It was a frustrating week for us at the Byron Nelson as with exception of Michael Kim who disappointingly missed the cut, most of our team played well in patches but were not able to put together the full four days of low scoring needed to bag a place.
The event itself was won by Jason Day who produced a superb Sunday salvo to return to the winners circle for the first time in five years. Day as most readers will know has gone through a really tough time over recent years both with injury/illnesses and then the loss of his Mother last year, so it was fitting that his comeback win should come on Mother’s Day in the same event that he bagged the first of his 13 tour titles.
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 105th playing of the Championship and the venue that gets the honour of hosting is the East Course at Oak Hill CC, Rochester, New York.
The course has hosted six Major Championships over the years including three US Opens and three PGA’s with the two held there this century being the 2003 and 2013 PGA’s one by Shaun Micheel and Jason Dufner respectively.
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 Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler who are vying for favouritism at single figure odds. This duo are then followed in the market by Rory McIlroy who is available at a few points bigger than the front two before ‘the rest’ are headed up by Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and defending champion Justin Thomas who are all available around the 20/1 mark.
The East Course is a par 70 measuring a fraction under 7400 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 over 450yards including the redesigned sixth hole.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was originally designed by Donald Ross in the early 1920s before undergoing redesigns from Robert Trent Jones and the Fazio’s over the years leading up to the 1989 US won here by Curtis Strange.
Over the years though these redesigns had the effect of losing the intentions of the original Ross design and creating more of claustrophobic, tight tree lined course, which allowed Jason Dufner to flourish here during his 2013 PGA Championship win.
Prior to the PGA returning here this year then the designer Andrew Green was tasked with bringing the course back to how Ross intended for it to originally play. The result of this was the removal of some 500 trees to open up the fairways, new bunkering, which would look to ensure that the ‘traps’ are genuine hazards particularly around the greens and green surfaces featuring severe undulation and run off areas, something often associated with Ross designs.
With the course not having been seen in competition for many years there is obviously much speculation as to, which type of player this will favour, however with more room off the tee it may well be that the bigger hitter thrives here. That said with reports of the rough being pretty lush you would have to think that finding the short stuff off the tee, will be of significant advantage when faced with the challenge of finding the right areas on the greens.
While we have not seen Oak Hill in play for many years there are of course other Donald Ross designs seen regularly on tour, which it may well pay to reference from a correlation point of view.
The three regular Ross designs we see each year are East Lake the home of the Tour Championship, Detroit GC home of the Rocket Mortgage Classic and Sedgefield CC the home of the Wyndham championship.
In addition Aronimink, which hosted the 2011 AT&T National and the 2018 BMW Championship, Pinehurst No 2, which hosted the 2014 US Open and Plainfield, which hosted the 2011 and 2015 Barclays are other Ross courses scene on tour over more recent years.
So let’s take a look at the winners of the USPGA since 2011.
The winners have been as follows;
2022 J Thomas
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.
2021 winner, Mickelson, 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. Last year though it was back to the norm as Justin Thomas warmed up for his victory at Southern Hills with a fifth place finish the week before at the Byron Nelson.
Other than that it is obvious to see from this list that with exception of Bradley back in 2011 that the years of the PGA throwing up shock winners such as Shaun Micheel here in 2003 or the likes of Rich Beem and Bob Tway appear to be over as all of this list of winners are/or were at the time, proven multiple winners on the Tour who can be considered as members of the games elite. After all lets not forget that even the two slightly ‘lesser names’ on this list, Dufner and Walker had each won twice in the previous season on tour.
As is normal for New York at this time of year expect cooler conditions in the morning with temperatures creeping up to around the 70 mark as the day progresses. Touch wood though we look set for a dry week with only Saturday at the time of writing showing the potential for a shower.
Wind, which could be an issue here with the course being close to the banks of Lake Ontario looks like it could play its part on Friday and Sunday in particular with gusts of over 20mph forecast.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
XANDER SCHAUFFELE – 20/1 – 2.5pts E/W 1/5 1st 10 - FINISHED 18th
I will start things off this week with Xander Schauffele.
It seems like Schauffele has owned his spot in the market for Majors at around fourth or fifth favourite at the 20/1 or so mark for a few years now, however to date he has been unable justify that tag and deliver on the consistent support he receives in the biggest of events.
So here we are again then and having sided with Xander at the Masters recently when he finished tenth and rewarded us with an each way return I find myself drawn to the Californian once more.
So why Xander this week? Well firstly while he is yet to land one of the biggest of events his record of consistency in them can’t be faulted as following his tenth at Augusta he now has nine top ten finishes in 15 Majors since the start of 2018, very impressive indeed.
