It was another barren week for us at the AT&T Byron Nelson as after the withdrawal pre event of one of our team, Brian Harman, the remaining four selections failed to get in the mix at all with our lead pick Will Zalatoris most disappointingly missing the cut.
There is no doubt we are experiencing a downturn in our fortunes of late, however as we know, these periods are inevitable in this ‘long term’ game and we will hopefully turn a corner soon.
The event itself was won by KH Lee who produced a superb Sunday salvo to defend the title he won last year and to bag his second PGA Tour trophy. Lee becomes the third player on the PGA Tour this campaign to defend their title.
So on we go and with the season continuing apace it is time for the second Major Championship of the year, the USPGA.
This year’s edition will be the 104th playing of the Championship and the venue that gets the honour of hosting is Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The course has hosted two regular Major Championships this century, the 2001 US Open won by retief Goosen and the 2007 PGA Championship when Tiger Woods triumphed. In addition the 2009 US Amateur was held there which was won by Byeong-Hun An and most recently last year’s senior PGA Championship won by Alex Cejka.
As you would expect for a Major the field is a stellar one.
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.
The market is headed up by the world number one and two Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm who are vying for favouritism. This duo are then followed in the market by Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, the inform Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikiwa.
Southern Hills is a par 70 measuring just over 7350 yards. Typically of a par 70 the course features two par fives, however not so typically they are both well over 600 yards long. The course also features a mix of par fours with six of them measuring under 450yards, while the par four 16th measures over 520 yards and the tough closing 18th is approaching 500 yards in length.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was designed by Perry Maxwell in 1936 and has subsequently undergone a significant redesign in 2019 under the supervision of Gil Hanse.
Maxwell was also one of the co designers of the Colonial CC where coincidently we will be for next for next weeks Charles Schwab Challenge and was responsible for a redesign of Merion where the 2013 US Open was held.
Hanse meanwhile has been involved in redesigns at Winged Foot, the host of the 2020 US Open as well several other layouts in the North East including Aronimink, Plainfield CC, Ridgewood CC and TPC Boston, which have all held various play off events over recent years.
While the most recent regular tour reference point we have to go on is the 2007 PGA Championship those who do remember that event will see a very different course this time around following Hanse’s redesign.
The course we saw in 2007 saw very much a parkland tree lined track however Hanse has, as is often his remit, looked to restore the course to how it was originally set up by Maxwell and this included clearing some trees.
The course features undulating fairways and plenty of doglegs and although it is now not as treelined accuracy off the tee will still be key this week.
All of the green complexes have been rebuilt and run off areas around the greens incorporated. Add this to the fact that the greens are smaller than average and I would expect touch around the greens to be key.
In addition Hanse has looked to bring the creek system, which runs through the course much more in to play, so water is now a factor on the vast majority of holes including very much around the greens.
To sum up I expect Southern hills to be a test of precision over power with finding fairways and greens being the key to success.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of the USPGA since 2011.
The winners have been as follows;
2021 P Mickelson
2020 C Morikawa
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
*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 in 2019 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.
After one year in its new position on the calendar though world events lead to the event being rescheduled last year back to a date more akin to its old August slot and following on from the WGC event in Memphis.
Even with all this moving around one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed though is the need for a strong finish right before the PGA if you are going to lift the Wanamaker Trophy.
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.
Then in 2019 Brooks Koepka finished fourth at the Byron Nelson the week prior to his victory at Bethpage.
Finally in 2020 prior to his win at Harding Park Collin Morikawa tuned up by finishing 20th at the WGC Fedex St Jude with, allowing for a wonderful dollop of hindsight his weekend of 67 66, which saw him climb the leaderboard particularly eye catching.
Last years winner, Mickelson, though bucked this trend [as he did many of the other historical ones!] as he only managed a 69th place in his previous start at the Wells Fargo and prior to that his form through 2021 had been poor.
The early part of the week calls for dry, sunny conditions and this is also the case for the first two days of play. As I write though Saturday does show the possibility of a storm in the afternoon before things clear up again on Sunday.
