PGA Championship – Golfers to Target

Mark Diana
Golf Analyst

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The second Major of 2021 is upon us! The PGA Tour will make its way to Kiawah Island, South Carolina for the PGA Championship. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island will play as the longest course in Major history, measuring an unofficial 7,876 yards. The course features paspalum grass, which is not commonly seen on the PGA Tour. Paspalum runs slower which should make life easier for some of the worst putters on Tour. A Pete Dye-designed coastal course, is something we have seen a lot of in the early part of the PGA Tour season. Pete Dye requires golfers to execute precise golf shots and to be creative. While the course is very long, it will be imperative for golfers to give themselves the right pathway to the hole location off-the-tee. 

Wind can, and will be, a factor this week. I expect the scoring to be very difficult which usually creates an added emphasis on short-game. I will be targeting golfers this week who can dominate the Par 5s, as these holes will be a slight reprieve from the difficulty of the Par 4s and Par 3s. Previous PGA Champions have been highly ranked players who have come into the event with good form. 

Each week, I will highlight golfers from different price tiers to help you build your betting card! The four price tiers I will highlight this week will be the: the top-tier, mid-tier, sleepers, and longshots. Top-tier golfers will consist of golfers who are 30-1 or less. The mid-tier will consist of golfers who are longer than 30-1, but shorter than 60-1. Sleepers will consist of golfers who are longer than 60-1, but shorter than 100-1. Longshots will consist of golfers who are longer than 100-1.

Top-Tier (Under 30-1)

Jon Rahm 14-1

Jon Rahm is the number 3 player in the world, and he has never won a Major. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t won one yet considering his elite level of play and consistently high finishes at big events. Since 2018, Rahm has six Top 10 finishes at Majors, including his recent seventh place finish at the Masters. The 26-year-old Spaniard has played in 15 events in 2021, and has recorded 12 Top 25 finishes. Among golfers in this field, for the 2021 season Rahm ranks: second in GIRs Gained, third Off-the-Tee, 10th in Scoring Average, 11th in Total Strokes Gained, 12th in Approach, 12th in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better, and 13th in Distance. Rahm has the overall completeness to his game, and the pure distance to make a bid at winning his first Major this week.

Dustin Johnson 17-1

After withdrawing prior to the start of the AT&T Byron Nelson, Dustin Johnson has his eyes set on his 25th PGA Tour victory this week at Kiawah. DJ is the number one ranked player in the world, and he’s the sixth shortest odds on the betting board. While his incoming form has not been great, that is a discrepancy we rarely ever see with Dustin Johnson. The 36-year-old has won twice on the European Tour in Saudi Arabia, which is a course that features paspalum grass. Johnson is a big game hunter, and thrives at Majors. Over his last nine appearances at Majors, DJ has five finishes of third place or better. As one of the most complete players on the Tour, this is a course that should fit DJ perfectly and there is good value on him this week. 

Xander Schauffele 20-1

Xander Schauffele does not win nearly as much as he should. He can change that narrative this week by winning his first Major championship. Three of Xander’s four career victories have come against very strong fields at a premier event. Schauffele has won the Tour Championship, the Tournament of Champions, and a WGC. In his career, Xander has competed in fifteen Majors with eight Top 10 finishes. The #4 ranked player in the world has played 14 times this season and has recorded six Top 5 finishes! For the 2021 season, among this field Xander is second in Total Strokes Gained, 14th Around the Green, 17th in Distance, and 22nd in Approach. This is a perfect blend of being long enough to score on the Par 5s while having a proficient enough short-game to save pars on the daunting Par 4s. 

Viktor Hovland 22-1

Viktor Hovland might be the most popular bet this week, and it’s because this course seems like it would be a great fit for the 23-year-old Norwegian. Hovland has consecutive finishes of third place in his most recent events. Hovland is an elite ball-striker, ranking fourth Off-the-Tee, fourth in GIRs Gained, and 19th on Approach among golfers in this field. Hovland does not have too much experience at Majors but he’s 5/5 on making the cut at the limited Majors he has played in. Hovland is now the #11 ranked player in the world, as he continues to rack up high finishes. Hovland’s runner-up finish earlier this year at the Farmers Insurance Open is encouraging because the course played over 7,700 yards which shows Hovland can ball-strike his way up the leaderboard at a tough course. Hovland’s ability to get himself onto the green should give him an edge this week and I expect a big week from him.

Mid-Tier (Longer than 30-1, Shorter than 60-1)

Patrick Reed 36-1

It’s hard not to love Patrick Reed at Majors because he’s always under-priced relative to his win equity. Reed has won at the Masters, Tournament of Champions, WGCs, and FedEx Cup playoff events. Reed’s best golf is when the stars are out competing beside him. While the first counterpoint to backing Reed is that the course is “too long” for him, it’s worth noting that Reed won at Torrey Pines earlier this season, which is the longest course that’s been played on Tour this year. Reed’s elite short-game allows him to contend on these longer courses because he finds ways to get up-and-down while other golfers are making bogeys. In this field for 2021, Reed ranks first in Par 4 Efficiency from 450-55 yards, first in Par 5 Efficiency from 550-600 yards, sixth in 3-Putt Avoidance, eighth in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better, and eighth in Total Strokes Gained. Reed performs exceptionally on longer holes and is my favorite outright bet this week. 

