Unfortunately it was a case of the same old story for us of late last week in Memphis as we were in a good position to land a nice return through Webb Simpson and Christiaan Bezuidenhout over the weekend, however Simpson, who had three putted the 18th from 4ft on Saturday missed from 7ft for par on Sunday to fall out of the places while Bezuidenhout needing a birdie at the last to land a nice place return for us found the water and made double bogey!!
The event was won by Justin Thomas who got the better of Brooks Koepka in a thrilling seesaw back nine shoot out and JT as a result is back at World No 1.
Over at the Barracuda and all of picks played decently enough but none unfortunately could make the frame in an event, which saw Richie Werenski bag his maiden tour title.
A mention must go though to one of our picks Wyndham Clark who made an incredible 25 birdies on the week, however he offset this with a host of bogeys and double bogeys. I was certainly right in saying that his aggressive game suited the format and if he had made a simple average of two bogeys a day he would have won the event. Definitely one for the notebook for next year!
Moving on and it is time [finally!] for the first Major Championship of the year, the USPGA.
This year’s edition will be the 102nd playing of the Championship and the venue that gets the honour of hosting the first Major Championship to be played since lockdown and without fans is TPC Harding Pak in San Francisco, California.
As you would expect for a Major even with a handful of international players such as Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood choosing to not make the trip the field is a stellar one.
The market sees last weekends ‘shootout protagonists’ Koepka and Thomas vying for favouritism, while they are then followed by Rahm, McIlroy and Dechambeau.
TPC Harding Park is a par 70 measuring 7234yds.
The greens are a mix of Poa Annua with Bentgrass.
The course is a tree lined parkland track set on the shores of Lake Merced in San Francisco.
The course was originally designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting in 1925 before undergoing a renovation in 2014.
Whilst not a venue regularly seen on the PGA Tour TPC Harding Park has been used on three notable occasions in recent times. Firstly in 2005 for the WGC American Express Championship when Tiger Woods triumphed in a playoff over John Daly, then in 2009 when hosting the Presidents Cup and finally more recently in 2015 when hosting the WGC Matchplay in, which Rory McIlroy came out on top versus Gary Woodland in the final.
Allowing for the lack of recent use on tour there is an element of guess work involved as to, which type of player the event will suit, however reading reports there appears to be a fairly clear line of thought that ‘long and straight’ will be the order of the day.
The course features two par fives, which according to Kerry Haigh the Chief Championship Officer At The PGA Of America who is responsible for the ‘set up’ will be reachable.
In addition the course features two driveable par four’s the 7th and 16th with the 16th, which is only 330yds from the back tees potentially reachable on all four days even if the tee’s aren’t ‘up’ which they are likely to be on a couple of days.
Three od the four par three’s are less that 200yds in length, however the 8th is 250yds off the back tee’s.
The greens [as is the whole course in generally] are reasonable flat, which means if the weather cooperates the PGA of America will be able to get them to a good speed.
All in all TPC Harding Park appears to be a fair ‘straight in front of you’ test, which will give birdie opportunities if you find the fairway, however if your driver is off for the week you could find yourself struggling.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of the USPGA since 2010.
The winners have been as follows;
2019** B Koepka
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
*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.
**Played in new May slot.
When the event moved last year from its traditional August slot to May we moved somewhat in to the unknown, however historically the key to unlocking the PGA had been found in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational held just prior.
This year though of course we have a situation driven by world events that has lead to the event being rescheduled for one year only back to a date more akin to its old August slot and following on from a WGC event and from that point of view it may well be that the biggest clue to unlocking this years puzzle will be found in the final leaderboard from Memphis as used to be the case with Firestone.
To expand on this further the previous ten winners of the PGA prior to the 2019 move had played in the WGC Bridgestone and the worst finish recorded by any of them was in 2017 by Justin Thomas who finished 28th in Akron.
In addition and just to rubber stamp that solid form coming in to the USPGA appears to always be key last years winner Brooks Koepka finished fourth at the Byron Nelson the week prior to his victory at Bethpage.
One other factor that may be worth considering this year is that while golf’s main focus of attention this week was on the WGC in Memphis there was an opposite field event taking place in California.
