Say what you like about the merits (or lack thereof) of Bellerive last week, the PGA Championship produced drama befitting the year’s final major, though the numbers watching it are likely to have been significantly reduced due to its availability only via streaming company Eleven Sports. Tiger Woods produced his lowest ever final round in a major, shooting an improbable – given his driving performance – 64 yet this was good enough only for second place as Brooks Koepka produced a tee-to-green masterclass to claim his second major of the season and third in his last six major starts.
It seems strange to write this but, even in spite of his latest victory, there is a decent chance Koepka is still somewhat underrated by golf media, fans and punters and it seems highly likely his performance will be overshadowed by Tiger’s resurgence once again this time around.
As more than one PGA Tour pro remarked, “Tiger doesn’t move the needle, he is the needle”. With regards to Tiger’s runner-up finish, I think it’s time to admit I have been too quick to write him off. In gambling, one should never say never and maybe, just maybe, there is life in the old cat yet.
Following a major is never easy but the Wyndham Championship has the honour of being the PGA Tour’s regular-season finale, and therefore possesses the very easy narrative arc of being last chance saloon for those on the bubble of spot number 125 on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points list – that being the cut off point for those who get to automatically retain their card for next season.
Due to this, I always feel that players in those bubble positions tend to be over-bet in this tournament as the ‘all to play for’ incentive is factored in by punters, but in reality players are generally placed roughly where they should be over the course of a 44 event season, and they’re unlikely just to turn it on because it’s the final event.
Indeed, winners here have generally been pretty classy with Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson all major winners who have triumphed here this decade, plus Davis Love III though his victory has to be classed in the shock category given his advanced years.
The venue for the Wyndham is Sedgefield Country Club, a very classical par 70 layout in Greensboro, North Carolina. The 7,127-yard track is short by modern PGA Tour standards but, despite this, it’s a venue where getting the ball in play is more important than bombing and gouging. To highlight this, Henrik Stenson didn’t even pack a driver en route to winning last year’s event and commented that the ideal landing distances were often around 270-300 yards, so course management is favoured over power this week.
It’s also fair to say that low scoring is a pre-requisite to contending this week, with the winning total averaging out at -19 this decade.
Players will need to hit plenty of the Bermudagrass greens and will need to convert more than their fair share of birdies opportunities in order to keep pace with the leaders.
Last year Henrik Stenson opened with a 62 and wouldn’t even have provided a return to win only FRL backers, and he was only 3rd at halfway despite sitting at -12 through 36 hours. If you don’t like target golf and shootouts, this event probably isn’t for you!
This week’s outright picks
The market is headed by Webb Simpson (13.0), and for full disclosure, I have backed him prior to the preview being published at 15.0 but he has now come in couple points which looks like the right price. He’s pretty much an auto-bet at Sedgefield every year for me – price permitting – as his record here is phenomenal with a win and four top-eight finishes in nine starts, whilst he has talked extensively about his love of the track, being able to sleep in his own bed and being inspired by the local crowd.
He even named his third child Wyndham in homage to the tournament, which has to be rare even by PGA Tour standards.
Whilst I can’t in good faith say he’s a true value selection now, I do genuinely believe he’s the most likely winner when taking into account his rock-solid form this season – win at The Players, top 20 in all four majors and top fives at correlating courses Innisbrook, Harbour Town and Waialaie. If you are looking for a fun bet with a decent chance of copping, by all means, hop on board.
The Wyndham has been kind to first-time winners down the years, with Si Woo Kim, Reed, Simpson and Ryan Moore all breaking their maidens at the even and there is a man I like to do the same this week – Ollie Schniederjans (45.0). The 25 year old Texan is a former world amateur number one (a position also held by Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantley and Matt Fitzpatrick this decade) who has thus far failed to hit the same heights in his fledgling PGA Tour career, though he did bag a Web.com Tour title in his first year as a pro. However, his best ever PGA Tour finish came at this venue when runner-up to Stenson last year, and he has excelled on Bermudagrass greens, gaining 0.595 strokes on these particular greens vs his usual expected numbers.
He arrives at the event having made the cut in his first ever PGA Championship and was 5th in his penultimate start at the Barracuda Championship, where he ranked 5th on the week in strokes gained: off the tee and first in strokes gained: around the green. He sits 25th in the year-long birdie average charts and 14th in Par 4 Birdie or Better % list, so his game looks a good fit for the test that awaits.
Given the career that’s been marked out for him, his name would appear to sit very naturally amongst those other first time winners and a first win could open the door for many more.
Finally, I am going to back a rookie who has made impressive strides late in his first season – Sam Ryder (101.0). The 28-year-old Floridian finished 2nd in the Web.com Tour money list last year, after a few years of bouncing around on mini-tours but initially struggled to adapt to life in the big league with no better finish than 50th in his first 11 starts of the season. However, he tied 5th at the Houston Open in April to kick-start a decent run which has most recently seen him finish runner-up at the John Deere and 7th at the Barracuda Championship.
He ranks 63rd on the season for strokes gained: off the tee (20th in driving accuracy) and 4th in greens in regulation, whilst converting birdies at a decent clip, sitting 45th on the season-long standings.
When winning the Pinnacle Bank Championship on the Web.com Tour last season, he showed an affinity for going low as his -21 total included a third round 62, so this shootout should be right up his street.
He looks worth chancing at a three-figure price and could just surprise.
- Webb Simpson – 3 points win @ 13.0 (lay 3 points @ 4.0)
- Ollie Schniederjans – 1 point win @ 45.0 (lay 3 points @ 6.0)
- Sam Ryder – 1 point win @ 101.0 (lay 7 points @ 10.0)