A man for the Majors no doubt then but to add to this Schauffele arrives at Oak Hill in superb form having now posted four straight top ten finishes including a runner up last time out at Quail Hollow.
A look at Xander’s stats for the season shows us exactly why he has been so consistent as he currently sits sixth from tee to green, sixth in approach play and 17th in putting. Meanwhile at the Wells Fargo he was third off the tee for the week and fourth from tee to green so everything was firing in his most recent start.
Arriving in great form then Schauffele, with his Major record, would be an obvious threat under any circumstances, however what you really can’t get away from this week is Xander’s record on Donald Ross layout’s, which make him a must for me.
As we know Ross’ track’s feature trademark distinctive greens with plenty of run off areas and with the recent redesign here having restored these features you would expect some strong similarities to his other tracks used on tour. Cue then Xander’s record specifically at East Lake, the home of the Tour Championship, which has seen him win the event outright and in general perform consistently well there every year including being the low scoring performer since the event introduced its ‘handicapped scoring’ format.
Meanwhile away from East Lake Schauffele has a third place finish to his name at the Ross designed Aronimink up in the North East in Pennsylvania.
Finally, and talking of form in the North East, and Xander seems to enjoy his golf in this part of the world having won the Travelers in Connecticut last summer while one of his strong Major performances over recent years came in New York at Winged Foot where he was fifth in 2020. In addition let’s not also forget that Xander played really solidly for the first three days at the PGA at Bethpage Black in New York in 2019 in comparable cool May conditions to what I anticipate this week, before fading on Sunday.
I said leading in to the Masters that now that Schauffele had got the monkey off his back of his long winless run I expected him to be a huge threat in the Majors this year, and with his form really peaking I believe he has a fantastic chance this week on a course he must be really looking forward to.
BROOKS KOEPKA – 20/1 –2.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 1st !!!
At similar odds to Schauffele I can’t ignore a now healthy again Brooks Koepka to build on his recent Masters performance and contend once again in the biggest of arena’s.
Koepka as those who watched Netflix’s Full Swing will know was in the abyss with his golf game early in 2022 as he feared that the knee injuries, which had been plaguing him would stop from ever being able to practice fully and therefore compete fully for the biggest of championships again, hence of course his decision to bail from the PGA Tour and take the guaranteed pay day from LIV Golf.
Twelve months down the line though and the outlook for Koepka is very different as finally healthy again he appears to have rediscovered his game.
The first hints of this came with his improved performances on the LIV Tour, which included a win in Orlando the week before the Masters, however with it being difficult to judge the value of form in the three round events on the LIV Tour it wasn’t until the Masters that we really knew Brooks was ‘back’.
At Augusta the four time Major Champion looked for the first three days the Major player he always was, plotting his way around the Georgia course with a superb display of tee to green play.
In the end though it wasn’t to be for Brooks as Rahm’s sharpness and far more recent ‘battle hardened’ game perhaps inevitably overhauled him on Sunday.
What that week told us though is Koepka still has the game to compete at this level and having now shown himself he can do so you would expect him to be ready to pounce should the opportunity present itself again.
So with Koepka healthy and potentially back to somewhere near his best what of his chances specifically this week on this track? Well although he doesn’t have the bank of form on Donald Ross layouts that some in our team have he does of course have the perfect game for the Major Championship test, and having bagged two PGA’s we know that his game is suited to the way the PGA of America look to set up their courses.
Furthermore having won the US Open at Shinnecock Hills and the PGA at Bethpage Black we know that he comes alive in the New York area.
Prior to his slump Koepka’s Major record was second to absolutely none as he had mastered the knack of peaking for the biggest of events. On that basis as he returns to the New York area healthy and on the back of his great showing at Augusta he is a must for me this week.
JUSTIN ROSE – 1pt E/W – 100/1 – 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED T9th
Next up I am happy to keep faith with the rejuvenated Justin Rose having been on him at Augusta.
Rose has to be given great credit for the work he has done on his game over the past 12 months or so as it would have been very easy for him to move over to LIV and fade away gracefully as many of his fellow Europeans from the his generation have done.
As I say though full credit to Justin and he has knuckled down to currently be in the midst of a season, which has seen him win at Pebble Beach and post four other top 20s including a sixth place at Sawgrass.
On to this week then and similarly to our lead pick Schauffele one of the things that really attracts me to Rose this week is his form on Donald Ross layouts over the years.