Now of course an event played at altitude under a modified Stableford format wouldn’t normally necessarily be strong guide to a Major Championship the following week, however with both events being in California and on a bentgrass/poa mix it could just be that the guys who were in the Barracuda field have a little bit of a head start on those who were on the Bermuda in Tennessee. In addition of course there is a precedent for a player to go back to back in these two events as Sky Sport’s Rich Beem will tell you!
Looking at the type of player who will prosper this week as noted earlier long and straight off the tee looks to be the way to go and from that point of view the Total Driving stats may well be worth a long glance.
In addition it would also seem logical to focus on players who either hail from the West Coast and/or have had previous success in California and on the poa greens.
After seemingly endless weeks of temperatures in the low 90s mixed with storms we are due for a change this week as the micro climate of San Francisco will see numbers in the high 60s to low 70s every day.
With dry conditions forecast in the lead up and throughout the tournament days we should also see a fairly firm golf course.
Wind may well also be a factor with all four days showing the possibility of gusts of 15-20mph plus.
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 in addition to an ante post pick I advised a couple of weeks back on Twitter;
JUSTIN THOMAS – 10 -1 – 4pts Win. - FINISHED 37th
You can obviously make a decent case for pretty much all of the big names who form the top of the market however after Thomas’ win on Sunday in Memphis I like his chances of going back to back.
The case for JT is pretty much there in front of us for us all to see, however I shall make it briefly anyway.
A serial winner of course Thomas has gone back to back once in his career in Hawaii in 2017 and after seeing off Koepka down the stretch on Sunday he will fancy his chances of repeating this feat.
In Memphis Thomas’ long game was imperious and he lead the field from tee to green, whilst also finishing second for the week in Strokes-Gained-Approach-To-The-Green.
On the greens though JT was less than emphatic and he actually finished the week in a lowly 55th place in putting.
On one hand this could be seen as a negative however from my point of view I am happy to take the view here that JT didn’t ride to victory on the back of an unsustainable hot putter performance, which would be hard to replicate and that there is actually plenty of room for improvement on this front.
Coming back to Thomas’ long game and with TPC Harding Park likely to reward ‘long and straight’ the fact that he was twelfth for the week in finding fairways in Memphis alongside his obvious power was a huge positive.
Meanwhile more encouragement can be found looking at his season long numbers as the 27yr old ranks No 1 in approach play showing last weeks performance in this department was no fluke.
At TPC Southwind JT found himself without his regular caddie Jimmy Johnson who is undergoing some medical tests.
Under normal circumstances this could be seen as a negative however he had a more than able substitute with Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay on the bag and they seemed to immediately strike up a great partnership.
Following on from this, and this to be fair is going in to the minutae somewhat, I do like the fact that alongside Phil, Bones had plenty of experience of heading in to a major on the back of a great win and keeping the momentum going to bag the big prize the following week. From that point of view his experience may well prove invaluable in San Francisco.
Thomas has posted a victory on a Bentgrass/Poa mix so the surfaces shouldn’t hold any fears to him while I like the fact that his lone major to date also came in the PGA on a tree lined ‘classical test’ at Quail Hollow.
All in all though I just think that of the games elite with his confidence up Thomas is the one I trust most this week to get the job done and I very much want him on side.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE – 20-1 – 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 10th
Moving on and the next man I can’t get away from this week is Xander Schauffele.
The 26yr old has justifiably earned himself a reputation as a man who steps up to the plate in the big events and his record of four top six finishes in his last eight majors is second to none over this period outside of the winners.
Since lockdown Xander has been in incredibly consistent form and after letting slip a guilt edged chance of victory at the Charles Schwab he has really found momentum in his last four starts finishing 20th, 14th, 13th and then sixth at the weekend in Memphis.
Tenth on tour in total driving and first in Ball striking Schauffele’s long game looks ideal for him to flourish at the reported test we will see at TPC Harding Park.
At TPC Southwind Xander’s approach play was actually slightly off for the week and he relied on his short game to get the job done finishing first for Strokes-Gained-Around-The-Green and 11th in putting. The hope therefore is that he can rediscover his iron play this week and align that with another good putting week, which if so will surely see him in the hunt on Sunday.
