on an incredibly strong run of form of late, which peaked with second place last time out at the Wells Fargo when we were on board.
A lot of this recent success has been built around getting out of the gates quickly and in three of his last six starts Joel has posted 66 on day one. This is reflected by the fact that he currently sits 21st on tour in Round 1 scoring average.
Currently 20th on tour in Driving Accuracy and Dahmen also showed at Quail Hollow that he is no slouch off the tee distance wise when needed so hopefully his game will fit reasonably well to Bethpage Black and I am keen to have him onside for another fast start this week.
My second selection in this market is another man who tends to get out of the gates quickly more often than not and that is former PGA Champion Keegan Bradley.
Bradley currently sits tenth on tour in round one scoring and again as an accurate tee to green player he should be suited by the test in front of him this week.
Bradley hails originally from Woodstock in Vermont some four hours north of New York and attended university in New York so he should have plenty of local support and I can see him starting well this week once more.
TRADER - JUSTIN HARDING - FINISHED 54th
South African Harding has been in a great run of form through 2019 and this culminated in him finishing 12th on his debut at Augusta in April to prove he has what it takes to compete at this level.
Another accurate player of the tee who currently ranks 29th on the PGA Tour Driving Accuracy stats Justin arrives here on the back of a tenth place finish last weekend at the Byron nelson so he should be in great spirits.
The way Harding'd career has catapulted upwards over the past twelve months he is the sort of player you could actually see wining a major championship at some stage.
Whether that will be this week of course is a hole different conversation, however another strong performance to back up his showing at Augusta is highly possible and at his current price on the exchange I am keen to have Justin onside as our trader this week.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 350