A winner at the BMW Championship at the Ross designed Aronimink in 2011 Justin also has an excellent record at East Lake having finished 2 6 4 2 10 4 there prior to the event adopting the handicapping system. Furthermore a rare visit to Sedgefield CC for the Wyndham in 2021 when he was struggling for form saw him post a tenth place finish, his best result at the time on the PGA Tour in three months.
A look at Rose’s stats for this season show us that he is doing everything well at the moment with, allowing for the severity of bunkers at Oak Hill, his sand save ranking of third on tour particularly eye catching.
With Justin’s lone Major Championship coming in the North East at Merion he clearly enjoys his golf in this part of the US and he makes plenty of appeal to me at the odds this week to go well in this region again on a track, which I expect to suit him.
SI WOO KIM – 1pt E/W – 80/1 – 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED MC
Moving on and another player who makes a lot of appeal to me this week is Si Woo Kim.
Si Woo has long been known as a maverick of a player who on his day can produce the spectacular but is also equally prone to throwing in the occasional shocking performance and/or a WD if things really aren’t going his way.
Over the past couple of seasons though the 2017 Players Champion has developed a lot more consistency in his game and this campaign he has only missed two cuts in 18 starts while posting a win and a runner up finish along the way.
Referring to that runner up finish and of course that came in his most recent start at the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship where he pushed Jason Day all the way down the stretch missing out by a shot.
What was really interesting to me though in that performance was that as well as ranking fifth from tee to green for the week Si Woo’s often forgotten skills around the green, which he demonstrated hugely when winning at TPC Sawgrass, were on display again as he ranked second for the week in that department.
No doubting that Si Woo is in great nick then and in my mind that he has the talent to land a Major, however the obvious clincher this week is his prowess on Donald Ross layouts specifically, Sedgefield CC, where he has been something of a standing dish over recent years winning once and posting three further top fives. Furthermore the one time he has made it to East Lake, pre the handicap system, he posted a 10th place finish on debut.
With reports of Oak Hill’s trademark Ross style greens and severe bunkering in play this week I expect Si Woo to feel very much at home and if he can bring the long game and touch around the greens he showed last week and we know he possesses I can see him delivering a big performance.
HARRIS ENGLISH - 175/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Finally at big odds this week I will take my chances again on Harris English.
After his 21/22 season was severely disrupted by injury English has been piecing things back together and he currently sits 35th in the Fedex Cup standings courtesy predominantly of two top three finishes this campaign the latest, which came in his most recent start at Quail Hollow when were onboard.
At the Wells Fargo English ranked second in approach play for the week, 11th from tee to green, 11th in putting, 14th around the greens, 16th in accuracy and 14th in GIR. In other words everything was firing on all cylinders!
While this can’t be said for his long game on the season as a whole, his short game has been in fine fettle throughout the campaign to date as he ranks 22nd in putting and 28th around the green so with his long game trending nicely as well now this bodes really well for Harris.
Looking at English’s history over the years and while he doesn’t have anything too startling Donald Ross wise on his CV one thing which did really draw me to him this week is his track record in the North East as he has produced a string of great results in that neck of the woods. This includes over recent years a runner up finish in the Northern Trust in 2020, a fourth place at Winged Foot in the US Open later that year and a win at the Travelers in 2021.
English was long thought of as a player destined for the very top of the game however he strikes me even when in good form as someone who is slightly overlooked by the layers more recently, and we took advantage of this at Quail Hollow to bag a big priced place.
This week then at big three figure odds he once more makes plenty of appeal and I am happy to be on board.
UPDATED 17th MAY
FIRST ROUND LEADER - TOMMY FLEETWOOD - 60/1 & STEPHAN JAEGER 100/1 - BOTH 1/5 odds 1st 6 & 1pt E/W. - FINISHED - NO RETURN
I'll take two in the first round leader market, both PM as the warmer conditions the players who start later should experience will help scoring.
Firstly Tommy Fleetwood who tees off at 1.25pm local time.
As we know Tommy is yet to get over the line on the PGA Tour however his form of late has been trending really strongly and with his short game firing I expect him to enjoy Oak Hill.
While he may ultimately come up short once more I expext a strong week & having started with a 65 at Quail Hollow last time out I'll take him to get out of the blocks quickly again.
Alongside Tommy I'll side with Stephan Jaeger. whoheads out at 1.53pm. Jaeger who curremtly sits eighth on tour in round one scoring has been building up a real head of steam of late and having closed out his week in Texas on Sunday with a 63 he should arrive in confident mood.
The German has a great short game, which should serve him well around this track and having notched two top 15 finishes on Ross layouts last year there is reason to think he enjoy's the designers set ups.
Allowing then for his strong Thursday perfomances this year I am happy to chance him in this market.