Temperatures are set to be in the high 80s for the early part of the week however they are forecast to drop to below 70 on Saturday.
Wind, which is always an issue in this part of the world looks set to play its part with gusts of 30mph+ on Thursday and Friday possible before they ease up slightly on Saturday and further on Sunday.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JON RAHM – 12/1 – 2.5pts E/W 1/5 1st 9. - FINISHED 48th
Whenever you head to a course, which hasn’t been seen on the circuit for many years you are always going to be speculating to a certain extent about what you feel is going to be needed to get the job done, however, whichever way I look this week there is one man I can’t get away from and that is Jon Rahm.
The top of the market needless to say is full of names who no one would be surprised if they were to lift the Wanamaker Trophy this week, however it is Rahm’s all round strengths that make him so appealing to me.
I mentioned earlier that I felt the key to success would be finding plenty of greens this week and lo and behold in Rahm we have the player who sits first on tour in Greens In Regulation this season.
A walk through the remainder of Rahm’s long game key stats then gives us everything else we are looking for. He is long off the tee, currently third in Driving Distance, but also one of the more accurate players on tour off the tee, currently 43rd in this category.
He is then first in strokes gained both off the tee and from tee to green.
Where the picture gets more murky is on and around the greens as, as we know it has been a tough season so far for the Spaniard with the putter, which in turn reflects poorly in his sand saves and scrambling stats.
The good news here though is that when recently breaking his victory drought in Mexico Rahm rediscovered his touch on the greens ranking 18th for the week in that department.
With regards to that win in Mexico and as we know anytime you get a victory in the books you are going to get a boost in confidence and like all top players Rahm has the ability to go on a really hot run of form at the key times, which this is with three Majors over the next couple of months.
To sum up then and while it is a pretty simplistic case, on a course that I feel will test all key departments and mostly from tee to green, I just can’t get away this week from the player who has the best tee to green game on tour and I’ll take Rahm to bag his second Major title in Tulsa.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 30/1 –1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 60th
Next up I am drawn to the chances of Hideki Matsuyama at the odds.
Matsuyama is for some reason a player that the layers regularly choose to rate in a lower tier pricewise than many of the games other biggest names and to be honest I find this somewhat baffling.
A proven Major Champion now and a two time winner on tour this season the Japanese star showed last week in Texas that he is over the neck injury that afflicted him in the run up to his Masters defence and having closed out with a 62 on Sunday he looks to be picking up where he left off at the beginning of the year.
From that point of view, while I don’t doubt there potential to win here, I find it hard to fathom why he would be a bigger price than Xander Schauffele or Viktor Hovland for example.
Returning to Hideki’s performance at TPC Craig Ranch and allowing for the fact that this week could be a test of iron play it was hugely encouraging that he ranked first for the week in Strokes Gained Approach To The Green and third from tee to Green.
It was also encouraging to see that after struggling on the greens on Thursday, something which could potentially be put down to some rust, he gained strokes with the putter for the rest of the week.
Looking further at the test the players will face this week and while of course the size of the greens can’t be compared, it is possible that as the event unfolds we may well see some comparisons drawn to Augusta in that both courses, if we are to believe what we have heard about ‘the new’ Southern Hills, require precision iron play to small targets to avoid your ball being repelled in to one of the run off areas. To me then Hideki’s strong record at Augusta including his win could prove to be significant.
After winning the Masters, allowing for the further level of stardom that it propelled Hideki to in his home country no one would have been surprised had he struggled to readjust and gone winless for a while, as Shane Lowry has for example, however the opposite appears to have been the case as with the pressure now off he has gone from strength to strength.
A second Major for Matsuyama now would surprise no one and at the odds on offer this week he looks good value to deliver it.
SHANE LOWRY – 1.5pts E/W – 28/1 – 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED 23rd
Shane Lowry is a player that I’ve been heavily tracking in the big events so far this year and on a course, which you have to feel will play to his short game strengths I find him hard to leave out this week.
