Unfortunately it was another frustrating Sunday for us at the AT&T Byron Nelson as a final day, which had started with us having a 250/1 shot and a 150/1 shot sat one shot outside of the places going in to the day, in the shape of Bronson Burgoon and Ben Martin, ended with us getting nothing as both men stalled on Sunday. Burgoon’s performance in particular was frustrating as he missed countless birdie opportunities on the front nine in particular, before in typical fashion birdieing his final two holes to end up one shy of a place return.
Still that’s the way it goes at times and I take the firm view that as long as the thought process is good and we keep getting players in the mix our number will come up as it were on more than enough occasions.
The event itself was won by KH Lee who battled Sunday’s tough conditions superbly to take down the in-form Sam Burns and land a well-deserved first PGA Tour title.
So on we go with the ‘super season’ continuing apace it is time for the second Major Championship of the year, the USPGA.
This year’s edition will be the 103rd playing of the Championship and the venue that gets the honour of hosting is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Kiawah is a sea island located some 25 miles South West of Charleston.
As you would expect for a Major the field is a stellar one.
The market is headed up by Rory McIlroy who was victorious here by eight shots in 2012 and who of course won last time out in Charlotte. He is then followed by Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Bryson Dechambeau and Dustin Johnson who arrives here in suspect form and nursing a knee problem, which prevented him from teeing it up last week in Texas.
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 Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is a traditional par 72 featuring four par 5’s and four par 3’s measuring a whopping 7876yds if played to its full length.
While it quite possibly won’t be set up to play to this distance this length would make it officially the longest course in Major Championship history.
The greens are paspalum comparable to that found at El Cameleon home of the Mayakoba, in the Dominican Republic at the Corales Puntacana event and the Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour. In addition paspalum greens can be found in Saudi Arabia, Oman and over the past couple of seasons on the course used in Qatar on the European Tour.
The course is a Pete Dye design, which opened in 1991. That same year it hosted the infamous ‘war on the shore’ Ryder Cup. Subsequently to this it hosted the 1997 World Cup of Golf and the 2007 Senior PGA Championship before hosting the 2012 PGA Championship, which was won memorably by Rory McIlroy by eight shots and where David Lynn finished runner up.
While it shouldn’t be seen as a links course the course is situated right on the coast and is exposed to the wind.
The course features wider than average fairways, which will give the bigger hitters a bit of room off the tee, however if they stray too far off line they will find themselves in the long fescue.
In addition with undulating greens, which will be hard to find good scrambling will be paramount this week.
Other Pete Dye designs used regularly on tour are TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town at Hilton Head, Austin CC home of the WGC Matchplay, TPC Louisiana home of the Zurich Classic Pairs event and the Stadium Course, the host course of the Amex. In addition while not a regular on tour another Dye design Whistling Straights, which hosted the 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships and will host the Ryder Cup later this year is also another venue definitely worth cross referencing as this course, which sits on the banks of Lake Wisconsin is probably the most comparable Dye track to this weeks venue.
While the 2012 PGA Championship played here is the most obvious reference point to look at I would express a slight note of caution with drawing too many comparisons as to how that event played. This is because the change from August to May, should lead to us having a firmer course both because of the cooler temperatures at this time of year and because the lead up to 2012 saw the course receive an awful lot of rain, which lead to very soft conditions. Furthermore the winds should be more of a factor at this time of year.
Allowing for the lack of recent use on tour there is an element of guess work involved as to, which type of player the event will suit, however despite stating the above I would expect European Tour players with good links form to be comfortable here as they were in 2012 and I would also expect scoring to be tougher than is it was in 2012.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of the USPGA since 2010.
The winners have been as follows;
2020 Collin 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 last year 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.
To sum up I feel we should be looking for an in form player who has a proven record in the wind on coastal tracks and preferably has also got some solid Pete Dye form on their CV.
The early part of the week calls for dry, sunny conditions and this is also the case for all four tournament days at the time of writing. Temperatures look to sit around the high seventies for the early part of the week before creeping up to the mid-80s over the weekend.
With dry conditions forecast in the lead up and throughout the tournament then we will hopefully see a fairly firm golf course.
