The second Major of 2021 is upon us! The PGA Championship will begin a stretch of high-level golf over the next month. Following this event, Colonial, Muirfield Village, and the U.S. Open are all on the horizon. Golfers will be tested this week with a brute of a course. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island has been ranked as the hardest golf course by Golf Digest. The course is unofficially 7,876 yards, the longest course in Major Championship history. While distance will be one the main talking points this week, the real test on this course is the wind. Keep an eye on the weather forecast as the week progresses, as the scoring conditions will be dictated by the severity of the winds.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is a coastal, Pete Dye-designed course. The vision while building this course was to build a links style course which means the Europeans in the field might reap the benefits of the design. The PGA Tour has been no stranger to Pete Dye courses so far this season. The key takeaway from Dye courses is that he wants to challenge golfers on every single shot. Precision and execution are the name of the game this week. While the course is certainly long, golfers will need to be creative with their shot-making and need to keep the ball in the fairway. Missing the fairways will be almost as deadly as missing the green. The green complexes are large, measuring 6,000 square feet. Missing the green will land golfers in tricky runoff areas and leave golfers scrambling for par. Avoiding bogeys, and avoiding double bogeys will be paramount.
The greens are paspalum grass which are not commonly seen on the PGA Tour. Most venues that feature paspalum grass are coastal courses such as El Camaleon (Mayakoba), Corales Puntacana, and Grand Reserve Country Club (Puerto Rico Open). Paspalum grass usually runs slower than traditional bermudagrass which should allow some golfers to get better reads and better speed on their putts. The rough is grown to 3.5 inches which is why golfers will want to stay in the fairway. The course will present as many mental challenges as physical challenges, tempting some of the longer hitters to use their distance. While distance will be important this week, I think it’s been overstated. The longest course that has been played this season was Torrey Pines where Patrick Reed won by a four-shot margin. The length of the course, along with the expected adverse conditions has led me to put an emphasis on Around-the-Green play. This week I am looking for golfers who excel on Par 5s and longer Par 4s, golfers who can scramble when they need to, and golfers who have an overall completeness to their style of play.
Key Stats: Off-the-Tee, Distance, Approach, GIRs Gained, Around-the-Green, 3-Putt Avoidance, and Total Strokes Gained
Scoring Upside: Par 3 Efficiency 200-225 yards, Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards, Par 5 Efficiency 550-600 yards, Par 5 Birdies-or-Better, Scoring Average, and Birdie-to-Bogey Ratio
PGA Championship Tips
(I will use the betting numbers I bet these golfers at, there are some better numbers and some worse numbers currently available)
Xander Schauffele 20-1
Xander Schauffele is one of the best players on the PGA Tour, but he does not win nearly as much as he should. Schauffele plays a relatively limited schedule and when he plays, he contends. Over his last five starts, Xander has finishes of 14th, 11th, 3rd, 18th, and MC. Schauffele is now the #4 player ranked in the world, despite his shortcomings with winning events. The 26-year-old from California is a big game hunter. The last time Xander missed a cut at a Major was the 2017 PGA Championship, the first Major he ever played in. In fifteen total appearances at Major Championships, Xander has eight Top 10 Finishes! If Xander can continue to hang around the top at these events he is bound to win.
Using 2021 ShotLink data, in this field Xander ranks: second in Total Strokes Gained, eleventh in GIRs Gained, 14th Around-the-Green, 17th in Distance, and 22nd in Approach. Statistically, Xander covers all bases with his overall game. He is a great ball-striker and has enough distance off the tee if this course ends up favoring bombers. Additionally, Xander has the touch and finesse Around-the-Green to save pars and limit bogeys. In terms of scoring upside this course fits Xander very well. In this field he ranks: second in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better, fourth in Par 5 Efficiency 550-600 yards, fourth in Scoring Average, sixth in Par 3 Efficiency from 200-225 yards, 19th in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards. Xander is a balanced player who limits mistakes while still possessing birdie upside. He has shown the ability to play well on the longer Par 4s and longer Par 5s which will be critical this week.
Viktor Hovland 28-1
Viktor Hovland is extremely chalky this week and appears to be the “obvious” choice. If you go on Twitter, I’m sure you’ll see half your timeline filled with Hovland on betting cards. Hovland has back-to-back finishes of third places. He is a streaky player who can go on ridiculous runs of birdies. He has shown this elite upside multiple times this year. He won at Mayakoba at the end of 2020 and he has six Top 5 finishes in sixteens starts this season.