Looking first at the Irishman’s form this year and ever since he started 2022 strongly in the Middle East he has basically done everything but win. Firstly at the Honda Classic he was unfortunate to lose out to Sepp Straka after a heavy downpour hampered him on the tee of the 72nd hole, while at the Players, The Valspar and the Masters he was right in the thick of the hunt again, rewarding us with an each way return in the latter. The following week he then missed another golden opportunity to post a win at the RBC Heritage before ultimately finishing third.
Since the trip to Hilton Head likely many of the games stars Shane has been lightly raced with only an outing at the Zurich pairs event on the calendar, so he arrives in Tulsa well rested and hopefully raring to go.
Assuming then Shane can pick up where he left off we have a player who ranks 23rd from tee to green and fifth in approach play on the season in the long game department, and 16th in putting.
Perhaps even more pertinently for this week though, known as having a ‘great pair of hands’ Lowry is one of the best, if not the best, protagonists of the short game around the greens on tour, ranking first in scrambling and second in sand saves on the PGA Tour this season, two attributes, which allowing for the small greens the players are facing this week, and the propensity of bunkers around them, that you have to think will be key.
Finally of course it goes without saying that if the wind does blow as predicted Shane is as well equipped as anyone to cope.
Granted it has been nearly three years since Shane’s last win when he bagged the Open in 2019 however we know that when he wins he tends to ‘win big’ and with the way he has been knocking on the door this season and with him having rewarded us at Augusta, I am happy to stick with him again this week.
BILLY HORSCHEL – 1pt E/W – 80/1 – 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED 68th
Next up and it’s another player who I feel will enjoy the challenge of Southern Hills this week, Billy Horschel.
Horschel has been on a really solid run of form this year, which has seen him post six top 20 finishes in ten full starts on tour in 2022. Basically he has done pretty much everything but win.
Similar to our first pick this week Rahm, Horschel has been solid from tee to green from an accuracy point of view as he currently sits 23rd on tour in DA and 26th in good old fashioned GIR.
When on song Horschel has always been known as a strong performer accuracy wise from tee to green however this season Billy has also been incredibly reliable on and around the greens ranking ninth in putting, 25th around the greens and first in scrambling from the fringe. Not at his best in scrambling from the rough Billy will welcome the lack of ‘thick cabbage’ around the greens this week.
Moving away from the Florida Gator’s recent form and turning our attention to some potential correlating course form and we can take significant encouragement from Billy’s showing at Merion in the 2013 US Open on the Maxwell redesign.
On that occasion Horschel memorably hit all 18 greens on Friday on his way to a share of the 36 hole lead before ultimately finishing fourth.
Furthermore Billy posted two third place finishes in 2018 at Ridgewood CC and Aronimink, both of, which have been subject to Gill Hanse redesigns as this week’s track has.
Horschel’s lack of length off the tee is the one slight concern however with plenty of par fours sub 450 yards to go at and with the par fives potentially being three shotters for pretty much all of the field I am not convinced, that while always a help of course, distance will be key this week so I am not going to get too hung up on that.
Instead I believe Horschel can bring his 2022 really strong all round form to Tulsa this week and produce a really big week on a track that I think will reward his steady play.
BRANDEN GRACE - 250/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Finally at big odds this week I will take a chance that Branden Grace can step up once more in one of the big events.
There’s no denying that 2022 has been a struggle for Grace so far with the first part of the year leading up to Augusta showing a bunch of missed cuts and, if we exclude a 33rd place in the limited field Sentry ToC,, nothing better than 49th in Phoenix to show.
After missing out on a trip down Magnolia Lane however Grace showed an upturn in form at Hilton Head where despite only finishing 33rd he ranked fifth for the week in approach play, 19th off the tee and 15th from tee to green.