The wind, which of course is potentially the most significant factor here looks set to sit around the 10-15mph mark for the first three days however at the time of writing 20mph + shows as a possibiity on Sunday. From that point of view then it should certainly ‘keep the players honest’ throughout the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
XANDER SCHAUFFELE – 20/1 – 2pts E/W 1/5 1st 10. - FINISHED MC
Whereas of late the strategy in Majors has been to take your chances with one of the four or five marquee names at the top of the market I find myself having concerns around them all this week. McIlroy on paper is of course the man to fear most based on his win last time out and his eight shot romp here in 2012. However despite him finding a way to get the job done with the putter on a course he loves his long game to me still looked work in progress at Quail Hollow and if you add that to the fact that conditions will be very different to the soft course he dominated here in 2012 I am more than happy to pass him by at his restrictive odds.
Dustin Johnson should certainly relish this test however he appears to have lost his way of late and is struggling with a knee problem, Rahm understandably seems to still be focused on the joys of becoming a father for the first time and I just don’t see this as a Dechambeau sort of track.
Of those at the front then Thomas and Spieth make the most appeal, however in a Major that has served up its fair share of shocks over the years I am going to swerve the very top of the market and start things off with Xander Schauffele.
Schauffele is winless now for over two years on the PGA Tour with his most recent success coming at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2019. As we saw though at Augusta with Hideki Matsuyama, it is quite possible for a ‘big time’ player to end a winless drought at a Major if everything clicks for him, and it may just be that Xander took encouragement from the Japanese stars performance.
During his winless period Schauffele has put himself in position time and time again and he has particularly been prominent in Major Championships.
If we look at the 27yr olds record in Majors over his career to date it is nothing short of astonishing as he has finished in the top ten on eight of his 15 starts with the most recent of these being a third place at the Masters last month.
Looking at this weeks set up more specifically and while I am not completely convinced that distance off the tee will be as big a factor as the course length would indicate the fact Xander is one of the longer hitters out there is no bad thing. Furthermore he also sits in the top thirty in approach play and in the top twenty in strokes-gained-around-the-greens for the season, both of, which look to be key attributes here.
Further encouragement can also be found in Schauffele’s form by the coast, which includes a runner up finish in the Open Championship at Carnoustie and a superb record at Kapalua in Hawaii. Xander also has a runner up finish at Sawgrass to his name, which gives us some solid Pete Dye form as well.
Arriving here on the back of his third place at Augusta and a solid 14th last time out Xander looks primed for another big Major effort and on a track, which I really think will suit his all round game I am happy to lead with him this week.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD – 50/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Moving on and with the 2012 final leaderboard here having a strong European flavour to it I am keen to have at least one of Europe’s finest on side and the one who strikes me as having the perfect game for this test is Tommy Fleetwood.
By his standards Fleetwood has had a fairly underwhelming 2021 so far on the PGA Tour it would be fair to say, and as things stand at 109th in the Fedex Cup standings he is no shoe in to make the play off’s.
As we know though the man from Southport is a master of windy coastal golf and on that basis you would have to think that he will be licking his chops at the test that presents itself this week.
Last time out Fleetwood produced a solid performance at Quail Hollow to finish 14th and while his long game numbers were not where he’d want them to be yet their were plenty of encouraging signs and the hope is that the intervening fortnight will have allowed him to make further progress and in addition hopefully get a bit more of a sighter at Kiawah Island.
One area of Fleetwood’s game that is firing this season is his scrambling and he currently sits sixth on tour in strokes-gained-around-the-green and was seventh in this department at the Wells Fargo and this could well be a key attribute this week.
In addition to Fleetwood’s strong form over the years in Europe on windswept tracks what also catches my eye is that he has form on the right courses Stateside, particularly at PGA National as well as on Pete Dye tracks.
Furthermore Tommy has two top four finishes at the Honda Classic over the recent seasons, which as noted earlier is a great link to here.
If we then ,look at Pete Dye form Tommy has a top five to his name at Sawgrass and put in a strong performance this season at the Dye designed TPC Austin in the Matchplay where he made the quarter finals.
There is no doubt that for Fleetwood to be right in the hunt here come Sunday he will need to up his level a few notches from where it has been of late, however I am that convinced that this course will be a great fit for him that I am happy to take the leap of faith that will happen and he is a must for me this week.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 1pt E/W – 66/1 – 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED 30th
Next up for me this week is Joaquin Niemann.
