Ollie Noonan previews the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black!
The PGA Championship takes up a new position in a more balanced golfing calendar this season, assuming the place of the 2nd Major of the year and allowing The Open Championship to take up the coveted anchor spot in the rotation. Whether that has an impact on the nature of the tournament remains to be seen but you can bet US TV execs are frantically coming up with something to rival the painfully contrived ‘Glory’s Last Shot’, which this event had previously been dubbed.
Naturally, the tournament has not suffered a drop in quality of its entrants due to the change, with all of the top 50 bar the injured Justin Thomas making the trip to Long Island for a crack at Bethpage Black, a par 70 stretching out to over 7450 yards. Previously the host of the 2016 and 2012 Barclays’ (won by Patrick Reed and Nick Watney respectively) and the 2009 and 2002 US Opens (Lucas Glover and Tiger), the course is long and challenging, with plenty of blind tee shots and lengthy approaches into elevated greens surrounded by significant bunkering. In the four events mentioned previously, the low winning total was -10 and it would be a surprise to see anyone go lower given recently inclement weather which has seen rough made lusher and will see the course play even longer than usual.
What will it take to win?
As with almost every course in this day and age, length off the tee is a significant advantage, and the damp conditions appear to have really exacerbated this. Back in 2016, Jordan Spieth commented, “in order to compete here you need to be able to carry the ball 275 yards off the tee, and you need to drive the ball straight”, which was an opinion shared by Paul Casey in 2009, “length will certainly be an advantage, you could call that a driver’s golf course”. As such, we’ll be looking at strokes gained: off the tee as the first port of call this week.
Additionally, because of the nature of the bunkering around the green, it is worth a glance at the scrambling and sand save percentage stats. The ever-excellent Josh Culp wrote that the average shots out of bunkers for players in the 2016 Barclays was 9.5 per player so clearly the sand-wedge is going to be getting a workout for most this week and the tournament may well be determined by who handles the sand best.
Finally, Poa Annua greens return to the fray this week, bringing with them all the bumpy goodness which frustrates and delights competitors in equal measure. I’ll be giving that some weight too when assessing a potential champion.
Wanamaker market makers
This is an extremely competitive betting heat this week, with no less than eight players currently priced at 26.0 or lower to pick up the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday evening. Defending champion Brooks Koepka currently heads the market alongside world number 1 Dustin Johnson at 12.5, with Players Champion Rory McIlroy at 14.0 and Masters Champion Tiger Woods just behind at 14.5. After them, it’s previous major winners Rose and Day and nearly men Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm between 22.0 and 26.0. All of the aforementioned have very strong claims and it’s difficult to make a case against any of them. However, they all seem priced about right too so we’ll look further afield to try and find some value.
Another first-time winner?
Seven of the past 10 PGA Championship victors were first-time major winners and there is a fair chance we’ll see another this week, with a bevvy of talents major maidens in attendance. My headline pick Patrick Cantlay is amongst that group and appears to have the perfect game to beat Bethpage Black. The 27 year old former Amateur phenom’s compelling back story is well touted but his game is really starting to round into the form expected when he was setting records weekly in college.
He briefly touched favouritism on the back 9 on Sunday at Augusta when taking the solo lead with an eagle at 15, but two consecutive bogeys and the magic of Tiger ended up seeing him tied for a very creditable 9th. He followed that up with a 3rd place finish at The Heritage in his sole outing since, which was his 7th top 10 finish in 11 events this season.
Statistically, Cantlay looks made for this course ranking 21st in SG: off-the-tee and 3rd in Scrambling, whilst he clocks in at 15th in driving distance and 47th in proximity to the hole from the sand. He grew up in the West Coast, previously commenting about how comfortable he feels on Poa Annua greens as a result, and at 46.0, he looks the pick of those just behind the leading bunch.
I’m backing him to parlay the adrenaline from his strong Masters run into another big showing this week.
Bubba to blubber once again
The much-maligned Bubba Watson is another to make the staking plan this week. Whenever I see a course where blind tee shots are prevalent and length is an advantage Bubba comes straight to mind, and where that course features Poa annua greens, it makes him an almost auto-bet (price dependent of course). The two time Masters winner has six previous victorious on Poa Annua courses and currently ranks 3rd on the season in strokes gained off the tee and 31st in scrambling.
He has finished top 20 in each of his previous three tries at the track and arrives here with finishes of 4th and 12th in his past two stroke play events.
At 71.0 there is a lot to like about a guy who has the perfect makeup for the course and who has no problem sealing the deal in major company.
Viva Johnny Vegas
The PGA Championship has thrown up numerous shock winners down the years in the form of YE Yang, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley to name a few, and if we’re looking for an outsider who looks overpriced to do the same, Jhonattan Vegas could be the man. The Venezuelan world number 80 is a three time tour winner who has gradually grown into a very consistent Tour pro after some early struggles. He arrives this week off the back of an 8th played finish at Quail Hollow last time out and was 3rd earlier this year at Sawgrass in elite company.
His game looks ideal for this test given he ranks 8th in sg: off-the-tee and 29th in scrambling, and if you post up you could probably get matched at 201.0, which looks a great price given his profile. Naturally, he’d need some luck in running but he’s no bigger than a 101.0 shot for me.
- Patrick Cantlay, 3 points @ 46.0 (lay 6 points @ 6.0)
- Bubba Watson, 2 points @ 71.0 (lay 6 points @ 9.0)
- Jhonnattan Vegas, 1 point @ 151.0 (lay 6 points @ 21.0)
Ollie Noonan & Brad Allen join Sully & Jesse May to preview the 101st PGA Championship from Bethpage Black in Long Island.