A native of California Schauffele should relish the challenge of a Major in his home state and I think he has every chance of bagging his first Major Championship this week.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD - 45-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 29th
While the golfing world was taking a leap in to the unknown and returning from the Covid enforced hiatus Tommy Fleetwood was biding his time back home in Southport, understandably reluctant to head to the States with all that it entailed and to leave his family behind.
As a result Fleetwood arrived in the US two weeks prior to his first start at the 3M Open and spent his time in The Hamptons while checking out Shinnecock Hills.
Understandably Tommy was sluggish out of the blocks in the birdie fest in Minnesota and having missed the cut there he started fairly slowly at TPC Southwind as well.
Interestingly though and what caught my attention was that Fleetwood finished off his week in Memphis with a 65, his best effort since his return, gaining over 2.5 strokes from tee to green, just under 2 strokes in approach play and over 1.5 strokes with the putter. – It may just be that Tommy has timed his run to perfection.
At his best on a track, which rewards strong ball striking and comfortable of course in the breeze my feeling is that TPC Harding Park may well prove to be a very strong fit for Tommy’s game.
Winless still on the PGA Tour Fleetwood has certainly served his apprenticeship in Major Championships over the recent years finishing in the top four on three occasions so win in this company would of course be no shock.
My hunch this week however is that he could well be suited to coming in under the radar with lower media expectancy and with all the focus on the big names at the top and I expect him to deliver a big week.
CAMERON CHAMP - 150-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED T10th
There has been plenty of talk this week that ‘long and straight’ may well be what’s needed however, as tends to be the case in Majors these days, it may well be that ‘long’ triumphs over ‘straight’ and if so Cameron Champ can certainly take advantage.
One of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour Champ has already posted two wins in his short time in the big league and his long term pedigree is not in doubt.
Like many of the new kids on the block [apart from Morikawa of course!] consistency though has not been Cameron’s strength to date. Since lockdown though this has changed somewhat as the 25yr old has missed only one cut in five starts and he finished a solid 25th in Memphis last week.
Third for the week in Strokes-Gained-Off-The-Tee at the WGC Champ also putted very nicely in Memphis gaining strokes with flat stick on the finally three days and finishing 13th for the week in that department.
So we have established that Champ is in decent nick but what of his chances on this weeks layout? Well in addition to his length being an advantage I also like the fact that the venue is only an hour and twenty minutes away from his native Sacramento. Furthermore and perhaps more importantly Champ’s second tour title came only an hour away at the Safeway last fall.
I expect Champ to certainly be challenging for Majors as his career progresses and while it may be that this week comes too soon in his career for him to bag one there is a lot to like about his potential suitability and comfort with the venue this week and I am happy to chance him on that basis.
MATTHIAS SCHWAB – 175-1 - 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED MC
While most of the eyes of the golfing world were on Memphis last week there was of course another event taking place on the PGA Tour, The Barracuda Championship and the player who caught my the most in that field was talented young Austrian Matthias Schwab.
Although yet to win on the European Tour Schwab has quickly risen to 79th in the world rankings based on a series of big finishes in 2019, which included no less than nine top ten’s.
Fourth in the WGC HSBC Champions event in the fall Schwab clearly has what it takes to mix it in the big league.
Returning to last weeks Barracuda event and Schwab showed by finishing third that he is more than comfortable on Poa/Bentgrass greens. In addition to this Schwab also finished the week fifth for driving accuracy and third for greens in regulation, so his long game, which will be key this week is in good working order.
The fact that the 25yr old performed so well with his irons at the Barracuda should not actually come as too much of a surprise as he has already built up a reputation as one of the strongest iron players on the European Tour.
Schwab who only turned professional in 2017 spend his college days in the States at Vanderbilt cutting his teeth against the likes of Jon Rahm and Bryson Dechambeau amongst others so he is clearly comfortable in the US and no doubt on a mission to gain a PGA Tour card sooner rather than later.
A win for Schwab this week of course is a huge ask but consistency is his strong point and on a course which should suit his all round game this talented young man could certainly bag a place at big e/w odds.
GRAEME MCDOWELL - 250-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED MC
For my final selection this week I am going to roll the dice on Graeme McDowell who I think is being hugely dismissed at odds of 250/1.