Niemann is undoubtedly a superstar of the game in the making and on a track that I think will play to a lot of his strengths I am more than happy to have him on side this week.
Before focusing on the test of Kiawah Island and how I think it will suit Niemann lets first point out the obvious, which is that Joaquin arrives here in really solid form.
Currently fifteenth in the Fedex Cup rankings Niemann has not missed a cut this campaign and all that is missing from his CV this year so far is a second PGA Tour title.
Looking at Joaquin’s stats this year and he sits eighth in Driving Distance, 10th off the tee and 15th from tee to green, meaning that although he is not the straightest off the tee his long game gets the job done, and on a course, which will give him a bit of room off the tee this looks the perfect fit.
What I particularly like about Niemann this week though is his self-pronounced love of playing in the wind, something he has talked about on several occasions and something that his low ball flight is perfect for.
It is certainly no coincidence to me that he has played so strongly by the coast at Kapalua on both occasions he has tee’d it up there to date. In addition of course he was also runner up at Waialae CC in January.
Finally If we are looking for Pete Dye form as well then this can be found in top five finishes at Hilton Head and TPC River Highlands.
While most eyes will be on Viktor Hovland this week from the ‘youngsters’ point of view, and there is certainly no denying Hovland’s strong claims, at three times the odds I am far keener on the young Chilean as there is no doubt in my mind he has the game to win a Major even it the tender age of 22.
Eighth and 18th in his last two starts see him arrive here primed for a massive effort and at the odds on offer he looks a great bet to me this week.
SI WOO KIM – 1pt E/W – 80/1 – 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED MC
Another player whose claims I find it hard to ignore this week are Si Woo Kim.
Firstly let’s start with the obvious, which is the fact that the young South Korean is an out and out specialist on Pete Dye tracks.
The youngest ever Players Champion at TPC Sawgrass Si Woo continues to play well on Dye’s jewel in his crown finishing ninth there again this year. Si Woo also has a fine record at Hilton Head where he really should have taken home the trophy in 2018 before suffering a painful play-off loss to Satoshi Kodaira. Finally of course Si Woo memorably rewarded this column earlier this year when bagging his third PGA Tour title at the American Express, an event which used the Dye Stadium Course for three rounds this year, thus once again rubber stamping his love for the legendary designers lay outs.
Undoubtedly then Si Woo should be licking his chops at the thought of a trip to another Dye layout this week, however in addition to his history on his tracks there is an awful lot more to like about his chances at Kiawah Island.
Having taken just under a month off Kim returned in Texas last week with a low key warm up where he finished in 55th place, however prior to his break there is no doubt he had been in the midst of arguably his most consistent twelve months or so on tour to date, a run, which started with an 11th place finish at the Dye designed TPC River Highlands last June. Granted the 25yr olds form dipped after his win at the Amex in January however the ninth place finish at Sawgrass in March seemed to reignite him and the consistency has returned since with four subsequent made cuts.
What has also been particularly eye catching from Si Woo during this period is his form in the Majors, which has seen him finish 13 34 12 in three of them with only a MC at the US Open blotting the copy book.
The 12th place finish, which came recently at The Masters saw Si Woo right in the hunt through 36 holes, however after he broke his putter in frustration on Saturday’s back nine resulting in him having to use a wood to putt out the rest of the way, he seemed to lose his composure and struggled on Sunday.
On one hand this was not encouraging to see of course, however on the other you have to think he will have learnt from this experience and will handle ‘Major contention’ better next time he is in it.
It has certainly been the case over recent years that one of the biggest clues to finding a Major winner is to look at the leaderboards of recent Major’s as it is often the case that a player who has performed strongly in one comes good soon after and from that point of view Si Woo has certainly given us some pointers.
Another big plus for Kim this week is that while his putter can be suspect at times he is one of the best scramblers on tour ranking in the top 25 in strokes-gained-around-the-green this season to date and last and having scrambled superbly when he won at TPC Sawgrass he should be really comfortable on the nuances of Pete Dye’s run off areas this week.