Cameron Smith 46-1

Cameron Smith is pretty similar to Patrick Reed. Smith is elite on Par 5s, ranking first in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better and third in Par 5 Efficiency from 550-600 yards. The Australian is known for his short-game abilities. Smith is ranked first in 3-Putt Avoidance, and eighth Around-the-Green. I expect Smith to avoid bogeys and find ways to scramble his way to a clean scorecard. This would give him a huge advantage over the field as they will be tallying bogeys to their scorecards while Smith will be looking to grind his way to his first Major championship.

Abraham Ancer 55-1

Abraham Ancer is a PGA Tour maiden, but has been absolutely elite Tee-to-Green, and has played exceptionally well at Pete Dye courses in his career. Ancer is not long Off-the-Tee but he’s 21st in strokes gained Off-the-Tee because he lives in the fairways. Ancer is great at getting to the green, ranking sixth in GIRs Gained which allows him to avoid bogeys. Ancer’s weakness is his putting but with paspalum greens this week he might be more confident in his short-game which could lead to him finally getting that first win. 

Sleepers (Longer than 60-1, Shorter than 100-1)

Keegan Bradley 80-1

Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship in 2011, and followed up his victory with a T3 the following year at Kiawah Island. Bradley has been playing very well this year, and his Tee-to-Green game is always elite. Bradley is the captain of #TeamNoPutt and if he could find a way to just be neutral with the flatstick he will have a great chance at contending this week. Among players in this field for the 2021 season, Bradley ranks seventh in Approach, tenth in GIRs Gained, and 22nd in Around-the-Green. Bradley’s profile fits this course perfectly as long as the putter cooperates. Hopefully, Bradley will find himself more comfortable on the paspalum greens and watching putts fall. 

Matthew Fitzpatrick 80-1

Matthew Fitzpatrick has been on the record saying he prefers golf courses where par is a good score and there is a lot of strategy required in order to win. Fitzpatrick is a great putter, who isn’t long Off-the-Tee but still one of the best Off-the-Tee players on Tour. The 26-year-old Englishman has been great this year, recording four Top 10 finishes in 13 starts. If this tournament becomes carnage and golfers are all playing over-par I expect Fitzpatrick to be in the mix. 

Justin Rose 100-1

Justin Rose has been shaky over the last year and a half, but he has been showing signs of good form. Rose came storming out of the gates at the Masters where he was the first round leader. Rose followed that solid outing with another one at the team event. Rose’s pedigree at tough, difficult events makes him an attractive bet this week. Rose has won at Torrey Pines which is one of the longest courses on Tour. Rose is a former US Open champion and has played well at the Open Championship in his career. If the winds kick up this weekend, Rose has experience contending at events in these types of climates and he is a grinder who is a proven winner. 

Adam Scott 100-1

Adam Scott is similar to Justin Rose. This price is just too big for a player who has shown he can win at big events against elite fields on a difficult course. Some of Scott’s most recent wins are at Riviera, Colonial, PGA National, and Augusta. Scott plays his best golf when the course is difficult and players are not able to go really low. Since golf resumed last June, Scott has made the cut in every event he has played. His form is not great, but if he can hang around the top I like his chances at making a run at the Championship on Sunday.

Long Shots (Longer than 100-1)

Emiliano Grillo 110-1

Emiliano Grillo is a coastal course specialist. Grillo’s best finishes have been at events like Mayakoba, Puerto Rico Open, Corales Puntacana, and RBC Heritage. Grillo has been successful at courses with paspalum greens, and he is a great ball-striker. Grillo is third in GIRs Gained, 13th in Approach, and 16th Off-the-Tee. This course should allow Grillo to capitalize on his strengths and while I think he fits this course, I do not think he has enough win equity to actually beat this field. However, I have already bet on him in the Top 40 and Top 30 markets. 

Matt Wallace 110-1

Matt Wallace is great on longer holes, and has been pretty successful on the PGA Tour. Wallace is in great form, recording four Top 25 finishes in his last five starts which also includes two Top 10 finishes. Wallace is ranked second in Par 5 Efficiency 550-600 yards, third in Approach, tenth in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards, and 15th in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better. The length of this course should fit Wallace’s game well and these are good odds for a player who is trending in the right direction. 

Charley Hoffman 220-1

Charley Hoffman has seen a resurgence in his game this year. Since February, Hoffman has played in nine events and has recorded seven Top 20 Finishes. The high finishes have been a result of great ball-striking. Hoffman is also known as a great wind player. In this field Hoffman ranks tenth in Approach, 15th in Distance, 16th in Total Strokes Gained, 22nd Off-the-Tee, and 25th in GIRs Gained. I love Hoffman in the Top 40, Top 30, and Top 20 market this week and think these odds are way off. 

Stewart Cink 220-1

Stewart Cink has won twice this season already, he is a former winner of the Open Championship, and predicates his game on getting to the greens. Among all PGA Tour players, Cink is first in Greens-in-Regulation. This is a course that will punish golfers who miss the greens which shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Cink. Cink has added distance to his game where he is 23rd among all players in Driving Distance. I think this number is disrespectful to one the most underrated players. I love Cink in any of the Top Finishing markets.

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