The case for Gmac this week is made from several strands. Firstly as a former Major Champion out with the washing in the betting you would assume that he has been horribly out of form for some time, however this is not the case as he was victorious in Saudi Arabia a high quality field which included Dustin Johnson only eight starts ago prior to lockdown.
Granted since lockdown Graeme hasn’t set the world alight however he events like the 3M Open and the Memorial hardly play to his strengths and he was a solid 35th in Memphis shooting par or better in all four rounds.
So what of this weeks venue? Well firstly Gmac is one of the few players with solid stroke play form here having finished sixth in the WGC American Express in 2005. Yes it was a long time ago but is still a big positive in my eyes.
Moving on and things get really interesting if we look at Gmac’s other biggest moments in Major Championship golf in the US as they have both come in California, firstly at Pebble Beach of course and then when runner up to Webb Simpson in the 2012 US Open at Olympic Club which sits the other side of Lake Merced, which banks this weeks venue.
In summary as we all know Gmac plays his best golf when there is a bit of water and breeze about, which we do/should have this week, he loves it in California, he is in a career renaissance and he has some positive form at the track, all of which has me baffled at the odds.
I can only assume the odds compilers think he is ‘past it’ as far as Majors go and/or he is too short off the tee to compete here. The latter may prove to be true however even on a track, which favours big hitters there is always one shorter guy who plots their way round and crashes the party and at the odds on offer I am happy to chance it that Gmac is that man this week.
PREVIOUSLY ADVISED ANTE POST – SI WOO KIM – 0.75pts E/W - 200-1 – 1/5 odds 1st 7. - FINISHED 13th
Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen that I advised a rare, for me, ante post major bet on Si Woo Kim during the 3M Open.
At the time of advising this Si Woo was on the cusp of getting seriously in the mix at the event at halfway stage and with his form trending nicely if this continued I could see his odds falling considerably before this week.
As is the risk though with an ante post bet the young Korean faded on Sunday in Minnesota and then posted a solid if unspectacular week in the Barracuda meaning similar odds are now still available but with bigger place terms.
I am still keen on Si Woo to produce a strong week in San Francisco as he is obviously gaining momentum under Claude Harmon and he has played well on the West Coast before.
With him being fairly ‘all or nothing’ though I am not going to add a further stake too him at increased terms and will instead just hope that his improved ball striking of late helps deliver a ‘Si Woo special’, otherwise needless to say watch out for him at the Wyndham!
UPDATED 4th AUGUST
FIRST ROUND LEADER
HARRIS ENGLISH 1pt e/w - 90/1 - 1/5 odds first 7 & SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER 70/1 1/2pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7.
SCHEFFLER FINISHED T3rd FRL
Two for me here both from the AM wave as the wind is forecast to pick up significantly as the day progresses.
The inform English has on paper the perfect tee to green game to succeed at TPC Harding Park and a strong week would surprise no one. While his first win in six years would be a big ask of course a fast start from the man who sits fourth in the tours round one scoring averages is a strong possibility.
Five times this season the Georgia man has posted 66 or better on Thursday and I am happy at the odds to chance him to do so again from his 9.12am tee time.
Similarly my second selection in this market Scottie Scheffler has made a habit of getting out of the blocks quickly in his debut season on tour and after a post lockdown slump he has bounced back to form in his last two starts.
Another with a long game to flourish here he goes out in the first group off the tenth tee at 7.05am local time ,
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RYAN PALMER - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 43rd - 76 DK POINTS
Having seen Palmer perform so strongly for us in this category last week I am happy to ride his hot hand and side with him again this time around.
The veteran currently sits 23rd in the Fedex Cup standings and at 20th in Strokes-Gained-Off-The-Tee and 40th in approach play he should be more than at home on this venue.
A closing 64 in Memphis will have him arrive here in great heart and I expect another solid week.
PICK 2 - SEPP STRAKA - DK VALUE $6500 - FINISHED 66th - 60.5 DK POINTS
My second selection here is an old favourite for this column Sepp Straka.
The Austrian has posted three top twenty finishes in his last four starts on tour making the cut on all four occassions.
Straka performed admirably at the last Major held in California at Pebble Beach and he is another who's ball striking should be well suited to this venue and a expect him to deliver another solid week.