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’s pure ball-striking ability should translate well to this course. At Torrey Pines earlier this season, Hovland finished runner-up which shows he can dominate a long course with his ball-striking. In order for Hovland to win this week he will need to have an outlier Around-the-Green performance. This is the weakest part of his game, but he has shown improvements in the category this year. In his limited experience at Majors, Hovland is 5/5 on making the cut. Hovland ranks second in Scoring Average and ninth in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better which means he can take advantage of the limited birdie opportunities and ball-strike his way to Pars on the harder parts of the course.
Patrick Reed 35-1
Big game hunter Patrick Reed. Patrick Reed is public enemy #1 in the golf world, and his odds reflect the public’s disdain for rooting for him. Whenever Reed touches this range of the betting board, he is an auto-bet for me. Reed has won multiple WGCs, multiple FedEx Cup Playoff events, a Major Championship (the Masters), and the Tournament of Champions. When all of the best players in the world are on the same course, Patrick Reed brings his A-game. In 28 career Major Championship appearances, Reed has eleven Top 15 finishes including one win. Reed is coming into the event in good form, recording two Top 10 finishes in his last three starts.
The #8 player in the world, Reed does his best work Around-the-Green. He is short-game specialist, capitalized by his elite putting. Since the start of the calendar year, Reed is gaining .96 strokes per round with his putter which is second best in this field during that span. During that same timeframe, Reed is gaining 1.11 strokes per round with his short-game (fourth in this field), and 1.32 Total Strokes per round (19th in this field). Reed won earlier this season at Torrey Pines; the longest course played so far this season. Although he is a shorter hitter, Reed excels on longer Par4s and Par 5s. In this field, Reed ranks: first in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards, first in Par 5 Efficiency 550-600 yards, eighth in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better, and 16th in Scoring Average. The numbers don’t lie, and while many will think you need to be a bomber to compete on long courses, Reed breaks the mold and has shown an elite winning upside.
Cameron Smith 40-1
Smith is very similar to Patrick Reed in terms of being a short-game specialist who excels on Par 5s. If the wind kicks up and players are losing their ball all over the course, this tournament will become a short-game contest. Missing the green will lead to bogeys which is why I like strong short-game players. The Australian is now up to #25 in the world, and is riding tremendous form. In his last five events, Smith has finishes of 1st, 9th, 10th, 28th, and 17th. Smith has played well at Majors only missing three cuts in eighteen appearances. Smith has only missed one cut in 2021, and has eight finishes of T11 or better in fifteen events.
In this field, Smith ranks first in 3-Putt Avoidance, first in Par 5 Birdies-or-Better, third in Par 5 Efficiency 550-600 yards, third in Birdie-to-Bogey ratio, eighth Around-the-Green, fourteenth in Scoring Average, sixteenth in Par 3 Efficiency 200-225 yards, and 25th in Total Strokes Gained. Smith fits the profile of someone who can score on some of these holes while being a complete enough player to limit any damage on the harder holes. If you shop around, you will find some better numbers than what I have on him.
Justin Rose 80-1
Justin Rose is a high ceiling play. He has been inconsistent over the past year and a half but he has winning upside. 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, I like Rose’s chance of being in the mix by Sunday. He has a Top 10 at this course when it hosted the 2012 PGA Championship. I’ve seen Rose as high as 100-1 which is a great bet if you are only looking at the ceiling. The floor with Rose is very low and he could miss the cut, but for my outright bets I like choosing players who I know can win and have won before.
Charley Hoffman 150-1
Charley Hoffman has been one of the best players on Tour this season, but doesn’t have any hardware to show for it. Since the start of the calendar year, Hoffman is gaining 1.31 strokes per round ball-striking (4th in this field), 1.01 strokes per round in Approach (6th in this field), and 1.72 Total Strokes per round (3rd in this field). Hoffman’s ball-striking has been resurgent this year and he’s been able to contend at many events because of it. He is known for his ability to play well in the wind and his consistency is appealing to me this week because I think balance will translate into a high finish or a win at this course. I like the way Hoffman fits this course regardless of the scoring conditions. He has been really good on longer Par 4s ranking third in Par 4 Efficiency over 500 yards, and eleventh on Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards. At these odds, he has been playing to well for me to pass it up.