All in all it’s all there in front of us this week with regards to Si Woo’s potential to play well here and he is a must for me this time out.
BRANDEN GRACE - 150/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 38th
Another player I find impossible to ignore this week is Branden Grace.
Regular readers will know that Grace has been heavily on my radar this year featuring in my ‘six to follow for 2021’ and being in our teams on two or three occasions.
One of the times I sided with Branden was in Puerto Rico and on that occasion he rewarded us in spades with a win. In addition to giving us a nice return that week the significance of that victory to this week was two-fold.
Firstly of course it confirmed what we already know, that Grace is a master of coastal venues. Secondly and importantly for a player who is known as a streaky putter the victory came on paspalum greens and this can only be a positive for this time out.
Looking at Branden’s Pete Dye form and the obvious plus is that he has a win on his CV at Harbour Town the home of the RBC Heritage, an event, which is held only a couple of hours down the coast from this weeks venue. In addition and perhaps more significantly the South African finished third at the 2015 PGA Championship held at Whistling Straits, arguably the most comparable Dye design to this weeks venue.
Looking at Grace’s form since his win in Puerto Rico and on the face of things it has been pretty ‘in and out’ however if we excuse him the missed cut at Sawgrass, which came in his sixth week on the road in a run, which included his victory, then he has made all of his other solo cuts. Furthermore last time out when he finished down the field in 54th at the Valspar his approach play was solid as he finished 19th for the week in that department.
As long term readers will know I have long thought that Grace has a Major Championship in him and there is no doubt in my mind that away from the British Open a coastal venue Stateside where his low ball flight will be of value represents the best opportunity. Add that to his history of posting more than one win in quick succession and at juicy three figure odds he is a must for me this week.
JOEL DAHMEN - 250/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 55th
Finally this week I will roll the dice on a big outsider in the shape of Joel Dahmen.
Dahmen’s maiden tour win at the Corales Puntacana event earlier this year and the ensuing outpour of emotion between Joel and his caddie, who have been working together ever since he started out, is was one of the feel good stories of 2021 to date.
While that victory came in an opposite field event the confidence it will have given him and even more importantly the fact that it came by the coast on paspalum greens is surely significant for this week.
Joel portrays himself as an easy going soul who is purely in golf to earn a buck or two however behind that front is a dedicated pro who after grinding it out in the ‘lower leagues’ has been steadily improving on tour year on year.
The 33yr old is known as a strong ball striker at his best and in addition to his win on the Paspalum in the Dominican Republic he has produced some good form on the Pete Dye designs of Sawgrass and Harbour Town over the recent years.
Furthermore he has played really strongly at Quail Hollow, which sits nicely with shock runner up here In 2012 David Lynn, who lost out in a play off to Derek Ernst in Charlotte.
Let’s also not forget that Joel posted a top ten in this event last fall at TPC Harding Park
Can Dahmen win this week?, unlikely of course, however his profile is certainly not too dissimilar to a Jason Dufner for example whose finest hour came with his PGA win.
Either way though with 11 each way places on offer there is a lot to like about Joel this week and I am happy to risk him at the big odds.
UPDATED 18th MAY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - WYNDHAM CLARK - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED 75th - DK POINTS 48.5
As first alternate Wyndham Clark gained late entry in to this weeks event following Vijay Singh's withdrawal on Monday and I have a strong suspicion he'll make the most of it.
Clark first came to prominence when performing strongly at the Honda Classic a couple of years ago and that is certainly an event that sits well with this week. He also came close to bagging his first tour title by the coast in Bermuda last Fall.
Long but wayward off the tee and with a strong touch around the greens I expect Kiawah Island to set up well for Clark and I can see him performing well.
PICK 2 - BRANDON STONE - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 5.5
For my second pick I am going to take a bit of a flier on Brandon Stone. The South African it must be said is hugely inconsistent however when he is 'on' he certainly has a touch of class about him.
A winner in fine style at The Scottish Open a few years back Stone relishes windy conditions and having performed strongly on the paspalum in both Oman and Qatar over the past couple of years the putting surfaces should hold no fear for him.
Stone picked up at title back home in South Africa recently so he should be in reasonably confident mood and I am happy to take a risk that this test is to his liking.