Following on from that week Branden then teamed up with Garrick Higgo at the Zurich Classic for another confidence boosting performance as they finished fourth, and the senior member certainly delivered his share of good stuff that week, particularly on Friday when they shot 65 in foursomes.
A missed cut then followed in the weather effected Wells Fargo, which I am not going to get too hung up about, however last week there were encouraging signs again as he posted a 38th place at the Byron Nelson closing with back to back rounds of 67, making only one bogey over the final two days.
So we’ve established the South African has shown signs of encouragement however what I particularly like is the fact that he has shown us over the years that, outside of Augusta, which he has never taken to, he has the game when the mood takes him to thrive in the US based Majors.
Last year Branden was right in the hunt through the first three days at Kiawah Island before falling away on Sunday, while a month later he went on to finish seventh at Torrey Pines in the US Open.
If we then go back further Brandon finished fourth in the 2016 PGA on another par 70 at Baltusrol while he was third at the 2015 PGA.
2015 memorably also saw him threaten for the US Open title at Chambers Bay, while in 2016 he was fifth in the same event at Oakmont.
While 2017 was a disappointing year for Branden in the US Open and US PGA he then performed nicely again in 2018 to finish top thirty in both.
Allowing for the fact then that Grace missed out on the 2019 US Open before missing the cut in the 2019 PGA and 2020 US Open, that means in his last 12 appearances in the US Open and US PGA he has posted five top ten finishes, posted another couple of top 30 finishes and been in the hunt through 54 holes for a further PGA before spoiling his card with a Sunday 78.
Returning to this week and lets not also forget that Grace's low ball flight is ideal to cope with the anticipated windy conditions.
A serial winner as we know, clearly then Grace is a player who can come to the party in the biggest of events and at 33yrs old I have to think his best golf, and potentially a Major Championship are still ahead of him.
Add that to the recent up tick in form and the fact that when on song we know he can compete at the highest of levels against the biggest of names, and I am happy to wrap things up by chancing him at huge each way odds this week.
UPDATED 17th MAY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - AARON WISE - DK VALUE $6800 - FINISHED 23rd - DK POINTS 62.5
First up in this section this week I'll chance Aaron Wise.
Wise arrives here in the midst of a solid season, which has seen him post three top tens the most recent coming in Mexico a couple of starts ago.
Longer than average off the tee Aaron strength is in his iron play, which sees him ranked 30th in approach play and 19th in GIR so this weeks test should play to his strengths.
A player who performs well on tough set ups I can see Aaron producing something akin to his top 20 at Kiawah Island last year.
PICK 2 - SAM HORSFIELD - DK VALUE $6700. - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 16
Next up I'll chance Sam Horsfield to ride the crest of the wave from his win in Belgium last week to a strong performance here.
Having lived in the US since the age of five and having attended college in Florida Sam should be more than comfortable this week in the anticipated windy conditions, something he showed with a fine showing at Kiawah Island last year.
A huge talent who I would expect to contend in Majors one day I expect Horsfield to give a good account of himself this week making him a strong DK play at $6700.
UPDATED 18th MAY
FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS
CAM SMITH - 35/1 - 1pt E/W 1/5 1st 7 & MITO PEREIRA 100/1 1pt E/W 1/5 1st 7. - BOTH FINISHED T7th
For my two first round leader picks with the potential for the wind to pick up as the day progresses I am going to focus on the AM starters.
First up I'll take Cam Smith. The Aussie as we know has been on fire this year bagging the trophy at TPC as well as the Sentry in January and coming close in the Masters.
Part of the key to Cam's success has been a quick start and he currently sits third in the round one scoring averages on tour.
Smith's short game prowess should get a chance to shine this week at Southern Hills and I'll take him from his 8am tee time to start quickly again.
Alongside Smith I'll play Mito Pereira. Mito also ranks highly in the tours round one scoring averages at 17th and in his last two starts he has opened up with 66 and 64.
One of the most accurate iron players on tour Southern Hills' small greens should play to his strenghths and I'll risk him to make the most of his 7.33AM tee time.